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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Nourishing Body and Spirit —
Helpful Hints, Refreshing Drinks, and Fabulous Photos

January 29, 2008

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone

From "In the Bleak Midwinter"
    by Christina Rossetti

That just about says it all, doesn't it? But while it's still winter in Canoe Country, there's more than a hint of spring in the air. The sun is noticeably higher than it was a month ago, the chickadees are more talkative, and cottontails now dance beneath the pines on moonlit nights. In short, the first cracks are appearing in the walls of winter's icy fortress. And if our mail is anything to go by, readers of In the Same Boat are also looking forward to warmer weather and free-running water. The last "Our Readers Write" came out as the 2007 paddling season was ending. Now it's 2008, and a new season is just around the corner.

What's on our readers' minds? All manner of things, from flocking pelicans to the beauty of the prairie to a cooling drink with deep roots in history. There's also a cheap yet elegant way to carry a spare Greenland paddle on a kayak deck. But what hungry paddler needs appetizers? It's time for the main course. Our readers can speak for themselves. So here goes!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Ingenuity to Spare!

Spare Me!Dear Tamia,

To your list of possible spare paddles ["Spare Me! Lessons from Up the Creek" -Editor] may I add the two that I have settled on? My favorite spare is a short ("storm") Greenland paddle. I have one of the carbon-fiber Superior Kayak ones because it makes me look cool, but of course anyone can carve one out of a cedar plank for about 12 (US) dollars. There are various advantages with this paddle. One is that since the paddle is ready to go I can just reach back, pull it forward out of its restraints, and there it is. With a breakdown paddle you have to get the pieces and then assemble them, which might not be what you want to do in conditions severe enough to make you lose or break your paddle. I have practiced capsizing without a paddle, reaching back for my spare, and rolling up with it, which I don't think would be possible with a breakdown if you managed, for example, to bust a blade while doing a brace.

Go for Your Paddle, Partner!The narrow, unfeathered profile of the Greenland blade makes deck storage and retrieval from a restraining sheath easy. I made a duct tape "holster" at the stern of the boat (see details below) that has lasted two full seasons so far, and will only take five minutes to replace whenever it starts getting weathered. Behind the cockpit the forward blade sits under the bungees. A friend I talked into the beauty of this system has a smaller boat, and keeps her Greenland spare on the front deck (even more accessible).

As well as being ready-to-hand and ready-to-go, the design of the Greenland paddle has some other benefits. I'm out all year, and have been caught in skim ice before, which can be mean to a thin (and expensive) carbon blade. But the Greenland stick is more or less indestructible, as well as making a smaller "punch" in ice or weeds. I've never had to test this theory, but I think it could also be useful having a radically different paddling technique available in case of injury (I use a wing blade normally). I have used the Greenland blade to protect the hull of my boat from rocks on a beach, and it can be used as a tent pole for a quickie shelter.

The only downside to this system is that you need to put a little time into getting comfortable with the Greenland paddle. You need to practice a sliding stroke (necessary with a short "storm" paddle) and rolling with a stick. (Once you're used to rolling with a Greenland paddle, however, it's bombproof.) But learning new stuff and playing with new toys is, let's face it, about half the fun of kayaking.

The other spare that I use is a seven-dollar "toy" paddle for kids' inflatables. It's small and light enough that one half slips beside each side of the seat of my touring boat, and lives permanently there so that I never need to think about it. The boat is just equipped with a spare. The thing was made as two oars, but I found that it was easy to join it in the middle and make it a very short (about 170 cm) but entirely functional emergency paddle. I've pushed the boat into a strong headwind with it just to see.

A close look at my little paddle holster made me think it was time to renew it anyway, so here are the actual steps involved. First, form a loose circle of tape, sticky side outward. Second, make an underside strip to keep the whole apparatus from sticking to the deck — you want it just long enough to cover the tape and keep the sides free. Third, make the top strip, lay it over the loop, and stick it to the deck with the paddle in place to keep the whole thing spaced properly. You're done! The accompanying photos should answer any questions.

I've paddled many miles in salt water, done a lot of rolling, and the old duct tape was still quite hard to pull loose today.


One, Two, Three

Making a Duct Tape Paddle Holster

Finishing Up!

• • •

Tamia replies:

What wonderful ideas, Bob! Simple and good. There's just no improving on that combination, is there? Thanks for the tips.

Be Prepared — Or Else!

Dear Tamia,

I glanced at your article "Spare Me!" on and couldn't agree with you more. Paddling any boat in any water other than a pool without an extra paddle is like paddling a sea kayak without self-rescue gear (paddle float and pump) or a life vest. Given the weight of a paddle and the room it takes up in your boat compared to all the other gear you may have with you, the extra paddle is nothing. People who paddle without an extra paddle are either uninformed or are just plain asking for trouble.

Happy paddling!


• • •

Tamia replies:

Right on, Andy! There's probably no cheaper insurance than a spare paddle. That's why I don't leave home without one.

The Straight Poop on … well … Poop!

Dear Tamia,

In reference to "When You Gotta Go": In case you haven't heard, in most wild and scenic areas, the rule is "leave nothing behind but a foot print," which means you use a plastic bucket, toilet seat, and lid. You are not allowed to go down most "permit" rivers without a bucket, toilet seat, and lid. And it isn't so bad, much better than leaving shallow pits of poop and toilet paper to be stepped on and uncovered by others. Yuck. I would never leave any toilet paper in the wild under any circumstances. Use a leaf, burn it, or haul it out.

Anne Taylor

• • •

Tamia replies:

Good advice, Anne. And if you reread my article you'll discover that I touch on both of the points you raise, though my recommendations are couched in somewhat less peremptory language. Of course, regulations vary from place to place, and while I heartily endorse the principles of low-impact travel, there are times when neither burning nor hauling-out is an option. At such times — and where the law allows — burying poop and paper is no sin, provided that it's done well away from water and with due consideration for the travelers who will follow after you.

A practical aside: I find that a portable bidet made from a bicycle water bottle greatly reduces my need for toilet paper in the backcountry. Works better than spruce needles, too!

A Return to Essich Schling

Dear Tamia,

I am a historical reenactor as well as a (flatwater) canoeist and kayaker. I recognized essich schling [see "From Going Digital to Getting a Leg Up" -Editor] as switchel, a drink popular in the 1600s for harvest workers: cider vinegar, sweetener, and perhaps some ginger or other flavorings. It's easy to mix and carry as a concentrate, then dilute to serve, and is indeed very refreshing on a hot day. Sort of a homespun precursor to Gatorade®.

Wikipedia has an article which includes a recipe, but there are plenty of others out there. The article also cites a reference from Laura Ingalls Wilder. "In The Long Winter," the Wikipedia article notes, "Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the beverage that her mother sent for Laura and her father to drink while haying: 'Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty. Ginger-water would not make them sick, as plain cold water would when they were so hot.'"

Another good concentrated drink for hot weather comes from the Arabian lands — sekanjebin. This is a minted vinegar-sugar syrup that dates back to the time of the Crusades. Here's a recipe:



6 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
4 sprigs fresh mint, plus additional for garnish if desired


In a saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has thoroughly dissolved.

Add vinegar, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to a thick syrup. Remove the saucepan from heat.

Add clean, dry mint sprigs to hot syrup. Allow to cool. Remove the mint.

To prepare as a drink, mix one part syrup to three parts water. Add two ice cubes to this if you have them.



• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for telling me about switchel and sekanjebin, Lynn. They sound like they'd be ideal for amphibious expeditions and warm-weather paddling. As soon as winter loosens its grip on the northern Adirondacks, I'll have to give both a try.

The Maritime History of the Musical Fruit

Dear Tamia,

Just read your article on beans ["Use Your Bean!" -Editor], and I was reminded of my visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, some years ago while on a motorcycle tour. On board one of the museum's fishing schooners the menu for a typical week was posted. It showed that beans were served at every meal for the whole week, including breakfast!

Gerry Bauder

• • •

Tamia replies:

Well, Gerry, a schoonerman could do a lot worse, I suppose. Beans are a versatile food, after all, and they certainly travel well. I'll bet the atmosphere in that schooner's fo'c'sle was memorable, though!

Bag It! The Art of Carrying Wine Under Way

Tamia's article, "A Jug of Wine," inspired two readers to write with suggestions for carrying wine and keeping it cool.

In the Bag!Dear Tamia,

I enjoyed your article on taking wine on kayak trips. We have been doing that for ages.

I've attached a photo of how I carry, protect, and cool my boxed wine bladders. One nice thing about the bladders is that they collapse down as you go, so you have less weight to carry, and no empty bottles to hassle with.

I found a canvas tote bag (nylon would work to protect, but not so well to cool), cut a hole in the bottom right corner, and reinforced the hole with stitching to prevent tearing. The wine bladder slips inside. The spigot can rest inside when packed, to prevent accidental spillage. In camp, the handles make it easy to hang from a tree, a table, or over a large rock. I then wet down the canvas bag with sea water, and evaporative cooling takes place.

The bag has VINO written on it. I do the same with another tote bag — it says H20 and has an empty bladder which I refilled with water. Thus I have running water and wine in my camps!

I have found that these two tote bags fit particularly well in the space behind my seat, keeping the weight in the center of the boat and low.

Jackie Colwell

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the great tips and photo, Jackie. I'm glad you enjoyed my article.

Keeping Your (Wine) Cool

Dear Tamia,

My wife and I have packed wine in boxes for years on our canoe trips. The best way we have found to cool the wine is to take the bladder out of the box and place it flat in the shade with a wet towel over it. Because we spend several weeks a year paddling in Maine where we often have cool and windy conditions, the wet towel method works best where the wind blows over the towel, evaporating the water quickly. On a low-humidity day, the wine temperature will drop 10 to 15 degrees in an hour. Once it is cool, we serve as needed. We put it back in the box for protection when we move from one campsite to another.

This is a variant of Lyster-bag technology for keeping drinking water cooler than the surrounding air. Water in the bag would seep through the canvas to the outside surface. As the water evaporated, it would cool the water inside the bag. [The Lyster bag — aka "Bag, Water, Sterilizing" — takes its name from Major (later Colonel) William J.L. Lyster (USA), who did pioneering work on the bulk purification of water early in the last century. The linen canvas bags he used weren't entirely waterproof, however, and evaporation of the seepage cooled their contents somewhat. The cooling effect isn't very noticeable in humid tropical climates, however! -Editor's note.]

Rick Waldron

• • •

Tamia replies:

Great idea, Richard. Another reason to always throw in the towel — sorry about that! — when packing for a trip.

Going Strong at 99

Hi, Tamia!

Well done on a great article ["One Foot in the Grave? Finding Your Comfort Zone" -Editor]. I am 52 and also a personal trainer, so the over-50s feel safe with me. My oldest client is 99 years old next year. Enjoy the next 50 years.

Jim Kennedy

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm glad you liked "Finding Your Comfort Zone," Jim. I just hope I'm still going strong at 99!

Staying in Shape at 50

Dear Tamia,

Great article ["One Foot in the Grave? Finding Your Comfort Zone" -Editor] on! At the ripe old age of 50 I find myself struggling to stay in shape to enjoy paddling and portaging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. All of us fight the age issue and to some degree the sedentary lifestyle of the times. Enjoyed the friendly reminders of how to think young and stay up for the long pull for years to come. I fully intend to stay out there and enjoy this stuff with my grandkids someday! Thanks for a well-written article. I e-mailed it to a bunch of guys I paddle with every year.

Best regards!


• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the kind words, Bill. I'm certain your grandkids will like paddling with you just as much as I enjoyed my outings with my Grandad.

Seizing the Day

Dear Tamia,

You have a way of choosing topics ["Breaking Away: Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!" -Editor] that make me nod my head in agreement as I read your articles. This is one of those in which I am most heartily in full agreement. At a certain age, all that is needed is a turn of a calendar page to make you realize that one must make the most of all opportunities. Here in New Hampshire, I can find a pond or river from six minutes away to whatever. There are eight bodies of water within a drive of thirty minutes, so if I have a morning free, my kayak, my fly rod, and I are off. Each day is an adventure that can be explored, whether on a pond, your own yard, your own workshop, or your town. Waiting for the "big trip" — and wasting precious years in the waiting process — can be a big mistake. The "big trip" may be the one you haven't planned.

I'm with you, Tamia: Seize the day! Thank you for your thought-provoking articles.

Nick Maselli

• • •

Tamia replies:

It's very good to hear from you again, Nick. We're of one mind. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm stepping out the door to walk down to The River.

…And Doing It in Style!

Dear Tamia,

Another fine article. You write wonderful word pictures.

While we (hubby and I) are blessed to live alongside the slow-flowing Thornapple River here in Kent County, Michigan, I can relate to getting out whenever time permits. Though we are next to this body of water, it's really the more challenging ones that we look forward to in the fall. Dan and I host an annual weekend trip in September on the Pine River, always after the requirements for a permit (Sept. 10) have expired along this popular river far from our home and from the homes of those who join us. At the end of the day trip, all are invited back to the campground for a potluck dinner and banter around a warm, inviting campfire. The boisterous, sometimes inebriated, clients from the rental liveries have all but disappeared from the scene. The youngsters are all back in school, campgrounds are quieter, the surrounding forests have settled down fairly well and one can smell fall in the air.

As we paddle down this beautiful body of water, peace and quiet are only broken by the occasional conversation between paddlers. That's not to say the trip is quiet for the full four or five hours we're on the water. One year, as we began to pass a group of fishermen, laughter could be heard from those in the lead boats. One of five fishermen (aged about 65 or 70) standing in the shallow shoreline water was scantily clad on his lower extremities in a Speedo®-style brief. His ensemble included a fishing-lure-encased hat upon his head, a long cigar protruding from his mouth, gold chains around his neck glinting in the sunlight, a tan fishing vest from which could be seen a gray, hairy chest and rotund belly, followed by the skimpy swimsuit and legs nearly as white as print paper and which had been thrust into rolled-down hip waders. With his fly rod in his hands and standing alongside other fully clad fishermen enjoying the 70-degree weather, he could sure be said to have "seized the day"!

Enjoy the cool days of fall and beauty of winter. Spring will be close behind.

Shirley Keith

• • •

Tamia replies:

You just never know what lies round the next bend in a river, do you, Shirley? But one thing's certain: There's nothing like a day on the water to bring a smile to your face.

The Beauty of Grasses

Dear Tamia,

Thanks for the list of field guides ["Nature's an Open Book: The Living World" -Editor]. There is so much beauty around us, and it's nice to know the names of the participants. As a prairie dweller I am struck by the ever-changing, close-to-the-ground visual feast. You know the saying: "Not a tree in sight to spoil the view." Every fall the prairie takes on a color remarkably different from the wildflowers of spring and summer. The fall grasses have as much colorful variety as the trees in your part of the world. When you want a break from identifying trees, fur, feather, and forbs check out the Guide to Grasses published for Pawnee Buttes Seed, Inc. (P.O. Box 100, Greeley CO, 1-800-782-5947). While it is developed as an agricultural guide for the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, it describes many grasses that you will find in other parts of the country as well. If you are involved in agriculture it gives planting recommendations for soil management for conservation and grazing. A lot of wildlife benefits from well-managed grassland.

There is beauty to be found everywhere if one opens his eyes to it. I guess that is what I like about outdoor people so much. They are more tuned in.



The Navajo Beauty Way Ceremony

In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully I will possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk

With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty
It is finished in beauty

Anonymous (Navajo)

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the tip, Taj — and for the "Beauty Way." I've always been fascinated by the North American prairie, but I've yet to explore it. Some day I will, however, and when I do, the Guide to Grasses will be in my hand.

On the Wing

Dear Tamia,

"On The Wing" was a lovely piece. Thank you! I'll be watching for more of your writing.

Karl Engleka

• • •

Tamia replies:

You're welcome, Karl. I'm very pleased that you enjoyed "On the Wing." You'll find more of our articles in the In the Same Boat archives — and there's a whole lot more besides, elsewhere on

Later, Karl wrote again …

Thanks for the tip. I have now read most of your articles that have appeared in the last two years. A kayak dealer in Mount Dora, Florida, guided me to, and I have enjoyed the site. In just a few days we will leave our Pennsylvania residence and head for Mount Dora where there are two kayaks awaiting us. I have enjoyed following up on the kayak companies that I was led to with the e-mail that sent recognizing my entry into the contest. I have been flirting with the idea of building a kayak and found lots of information in that reference.

You and Farwell are to be commended. Until now, I thought the articles were contributed by different people. Should have known better since the styles are consistently good and similar, but I never tumbled. Anyway, "On the Wing" seemed to me to be outdoor writing of the very highest kind, and it served as a wake-up call to check the byline. For what it is worth, I have never started one of the articles and not read through to the end. Now I'll read with a little more attention. I know from experience that it is not too difficult to crank out one short article that will be interesting, but doing it over and over must be daunting. For me it would be impossible. As an aside, it is strange, but just exchanging a few words over the Internet has already added a new dimension to my reading — now I know there is a real person behind those words. Thanks for taking time to respond.

Karl Engleka

• • •

Tamia replies:

It's good to know that you've found so valuable, Karl. And, yes, it is a little daunting to meet a deadline week after week. But letters like yours make all the effort worthwhile. Thanks again for writing — and happy paddling!

Pelicans, Pelicans, Pelicans!

Dear Tamia,

We were traveling north on US Highway 101 crossing Siletz Bay just south of Lincoln City, Oregon, and saw these pelicans seeking refuge in the bay. It had been blowing and raining for about three days with sustained winds of more than 40 knots, but with higher gusts. Some think it's a storm, but on this coast it is just a bit of a blow.

Any Port in a Storm

Hint: Right click to enlarge the image in a new window

We can only guess that the pelicans were migrating and the bay provided them shelter from the storm.

It's interesting. Right up the main part of the Siletz River (which crosses beneath Highway 101 just north of where the pictures were taken) is the house that was constructed for the movie "Never Give An Inch" starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.

We saw pelicans on the Yaquina River in 2005, too, and Selma snapped a few pictures. Here's one:

Pelicans on the Wing

Take care!

Whit and Selma Patrick

• • •

Tamia replies:

WOW! What's the collective noun for a passel of pelicans? (Like an exultation of larks or a murder of crows, I mean.) A "pouch," maybe? Or how about an "appetite"? Either way, there are a whole lot of pelicans out there. Fabulous photos! Thanks for sharing them with the rest of us.

That's it for now. But there's always more to come. So keep reading. And keep writing, too. We couldn't do this without you. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."

A little fine print: 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.) We will never put your e-mail address on-line unless you specifically ask us to, however. Letters may also be edited for length and clarity, and we'll add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

Copyright 2008 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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