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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

An Oven to Go, a Better Yoke,
The Best Way to Car-Top a Kayak,
and More

August 30, 2005

Something's in the air here in Canoe Country. The days are noticeably shorter. Flotillas of Canada geese are rafting up on all the flows, while red squirrels and chipmunks forage tirelessly on the ridges, gathering and storing food to see them through the coming winter. Ah, yes. Winter. The Wheel of the Year never stops turning, and despite the lingering warmth of August, the sun is already abandoning the northern hemisphere.

But winter's not here yet, is it? And the next couple of months offer some of the best paddling to be had at any season — if you're prepared, that is. Our readers can help. Over the years, the "Readers Write" mailbag has overflowed with valuable hints, useful wrinkles, and provocative questions. That hasn't changed. Here are a few of the latest. We're betting they'll help you make the most of your time on the water, whatever the season and wherever you live. We know they've helped us.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

The Bendonn Tote Oven — A Jewel Indeed

Dear Tamia,

I am writing in response to "Family Jewels — Pots and Pans for Paddlers."

I have two pans that I bought back in the late '70s. Originally intended to be an aluminum Dutch oven, they are called the Bendonn oven or something like that. They are about 10 inches in diameter and look like frying pans with wire handles. One nests inside the other, and the larger pan had a metal rim welded to the bottom that was supposed to hold hot coals when you used it as a Dutch oven.

Fortunately the metal rim fell off early and got lost. The larger pan holds about four quarts and the smaller pan holds around three. I use them with an old two-quart coffee percolator for heating water, adding a lid from a Boy Scout troop mess kit when needed. These are the best camping pots I have ever seen — great frying pans, yet deep enough to make a pot of stew. They are fire-blackened on the outside and inside and nothing sticks to them. I still use them as a Dutch oven from time to time, and they make a great cake pan.

I also have a Sigg skillet like the one you mentioned. It came with a couple of pots from a Sigg Tourist kit that I bought at Goodwill for $4.99. I got it for the Sigg aluminum pots, but it is a really nice frying pan, made of carbon steel with a removable wire handle.

Kenny Christenson
St. Paul, Minnesota

• • •

Tamia replies:

I, too, had a Bendonn Tote Oven, Kenny. (I must have bought it about the same time you bought yours.) It got lost in a move many years ago, but I still remember it with affection. It was a great backcountry culinary tool, though you're right about the ring being more trouble than it was worth. Thanks for reminding me what I'd been missing — and also for pointing out just how many good things paddlers and other outdoorspeople can find on the shelves at the Goodwill. It's a great resource for anyone whose dreams (or needs) are bigger than their pockets are deep, and I guess that's almost all of us.

A Paddle Yoke Saves the Day!

Dear Tamia,

I want to thank you so much for the article entitled "No Yoke!" I recently did a hurry-up trip with a friend, starting at International Falls, Minnesota, to within 10 miles of Lake Superior before we had to come out because of torn-up feet. The trip was put together very hurriedly, and I had to borrow a solo canoe. I found out four days into the trip that I could not portage the borrowed boat. We tried several brainy ideas, but nothing would work. I simply could not keep this boat on my shoulders in any manner without severe pain or having it fall off. Then I remembered your article about using paddles for a yoke. We were using a double paddle for this trip, and I carried a single plastic paddle as a backup. So I split the double kayak paddle, used one half of it and the plastic paddle as a yoke, and tied the other half of the double paddle in the boat. What a relief. It felt like I could have carried that 42-pound boat to the East Coast non-stop, and I'm almost 67 years old! Thanks again. Because of your article this marathon-type trip is considered a success by me and my canoe partner, even though we had to cut it short.


Ron Brinning

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm delighted to hear that my article helped you out, Ron. (Hope your feet are better!) The paddle yoke's one of those gloriously simple ideas that have stood the test of time. But even a good thing can be made better. Just take a look at the next letter.

A Better Paddle Yoke? Sure 'Nuff!
And That's No Joke

Dear Tamia,

I chuckled as I read "No Yoke!" I can relate. I still have that "battered old Grumman" and have never portaged it any other way than with the paddles. For years I always envied people with portage yokes. Then I had the opportunity to carry one with padded supports that clamped to the center thwart. TERRIBLE! After that I made it a point to try a contoured wooden yoke. Not much better. Now when I'm going to carry a canoe more than 100 feet, I make sure I have two old wood paddles and a retired "horse-collar" PFD. (It makes super padding for your shoulders.)

I use a little different method for lashing the paddles, though. I point the grips behind me, with the blades protruding forward of the center thwart. I leave two shorter pieces of line permanently tied to the rear thwart, each just long enough to wrap around a paddle shaft and tie it down. (When paddling, these ties are handy to lash "stuff.") For the blades, I use two large rubber bands cut from an old inner tube. Slide the band over the blade, pull it down under the thwart and back over the blade. Turning the paddles around and using the tip of the blades spreads the weight better across my shoulders, and the little bit of flex is akin to a shock absorber in rougher terrain.

Keep the fancy yokes, I say. Old paddles work just fine. And as you always do, keep up the great work.

Jonathan Maybray

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Jonathan. Sounds like you've made a good thing even better — and made portaging a canoe just about as simple (and as painless) as it can possibly be.

Bottoms Up? Or Bottoms Down?
How Do You Carry a Kayak?

Dear Tamia,

I'm new to kayaking and am taking some of my undergraduate training by reading your articles. In "Taking Your Boat on the Road" you mention that canoes are generally carried inverted, which seems reasonable enough, while kayaks are carried right side up.

I'm tempted to make a rack for my pick-up, shaped to conform to my kayak's decking, that would carry my kayak inverted. Since most of my problems turn out to be my own fault, can you tell me what disaster or catastastroke I'm setting myself up for if I do this?

Ken Anderson

• • •

Tamia replies:

No problem, Ken. And most likely no disaster, either, let alone a "catastastroke." (I'm not sure what this is, but it sounds a whole lot worse than a garden-variety catastrophe to me!) Back in the days when most kayaks were made from 'glass, the decks were often laid up using fewer laminations than the hulls. As a result, the decks were both weaker and more likely to deform under load. That's why cautious kayakers racked boats right side up — or stacked them vertically, resting them on their sides so that the weight was borne by the rigid seams. Boats cradled on their comparatively fragile decks were easily damaged if the bow and stern tethers were overtightened, as they almost always were, sooner or later.

Now that poly boats are the norm, however, does the old right-side-up rule still make sense? Probably not. The decks on most rotomolded poly boats are every bit as resilient as the hulls. (A gentle "pressure test" with the heel of your hand will tell you if your boat is an exception.) As long as poly boats aren't stored on roof racks for days at a time in full sun, they should travel equally well right side up or upside down. So you can almost certainly go bottoms up without fear. Unless your boat is an ultralight 'glass confection or something similarly delicate, I doubt that you'll be risking catastrophe — and you won't have to worry so much about shipping water in a downpour, either. (A cockpit cover's still a good idea, though.) Of course, you can always ask the manufacturer's advice. Might be a very good idea, too.

Best wishes — and happy car-…err…truck-topping!

The Ultimate Glove?

Dear Tamia,

I have experienced many of the same problems as you [see "Hands On!" -ed.], and I hate diving gloves, mittens, leather gloves, and pogies in cold water because they are all cold or slippery. I especially hate soaked pogies after endering and rolling. My hands, like yours, get cold easily, and I have a finger which gets icy-white quickly, perhaps due to severe frostbite as a youth. I have now pitched or given away or permanently stowed two pairs of pogies, several pairs of neoprene scuba gloves, and a few pairs of "kayaking gloves." I have found that cloth scuba gloves work well when the water is cool, but nothing beats Glacier Gloves when the water is COLD.

About 15 years ago I bought six pairs of Glacier Gloves on sale at Sierra Trading Post: one pair in Extra Large, two in Large, and three in Small. The Extra Large and Large fit my hands well. The Small was too large for my daughters, but too small for me. Over the years I have given away all the Small pairs and misplaced two of the three pairs that fit me. My last pair looks used, but is still in good condition. The gloves are flexible neoprene and some have pads on a finger tip or two for grip or fishing or something. A little Aquaseal® makes these completely waterproof, else they seep a little but are still warm.

Bottom line is that these are completely flexible, warm, and grip better then flesh, giving you complete control of your paddle. I kayak year-round on two local rivers and once measured the water temperature during the cold season. The gloves are completely comfortable for me to at least 43 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature and 25 degrees air temperature. I play in the waves, surf, ender, and roll, so I am constantly getting wet. I also wear a drysuit, and under that, fleece. I periodically test the whole ensemble by walking into 45-degree water and never feel the slightest discomfort except on my face, most of which is covered by a neoprene beanie worn under my helmet. I have not tested immersion in water for longer than about 10 minutes, so I do not know how long it would be till I started to get cold. I also do not know how cold this setup is good for, but as I am getting older and softer I no longer go out much when the air is cooler than 40 degrees .

There are now many types of Glacier Gloves. The kind I purchased is the simple neoprene with the Velcro® wrist strap. I checked out the newer fleece-lined pogies last weekend. Nothing even comes close to the Glacier Gloves, yet I have never seen them advertised for kayakers.

A final hint: it might be a good idea to check the sizing information available on the Glacier website prior to purchase. (That information was not available to me when I purchased.)

Lee Olson
Columbia, South Carolina

A Felt Need, Indeed!
A Non-Slip Sole for All of Us

Dear Tamia,

Curious that you made no mention of felt-sole water shoes in "Putting Your Best Foot Forward." Seems that fishermen have long used felt-soled shoes to get past the problem of algae-covered rocks. I have a pair of water shoes that have felt in the front half of the sole and they're excellent on slippery rocks. I have never seen a pair of rubber-soled shoes that gave me much confidence on the rocks, and have never met a rock that was slippery enough that I thought I was going to slip off and fall on my rear while wearing the felt shoes. If you haven't already, you might want to check out a pair. Thanks for the article!

Eric Mann
Minneapolis, Minnesota

• • •

Tamia replies:

It is a curious omission, Eric. No doubt about it. But somehow, in nearly three decades of trout-stalking I never got around to buying felt-soled waders. Maybe that's why I've never given felt-soled shoes a try while paddling. I suppose I'll have to chalk this up to brain-fade on my part. Thanks for the heads-up on putting a better foot forward.

Good Binoculars Are (Almost) Forever

Dear Tamia,

You write interesting, well-thought-out articles. Regarding "The Far-Seeing Eye: Binoculars for Paddlers": I have a pair of Fujinon 6x30 waterproof individual-focus binoculars I bought 20 years ago that are ideal for kayaking. They are available for $175 at B&H Photo Video.

Joe Hamilton

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the kind words, Joe. Good binoculars just keep going and going, and it sounds like your Fujinon 6x30s are very good binoculars, indeed. Of course, such quality comes at a price, and some folks can't afford to spend $175 on a pair of binoculars, however good they may be. Happily, there are cheaper alternatives. For instance, Farwell's been using a US$15 monocular that he got from a military surplus store. (He was looking for something to carry in a bike's bar bag.) The optical quality is no better than fair, and the monocular certainly won't last 20 years — I doubt it will last five, in fact — but it takes up almost no space in his pocket, and now he won't be parted from it, whether he's on the road, on the water, or just sitting at his desk.

The moral of the story? If you can pay the price, go for quality. You won't be sorry. But what if you're a little short of spare cash? Then buy whatever you can afford. Chances are good that even the cheapest binoculars will have a much longer reach than your unaided Mark I eyeball. And that's a good thing. There's a whole lot to see in the world!

Adventuring Close to Home

Dear Farwell,

Finally! A realistic article ["Weekend Adventures" -ed.] for the everyday workingperson who can't afford a US$1200 weekend getaway. I've found several places two hours by car around Santa Fe to explore until I get those nine days off and $500 in cash to run the Green River in Utah. Good article.

Terry Baker
Santa Fe, New Mexico

• • •

Farwell replies:

Glad you liked the column, Terry. Tamia and I both know what happens if you put off paddling till tomorrow — that hoped-for day when you'll be able to afford the Big Trip you've been dreaming about. Sometimes tomorrow never comes. So we try to keep our eyes on the prize and our paddles in the water. Weekend adventures make it easy.

The Charm of the Familiar —
Another Reason to Adventure Close to Home

Dear Farwell,

Thanks for the "Weekend Adventure" series. I am all for occasionally packing it up and traveling 300 miles to experience a week or two in the wilderness. But some of my most memorable paddles have been close to home on waters I have an intimate knowledge of. Because I have that knowledge, I am free to take in all the glory a lake or river has to offer without the worry of logistics or navigation — and still be back in time to share a walk around the neighborhood with my wife. I tell my friends to stop wishing they were in the Boundary Waters and start discovering the outstanding day trips we have here in Wisconsin.

Paddle on!

Rick Reinders

That's it for now. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to send us their hints, tips, questions, and comments. Keep telling us what's on your mind. After all, it's "Our Readers Write"!

Editors' note: No letter appears in "Our Readers Write" without the author's permission, and letters are subject to editing before publication. All links have been added by the editors. We receive many more letters than we can reprint here, but we do our best to answer each and every one we get. We sometimes fall behind, though, and mail occasionally gets lost in transit. So if a couple of weeks have gone by since you wrote and you still haven't heard back from us, don't give up. Send us a heads-up, instead. We'd appreciate it.

Copyright 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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