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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

A Garage for Your Dachshund, and More —
Hints, Tips, and Good Advice

June 29, 2004

Summertime. It's the season for family vacations, weekends at the cottage, and long expeditions to remote northern rivers. A time to relax? Sure. But there's plenty of work to do, too. Planning, buying food and gear, getting the whole show on the road and back again.… Who doesn't need a little help from time to time? We do, at any rate. And our readers are there for us. Our virtual mail-bag is filled with hints, tips, and good advice. Here's just some of what we've learned since the last "Our Readers Write." We hope you'll find it as useful as we have.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

The Joy of Surplus


I just read "The Rucksack That Came in from the Cold War." I recently discovered your articles on the Internet and have put the archive in my Favourites file — now I read one or two during my afternoon break at the office. It's been wonderful so far, and with the volume of articles you two have produced, it will be for a while longer.

In your article you mention that old Bundeswehr rucksack. For a while, it looked as though German high-school students of a certain age and outlook (generally anti-Establishment) were issued these wholesale. They'd be modified with ink pens, usually with highly stylized rock band names, etc.. It might interest you that the inside pocket against the back was actually meant to contain one half of a tent. Each soldier would carry one sheet of heavy, partially waterproofed canvas with (hold on to something!) buttons along the edges to lash together in order to form a rain fly, which would go over some aluminum tubing — carried in a separate bag in the main compartment of the pack — to make an A-frame tent. These tents, due to the space provided (or lack thereof), were generally referred to as "dachshund garages." Good to have a buddy whose smell you could tolerate. (Our medical personnel said "hygiene is what you expect of others.")

I just realize I must sound like some old coot reminiscing about a glorious past — I only spent two years with the army before going on to university and saw that newfangled equipment arrive (though not fast enough that I was issued any). And I have to say that the Gore-Tex® pants in drab olive I picked up in a local army surplus store for the equivalent of 20 bucks are probably the best value-for-money deal I've ever been offered in the outdoorsy area (except for Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking, but that's something else). Anyway, you've brought much enjoyment to my breaks and food for thought to my brain. I thank you. Please keep it up. Kind regards,

André Corterier

The Finer Points of Sharpening

Thanks for an interesting article ("Looking Sharp"). As a wood carver, I appreciate good steel and a sharp blade. Here are a couple of additional things I've found to work:

  1. Ceramic seems to work a lot better than natural stone for sharpening stainless blades.

  2. A strop will put a shaving edge on a blade once the stone work is done. A strop can be made with a 12-inch (+/-) length of leather around one inch wide, dressed with either red (high-carbon steel) or white (stainless steel) metal polishing compound, available at most hardware stores.

I don't care for serrated blades much, since, as you pointed out, they are a pain to sharpen. However, when it comes to cutting rope, they are superior to a smooth blade due to the sawing action. My wife and I carry partly-serrated-blade folding knives with thumb studs clipped to our life jackets. These are used only for emergency purposes, not camp chores, so they will be sharp if they are needed.

Thanks again for your article.

Pete Schubert

Use Your Noodle

A couple of words apropos "The Boat Who Couldn't Sink": Pool noodles. Ahh, dem pool noodles! Being one of those "cash-strapped" folks with a kayak without waterproof bulkheads I found myself with a ton of water aboard two years ago. Thankfully, we were on a river that wasn't very wide and that had gravel bars the kayak could be dragged out onto. (Dragged was the key word.) That week I bought a spray skirt and discovered one-dollar foam pool noodles. Fold 'em, cut 'em, and stuff 'em into each end. I'm sure some kind of netting retention system could be rigged up for canoes. The really nice part about these? They're inexpensive and UNdesirable. No one is going to be robbing your pool noodles (versus what occurs with float bags).

Rich McCarthy

The Air is Free, Too!

I always enjoy your articles at, and "Full Circle" was no exception. Being a pack rat, I commonly make my wife's and my friends' eyes roll with my "resourcefulness."

My own personal variation on your "free" float bag is a wine-making kit grape-juice concentrate bag with a slightly undergauge hole drilled in the removable plastic cap to accommodate a tubeless tire valve. I made several of these last year, taking care always to minimize (and preferably eliminate) damage to the cap on removal. My set lasted all season with amazingly little air loss, even without using any sealant on the reinstalled cap. Pillowcase covers sized to take any abrasion and stress on plastic-bag seams work well too.

The tire valve may be overkill but engineers are like that. Seems to work fine in Class 2-3 type lake-wave action in my old Carolina boat.

Frugally yours,

Dick Patterson
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

A Slick Trick with Cast Iron

Hi Tamia,

I love to camp and kayak, and I enjoyed "Cast-Iron Joy." Have been enjoying cooking with cast iron for years. Thought I might pass this on. Not sure if you have heard of it or not, but a bar of soap — only a little scrubbed on the outside of the skillet or dutch oven just prior to cooking — will make the soot cleanup much easier. It simply rinses off with water.

Enjoy all your info. Keep it coming. May the Wind always be at your back.

Tom Dixon
Clayton, North Carolina

The Ties That Bind

Dear Tamia,

Thanks. I keep enjoying and learning from your articles.

Regarding foam blocks as economical tie-downs for a kayak, I learned an easy trick that makes them many times more secure on the car top. First strap the foam block to the boat. Then strap the whole boat-and-block package to the car top.

This keeps the blocks from "crawling" out from between car top and boat while driving. Straps which hold both boat and blocks in place on the car allow the blocks to come loose. Road vibrations — especially bumps from crossing railroad tracks or gravel roads — work the blocks loose, and so the boat comes loose as well. I found myself constantly stopping to re-cinch a loose boat until I switched to this method.

I use a standard kayak foam-block carrier with channel cut-outs in the bottom of each block to fit a rack crossbar. Set the blocks channel-side down on the car top. Then place the boat in the V-shaped cradle on the top of the blocks. Now run straps through the channel cut-outs and around the boat. I use plastic side-lock buckles on the straps as they do not hold anything but the foam blocks to the boat.

Next, with longer, stronger straps, strap the boat-and-block unit to the car top. As you indicated, I use this tie-down method for short trips to a local river, though one time I hauled my kayak about 120 miles this way.

And while I'm on the subject of keeping things tied down, a note about the plastic cable ties that you mention in your recent "Practical Paddler" piece: An unlockable version is now available! They are a boon to kayakers and canoe folk.

You can cinch them tight and then release them again with a small ratchet release button so they can be re-used — or at least freed without difficult cutting. (As you said, plastic cables are really hard to sever even with a shaving-sharp knife.) They are not "quick-release," however, unless you have better eyes and dexterity than I have, especially in dim light.

I bought mine at a Revy hardware store in Canada last summer. The package says: "MARR, multipurpose ties. Releasable. 50 lb. tensile strength. Thomas & Betts, made in USA."

I keep a package of these unlockable cable ties in my possibles bag on board, plus I use them to secure accessories that I want to hold in place on the water but remove later before loading my boat on the car top. That sometimes includes a fishing-gear tray that has rod holders, tackle and paddle holders, small cooler, etc.. I secure the whole tray to the bow-deck bungee eyes at launch and remove it when I finish paddling and am ready to cartop the kayak again.

Len Cowan

A Goathead-Proof Tire

I loved your article on biking and boats ("The Amphibious Paddler"). The one thing you might like to try is the urethane-foam-filled "airless" tires I have been using for the last 10 years. They are by Amerityre and I love them. They are not high-speed tires: at about 20 mph they are at their limit. But it certainly lightens my load and mind having them. No pumps, patches, tire levers, etc.. Here in the state of Washington we have "goathead" thorns in superabundance. They leave a hole that Slime (tire hole-fix) just oozes out of for two minutes before stopping the leak, and even then the leak really only slows down. I get a lot of rest riding with other folks who insist that tire liners and thick tubes are puncture-proof, when they have to stop to fix their flats on a short ride.

Keep up the articles. I love them.

Barney Ward

• • •

Tamia replies:

Glad you enjoy our articles, Barney. Good tip, too. We don't have goatheads in the East, but we sure have a lot of broken beer bottles, particularly on the roads and trails used by ATV riders. Airless tires could be the way to go. They might be just the ticket for portage carts, too. Speed certainly isn't a problem there, and stopping to fix a flat in the middle of a carry makes it far too easy for the blackflies to dine out at my expense!

Check This One Out

I loved reading your article about the prefloat and postfloat checklists. I'm a big fan of the checklist myself, using them for everything from going out for a long bike ride to teaching my freshman composition classes. So reading your article was, for me, mainly an exercise in having some of my dearest convictions confirmed.

One thing I could add, though, is that checklists that are used often, like the prefloat and postfloat, can be laminated, so they'll hold up to years of hard use. You could even laminate the checklist, then punch a hole in it and add a line so you could hang it on a peg or other handy protuberance near where you keep your paddling gear. That way, you remember not to forget the checklist!

Enjoy all your articles — keep 'em coming.

Judy Hale Young
Department of English and Foreign Languages
University of West Florida
Pensacola, Florida

That's it for now. Our heartfelt thanks to all the folks who took the time to write to us. Please keep telling us what's on your mind. After all, it's Our Readers Write!

Editors' note: Letters appear only with their writers' permission. All letters may be edited for publication.

Copyright 2004 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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