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Our Readers Write

A Little “Essential” Reading—and More

July 29, 2008

We’re over the hump of the year in Canoe Country. Midsummer’s Day has come and gone, and the sun is already beginning his slow retreat to the south. But there’s plenty of time left to enjoy all the good things that summer has to offer. We’re sure you’re making the most of the long days and warm water, too, and it’s good to see that every now and then you come home and touch base, stopping by In the Same Boat to let us know what’s on your mind.

This month is no exception. Since the last “Our Readers Write” went online in late April, folks have found the time to share their thoughts on a wide range of topics, from the rough-and-tumble of clapotis and whitewater—and how to prepare for it—to the fine art of poling, to the essentials of a good bagel. But why settle for our Executive Summary? In the Same Boat readers are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. And that’s just what they’re doing here. Enjoy!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

The Devil’s Churn

Dear Tamia,

Great story on clapotis [“Clapotis—The Sound of Two Waves Clapping” –Editor]! I used to live on the basaltic Oregon Coast. “Beach Caution” signs and pamphlets would say to beware of rogue waves, as well as “sleepers.” I suspect those are both words for clapotis waves.

There is one incredibly fascinating place on the Oregon Coast that I visited dozens of times in the two years I lived there. Picture a basaltic coast with just narrow isolated strips of sand. The bottom must rise pretty quickly, as there are three lines of breakers. Basalt is tough; the sea is persistent. There was some erosion of the coast, hence the sand. The “fascinating place” was a long crack perpendicular to the ocean and running inland for a couple hundred feet or so. The crack must have been maybe 50 feet across at the mouth. It wasn’t a smooth-sided crack, but a rather jagged one, notching in at the sides until it ended in the hillside. Perhaps the most important feature of the crack is that it is longer than a wave length. Also, this fissure must have gotten shallower from the ocean to the back. So here is the scenario…

A wave enters the fissure and encounters shallower water. The water has to go somewhere so it goes up as it travels toward the terminus of the fissure. Pretty simple except for the complications. First, the wave can’t make it uninterrupted to the back because it is being met by the returning wave before it, which completed its journey with the same difficulties and is now on its way back to sea. Second, the incoming wave hits those jagged tall sides, makes the splash, and ricochets back into the fray. Talk about an extreme example of clapotis! The first time I saw this place I concluded a person in that water absolutely would NOT drown—they would not live long enough to drown before being smashed against the sides.

This place is aptly named the Devil’s Churn. Of the dozens of times I visited, there was only one time when the water was relatively calm. Must have been slack low tide.

Here is a link to some pictures of the Devil’s Churn, but they don’t do the churning action justice. In the views from the upper parking lot, notice the white on the rocks high up on the side. That is the remains of the last wave draining back into the sea. Also, on the pictures of the waves crashing against the shore note that it is ONE wave. Waves of that force enter the fissure and then get hit by one like that (although with much energy dissipated) on the way out. Spectacular! In addition, notice the size of the people in relation to the wave in the image entitled “Bernice gets wet.” You gotta see this place in person! These pictures make me want to go there now.

James Stone
Boise, Idaho

• • •

Tamia replies:

It’s great to hear from you again, James, and I’m very glad you enjoyed “The Sound of Two Waves Clapping.” Thanks for the wonderful description of The Devil’s Churn, and for the link to the pictures. (I found more photos on the US Forest Service site.) One thing is clear, though: it’s not a place for a paddler!

[Editor’s note: Prompted by James’ letter, Tamia asked retired US Coast Guard officer Whit Patrick what he knew about the Devil’s Churn. His reply follows.]

The Devil’s Churn—An Expert’s POV

Hi, Tamia!

Devil’s Churn is amazing in its power and beauty. To be honest, though, the folks pictured that close to the Churn [in the earlier photos –Editor] are foolish and have no appreciation for the ocean’s lack of conscience. If you remember, I am retired from the US Coast Guard. My last assignment was as Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay in Newport. Cape Perpetua was in my operational area, and the Churn is on the south side of the cape. We had to respond on a fairly (disturbingly) regular basis to cases where sightseers had been swept from the rocks.

The best resource to respond with is a helicopter simply because of time and access. I hated to endanger helo crews or boat crews responding to folks who seemed to be suffering from felony-level stupidity. Having said that, however, I do understand the desire to get close to that kind of majesty!

About 40 miles north we also have a natural washing machine in Otter Rock. It is known as The Devil’s Punchbowl. I always thought that would be a hoot in a whitewater boat! (Now who’s demonstrating felony dumbness, eh?)

Have you ever taken a look at Jon Walpole’s photos of the Oregon Coast and other places? I think you’ll be impressed.

Thank you again for writing. I read your pieces every week and never fail to learn something!

Whit Patrick
Newport, Oregon

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the operational challenges confronting the commanding officer of a Coast Guard station, Whit. I can’t imagine a more demanding job. And by the way, I also learn something new with every one of your letters. Thanks, too, for the link to John Walpole’s photos. You’re right. I’m impressed—and not only by the quality of the photography. Those are some mighty nervy boaters.

The Joy of Bagels

Dear Tamia,

I’ve enjoyed your articles for some time now on This food one [“Bagels—From the Deli to Your Belly” –Editor] came at just the right time. Bagels! We lived for a time on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, between West End and Riverside on 78th Street, if you know that neighborhood. Well, the Bagel Factory was just up the street on Broadway, right at the closest bus stop. When I’d get off the bus late at night from studying in the library, I’d pop in and ask, “What’s hot?” Incredible stuff—though it ruined me for frozen bagels.

The Japan Considered Project

• • •

Tamia replies:

I’m pleased that you enjoyed “Bagels,” Bob, and I’m delighted that it brought back happy memories. I’ve never been to The Bagel Factory, I’m sorry to say, but Manhattan bagels made the trek north to the Adirondack foothills more than 20 years ago. A local fellow went to the Big City to learn the bagel-baking trade. On his return he opened a small shop. It was an immediate success, and it’s still going strong. You’re right, of course: frozen bagels are nothing by comparison to the real thing!

Car-Topping, Safely and With Style

Dear Tamia,

Thank you for turning attention to car-topping, a subject which is too often taken for granted. Two points of concern arise in my mind. First: The top illustration [see “Tying One (or More) On, Safely—A Car-Topping Primer” –Editor] shows the bow and stern lines angled in the same direction. This is a mistake. Should the boat slide forward through the belly lines, there is no immediate check on movement and both end lines will be loose. Those lines (also called surge and brake lines) MUST be slanted in opposite directions—or, at the very least, one must be vertical and the other slanted. (On small cars with short back ends, a long canoe often requires the brake rope to be fastened to a thwart inside the boat, rather than out to the stem. The longer the vehicle, the easier to rig a sensible arrangement—yet another good reason to own a pick-up. Second: your warning about stopping after ten minutes of driving to check that initial tension has held is well-taken, but the lines, whether rope or webbing, must be checked again once they get wet. We all know the effect rain has on tent guy lines; how much more critical the same effect on tie-downs!

Would you consider a follow-up column on the knots to be used for tie-downs? I see numerous rigs I consider quite dangerous only because of incompetent knot-tying. Perhaps you could encourage the use of cam-straps, which place no demand on the user beyond making sure they are taut, a goal much more easily attained with the straps than with rope and knots, at least for users less than expert in the latter.

Best wishes from the Rideau Valley.

Jim Penistan

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for writing, Jim. And I share your concerns. In fact, we published a follow-up article addressing many of the very points you raise: “Racking ’Em Up—More About Car-Topping Your Canoe or Kayak.” As for knots, check out “Knots to Know! Basic Ropecraft for Paddlers” and “Knots to Know! Second String.” Together, they give an overview of this important topic.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to write. Your letter reminds me that we need to revisit the subject of car-topping in the very near future—and we will!

The Not-So-Lost Art of Poling

Hi, Tamia!

Sort of by accident, I stumbled on your 2002 In the Same Boat article on punting [see “When It’s Time to Punt” –Editor]. Because you might be the only “civilian” who knows who the Beletz brothers are, I have to report that the ACA Canoe Poling Nationals were held two weeks ago on the Meramec River in Missouri where the Beletzes started it all.

We had a grand weekend, the New England hotshots adapting well enough to the slow, muddy course to dominate. For at least the last decade, the Nationals have been held in New England, and attendance has been…umm…unrepresentative. This year, though, we had people from Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois joining the usual suspects from New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Here’s a website covering the Nationals.

We had a grand dinner, maybe 50 or so people, to honor Al, Syl, and Frank Beletz.

It was a long, hot, miserable haul for most people, but I think all of us were profoundly happy to have been a part of it.


Fred Klingener

• • •

Tamia replies:

What a pleasant surprise to hear from you again, Fred! It’s great to see that poling has such an active and enthusiastic following. I only wish I’d been able to join you on the Meramec.

[Later, Fred wrote again. –Editor]

Sure, you can print my letter or parts of it as an intro. I’d be afraid, though, that it’ll make the story about me, and that wouldn’t get to the real story. That’d be about Ed Hayden (at 81, he was 2nd in Masters Wildwater at the Nationals), who conceived and drove the idea of going back to the Meramec. Or Scott Stepanuk, the ACA national chair. Or the prophet himself, Al Beletz. It’d have to include something about Harry Rock and Chip Cochrane. They’re the ones in Mena’s pictures who wouldn’t be allowed to pole in a “No Wake” zone.

Somewhere in there, there’s a also story about Clive Palmer, a UK professor who selected canoe poling as a case study for investigating the relationship between coach and athlete. He picked poling as an activity so obscure that it’d allow an academic distance. He came to the Meramec to film competitive polers and was talked into entering the races. It’d be interesting to know how his experience in Missouri (a 2nd in Intermediate Whitewater and a 3rd in Intermediate Slalom) affects his academic distance. Here’s a YouTube video clip of some of his research. [There’s excellent footage of re-boarding a canoe from the water, too, as described in Tamia’s article “Bail Out, Shake Out, or Flip? Self-Rescue for Solo Canoeists,” not to mention a couple of ingenious ways to move a canoe forward without either a paddle or a pole. –Editor]

For the first time (ever, I think) there was someone from ACA National at the races. Turn down the flow in a whitewater park for poling races in front of packed grandstands? Groupies? Paparazzi? Maybe the greenness of poling will make it the wave of the future.

Is this all too much for a Same Boat article? Maybe, but it would be a pretty good one.


Fred Klingener

• • •

Tamia replies:

Too much for an article, Fred? Not to my way of thinking! Thanks for the delightful letters—and for a Very Good Idea.

Of course, Farwell and I are probably not the only folks who regret missing the Nationals. So if any reader finds herself (or himself) in the same boat, here are three photos from the competition, reprinted with the kind permission of Mena Schmid. The top picture is of two of the Beletz brothers. (That’s a nifty recumbent trike on the car, guys!) The other shots give a glimpse of the action on the water. To see the originals—and a lot more of Mena's pictures, as well—visit the National Canoe Poling Championships (30-31 May 2008) gallery. You’ll be glad you did!

The Beletz Brothers Keep an Eye on Things

Holding Station in Midstream

Standing By


[Some columns have longer legs than others. And “Ten ‘Nonsentials,’” Tamia’s tongue-in-cheek take on some very bad advice from BACKPACKER, is one of these. Long after its original publication, it continues to draw comment. The following letters are just a sample. –Editor]

A Go-Light for Sore Eyes?

Good article, Tamia!

I am sure you made no friends at BACKPACKER! Glad to see you are not afraid to “call a spade a spade.” The ultralight junkies can have their own fun. I just hope that they know that they are walking a very fine line between lightweight bliss and total catastrophe. Not for me, thanks.

FYI I shared your article with a few friends, and all but one agreed with you. The one dissenter is a hard-core alpine-style mountaineer who says “light is right and lighter is righter” and “speed is safety in the mountains.” Interesting to note that this same friend (while on a January ascent of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington) had his eyelids frozen shut and needed rescue (“a little assistance,” as he calls it) on the descent because he did not want to carry goggles and glacier glasses. With his glasses broken by an accident on the ascent his eyes were left exposed. When Mount Washington’s famous 80- to 100-mph winds came up there was nothing he could do. He cites this example in favor of his point, claiming that if his pack was even lighter, he would have moved faster and would have been back below the tree line when the winds picked up. Some people never learn.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

David E. Mosier

Murphy’s Law and the Novice

Dear Tamia,

Thanks for your article. I agree with most of it, and where we don’t agree it really doesn’t matter. Here are my concerns: BACKPACKER is read by a lot of novices who have never packed a pack with any items other than books, and who may be heading off for their first real adventure. Bad idea to go as “bare” as possible first time around. Murphy’s Law always rears its ugly head at the most inopportune moments during a trip. Better to be prepared. Concern #2: No mention of a hand-held GPS, nine ounces of the best peace of mind that you can carry. Yes, I carry a compass, but my GPS goes with me on every kayak, bike, or hiking trip I take, no exceptions (along with an extra set of batteries). Concern #3: A signal whistle. Many boaters have one attached to their PFDs, but I’d suggest attaching it to your backpack, as well. Obviously handy to signal for help, but very useful in warding off curious critters, too, especially the ones that growl.

Enjoy the outdoors. God made it for us!

In Christ alone,

Dennis Gibson
Senior Enrollment Advisor
Trinity College and Seminary

• • •

Tamia replies:

I’m very pleased that you enjoyed “Ten ‘Nonsentials,’” Dennis. I agree that a GPS is a wonderful tool—even Farwell has come round, though he still has his sextant!—but I’m not yet ready to label it an Essential. (Well, maybe in foggy coastal waters…)

We’re entirely of one mind about whistles, in any case. These days, I don’t leave home without one.

Thanks for writing!

The (Really) Complete Wilderness Paddler

Hey, Tamia!

I really like your mind. Nice article. I want you on my next outing!

Bob Cook

• • •

Tamia replies:

I’m flattered, Bob, and if that’s you in the picture [see below –Editor] I really dig your rig. Face shield and elbow pads. Wow! I can think of a couple of times when one or another of our paddling buddies would have been mighty glad to have both. (Many popular whitewater runs in the Northeast are really bony, and I’ve seen more than one companion roll up with a bloody face.)

Thanks for writing. Safe paddling!

[Later, Bob wrote again. –Editor]

Yes, that is me in the photo. In the Rocky Mountain region we have sometimes learned the wisdom of protection over fashion, and I too have seen friends bash their faces, so when it’s “bony” we will take to these measures.

My outfit may be a bit much for “well-outfitted”! I suspect I’ll be the example of “too much,” and I don’t often dress for battle unless I feel it’s called for. But I do have scars from when I didn’t wear enough and rolled or swam.

A couple more pictures for you, the second [see below –Editor] as to why such gear sometimes becomes necessary for composure when I’m experiencing life as a “daggerboard” looking for Plan B.

Thanks again for your good writing and for your attention.


[The following photos show Bob in full kit—and in action. Who says open canoes can’t be rolled, eh? –Editor]

Ready for Action

Roll, Roll, Roll Your Boat!

OK. That’s a pretty cool note to wrap up this hot summertime collection of reader mail, isn’t it? Come September, though, we’ll roll back up with more letters. In the meantime, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who’s taken time to get in touch. Keep those e-mails coming! Remember, it’s “Our Readers Write.” We can’t do this without you.

A little fine print: We’ll assume that it’s all right to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put “Not for Publication” at the head of your letter.) We will never put your e-mail address on-line unless you specifically ask us to, however. Letters may also be edited for length and clarity, and we’ll add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate. ’Nuff said?

Copyright © 2008 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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