Our Readers Write
October 29, 2013
It's that time again: time for another airing of Our Readers Write. And if you think these occasional columns pop up at random, you're wrong. There's a method to our madness. A new Readers Write appears on the last Tuesday in every month that boasts five — count them! — five Tuesdays. You could call Readers Write the fifth wheel of In the Same Boat, but this wouldn't do it justice. A fifth wheel in an unnecessary appurtenance, and that's certainly not true of your letters. They're a very important part of the story of In the Same Boat. You correct our errors, tell us about things we've overlooked, shed new light on old topics, and suggest subjects for future columns. In short, you make it possible for In the Same Boat to live up to its name. It's a collaborative process between a couple of writers who are also readers, and a great many readers who take the time to write.
The latest Readers Write is no exception. On our last outing together it was high summer in Canoe Country. Now the tamaracks are on the turn and winter — the season of hard water, remember? — is waiting impatiently in the wings, ready to make its grand entrance, heralded by an icy norther. There's still time to dip a paddle, of course. But time is growing short. Which is why this Readers Write will be concentrating on timely things. Like making your canoe ready for winter, for example. And tips on keeping your hands warm when the water temperature is only a few degrees above the freezing point. Not to mention the fine art of keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs. Heads and hands… Where would we paddlers be without them? Up that proverbial creek, that's where.
But why should we waste any more of your time with a preview of coming attractions? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back in your chair, and read what your fellow paddlers have to say, in their own words. That, after all, is every reader's right.
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
I spent more trips downriver this year in my little pack canoe rather than in my big 17‑footer. What a nice time. I have 30 miles of a blue ribbon trout river right by my front door. My trips most of the time are four to five hours downstream. I get out about 400 yards from my home, pick up my canoe, and walk home.
We have had our first snow here, but winter is still some days away. My canoe is not left outside much, but the green hull is starting to fade. It has been stored inside most of the time. I would like to wax my canoe and redo the seat. What would be the best cleaner for my little canoe?
It's great to hear from you again, Fred. There's snow in the mountains here, as well. Fall is much too short a season. Still, it sounds as if you made the most of the warmer months. It helps to have a river running right outside your front door!
The green color of our Old Town Pack canoes has faded, too — and faded more than a little. I'm afraid that's inevitable. Plastic may not biodegrade readily, but sunlight and everyday wear and tear inevitably take their toll, even when you store a boat inside during the winter months. In time — and that time is measured in years, perhaps even in decades — the elements have their way, and plastic boats become too brittle to trust to lively waters. But then, nothing lasts forever, does it?
To practical matters now: I've replaced the seat in my Pack, though the replacement won't win me many plaudits for elegance. But I don't do much cleaning besides an occasional brush and wash. So I took your question to the folks who ought to know best: Old Town. Here's what they have to say on their FAQ page:How do I clean my Old Town canoe or kayak?
HULL EXTERIOR: Wash with mild soap and water. You can also use Murphy's Oil Soap. To beautify, we suggest a vinyl protectant product such as Armor All, 303 Products or Pledge. These are safe for use on any of our Polyethylene, Superlinear, Royalex and Fiberglass canoes or kayaks.
We do not recommend waxing your hull with a paste wax, such as most car waxes. The wax fills in any scratches or gouges, then dries to a white color, making the damage more apparent.
HULL INTERIOR: Wash with mild soap and water. We DO NOT recommend using any of the above products or polishes on the interior, as the floor of your boat may become slippery.
That's good advice, I think. The key point? Don't use a paste wax in an attempt to restore your boat's showroom shine. If the seat in your pack canoe is wood‑framed, you might also want to brush on a coat or two of marine varnish at the end of every season. And while we're on the subject, let's return to the problem posed by rumpsprung seats for a minute. You can get kits to replace the cane insert. It's a relatively easy job. Or if convenience and economy loom large, you can emulate my Rube Goldberg improvisation. It may not look like much, but I find it comfortable. The choice is yours.
Then, once your boat is all shipshape and Bristol fashion, just place it bottom up on its winter berth, whether a purpose‑built rack or a couple of sawhorses, and leave it to its dreams. You can also store it right side up in webbing slings, if you prefer — a practicenot sanctioned by Old Town, I should add — but either way, a tarp cover never comes amiss, and if you have to store a boat outside, it's a very good idea. (Essential, in fact, if your boat is cradled right side up.) By the way, the folks at Old Town suggest that you suspend the tarp cover above the boat, rather than wrapping it around the hull. I confess that I've seldom gone to the trouble, but the idea is a good one, nonetheless. In other words, you'd be wise to do as they say, not as I do.
Caught on a Lee Shore
What's in a Name?
Language is a truculent tool. No sooner do you think you've mastered it, than it up and savages you. But that doesn't mean we can do without it. As Farwell noted some time back:
The language of sail and the sea is good for a lot more than just impressing landlubbers in the marina bar. It's a tool for communicating vital information in a hurry, without dangerous ambiguity.
At least that's the idea. But there's many a slip between pen and print — or between keyboard and screen, for that matter. As I was reminded not too long ago when a reader drew my attention to some of the pitfalls waiting to trap the unwary:
I just read your In The Same Boat article "Looking for a Lee," and I'm a bit confused, to the point of wondering if you didn't get your drawing reversed.
When I lived in Hawai'i, we referred to the "windward" and "leeward" sides of O'ahu — "windward" being the Kāne'ohe side, which got the brunt of the trade winds, and "leeward" being the Waikīkī side of the rock. But in your drawing of the lake …
… you showed the "lee shore" of that spit being hammered by the wind and waves. Is that backwards, or am I missing something here?
I will say this: I understand (and practice) the concept you're espousing — to hide from the wind as much as possible. I learned that paddling around in The Islands on surfboards many moons ago.
Thanks for your great articles — I've learned a lot from them!
Darren (SOT tandem kayaker in Los Angeles)
I'm glad you've found our articles useful, Darren — though of course I'm sorry that "Looking for a Lee" left you scratching your head. Unfortunately, some confusion is probably inevitable here. The root of the problem lies in the fact that "windward" and "leeward" are relative tags, dependent on a movable frame of reference — the observer. Deciding which label is "correct" depends on knowing where the observer stands (or sits, for that matter).
Here's a for‑instance: A surfer drives to a beach on the windward side of his home island, steps out of his car, and takes the measure of the pounding waves. He then paddles out, right into the teeth of a rising gale. Once he's clear of the breakers, he looks back at the beach he just left behind,which is now to leeward (downwind) of his board — and on a lee shore, to boot. With the wind continuing to strengthen, he knows he's in for a wild ride.
In other words, when viewed from the perspective of the surferashore, the beach is situated on the island's windward side. Once he's afloat, however, the beach lies on a lee shore. The same beach, the same wind, the same surf. Yet there are two different — and seemingly contradictory — labels for the same place. And the "correct" label depends on the surfer's point of view. That's what I meant by a movable frame of reference. "Windward" and "leeward" are like "left" and "right." They change as the observer's frame of reference changes. (Which is the reason that "port" and "starboard" entered the nautical lexicon. Left becomes right when you turn around. But the port side of a vessel is always the port side, whichever way you happen to be facing. So when the captain orders "Port your helm!" there's no possibility that the order will be misunderstood.)
Fortunately, the linguistic confusion between windward and leeward clears up when you're sitting in your canoe. A glance is usually enough to distinguish the danger of a lee shore (the paddler's point of reference — and the perspective I adopted in the illustration reproduced above) from the shelter offered by an island's lee (islander's point of reference). And a very good thing that is, too.
Where Are the Old, Bold Pilots?
Good judgment is the sine qua non of survival. And Tamia's article "Early and Provident Fear" prompted one regular contributor to In the Same Boat to offer these words of wisdom:
Back in my first truly challenging job, I was a Wilderness Ranger in the Pasayten Wilderness and along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. I was pretty green. I had hiked — strolled is probably more like it — in Eastern forests, Kansas tallgrass prairies with flint hills and limestone rimrock, sagebrush steppes, and evergreen forests. But I had never really backpacked and camped out overnight while strolling. [When on patrol as a ranger,] I was solo but had two‑way radio communication. Reception was better in some places and non‑existent from the bottom of gulches where one might end up after a fall. It didn't take me long at all to learn not to do anything stupid.
As such, I was entertained when I saw a full‑page announcement on the back cover of an aircraft pilots' magazine saying:Truly superior pilots are those who use their superior judgment to avoid those situations where they might have to use their superior skills.
It's particularly appropriate to paddlers when they consider that a "pilot" is also one who operates the controls of a boat.
Excellent point, James. The quotation reminds me of another favorite maxim: "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." However you phrase it, this advice is well worth heeding.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
One of the hardest jobs a cold‑season paddler faces is keeping her hands warm. And it's not just paddlers who suffer from cold hands. They're an occupational hazard for photographers, as well. (Paddling photographers take a double hit.) Which is what prompted Tamia to write a column for her Backcountry Photography series entitled "How Can You Keep Your Hands Warm?" And this, in turn, moved another frequent contributor to these pages to offer a tip worth following up:
I sailed San Francisco Bay and the ocean for 25+ years. It can be COLD here! Air temp 40 degrees Fahrenheit with 45 knots of breeze leads to cold hands in those fingerless leather sailing gloves. One solution for me was a pair of Polar Fleece mittens that had a slit across the upper palm area. You could pop your fingers out to tail a winch or adjust the VHF then pop them back inside the warm mitten. I got them years back from Chuck Roast. Dunno if that company is still in business.
Your Chuck Roast mittens sound good, Doc, and even if they're no longer available, it shouldn't be difficult to modify an existing pair of mitts to achieve the same end. And there are other alternatives. Farwell stumbled across a pair of convertible mittens at a local supermarket. He used them for several years while bicycle commuting in winter, and he's also worn them while paddling in icy weather. The mitts — which boast pivoting fleece caps over fingerless gloves — are bright "hunter orange," too. But they've now disappeared from the store. In fact, the store has also disappeared, yet another victim of corporate restructuring. Similar mitts show up occasionally on the websites of online retailers, however.
Back to Chuck Roast for a minute… That name is certainly a blast from the past. There was a time when every climber had at least one piece of Chuck Roast gear in his pack. But while the name survives, the company's current emphasis seems to be on tactical and firefighting kit, rather than outdoor sports equipment.Sic transit and all that.
Caught on the Fly
And while we're on the subject of hands, Tamia's Eye and Hand series, subtitled "Practical Art for Paddlers," continues to elicit mail, as these two letters show:
Thank you for your wonderful article on sketching ["Caught on the Fly" – Editor]. I had done some drawings several years ago in my birding journal, and your article has inspired me to take it up again. We are birding enthusiasts and also have a kayak which makes our nature‑watching even more enjoyable.
Attached are photos of pages from my journal which I wanted to share with you. I have included one drawing from a trip to Canyon of the Eagles in Texas [see photo below – Editor]. This was the first time we had ever seen cedar waxwings. They were grouped in such an interesting fashion. That exact grouping is how we spotted them in our neighbors' tree the next year. Because of the drawing, it was sketched in our mind, and we knew immediately what birds we were seeing before we even made out their coloring and body features.
Thank you again for inspiring me today.
It's always good to learn that an article of mine has helped a reader rekindle an old interest, Rachel. And thanks for letting us sneak a peek at your journal. I'm a great believer in the value of quick sketches in fixing images on what Colin Fletcher called "the emulsion of memory."
And just to show that we really are in the same boat, this last week I saw a flock of cedar waxwings perched in a flowering crab, and they had arrayed themselves in almost exactly the same way as the waxwings in your sketch. Moreover, your letter has now prompted me to pick up my pencils after a long — too long — hiatus. It seems that inspiration flows both ways. I'm in your debt.
I just wanted to let you know how much I have been enjoying your articles on Paddling.net. As someone new to sketching, I found your art articles inspiring and warm. I felt as if I had just met a new friend. It was fun. Thank you, and I look forward to future writings and sketches in your Eye and Hand series.
Just a brief question: I am curious about the journals by previous explorers which you mentioned. [See "Studio Voyaging" – Editor]. I was going to make a trip to the local library to see if I could find some of them, but I thought I would ask if you have any specific explorers' journals you could recommend? Actually, I did go to the library and look up journals, but my search resulted in nothing. The librarian looked amazingly confused, and I am at a standstill. Recommended titles would be so appreciated! Once again, thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.
I can't say I'm surprised that your search came to nothing, Heather. With many local libraries emptying their coffers to purchase multiple copies ofHarry Blotto and the Surfeit of Royalties — you're right; I'm jealous — and Several Hundred Thousand Shades of Green, not to mention the latest Blu‑ray movie releases, there isn't much money (or shelf space) left over for volumes of musty old journals. University libraries are probably a better bet, but even they are "weeding" their collections of any titles not on the current course reading lists. Still, it's worth asking your local librarian to process an ILL (interlibrary loan) request. Sometimes you get lucky.
Your best bet is the Internet, however. Millions of out‑of‑copyright works, including many old journals and other primary sources, are now available online in a variety of electronic formats, free for the downloading. You won't even need a library card. As a result, Farwell and I now "own" more electronic books than we have print volumes on our shelves.
Here are just a few titles to look for:
- George Back. Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River.
- William Francis Butler. The Great Lone Land.
___. The Wild North Land.
- Charles Darwin. The Voyage of the BEAGLE.
- John Franklin. Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea.
___. Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea.
- Alexander Mackenzie. Voyages From Montreal to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans.
- John Richardson. Fauna Boreali‑Americana.
- Ernest Thompson Seton. The Arctic Prairies.
- Alfred Russel [yes, there's only one "l"] Wallace. The Malay Archipelago.
I could go on and on, but these will give you some idea what's available. Since you have a much better notion about what interests you than I do, though, I'd suggest that you visit the Internet Archive. Then do a few keyword searches, using terms like "arctic," "canoeing," "exploration," and "Hudson's Bay. Unless I miss my guess, you'll have downloaded a lifetime's worth of reading material to your computer within a couple of hours. One hint: If you have a choice, give the Google scans a wide berth. Not only do you have to jump through hoops to download them, but I've found many to be of very poor quality, with missing or illegible pages and few if any of the fold‑out maps. Why this is, I don't know. But I've encountered these lapses again and again.
Want more book suggestions? Just check out Farwell's Backwaters series. In my experience, time spent exploring backwaters is seldom wasted.
Good luck — and happy reading!
That's it. Heather has the last word. With the cold, dark winter months fast approaching, there's probably no better way to end this column than with a reading list. But when Our Readers Write next returns, it will be the last day of the old year. By which time thoughts of spring will be rippling beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, like hidden currents flowing under river ice. We can't wait!
In the meantime, keep those e‑mails coming. Comment, criticism, or helpful hint — each is welcome. After all, it's Our Readers Write, and it always will be.
Referenced Articles From In the Same Boat
- "A New Seat for an Old Canoe"
- "Afloat on a Sea of Words"
- "Looking for a Lee: How to Put the Flat Back in Flatwater"
- "Early and Provident Fear: Lessons Learned at the End of the World"
- "How Can You Keep Your Hands Warm and Your Fingers Free?"
- "Caught on the Fly — Sketching Animals and Birds"
- "Practical Art for Paddlers: Studio Voyaging"
- "Virtual Voyages: Journals of Exploration"
Plus a few related columns:
- "Hands On! Getting a Grip on Gloves and Mittens"
- "Nature's An Open Book: Virtual Voyages"
- "Bibliotrekking, or How to Carry a Library in Your Pack"
And some kindred topical collections:
- Overland: Storing, Car‑Topping, and Portaging
- Eye and Hand: Practical Art for Paddlers
- Paddling through Time — The Canoe and Kayak in History
(This includes Farwell's Backwaters columns.)
Then, if you enjoy knowing what's on other paddlers' minds — I certainly do! — be sure to check out the Our Readers Write archive, a Paddling.net index with links to all 51 earlier editions of this regular feature from In the Same Boat.
A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.
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