Making Your Canoe Yours, and Yours Alone
Flashback to Parris Island. It's 0530that's "oh dark thirty"on Qualification Day, and a recruit platoon's getting ready to double-time it out to the range. Standing at attention in front of their racks, eighty-five embryo Marines shout "The Rifleman's Creed" in unison. A Senior Drill Instructor listens appreciatively, his broad face creased in a menacing smirk.
"This is my rifle," the recruits sing out. "There are many like it, but this one is mine."
Fast forward to day before yesterday. You've just picked up your new canoe. There are many like it, but this one is yours, and yours alone. So how do you make it yours for real?
Assuming that you're not outfitting your canoe to run Class IV-V whitewaterand if you are you don't need my adviceit's easy. You need flotation, some way to tie down gear, a bailer, pads for your knees, and bow and stern lines ("painters").
"Hold on!" you say. "Flotation? Why do I need to add flotation? You mean to tell me they've sold me a canoe that's going to sink if I capsize?"
Not exactly. Most every canoe sold in the United States and Canada will float when swamped. Just. But that's not quite good enough. Bailing out a canoe full of water on the shore of Golden Pond is a big jobmore of a job than you might think. But watching your swamped canoe run a rapids solo is much, much worse. Filled to the brim with water, a 17-foot canoe's going to weigh almost a ton. When it hits a rock, it'll hit hard. And if you happen to be between the canoe and the rock .
To avoid such unpleasantness, you want to keep as much water out of your canoe as possible. You could do this by filling your boat with foam blocks, but foam's heavy stuff. And what do you do when you want to go camping? You'd better use inflatable float bags, instead. You'll find them in every catalog, in all sizes and shapes. Choose the ones you need to fill your boat. Small, triangular bags for bow and stern. Large, pillow-shaped bags for midships. And don't just wedge them under the thwarts. That won't work. When you dump, the bags will just float up. Seconds later, they'll be free, and your boat will be full of water.
That's not good. Instead, tie your float bags in place with a criss-cross lashing of good-quality synthetic cord. Going camping? No problem. Just remove bags as needed to accommodate gear. If you use waterproof packs, these, too, will provide some flotation. But be sure to tie them in. You can use the same criss-cross lashing that you used to secure your float bags.
And what happens when you dump? There'll still be water in the boat. A lot of water. You can bail it out with your cupped hands, of course. I'll come back tomorrow to see how you're getting on. Or you can try to tip the boat up and drain it it dry. (Did I hear something cracking? Your boat? Oh, your back! Sorry.)
A bailer works better. You can spend ten bucks for one from a catalog, or you can cut the bottom out of a one-gallon milk jug, instead. I know which I'd rather do. Just be sure you tie your bailer into the boat. (Tandem paddlers will want two bailers.) I recommend a short length of line looped around a thwart, or a Velcro tie. Don't use a long piece of line. It's no fun finding yourself tethered to a swamped canoe by a piece of loose line!
Anything else? Knee pads are a good idea. Again, the catalogs have many to choose from. Or you can just cut up an old closed-cell foam pad and glue it in place with contact cement. Either way, the pads won't stay clean for long, but your knees will thank you anyway.
Some paddlers go further, fitting thigh straps to hold themselves securely in the boat. These work. Sometimes they work too well, in fact. When I find myself in water that makes me wish I had thigh straps, I start looking for a portage trail. There are old canoeists, and there are bold canoeists, but there aren't too many old, bold canoeists. I'd like to live to be an old canoeist.
Don't forget to attach painters at both bow and stern. They have dozens of uses: mooring, lining, tracking, even pulling your boat off a rock in a hard chance. They don't need to be long or heavyjust 25 feet or so of quarter-inch line. I use good-quality, three-strand laid nylon. It stretches, but it's strong and cheap. Other folks prefer polyester (Dacron) braid. It doesn't stretch so much.
And don't let your painters trail behind you. Tuck them under shock-cord loops on the bow and stern decks, or learn to make a gasket coil. A painter stops being a friend when it tangles around your legs in a rapids.
Lastly, think about printing your name and phone number in a couple of places inside your boat. (Use a waterproof marker.) If you and the boat ever part company, somebody may later want to return your canoe to you. Stranger things have happened.
That's it. Remember: it's your canoe. There are many like it, but this one is yours! Outfit it with care. 'Nuff said.
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