Our Readers Write
"Farwell's Rules," Footwear, and Folding Boats
By Farwell Forrest
A Note to the Reader
We've deferred this month's installment of Trip of a
Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress, until next week, in
order to answer some letters that came our way recently. If you're
joining us for the first time and you want to see what our Trip
is all about, just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same
Boat Archives. Every one of the seventeen previously-published
chapters is there.
And now, a look at a few of the letters from our mail-bag
August 7, 2001
It's summertimeat least in the
northern hemisphere. The living's supposed to be easy. And for many
paddlers it is. Summer's the season for long expeditions, after all, and
for family holidays by the lake. But sometimes things don't go quite as
smoothly as we'd like. Gear that we've relied on for years vanishes from
the marketplace, for example, just when we're getting ready for a big
trip. Or the peaceful lake that's been our holiday getaway for many
seasons is suddenly full of strangers, not all of whom seem to know how
to stay out of trouble on the water.
Who are these strangers, anyway? Sometimes they're jet-skiers or
other motorsport enthusiasts. No surprise there. But at other times
us. Us? Yesus. Canoeists and kayakers can be
nuisances, too. Take the following letter, for example. The writer's a
sailor, not a kayaker, but he shares his home waters with paddlers. No
problem, you say? Aren't we all "no-octane" boaters?
Right. We are. But we still don't always agree how to share the
water. In fact, we sometimes find ourselves on a collision course. What
Rules? What Rules?
I do not own a kayak, but I do own three catamarans: a
Hobie Cat 16, a Prindle 16, and an Isotope 16. (I
know, you can only sail one at a time!)
My question: When I am on a large lake, in daytime
conditionsbright sun, fair weatherand I am trapped out in my
harness, moving along at about 20 mph, on a port or starboard tack,
or even a reach, does a kayak that suddenly appears in front of me have
the right of way over an unpowered, paddleless, sailboat? I have had
kayakers tell me that theythe kayakers, that ishave the
right of way at all times, on any body of water.
I, too, am unpowered. I do not carry a paddle. I am dependent totally
on the prevailing wind. How can I maneuver around a kayak? The kayakers
I meet mostly wear dark colors, and they paddle boats with dark-colored
hulls. They often sit still, sunning themselves in the middle of the
lake, and are definitely not aware of what is going on around them. Who
has the right of way?
Commodore, W.P.S.C. (Whitney Point Sailing Club)
Broome County, New York
Commodore since 1988
That's a very good question, Commodore, and it's an increasingly
important one, too, as more and more boaters compete for space on
America's crowded recreational waterways. Unfortunately, though, it's
not an easy question to answer, and the subject's a highly technical
one. I'm neither an admiralty lawyer nor a legal scholar, but I'll do my
First things first. Neither kayaks nor canoes enjoy any sort of
special status under the "rules of the nautical road," and neither can
lay claim to any manner of unqualified privilege or "right of way."
Neither, in fact, is specifically mentioned in either the 72COLREGS (the
International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, 1972,
as amendedthe so-called International Rules) or the Inland Rules
(as contained in the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980). New York
State Navigation Law (embodied in Chapter 37 of the Consolidated Laws)
mentions only canoes, and then only to specifically exclude them
from the category of regulated vessels, "except as
OK. Kayaks do not "have the right of way at all times, on any
body of water." In fact, the only time when a kayak can lay claim to the
right of way is when it's being overtaken by another vessel in waters
governed by the International or Inland Rules. On such waters, "any
vessel overtaking another shall keep out of the way of the vessel being
overtaken." (A vessel is "deemed to be overtaking when coming up with
another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam.")
As luck would have it, however, state courts have exclusive
jurisdiction in cases arising from collisions on any lake contained
wholly within the territory of a state, and in such instances the
provisions of state navigation law supersede those of the International
and Inland Rules. To make matters worse, New York State Navigation Law
nowhere addresses the question of rights of way in situations involving
both sail and paddlecraft.
Cynics might see this as confirmation of Frank Zappa's sweeping
criticism of the American legal system ("The United States is a nation
of laws: badly written and randomly enforced"), and I'm afraid it's
sometimes hard to disagree. Perhaps the only answer to your question,
therefore, is the rather unsatisfactory suggestion that the dictates
of courtesy and common sense place the greater burden of responsibility
for avoiding collisionthough certainly not the sole
responsibilityon the more maneuverable vessel. And in the
situation you describe in your letter, that vessel is the kayak.
After all, no sensible kayaker wears drab-colored clothing when paddling
in congested waters, or catnaps in the middle of a busy lake.
Furthermore, no courteous kayaker forces a fellow no-octane boater who
is wholly dependent on the wind to maneuver around him, especially when
he can readily move in any direction with just a few strokes of his
Still, I've suggested that as a sailor, you too bear some
responsibility for avoiding collisions. And just what is that
responsibility? Much the same as that of the kayaker. In the words of
the International Rules of the Road, it is the responsibility of every
- To "at all times
maintain a proper lookout"
- To "proceed at a safe speed," even when this is less than the
maximum speed possible under prevailing conditions
- And to be prepared to take any action necessary to avoid collision,
"in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good
Once again, it all boils down to common sense and courtesy. These are
very good things, but they're hard to define and almost impossible to
enforce. Until the law catches up to the demands of recreational boaters
on increasingly congested state waters, however, they're all we have,
and we'll have to make the best of the situation. Perhaps if we keep in
mind what draws us to the water in the first placethe challenge of
using our wits and our muscles to propel ourselves over the surface,
assisted whenever possible by wind and currentwe'll remember that,
whether we're paddlers, rowers, or sailors, we're all in the same boat.
That should make it easier for us to get along with each other. I hope
so, at any rate.
May the wind always be blowing your way!
Other problems bedevil summer paddlers, too. They may be less serious
than questions involving rights of way on the water, but they're often
no less annoying. What do you do when a piece of gear you've relied on
for years wears out, for instance, and you then discover that it's no
longer being made? A recent letter got Tamia thinking hard about this
These Boots Were Made for Walking
Just read your article on back-country canoe footwear. Interesting.
I've always worn leather boots, and resigned myself to having wet feet
for a couple weeks. Where do you get your wellies? Do you know of any
sources? I have a pair of cheap ($15?) knee high "rubber" boots that I
found at the local farm supply store, but they don't seem very rugged.
Any suggestions? Thanks.
Glad you found "In
Wellington's Footsteps" interesting, Boathead! When I wrote the
article, early in In the Same Boat's first season, I'd have had
an easy answer to your question: L.L.Bean. But times change. The
"L.L.Bean Wellie" I wore then was cheap ($30), durable (I used to get
three to six months of use out of each pair on the survey line), and
snug-fitting. In short, it was the perfect boot for a lot of
back-country paddling (and tramping).
That's "was," though. The only wellie L.L.Bean sells today is their
"Women's Wellie." These are three inches shorter than the old
wellieI guess the waters always part for the L.L.Bean
womanand they're too tight in the calf for me. I do too much
walking to have fashionably slim legs.
This is more than a nuisance. I'm on my last pair of old-style
wellies now. When they bite the dust I'm going to have to find something
else. The LaCrosse Men's 18" Grange rubber boots look like one
possibility. At $40, they aren't exactly cheap, and I have no idea how
durable they'll be, but they look pretty good in the catalog photos.
I'll probably give them a try. Of course, I'd rather stick with my tried
and true friends, but that's not an option. (So long, Leon. It was nice
while it lasted.)
Good luck in your search. And when you find a pair of wellies you can
live with, always be sure to take plenty of thick wool socks. Wellies
are great, but it's wonderful to be able to change your socks at
lunchtime. Makes a world of difference on hot days.
Not all summer problems can be blamed on inconsiderate boaters or the
whims of the marketplace, though. Sometimes we make our own troubles. As
I did in a recent piece on folding kayaks and canoes for Paddling.net's
section, for example, when my attempt at keeping things simple and light
left one reader shaking his head in disagreement. Happily, though, this
reader didn't just shake his head. He wrote to me and set me straight.
Now I'm wiser than I was.
Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate
I have just read your article on Folding Kayaks.
As an owner of a Feathercraft I have to agree with you: they are very
seaworthy, fun, and surprisingly resistant. Before I bought a surfing
boat I even used my Feathercraft in surf, sometimes in waves chest- to
head-high. The maneuverability was somewhat limited, but nonetheless my
You can "feel" the water under a folding kayak at all times. It
squeaks a bit when paddled in not-so-flat conditions, and, being a boat
you have to dismantle periodically for maintenance and repair, you
develop a sort of close, personal relationship with it.
However, there are a couple of points in your article I disagree
- It does not take just 15 to 30 minutes to assemble a folding kayak,
as you suggest. To do it properly and to ensure safety, you have to take
- At least with a Feathercraft, you do not have to take it apart after
every use. If you lubricate it well when assembling and rinse the whole
boat (especially the aluminum frame) with fresh water after each use,
you can go up to three months without taking it apart. I've been doing
this since the boat was purchased.
Assemble and take it apart after every use? I don't know
By the way, I bought a folding boat because it was the only touring
boat that would fit on my balcony at the time.
Congratulations on your great article!
I'm delighted to hear that you enjoyed "In the
Bag? Folding Kayaks and Canoes," Marcelo. And your points are very
well taken. The 15-30 minute figure was my estimate of the "typical"
assembly time. (My experience has been limited to Folbots and Kleppers.)
I wanted readers to understand that assembly wasn't instantaneous, and
that folding kayaks weren't good boats for folks who are always in a
hurry. I certainly didn't wish to imply that all boaters should adopt
this time-frame as a fixed limitor even that it was possible to
assemble all folding boats in so short a time.
Nor did I mean to imply that a folding kayak couldn't be left
assembled between trips. I only hoped to remind anyone planning to buy a
folder because it could be stowed away in a closet or carried
along on a bus (or train) that it wouldn't assemble and disassemble
I'll be updating "In the Bag?" soon, and I'll certainly take the
points you've raised into account when I do. I'm in your debt.
Best wishesand many thanks!
That's it for now. Look for "Our Readers Write" again in two months.
Next week, however, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna on their Trip of
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights