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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

The Change of the Seasons, Water Devils,
Confusing Rules, and Loons on the Brink
By Farwell Forrest
farwell@paddling.net

October 30, 2001

The days are shorter now in the northern hemisphere, and the nights are colder. Winter is closing in. Each of us marks the end of the paddling season in his own way, of course, but one long-time reader's thoughts on the change of the seasons pulled me up short. As luck would have it, they've nothing to do with paddling, at least directly, but they've all the simplicity and power of a well-structured haiku.


Metamorphosis

Today was a day of change around here, Farwell. I took the glass-topped table from the patio and moved it to the deck, putting it away for winter. In place of the table, on one side of the patio, there is now a pile of split firewood, ready to be burned in the stove in the basement. I spent all day Saturday cutting wood at a friend's farm. It has been a long time since I have cut wood. I cut, and then I loaded the trailer. After it was full, I came home—exhausted!

My wife and I spent the next day unloading and stacking the wood. Now the patio has taken on the look of winter. It will be here shortly.

I am sure there is much the same metamorphosis taking place around your home, as well.

Thanks for paddling along.

Ric


Right you are, Ric—and thanks. It's been years since I last cut cordwood, but your note brought those days back as if they were yesterday. I'm in your debt.

Take care!

Farwell


It's hard not to think about the winter ahead, I admit, but autumn's also a good time to look back at the season just past. Here's what one reader had to say about a perfect summer day on the water—perfect, that is, until something strange descended from out of the blue.


Water Devil!

Hi! Great articles! You're doing a super job. Thanks for the great information.

I hope you don't mind me sharing this with you….

My husband and I have been enjoying the sport of paddling our little canoe for the last three years. Usually we stick to quiet lakes and slow rivers and paddle on lazy, bright, cloudless days, enjoying the peaceful side of the sport.

But one recent trip was different. It was a quiet, late-summer day, and we were paddling lake Oconee in north-central Georgia. There were only a few soft wispy clouds high in the sky, and it was hot and sultry. We had crossed the lake a couple of times and had spent most of the previous two hours paddling along the shoreline trying to catch a glimpse of the wildlife in the forest beyond, when we heard a loud, slapping sound off the starboard side some two hundred yards away. It sounded like someone was striking the water hard and rapidly with a very large flat hand! Looking toward the noise, we watched in helpless horror as a dust devil (or should it be "water devil"?) spun round and drew lake water up into a funnel-like spiral. There were no clouds in that part of the sky, so the mini-waterspout seemed to be coming down straight out of the blue.

It was impossible to tell how strong the wind forces were in the waterspout, but I'm sure if it had come down on us we would have been in major trouble. The water devil spun round and round and traveled about twenty yards or so—thankfully not toward us!—whipping up the water surface violently for about five minutes. Then it simply vanished. We didn't feel any wind before, during, or after sighting this weather wonder. It was really freaky.

Lake Oconee is a rather shallow lake, and we noticed immediately afterwards that some large garfish had come to the surface. Garfish are scary-looking enough in the best of circumstances, but in our present state they really gave us the willies. They were like weird monsters rising from the depths.

After our little fright, everything was perfect and peaceful again on the lake. It was as if nothing had happened. My husband said that he thought it was getting on toward dinner-time and that we should get off the lake and head into town. Usually, I balk at the idea of quitting the lake, but this time I agreed, and so we got out. I've learned from this experience that even on a seemingly perfect day, really weird things can happen!

Thanks again.

Charlotte


You're welcome, Charlotte! Glad you're enjoying In the Same Boat. And thanks for telling us about your close encounter with the mini-waterspout. It's quite a story, and it drives home the importance of keeping an eye on the weather, even on "seemingly perfect day[s]." While I've seen a lot of dust devils—one blew up in the parking lot of the local supermarket not long ago—I've never witnessed their aquatic counterpart. I envy your ringside seat.

Thanks again for writing—and best wishes!

Tamia


Not all excitement on the water is the result of natural phenomenona. Sometimes other recreational boaters stir things up, too, and a paddler finds himself on a collision course with a bigger, faster boat. What should he do then? It's a simple question, but it's not quite as simple as it seems. An earlier letter on the subject drew this response from another reader.


Does Sail Give Way to Paddle?

Dear Farwell and Tamia,

When I learned to sail in a university PE course long ago, the rule we learned was that motor gives way to sail, and sail gives way to paddle. This makes sense to me, given how speed affects maneuvering. Someone sailing a cat is typically going like hell, and should have no problem avoiding a kayaker.

Best,

Gerry from New York


Thanks, Gerry! I'm not sure I'd agree with your PE instructor, though. While I certainly wouldn't quarrel with the sentiment behind the notion that "sail gives way to paddle," the idea finds no support in the steering and sailing rules embodied in the 72COLREGS, the Inland Rules, or New York's Navigation Law. That being the case, any kayaker or canoeist who relies on a presumed right of way is betting on a very weak hand. This was the principal thrust of my earlier comments in "Our Readers Write."

And, legal questions aside, are sail craft always more maneuverable than paddlecraft? I don't think so. Faster, certainly, at least in some cases, but not necessarily more maneuverable. Paddlecraft aren't constrained to courses at least 45 degrees off the apparent wind, nor are they subject to uncontrolled jibes. Paddlecraft can also move laterally, reverse without coming about or wearing, and pivot 180 degrees in a single boat-length. Few sailing craft—and this includes canoes and kayaks when under sail—can do any of these things.

Does this mean that sailors can run down kayakers with impunity? Of course not! All vessels, of whatever description, are required to maintain a lookout, reduce speed where necessary for safety, and take timely action to avoid collision.

It's a murky and contentious area of law and practice, to be sure, especially on state waters, and I'd like to see New York's Navigation Law amended to provide explicit guidance to recreational boaters of all types. I'm not holding my breath, though. For most paddlers, most of the time, the best bet is simply to do everything possible to stay out of the way of bigger, faster boats. This is the so-called "Gross Tonnage Rule," and while it has no legal standing whatsoever, it's still mighty good advice.

Thanks again for writing.

Take care!

Farwell


A column on the emerging threat of mercury contamination in eastern waters brought this letter from an old and valued correspondent, a Maine wildlife researcher and charter-boat captain. As he makes clear, loons have many other problems besides mercury—and one of those problems is us paddlers!


Loons on the Brink

Dear Farwell,

The state of loons here in Maine is almost enough to drive an old Earth Day organizer like me crazy! I was thus very interested in your recent piece on them.

Been some time since I last thought about Minamata and the terrible human toll that followed contamination of the bay. A lifelong fan of W. Eugene Smith (the greatest photojournalist this country has ever produced in my humble opinion), I well remember his horrific photos of the deformed limbs of the victims of "Minamata Disease." Not to mention the price he personally paid for having the courage to bring the disaster to light. If you haven't read his piece on Minamata, look it up in the Life Magazine archives.

As to Maine's loons, in addition to the problems they are having with mercury dumped into Maine's water through atmospheric deposition, they are also being driven off their breeding grounds by human activities.

I first became aware of this problem way back in the late 1970s, when I began to encounter an ever increasing summer population of loons on Maine's coastal waters. This state of affairs struck me as "ungood" in the extreme. As you no doubt are aware, the rearward placement of loons' legs, while aiding them in swimming as well as in steering underwater, makes it very difficult for loons to nest along tidal shores. To wit, if they place their nests along the shoreline when the tide goes out, the long walk to the water makes them susceptible to predation, in addition to being energy-consumptive.

Alas, despite the fact that nesting along coastal areas is difficult if not impossible (there are cases of successful coastal nests on record, but not many), the summer population of breeding-age loons along the Maine coast seems to be increasing.

As an illustration of the scope of this problem, I counted more than 50 breeding-age common loons on tidal water between Bar Harbor and Camden, Maine, while paddling between the two areas in my sea kayak in the early 80s. Nowadays, I often encounter as many as 5-15 breeding-age loons on salt water during 2-3 hour boat tours in June, July, and August. When I reported this to one of New England's loon experts she was quite shocked.

And, as if this is not bad enough, I have also observed another very troubling phenomena over the past few years: loons in the air!

Why do I find loons in the air troubling? Well in my experience, loons on the coast more often than not try to avoid flying as the long, strenuous, take-off run they must execute to get airborne is extremely energy-consumptive. And yet today I am seeing more and more airborne loons throughout my research area during the summer months.

While I have not had time to investigate this, I suspect that a scarcity of food (fish) along the Maine coast may be forcing loons to forage over a wider territory than formerly. As swimming is at best an inefficient means of covering great distances, I have little doubt that loons may be flying more and enjoying it less as a result of food shortages.

All of which adds up to an unhappy picture, and I am in hopes that folks like yourself might spill a little ink concerning just how paddlers can avoid adding to disturbances of breeding loons found in fresh water.

Lots more to say, but I am desperately tired and must stop. The "Getting Old Is Not For Sissies!" bumper sticker says it all, and I am finding myself more and more in the camp of those not quite tough enough to keep on ticking.

Best,

Captain Winston Shaw
Sea Venture Custom Boat Tours


A troubling picture, Winston, and a cautionary tale. The common loon is clearly under a lot of pressure everywhere in its eastern breeding range. How much longer will it remain "common"? I'd like to be optimistic, but….

That said, Tamia and I certainly will "spill a little ink" on the subject in future. In the meantime, however, I can at least reiterate the First Law of Wildlife Watching: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. There's no better argument for buying (and using) a good pair of binoculars.

As for the inroads of age, I know the feeling all too well. Still, I take comfort where I can. When, on his seventy-second birthday, the indefatigable entertainer Maurice Chevalier was asked how he felt about growing old, he replied simply, "Considering the alternative, it's not too bad." And I guess he had a point.

Best wishes,

Farwell


That's all for now. Look for "Our Readers Write" again in January. Next week, however, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna on their Trip of a Lifetime, to be followed later in November by another "Voice from the Wild" and the conclusion of "War in a Wilderness."

Keep reading, keep writing, and keep telling us what's on your minds!

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.










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