Our Readers Write
Of Puffins, Theme Parks, and Happy Endings
(Not to Mention the Coffee Bean Who Came in From the Cold)
November 29, 2005
What a difference three months makes! When "Our Readers Write" last aired,
summer still held the lease in Canoe Country, and the season of hard water was
only a distant rumor. Now, however, General Winter's forces have marched across
the land. Balsam and birch sag under the burden of heavy, early-season snows,
while ice slowly stills the music of familiar waters.
But paddlers are a hardy lot. They aren't quick to bow down before Winter's
onslaught, and they haven't let the General bully them into silence. No, indeed.
Our mailbag continues to bulge with comments, questions, and good ideas. Here are
just a few. We think they're too good to keep to ourselves, and we're betting
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest,
In the Same Boat
A quick personal postscript before we get started: If you've written to us
in the last month or so and heard nothing in reply, there's a reason other than
our laziness we've both been on the receiving end of what T.S. Eliot
rightly called the "sharp compassion" of the surgeon's knife. Happily, everything
went just about as well as could be expected, and neither of us lost anything
we'll miss. Best of all, we'll soon be answering our mail again. In the meantime,
please accept our apologies for the delay.
It's great to be back!
This Boat Won't Leave You Puffin!
I am not sure when you wrote "It's in the Bag!"
but I recommend that you review it. We have purchased two Pakboats in the last
year, and, yes, we have a Folbot Aleut. Our Puffin and Puffin II are great boats
and well within 10 percent of the cost of or in some cases less than
a similar plastic hardshell. We paid US$700 to US$800 for each of our
Puffins; our hardshells were priced almost the same. Our Puffin weights 22 pounds
and our Puffin II weights 28 pounds, and the latter is rated at a 400-pound
capacity. Each has built-in air tubes and both are very stable boats. While they
are not in the same class as a Klepper, we are not planning to paddle the South
Atlantic with them, and they work well in the surf, rivers, and lakes of Northern
This is probably not a boat for everyone, but I am so pleased with our two
that my next boat will be one of Pakboat's folding expedition whitewater canoes.
The Puffin is just the ticket for someone with a Honda Civic who wants to paddle
when they can. I would take it anywhere that I would take my Wilderness Systems
Pungo 120. It takes about the same time to assemble that it used to take to put
together my wife's Folbot Aleut (20 minutes).
I like your articles, and I wear a Stearns inflatable PFD before and after I
get in any of my boats. Thanks for all your good information.
Santa Cruz, California
It's good to hear from you, Joe. And you're right. My GuideLines piece
on folders may be showing its age. (It was written in 2001.) Tamia has touched on
the subject more recently in "A Boat to Fit Your
Bike," however, and we'll be revisiting the topic again in the coming year.
There's no doubt that the Pakboat Puffins are very interesting boats.
They're certainly light and compact, and they're cheaper than many other folders,
though this still puts them out of the reach of some folks who could afford a
basic recreational hardshell or one of the less expensive inflatables. I also
find the manufacturer's warning that Puffins are "not intended for very rough
conditions" a bit off-putting. Since many of the waters I paddle even some
small mountain lakes can throw up three-foot waves with only a few
moments' notice, those words don't inspire total confidence.
That said, a folding boat weighing only 17-30 pounds (somewhat more with the
deck installed, presumably) warrants thoughtful consideration, particularly as it
also packs small enough to be towed behind a
bike or carried on your back. It could be the answer to an amphibious
paddler's prayer, in other words. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Simple and Good The Versatile Tortilla
First, let me say how very much I enjoy your articles in Paddling.net.
Always good stuff and well-written in the bargain.
is pronounced kes-uh-DEE-az by those who know. I live in Arizona and I know.
Third, you should investigate the versatility of flour tortillas in one of
your articles. I can make three meals a day and/or snacks with flour tortillas
and nobody gets tired of the menu. The heat here in the desert requires some
modifications in carrying supplies, and it takes a lot longer for tortillas to go
bad than bread or other pastry/starches. So we use them a lot.
Breakfast: Wrap around eggs scrambled with stuff. Or sauté in butter,
then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar in lieu of cinnamon toast. Call it cinnamon
Lunch: PB&J on a flour tortilla is as easy and neat as it gets for lunch or a
snack. You can also prepare it after breakfast, tuck it into a baggie and eat on
the water if no lunch spot is handy.
Dinner: Your cheese quesadilla is a great appetizer. With chicken, some canned
chilies, maybe some sautéed onion and a bit of tomato with salsa or
guacamole but I've always found guacamole a chore on paddling trips
you've got dinner. I have a friend who can approximate a chimichanga by shredding
canned beef and adding secret spices, but I've never been able to duplicate it.
The possibilities are endless.
Thanks again for your good humor and good writing. I look forward to your next
And thank you for you kind words, Nancy not to mention your
mouth-watering suggestions for delicious fast foods under way.
NOT Your Ordinary Theme Park!
I enjoyed your piece about solo paddling ["The Lone
Canoeist"]. It's something I do quite often, and I had a bit of solitary
anxiety off the coast of Labrador last year. It was indeed the ability to ignore
"screaming muscles" that got me though.
One small bone to pick with you: The South Nahanni River is far from a "theme
park." Although its popularity is high (for good reason), it remains a pristine,
remote, challenging (and very cold) river. Most people fly in since no road will
get you there. I believe that access to paddlers is now controlled by a quota
system. I had a great trip there a few years ago.
Glad to see the references to Patterson. His book Dangerous
River is one of my favourites.
New Brunswick, Canada
I'm glad you enjoyed "The Lone Canoeist," Dave, and I agree with you my
description of the South Nahanni as a "theme park" was a bit over the top, even
if it was written with my tongue wedged firmly in my cheek. That said, I'm afraid
it may well echo R.M. Patterson's own feelings on the subject, since as
Joanne Ronan Moore tells the tale, at any rate RMP once declined her
invitation to revisit his old haunts, explaining that he'd known the Nahanni
country "before it was spoiled," or words to that effect.
I imagine a rather awkward silence followed. Of course, a lot of folks are
understandably reluctant to return to a favorite place after many years have
passed. All too often, progress has been unkind to the beloved landscape, and
familiar scenes have changed beyond all recognition. Perhaps RMP was afraid of
something of this sort. It all comes down to perspective, I think. To most of us,
habituated to a day-to-day world dominated by motorways, malls, and suburban
residential developments, anyplace without a Tim Hortons or a Wal-Mart in sight
is a pretty fair approximation of a wilderness. But the few surviving men and
women who knew the wild spaces of North America in the years before the float
plane brought an end to their great solitudes can't help but see things rather
differently. And RMP was such a man.
I suppose we all find wildness when and where we can. As Thoreau observed,
"The wilderness is near, as well as dear, to every man." But I'd venture to guess
that it means something different to each one of us, for all that.
What's in a Word?
I read your article "Double Talk: Tandem
Canoe or Tandem Kayak?" I agree with everything you wrote except one
thing. You referred to most seats in canoes as being "hard plastic slabs." That
simply is not true. In the better canoes out there seats tend to be nylon webbing
or cane. Other than tractor seats, hard slabs of plastic are only found in really
You make a good point, John. "Most" is indeed a slippery word. In this
instance I grounded my assertion that the seats in "typical" tandem canoes were
"hard plastic slabs" solely on informal observation of the canoes I encounter on
nearby Adirondack waters, both quick and still, as well as those I see offered
for sale in local shops, including the big-box chains. I don't have access to
industry-wide data bearing on the question, and considering some firms'
understandable reluctance to disclose exact production and sales figures, I'm not
even sure that any such comprehensive database exists. One thing is certain,
however: given the realities of mass marketing, it's in the nature of things that
"crappy" canoes will probably outnumber "better" canoes. So maybe "most" isn't
too much of a stretch, after all.
Then again, a boat doesn't have to have varnished ash rails and cane seats to
afford its owners a great deal of pleasure. Over the years, I've paddled with
folks in all sorts of canoes, from hand-me-down tin tanks that had more dents
than a hammered copper cauldron to cost-is-no-object custom craft whose trim
boasted as many exotic hardwoods as you'd find in the saloon of a fine yacht. And
from what I could see, the better boats' owners were no happier with their
choices than their less-fortunate counterparts. Also, for what it's worth, I
myself prefer rigid slab seats to either cane or webbing. (For comfort, that is,
and without regard to esthetics.) As for tractor seats, I've yet to try one I
like, though this may have something to do with the many tedious hours I spent
jockeying an old Ford-Ferguson tractor around the fields when I was still a girl.
In any case, since I kneel much of the time on both moving water and flat, my
canoe seat might as well be a simple thwart, for all the difference it would
Not that any of this diminishes the cogency of your original comment, of
course. It's a useful corrective to the tendency that many of us have
well, that I have, anyway! to accept everything we read at face
value. Many thanks.
Java, But No Jive
As I sit here enjoying a cup of Peruvian Organic from Gevalia, and reading
your article ["Java Jive"]
with pleasure (waiting for you to mention a stainless steel French press, which
is great for camping and kayaking, especially the one that has a built-in handle
so you can use it as a cup), I nearly scalded myself. Store coffee in the
Seriously, you should store coffee at room temperature in an airtight
container. Notice that all the gourmet coffee shops do it that way? When you
freeze the beans, the water molecules expand, breaking down the structure of the
bean and destroying the balance of acids and alkaloids that make up the taste
sensation we all love.
Another note for those who not only love the taste of coffee, but really need
the caffeine: the darker the roast, the less caffeine is left in the beans. Yep.
French roast is about 20 percent lower in caffeine than a lighter roast. And bean
for bean, espresso roast has the least caffeine of any coffee. Of course,
you use a lot more grounds to make an espresso, so it balances out. A French
press gives you more caffeine bang than most other brewing methods, as well.
As you might have guessed, I was in the coffee business for years. I'm not any
longer, but I guess I'm still picky when it comes to my java.
Thanks for the great article!
You're welcome, Mike. And thanks for the tip. It's always good to hear from
someone who's been "in the business." I'll bring my coffee in from the cold right
away and see if I can taste the difference. I'll bet that I will.
The Missing Chine
One part of the canoe that you did not mention in "Naming of Parts" was
the chine. I am not sure how it is pronounced, whether the i is
long or short. Maybe you have an answer for that.
Right you are, Tom, and thanks for the heads-up. Chine is pronounced like
"China" without the "a." As you know, the chines are the places where the bottom
of a boat meets the sides the turn of the bilge, in other words. If this
join is sharp and angular (as it is in many plywood kayaks and bateaux, for
example), the boat is said to have a "hard" chine. On the other hand, if the
sides round gently into the bottom, the chine is described as "soft." A boat's
chine helps to shape its personality. So long as they're floating level,
broad-beamed, hard-chined craft often feel reassuringly stable, but they become a
little unsteady once they're leaned. Soft-chined boats are usually just the
opposite. Though they're sometimes a bit jittery at first, they firm up
noticeably when heeled.
Not surprisingly, paddlers tend to like boats whose characters match their
own. Phlegmatic anglers, photographers, and the owners of large, restless dogs
frequently choose hard-chined craft, while edgy, aggressive paddlers who spend a
lot of time playing the waves may gravitate toward the other extreme.
A Serendipitous Beginning
I am new to kayaking, and to the site. I have been trying to convince my
partner to give kayaking a try, and have been using the bird-watching angle. The
timing of "Going
to the Birds" could not have been more perfect.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
and a Happy Ending
Hi again, Tamia!
A while ago I thanked you for the timing of an article in terms of convincing
my less-than-enthusiastic partner to give kayaking a try. Well, she is now as
hooked as I, and we are saving to buy our boats next spring.
We got in a couple half-day paddles on our vacation. The second was on a large
beaver pond that was calm as glass, and we had it all to ourselves for about
three hours on one of the most gloriously sunny days you could imagine. It was an
awesome day, and as if that wasn't enough, my partner got some great photos of a
great blue heron.
It was meant to be! Thanks again.
PS We have been checking out the
paddling articles one by one what an excellent resource to have!
What can we say? It's mighty hard to improve on a happy ending, but knowing
that Paddling.net had a hand in making it happen
well, that's even
better. Our heartfelt thanks to Martine and to everyone else who took the time to
send us their comments and questions, not to mention all the good hints and tips.
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. Letters are subject to editing before publication, and
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