Our Readers Write
Summertime, and the Living Is Easy
June 30, 2009
Updated on October 30, 2012
It's here at last! Only a little more than a week has passed since Canoe Country's longest day, and the paddling season is well under way. Moreover, the swelling dawn chorus is a harbinger of even warmer weather to come, and that's welcome news for both birds and paddlers. Most canoeists and kayakers have already been out on the water, of course, and many of us are planning trips ranging from weekend getaways to summer‑long expeditions. So no matter what your idea of paddling pleasure, whether it's messing about on Golden Pond, hauling mass across boggy portages, or coasting along a white‑sand bay, this is the season.
But that doesn't mean you haven't been writing to us. We've gotten a lot of mail since the last "Our Readers Write." With Big Trips looming, folks are giving thought to the best way to haul their boats down the highway, while paddling shutterbugs are wondering how to keep their camera gear dry, and amateur naturalists are ruminating on the wildlife who share their homes with us. Want to know more? Then just keep reading — and be sure to write when you get the chance. This is the place where you can always have your say. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."
— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
Racking 'Em Up
First, thank you for so many articles of interest!
In your "Racking 'Em Up" piece for Guidelines, the center illustration shows the front tie‑down vertical, and you point out that this is not optimal. [The picture that Doc is referring to is reproduced below. – Editor]
On my 1967 International Harvester pickup, the bow tie‑down is also vertical, so I run an extra line from the bow eye straight back to my sturdy oak rack to keep the canoe from moving forward. This has survived a couple of panic stops here in San Francisco Bay‑area traffic. Just an FYI.
Thank you again!
PS: Please include my e‑mail address so any canoe folks on the San Francisco Peninsula can drop me a line.
I'm delighted you enjoy our articles, Doc, and your solution to the problem of less‑than‑optimal tie‑downs is a good one. After we wrote our first car‑topping column some years ago, we followed up with another article addressing this very point. Then, in August of last year, we brought together everything connected with getting a boat to the put‑in and back home again. That column is entitled "Getting There." Just scroll down to the sub‑section headed "Car‑Topping Basics." (You'll also find more reader mail on the same topic below.)
As an aside, I'm amazed that you're still driving a '67 IH pickup. There were many of them in the little farm town where I grew up, but I haven't seen one in a very, very long time. Kudos for keeping a classic on the road!
PS: Any San Francisco paddlers who'd like to contact Doc can e‑mail him by clicking on his name. He'd like to hear from you!
And Tying One On, Safely
Regarding when both the bow and stern tie‑downs pull in the same direction [see "Tying One (or More) On, Safely," where the following picture first appeared – Editor]:
When I car‑top my 17‑foot canoe on my Ford Explorer, both the bow and stern tie‑downs pull in the same direction, toward the front of the car. I keep the canoe in place by lashing one thwart backward to the roof rack to pull against the tie‑downs. That tie is not a substitute for the belly straps, but it keeps the boat from sliding forward. Usually there's a thwart near the rear crossbar that's really easy to access from underneath the canoe after it's on top of our Explorer, and a short strap or rope is all that's needed.
Good one, Norm! You and Doc (see letter above) are apparently of a mind. It's an ingenious solution to an all‑too‑common problem.
Putting It All Together
Good afternoon, Tamia.
Thought I'd add my two bits pertaining to roof‑racking our boats.
I agree with all your tips and tricks to keep boats safely attached, and I'd like to share a couple more I've found to work. I also would offer up that newer vehicles were just not designed to offer as much "utility" as marketed. The first vehicle I ever carried watercraft on was a 1983 Jeep Wagoneer, complete with rain gutters. I currently drive a full‑sized half‑ton pickup with an extended cab and a camper shell which is cab height.
I have two pairs of "fake rain‑gutter brackets" as near the front and rear of the shell as possible, to which are mounted identical Yakima crossbars and gunwale brackets. I use NRS straps to secure the craft to the crossbars on the gunwale brackets, plus sturdy rope to tie down bow and stern to the bumpers.
Because my boat lengths vary from 16' 6" to 18' 6" my setup looks most like your middle diagram — in a panic stop, forward movement of the boats is of concern. If it is not possible to have bow and stern tie‑downs that pull against one another due to boat length and length overall of your vehicle, you may use what my aerospace engineer friend deems "redundant systems."
With canoes: In addition to the straps that snug them to the crossbars, and bow and stern lines tied to your vehicle, you may use "lawyer lines." (I call them "lawyer lines," since if you do your due diligence for secure tie‑downs and safe travels, hopefully you won't need to enlist the services of an attorney due to flying boats.) Tie or strap thwarts towards the amidships of your boat, from the front of the boat rearward to the front crossbar, and from the back of the boat forwards to the back crossbar.
With kayaks (especially longer touring boats): Straps to crossbars are secured, along with bow and stern lines. Then, in much the same manner as the canoe's "lawyer lines," secure the front of the boat back towards the front crossbar and the back of the boat forward to the rear crossbar, using looped "bridles" with long free ends tied to the rack crossbars, the loops to be of a diameter that will not allow the boat to slip through. Make sure that the boat cannot slip through.
These bridles should be of small enough diameter so that if the boat moves it will jam and not shift very much at all. I have had great success using "Lasso Security Cables" (they sell different sizes; see what works best for your boat's length and cross‑section) as a fine way to both physically secure boats on the road as well as lock them to the rack and keep someone from stealing them while you're parked.
Another tip for plastic kayaks traveling on hot days (I've used this method on trips from Kansas to Lake Superior): Properly pad your crossbars (or use "saddles" if that's your preference). Put on your boat's cockpit cover (on the boat, not as fashion apparel!), and place the kayak upside down on the rack. [Many saddles are designed to cradle hulls, not decks, and kayak decks are occasionally less rigid than hulls. Take this into account. – Editor] Tie and secure boat as above. Why, you may ask? Plastic plus hot weather plus overzealous bow and stern line tension equals oil‑canning and hull deformities.
Apologies for the verbosity. I've babbled on here. I'm landlocked at present. I'll be reorganizing gear and maps and doing boat maintenance until my rotator cuff heals and I can paddle again.
Have a great day!
No apologies needed, Lee. Thanks very much for your tips. Yours is the third vote for "lawyer lines," and your note about "redundant systems" is right on the mark. It reinforces the point we made in "Getting There."
Now I've got a question about mounting brackets on a camper shell: Did you simply bolt the "fake rain‑gutter brackets" to the fiberglass or aluminum skin? Or did you back them up first? I've often seen brackets on trucks and campers and wondered how secure they were.
And Lee answers:
I'm happy to say that for the past 15 years or so I've used a Yakima roof‑rack system. Originally, when I had my Jeep, I used their 1A Hi‑Rise Towers, 78‑inch crossbars, and gunwale brackets. (Note that the "new" variety of gunwale bracket is vastly different from their older, taller design.) The rig clamped to the vast rain gutters on that vehicle. You just adjusted the gunwale brackets, lifted the canoes up, strapped them to the rack, tied the painters in an inverted "V" to the (genuine) bumpers and off you'd go!
After I switched vehicles to a pickup with a heavy‑duty fiberglass camper shell that's the same height as the truck's cab — I feel that fiberglass shells are much sturdier than most aluminum varieties — I needed to alter the setup. I bought four each of Yakima's Side Loader brackets to mount on my camper shell. These were now my "rain gutters," although they were of course in fixed positions. They require drilling holes in the camper shell before attaching the supplied sturdy backing plates, using the accompanying gaskets, bolts, washers, and nuts. (I went a bit further and added locknuts and a generous dollop of silicone sealant — no movement and no leaks here!) I bought proper, shorter‑length bolts and removed the Hi‑Rise spacers to further lower the vertical distance of the crossbars above the camper shell. (It didn't hurt that it was closer to the ground — I'm 5' 6"). After installing and centering the crossbars and attaching my gunwale brackets, I was ready to go … or was I?
I felt that with long boats, the now substantially shorter distance between the front and rear crossbars of the rack, coupled with the increased distance from crossbars to the end tie‑down points, did not afford enough stability for long‑distance travel. Too much wiggle and wobble going on up there. I then hatched my redundant (lawyer‑line) system.
The notes and recommendations you've made on checking the carriage capacity of the roof racks and vehicles' safety ratings are dead on. "If you overload, your gear could hit the road." (I have carried two 18‑foot aluminum canoes on my current rack system, but wouldn't want to do it across the country — that's about 160 pounds of boats and racks!)
My main advice to those who wish to use one crossbar mounted at the rear of a camper shell and one crossbar mounted near the front of the cab of the truck is this: A pickup flexes between the cab and bed. It also experiences some torsional rotation. Be very careful of the wind loading and flexing and how your cab‑mounted racks (and your watercraft) hold up.
Traveling at highway speeds and with heavy crosswinds can leave an opening for the "Old Woman" to snag our beauties from their places. Best to keep them to ourselves, and keep others on the byways safe during their travels.
A Fuel‑Saving Alternative
Your article ["Racking 'Em Up" – Editor] is excellent, as most people do not follow enough safety precautions.
The tie‑down method I use for my canoe(s) is slightly different. A word of warning: It works well only if all the conditions are followed.
1. The vehicle I have is a Dodge Caravan. Any vehicle with a large relatively flat roof and securely mounted roof rack is acceptable. I use Yakima racks that mount on the factory‑installed roof track.
2. Each canoe (I don't carry more than two at a time) is placed upside down and as far back as possible — so far back that the tip of the bow is just barely off the windshield. With this method, the wind cannot get inside the boat and lift or put vertical strain on the rack from the front.
3. The canoes are tied down using two straps per canoe. These straps go under the rack on either side of each canoe, such that you have two continuous loops going over each canoe. The straps are pulled tight at the buckle and tied so they cannot come loose.
This method also reduced wind drag on the vehicle during long trips on the Interstate. About 17 years ago I had a Caravan with a very small four‑cylinder engine. With a boat on top secured in the method you described, I could not maintain 65 miles per hour. The van just did not have enough power! Moving the boat back reduced the drag, and I had no problem maintaining speed on the Interstate.
You probably noticed that I said nothing about front and rear tie‑downs. They are not needed. [Though they might prove very useful in the event of a strap failure. – Editor] The straps, tightly fastened, provide enough friction to keep the boat from moving. I probably put the most force on the boat when braking. To comply with the law, if the boat protrudes more than four feet behind the vehicle, a flag is required on the back end.
And, yes, I am an engineer.
Past President, Coastal Canoeists
I'm very glad you found "Racking 'Em Up" of interest, Don, and I'm in your debt for taking the time to describe your alternative tie‑down method in such detail. With gas prices climbing and interest in energy efficiency growing, anything that reduces wind drag is worth exploring. That said, I'm a belt‑and‑suspenders girl and a great believer in redundant systems, especially where safety is concerned. I'm not yet ready to forgo my bow and stern ties.
Later, Don added this:
One thing I didn't mention. The center of gravity of the canoe must be forward of the rear canoe support on the vehicle. Otherwise it won't stay there while you fasten it. Also, make sure the strap does not go under the rack that comes with the vehicle. It must be secured to the canoe rack only. The ratcheting fastener I'm using is not necessary — a standard NRS buckle is fine.
As I was getting ready for a canoe camper this weekend, I remembered that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because my e‑mail to you about fastening a canoe to a vehicle was less than that, I thought a few pictures might be worthwhile.
Here are Don's photos, showing how he car‑tops his canoe. If you're contemplating experimenting with his system, be sure to follow his instructions closely, not forgetting to fly a flag on your boat's aftmost peak — and if you're like me, you'll go one step further, adding independent bow and stern tie‑downs. Whether you call them "lawyer lines" or redundant systems, they're mighty cheap insurance. Straps and buckles sometimes fail with little or no warning, and as I know from personal experience, a flying canoe is a mighty arresting sight, particularly when it's flying toward you at 50‑odd miles per hour!
Have we exhausted the possibilities? Probably not. So If you have a tie‑down arrangement you'd like to share with others, just drop us a line with a description (and photos, too, if you want).
And now for something completely different. "Great Balls of Fire!" Tamia's article on homemade fire starters, kindled quite a response. Here's a sample:
A Dryer‑Lint Fire Starter? Is This for Real?
Thanks for the nice report on making your own fire starters. Another option is to use dryer lint plus petroleum jelly. You do get some synthetic fibers in the lint, but it's good enough for starting a fire outdoors.
Yes, It Is! And Here's Another Testimonial to Prove It
One thing I use for lighting fires is dryer lint. I have a separate ice cream pail in our laundry room to save the lint. I like it because it's light, you can squish a whole whack of it into an empty 35 mm film canister, fluff it up when you remove it, and it takes off with the slightest spark. It does burn quite quickly, however — though I find that if I've got a good teepee of twigs built up, the lint has enough firepower to get it going.
Though it's easier (and less messy) to carry trick birthday candles (the ones that can't be blown out), they're not as fun as making one's own fire starters. Along with a plastic bag of candle stubs, I carry a small bag of dryer lint, steel wool, and a nine‑volt battery. The dryer lint, steel wool, and battery are my backup fire starter system. I'm not a go‑light paddler. The Grummans I use in the Okefenokee Swamp will carry 950 pounds, and we load them to the maximum!
By the way, the trick birthday candle idea came from Cliff Jacobson's Camping's Top Secrets: A Lexicon of Camping Tips Only the Experts Know.
Nice to hear from you again, Art, and thanks for passing along Cliff Jacobson's trick birthday candle … er … trick. I'd never heard of it before, but that only goes to show I'm not an expert, I guess. Still, I'm a bit closer to making the grade now that I've read your letter!
And Still Another
I always enjoy your well‑written articles. As I read your piece on fire starters it gave me an idea of how to improve my favorite fire‑starting medium, dryer lint. I always save the lint when I clean my lint trap. It weighs almost nothing and is a great fire starter. The addition of the petroleum jelly would make it work better in wet conditions. And you're recycling in the process. Thanks again for the inspiration.
What's Next? How About Potato Chip Fire Starters?
The miners in the Fortymile in Alaska use Pringles.
By the way, I like the idea of a samovar [e.g., Eydon STORM Kettle, Ghillie Kettle, or Kelly Kettle – Editor]. I want to get one before my next trek. It seems odd to me that there have been so few attempts to improve the efficiency of cooking — indoors or out. Ever since Jetboil hit the market, everyone seems to suddenly recognize what a good idea it is.
Pringles? Now that's a tasty alternative to petroleum jelly, Fred! It's very good to hear from you again, and your reminder about the dual‑use potential of potato chips is indeed timely. You're right about the virtues of the samovar, too. There's no doubt that a hot cup of tea can brighten even the bleakest day — and a samovar makes it easy to brew up on the cheap, using most any "found" fuel that comes to hand.
Simple and good. It's pretty hard to beat that.
Another Use for Fire Starters
Thanks for this tip. I was going to suggest the kind of fire starters where one puts tinder into the slots of a paper egg carton and then adds some paraffin. Each little slot can then be torn away to make an individual fire starter. Your idea is good because the little balls could have a second use as first aid — just rub the petroleum‑jelly‑loaded balls on dry or cracked skin.
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
I hadn't thought of this possibility, Linda, but it makes sense! Thanks for the tip.
Turnabout: Fire Starter as Candle
Cut aluminum foil into four‑inch squares, place a Vaseline ball in the center, and wrap it up like a sandwich. Turn the square over and cut a small "X" on the bottom. Use a twig, stick, knife tip, or other sharp point to pull a tuft of the cotton through the foil and then light it — a Vaseline candle! The added utility is a long‑lasting light, which, by the way, can be extended by simply adding a dollop of extra vaseline to the ball before wrapping it in the foil. As the foil packet heats, the vaseline will liquefy and the cotton ball becomes a wick. Cheap, easy, and the foil packs can be kept in a ziplock bag ready to go. I do not claim the idea as original, but I read it a few years back and have been using it ever since and thought I'd pass it on!
Now that's lateral thinking, John! Original or not, the idea is a good one. Thanks.
No‑Knead Fire Balls
I have also made fire starters out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly. The way I've done it is to melt the petroleum jelly until it is a liquid and then soak the cotton ball in the liquid. Squeeze out excess liquid and put the cotton balls in plastic film containers which are small and easy to pack.
I did this a few years ago and made a bunch at one time, using a regular pan to heat the petroleum jelly. You don't have to get it too hot. [A double boiler is a much safer alternative. – Editor] I used a utensil to take the balls out of the hot liquid and let them cool off a little before squeezing out the excess. A friend of mine who snowmobiles in the winter said they use them a lot to get fires going. He may have a better technique. I'll touch bases with him and let you know what his recommendation is.
Thanks for the tip, Bob. I'll give your method a try, thoughI'll continue to use my double boiler to liquify the petroleum jelly. It only takes a moment for flammable liquids to flare up, and the results can be catastrophic. Farwell had an aunt who was badly burned while melting paraffin in a saucepan as a young bride. She bought a double boiler the first day after she got out of the hospital, but she carried the scars to her grave.
Many paddlers are also photographers, and Tamia's Backcountry Photography series has generated a steady stream of mail. One question in particular troubles canoeists and kayakers everywhere:
How Do You Keep Your Camera Dry in a Boat?
Awesome winter photos ["Backcountry Photography: Going the Extra Mile" – Editor]! But how do you keep the camera dry in a canoe or kayak?
I'm very glad you enjoyed the photos, Shawn. And your question gets right to the heart of the paddling photographer's dilemma. If you keep your camera handy, it's likely to get wet, but if you keep it under wraps, you'll miss shot after shot.
A waterproof camera is one answer, and they're a lot cheaper than they used to be. But that's all I can say. I don't own one. You can also get waterproof housings for cameras that are not themselves waterproof. Here, too, you'll have to rely on others' experience, since I've never used one. (Perhaps readers who own waterproof cameras or camera housings can help.)
The next best solution is a dedicated dry box — or dry bag — that's both waterproof and easy to open. You'll still miss some shots, but you'll get more than you would if you buried your camera deep in a waterproof gear bag. I've used surplus ammo cans in the past, and they're still a good solution, at least for some boaters. In fact, they're the subject of last week's column, "Heavy Metal Rocks!"
That said, commercial dry boxes are lighter and handier than heavy steel ammo cans. They're also pricier. I use an OtterBox to protect my little Canon point‑and‑shoot camera, and it does a first‑rate job. There are many other brands to choose from, of course, along with various waterproof soft packs, aka "dry bags." I'd recommend checking outPaddling.net's "Accessory Product Reviews" to get an owners'‑eye view of the state of the mart.
Tamia's Christmas Special, a short narrative entitled the "The Last Chickadee," also moved some readers to write. Here's one letter:
"The Last Chickadee" Strikes a Chord
Absolutely charming, as usual! Thank you for your sensitivity to God's creatures. I felt as if I were there with Taiga, looking for any sign of his family and feeling the cold along with him. My compliments to the author. This was fantastic writing.
Thank you for your kind words, Shirley. I'm delighted that you enjoyed my "Christmas Special." It's impossible not to be charmed by chickadees, particularly on frigid winter days when they're chatting cheerfully among themselves while we featherless bipeds are struggling to stay warm. Who can be down in the dumps when faced with chickadees' irrepressible good humor? Not I, that's for sure!
We'll let Shirley (and Taiga, the chickadee in the picture) have the last word. Winter storms and subzero temperatures won't be back for a good while yet, happily, and paddlers are making the most of the sun's annual sojourn in Canoe Country. It's summertime, and the living is easy. Still, we can't paddle every minute of every day, can we? So when you get the chance, drop us a line and tell us what you've been doing. After all, the sun will have dipped below the equator again in just three short months, and the season will be drawing to a close. But that, too, lies in the future — in September, to be exact, when the next "Our Readers Write" will go online. We'll see you then!
A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we 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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