Our Readers Write
On Being Prepared
July 30, 2013
If Canoe Country paddlers had the naming of the seasons, then spring, summer, fall, and winter would probably be replaced with something more meaningful. Winter might be the Season of Hard Water, for example. And spring, the Season of Freshets. Fall would be the Season of Mists. (Or maybe the Season of Bright Colors.) But what of Summer? I'd suggest the Season of Dreams, since summer is when canoeists' and kayakers' thoughts turn to extended trips through wild places — the stuff of paddlers' dreams.
And so it is with us. But real life frequently intrudes, and the awkward need to wrest a living means that the stuff of dreams is often just that: something enticing and compelling, tantalizingly close, yet out of reach. That said, summer remains a dreaming season, a season when getting away for an hour (or a day) can be as easy as opening the door and carrying the little pack canoes down to The River, with no need to wrap ourselves in rubber or don layers of wool and insulating polyester fiber.
The upshot? Summer is a pleasantly busy time for us, as it is for most paddlers, a time when sitting behind a keyboard quickly palls. Happily, though, In the Same Boat's readers still snatch a few minutes from their busy days to drop us a line, even in the Season of Dreams. Sometimes they set us straight when we get things wrong. And we're glad they do. At other times they draw our attention to something that we've missed. Or tell us about some useful trick that makes a hard job easier. In fact, we get so much mail that months often elapse before we can pass it along. We try to answer all letters within a few days — or a couple of weeks, at most — and mostly we succeed. But "Our Readers Write" goes to press (does anyone under the age of 30 know what that means?) only four times a year, with the result that many letters sit in our In Tray for a long while before they find their way into a column.
Any road, it's been three months since the last "Readers Write" was launched aetherward. This time around the subject is Being Prepared. And that's a felicitous theme in the Season of Dreams. So let's get things moving. It's over to you, now…
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Why Flotation is Important
Tamia's article "Nemesis Never Sleeps" focused on one reader's misadventure on the Nanticoke River in a stiff breeze. It ended well, fortunately, and there were salutary lessons in it for all paddlers, but something important was left unsaid. Read on…
You left out one very important precaution that I think every boater should take. That would be placing flotation bladders in all compartments, especially when empty or only partially full. I have a Feathercraft K‑1 and a Khatsalano. The Khatsalano even comes with flotation bags as part of the boat. Like a seat belt they have never been needed, but are always used. To trust hatches is to live on the edge in my opinion.
A very good point, Bob. I regularly "beat the drum" to call attention to the importance of adequate flotation, but it's always worth reiterating. Thanks for the reminder!
How to Stay on an Even Keel
Paddlesport writers like to expound on the subject of trim and its importance, but they often fail to tell their readers how to determine when a boat is out of balance. Encouraged by Tamia's article "How to Stay on an Even Keel," a frequent contributer to these virtual pages suggests yet another practical (and elegant) way to achieve the desired end.
I have taken my tandem canoes and added a waterline at six inches of depth. This makes trimming a lot easier because you have a line to follow.
The lining is done by setting one's canoe on flat, level ground. Take a level and "level" the canoe port to starboard, and then bow to stern. Now take a six‑inch block with a pencil taped on top and trace a line down the side of the boat. Then apply ¼‑inch auto trim tape — one can purchase this from an auto parts store — evenly along the pencil line. (Be sure to clean the side of the boat first so the tape will stick.) I used black tape on my red canoe and white tape on my green canoe. It has lasted 10 years so far, and it's nice to have a reference for trimming.
Simple and good, Ric. It's a sort of Plimsoll line for paddlers — and just as useful, I'd imagine.
On Splatchers, or How to Play in the Mud
Where there's water, there's usually mud. And since every paddler has to get out of her boat and walk sooner or later, it's not unusual to find yourself wallowing in mud from time to time. That's what prompted Tamia to write "Glorious Mud!" but as the following letter suggests, her article may have raised more questions than it answered.
Never heard the term "splatchers," though it's wonderfully onomatopoeic. However, I have often seen reference to "mud pattens" being used by marsh men or wildfowlers on the sea marshes around the UK. Same idea, spreading the body's weight over a larger surface area.
"Splatchers"is delightfully onomatopoeic, isn't it, Michael? I picked it up from one of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books, and since the word doesn't appear in any of the 300,000‑plus entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, Ransome may have coined it himself. (The book in question is Secret Water, by the way, and like all the Swallows and Amazons series, it's a great read for anyone with an interest in small boats — anyone who doesn't mind being seen reading a "children's book," that is.)
I notice that mud pattens have splatched their way across the Pond, too, though in the North American catalogs they appear as Mudders Boot Supports, a much less euphonious name, at least to my ear. Billed as "snowshoes for the mud," the Mudders are said to represent an improvement on traditional splatchers/pattens, incorporating "space‑age material" (of course!) and retractable wings to reduce suction. In truth, they sound like an interesting variation on the theme, but at USD120 they're certainly not cheap. I doubt I'll be picking up a pair anytime soon.
Knowing What to Do When Illness Strikes or Injuries Happen
Much as we'd like to think that our holidays will be illness‑ and injury‑free zones, this isn't always the case. Which adds a vital dimension to the idea of being prepared.
I quickly read over (not thoroughly) your "Doc in a Box" article. I see you recommend asking your doctor for advice on building your first‑aid kit if you have any questions. Good advice.
Even better, additionally, would be to recommend that people traveling in the backcountry take a wilderness medicine course. There's a company called "Wilderness Medicine Training Center" which worked with the University of Michigan to give Wilderness First Aid (WFA) classes through their Outdoor Adventure program. I took WFA when I was with an organization called Climbers Association of Michigan, and later took Wilderness First Responder (WFR) when a local Boy Scout troop needed another person in the class to cash in on a discount.
There are SO many things which can happen in the backcountry where having a well‑stocked first‑aid kit can only make you dangerous if you don't know two things — how to use it, and how to know what to use and when. The information in WFA was invaluable, and WFR is a HUGE extension on WFA.
There are other wilderness medicine education centers, and I assume they are good at what they do, but I only have experience with the Wilderness Medicine Training Center and think very highly of their courses and instructors.
So my vote would be to hone the skills to be MUCH better prepared to deal with backcountry issues.
You're right, John. The most important item in any medical kit is a well‑stocked brain‑housing group, and I made that point in my article. But it bears repeating, so here goes:
As important as it is to have the right kit, however, it's even more important to know the Right Stuff. In an emergency, far from home and help, you're the doc. So you need at least a rudimentary understanding of anatomy and physiology, along with the ability to assess a patient (whether it's yourself or someone else), make a provisional diagnosis, and begin treatment. You won't get this from reading a book. It takes hands‑on instruction and intensive drill, beginning with the ABCs. Luckily, instruction in the art of wilderness medicine is much easier to come by today than it was when I first started knocking around the backcountry. And I can't think of a better investment for any paddler.
Thanks, too, for the information on the Wilderness Medicine Training Center, and for giving me this chance to draw attention to a vitally important message once again.
Tying One On
And finally, a cautionary tale highlighting the importance of making sure your boat is properly secured before you hit the road — and knowing how to repair a plastic boat when it wasn't.
A couple weeks ago, my paddling buddy Maria took off with her boyfriend to paddle in northern Arizona after stopping to retrieve her kayak from my place, where it's stored. Apparently, her boyfriend had not the skills to tie his canoe and her kayak to the roof of his truck. As a result, her Old Town Loon came off the truck and bounced down the dirt ramp at the launch. Well, she and he off‑loaded the 'yak at my place while I was at work, and I got a frantic e‑mail from her complaining about how he had destroyed her boat.
I am not the kind of person to panic without cause. Having been trained as a loadmaster for C‑130s, I know that proper lashings are important. The Air Force frowns on a tank coming loose, plowing through the aircraft's side and falling 10,000 feet to land on an orphanage on a slow news day, so I had to be very good at this sort of thing. And in 28 years I never had a tank land on an orphanage or school or hospital, so I must have done my job well.
I use the same skills when lashing my boats to a trailer or vehicle roof.
~ ~ ~
Still, accidents happen, as the following digression makes clear: A couple of years ago I allowed my brain to fall below my belt and loaned one of my Mallard kayaks to a very well‑endowed redhead. (OK. I had ulterior motives.) When she returned it, my trailer was totaled, little more than a damaged frame with no lights or deck, and there was a very large hole in the boat's bow. She said that she had no idea how that had happened. I think that she was cruising at 50 mph down a dirt road, hit a rock, rolled my trailer and dragged my kayak a mile or so before she realized what had happened. I was not happy. She paid me USD125 toward the repair of my trailer (materials only), but nothing toward the repair or replacement of my kayak. Then she vanished!
~ ~ ~
The reason for that detour down a dirt road was to explain that I had to learn how to repair plastic kayaks.
When I got home and examined Maria's boat, I laughed. There was about one inch of the outer layer missing from her bow and no penetration or structural damage. So I rolled the boat over, pulled out my heat gun and some plastic I had left over from a hatch‑repair job on my Scrambler, and with a putty knife and a little care, I had patched the damage in about 15 minutes. She now has a small blue patch on a green boat — big deal!
So when Maria and I went paddling over the Memorial Day weekend, her roommate brought her to my place, her boyfriend being too embarrassed to face me. I tied three boats to my truck's roof and taught the roommate how to do the job properly, and more importantly WHY it's done that way.
The bottom line is that good tie‑down skills will not only save a boat, they may just save a relationship!
Rick gets the last word this time, and his example is well worth heeding — though not, perhaps, in the matter of the shapely redhead. (Quae nocent, saepe docent seems an apposite comment here.) Learn how to lash your load, and know your knots. The relationship you save may be your own.
And speaking of relationships, Our Readers Write will return in late October, by which time the Season of Dreams will be but a memory. There'll be plenty of opportunities to get out and realize those dreams before the chill mists of autumn settle over the waters, however. In the meantime, if you have a comment, a pointed criticism, or a helpful hint, just drop us a line. As always, it's "Our Readers Write."
Referenced articles From In the Same Boat:
- "Lessons Learned: Nemesis Never Sleeps"
- "Mucking About in Boats: Glorious Mud!"
- "How to Stay on an Even Keel — And Why You Want To"
- "Doc in a Box: Building Your Own Medical Kit"
- Overland: Storing, Car‑Topping, and Portaging (a topical index)
Plus two more from Guidelines:
Want to know what's been on other paddlers' minds over the years? Then check out the "Our Readers Write" archive, a Paddling.net index with links to all 50 earlier editions of this regular feature from In the Same Boat.
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