Leash It or Lose It?
Back to using a paddle to get around. Of course, when you're out on the water there's always the possibility of losing your paddle overboard. What then? Or better yet, how can you prevent this from happening in the first place?
I have a question. I have a couple of paddle leashes. One is pretty low‑tech, made of stretch cord like the cord used for deck line. The other is slightly more sophisticated, with coiled line like on a telephone receiver. It has a clip on one end and a velcro strap on the other. These are great tools. I know these are so you don't lose your paddle if you roll, capsize, or whatever. Frankly, since I can stand up in the shallow marshes where I kayak to hunt waterfowl, I clip one end of the leash to the boat and the other to the wrist of the fowler (a flintlock shotgun). This keeps me from having to do what a buddy of mine did. He hired a diver to find his shotgun on the bottom of the river. I recently read your article about the guy who did most things wrong, but a couple of very important things right in that when he exited the kayak he kept his paddle. ["Worst‑Case Scenario" –Editor]. It seemed to me that the paddle did you precious little good without the boat, so you might as well clip it to the boat.
Is there a consensus on this? I would tend to clip the paddle to the boat. This has got to be a great one to address, and one in which I might NOT be the only person with the question.
After reading your note about tying the boat to one's body, I remember my uncle's advice of "never tie a boat to you." Of course, he had been in the Navy and would be dealing with that "open ocean" situation. On land, I love using lanyards so I don't lose gear while traveling through the woods.
Ah, paddle leashes. You couldn't have hit on a more contentious topic, James. It's the paddlesport world's closest counterpart to cycling's interminable "helmet wars." Nonetheless, I dipped my toes into these troubled waters a couple of years back, in "At the End of Your Tether?" As for the wisdom of hanging onto your paddle in a capsize, I went into the question in some detail in "Swim Time! Coping with Capsizes." But here's the executive summary: When you go for an unplanned swim in rough water, you and your boat are likely to part company. And while finding a swamped boat lodged on a downstream rock isn't always easy, it's usually a lot easier than spotting a floating paddle. So it pays to get — and keep — a grip.
Paddle leashes? They make a lot of sense in quiet shallows, and many sea kayakers use them as well, for just the reasons you state. But there's always some risk of entanglement, and that risk rises in the chaotic currents of whitewater rivers. My personal bottom line? I'd be reluctant to use a leash of any sort in moving water, whether it was tethered to me or tied to my boat. And while I agree that tying the paddle to the boat can make good sense on quiet water, it may be less than helpful in whitewater. Apart from the ever‑present danger of entanglement, there's another consideration: Sometimes a swamped boat is gone for good, and when your paddle is tied to it you've lost that, too. If you have your paddle in your hand, however, you've saved the cost of a replacement. This could easily amount to several hundred bucks. Consider it a down payment on a new boat. Moreover, if you held on to your paddle, and if there's an empty place in a buddy's canoe, you can still get a share of the fun on the way to the take‑out. It might even help take your mind off your lost boat.
As for "tying the boat to [my] body." I mostly agree with your uncle. That said, I do "clip in" to my kayak on windy days, though only on flatwater. I'd certainly do so if I were planning a long solo open‑water crossing. Farwell once had the fun of swimming after his swamped kayak on a big, windswept lake. He won the race, but it was close‑run thing. I've had similar experiences with flighty inflatables, too. So the clip‑in option remains a useful one, at least in certain circumstances. Then again, I don't often choose to make long open‑water crossings alone these days. And after his experience on that windswept lake, Farwell doesn't either. After all, in a hard chance on a big bay, a companion trumps a lanyard any day.
Something of Note
Tamia's series on field sketching struck a chord with many readers, one of whom is a contributer to Paddling.net's Guidelines…
I always enjoy your articles. I have a comment on field journal notes. I am a birder, and oftentimes when I am going to be in an area where new birds might be seen, I write down a few pertinent facts about the birds I want to see: distinguishing feather and color patterns, bill color, habitat, behavior, and the like. It's a reminder so when I am in the field I can glance at them to determine if the new bird in the bush is the one I was seeking. It's a great aid for identifying birds in the field. I really enjoyed your article on field notes and sketching — thanks.
Columnist and Contributor to Paddling.net
I'm delighted that you enjoyed "Practical Art for Paddlers," Tom, and thanks for the tip. You've reminded me that field journals are more than a record of what we've seen and done. They're also guidebooks, and the best sort of guidebooks, at that: the ones we write for ourselves.
And speaking of guidebooks, readers who haven't checked out Paddling.net's Guidelines should do so. We wrote many of the early articles in that series, but there's been a great deal added since then. So why not visit with Tom and his colleagues at Guidelines when you get the chance? You won't regret it.
Not Your Average Fish Story
I was reading your article about sketching and colored pencils ["Color Your World" –Editor]. Pretty neat! I don't really do much drawing, but once in a while I have had some fun with it. I'm looking forward to your upcoming article on watercolors — I really like those.
Here's a color pencil sketch I did years ago: