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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Frosty River Our Readers Write

The Lure of Open Water

March 30, 2010

It's been a long, hard winter here in Canoe Country. But the end is in sight. The sun climbs a little further north each day, and south‑facing slopes are rapidly losing their snow cover. There's rotten ice in the bays, too, and open channels are appearing in the rivers, where flocks of mallards and mergansers congregate on drifting floes. The forests are also waking from their winter slumber, as woodpeckers hammer out territorial claims on hollow trees and red squirrels scamper across high branches, pausing only to scold the unwary passerby below.

We paddlers are wakening from our winter torpor, as well, lured outside by the drip‑drip‑drip of melting snow and encouraged by the longer days. Spring is a busy time for canoeists and kayakers. There are plans to be made and rivers to be run. But all this activity doesn't keep In the Same Boat readers from taking a little time off to write to us. Since the last "Our Readers Write," we've heard from folks who want to share their favorite knots, describe their solutions to the boat‑storage problem, and tell us how they keep themselves and their gear dry, even in the wettest weather. And that's just the start. To learn more, read on. Drop us a line when you get the chance, too. Remember, it's "Our Readers Write."

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

So Many Knots…

Prusik Hitch

Dear Tamia,

Great ideas on boat storage ["Home Port" –Editor]! I like the one using the prusik knot. That knot was a new one for me, and now that I practiced it for a moment it is second nature and very useful.

Might be good to have an In the Same Boat article on the three or four most useful knots for kayakers. I mostly use the square knot and tautline hitch, as well as the improved clinch knot.

I would use that storage option in my garage, but I just put shelves there last week! That project was a couple of years in the execution. I might use the rope storage method in my rented storage room, though…plenty of ceiling there.

James Stone

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, James! I've had a long love affair with the prusik hitch, dating back to my climbing days. In fact, it played a starring role in an earlier column, appropriately titled "The Versatile Prusik Hitch." This is the latest in my "Knots to Know" series, the first of which ("Basic Ropecraft for Paddlers") included a description of the reef knot (aka square knot). The tautline hitch got its turn in the limelight later, in "Second String." Taken all together, the "Knots to Know" columns make up just the sort of paddlers' primer that you suggested. (NB James wrote back later to tell me about Grog's Animated Knots, a comprehensive online encyclopedia of knots for all seasons and reasons, knots which tie themselves while you watch. Cool!)

Set 'em Up!

Dear Tamia,

[Re: "Big Boats+Small Place=Big Problem" –Editor] Here is my solution.

Dick McClure

Dick McClure's Yak Storage

• • •

Tamia replies:

You're a man of few words, Dick, but your picture tells the whole story with wonderful economy, and the narrative is compelling. Thanks! I like it. The bow tether provides ample insurance against the boat slipping and sliding, too. It's simple and good. (Owners of 'glass boats might want to put a square of foam under whichever end rests on the floor. But that's a small matter.)

A Thumbs‑Up for the Poncho


Dear Tamia,

I really liked your article on ponchos ["Sheltering Your Assets" –Editor]. I certainly agree with your statement, "It often seems that ponchos don't get no respect. At best, they're seen as cheap alternatives to 'real' rain gear." Your photos were great.

I once wrote to our Appalachian Mountain Club magazine, in response to an article praising rain gear, saying that ponchos are often preferable to Gore‑Tex‑type raingear when hiking in warm weather — sweating gets one wet from the inside whereas ponchos, which are airy, minimize this problem.

Keep your articles coming.

Ken in New Hampshire

• • •

Tamia replies:

Will do, Ken — and thanks!

On the Ball

Dear Tamia,

Just a thought regarding the limb supporting the hood of your poncho shelter: Did you consider an old tennis ball with a slit in it to put over the top of the limb so it would protect the poncho from getting a hole in it? With the slit, you could stuff some line into its interior space so you wouldn't lose any space within your ditty bag. Sort of like travelers packing shoes filled with socks in their suitcases.


• • •

Tamia replies:

What a great idea, Gary! Cheap and efficient. That's a mighty hard combination to beat. (Later: Gary was up to the challenge. It turned out that the tennis‑ball trick was just one of his many useful innovations. And how! See the next letter…

Winning the Space Race

Dear Tamia,

I try to save as much space as I can so I can carry the things I may need for our trips. My friend Linda and I just finished camping in Charleston and in Brunswick, Maine. I do a lot of "saving space" for our trips. I built a raised bed frame out of PCV piping for her Toyota Sienna that we use on the road. Underneath the bed frame (which holds a blow‑up mattress), we have a Coleman double‑burner stove; ice chests to keep food, drinks and eating supplies; two plastic tubs (one holds camping gear, and the other holds kayak gear); tent; camp chairs; a backless wheelchair that we use for loading, unloading, and moving our kayak around; and other miscellaneous items we use on our trip. This does not include the bike rack that we use to carry our two recumbents on the back of the van when our kayaks are on the roof. Soon I'll rearrange the roof arrangement so I can carry a maximum of three kayaks, or two kayaks and a canoe.

I've also found some screen netting that we can clamp on the frame of the rear hatch to keep bugs out at night while allowing in a good supply of air. This way if we are in a rush to get someplace, we don't have to break out our tent and related paraphernalia so we can get some rest. It lets us be on our way sooner rather than later in the morning.


• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm speechless, Gary. It sounds like you've got the packing problem well and truly licked. I only wish I were half as efficient.

In Praise of the Adirondack Guideboat

Dear Tamia,

My wife and I have paddled a variety of tandem canoes and kayaks for several decades. We haven't killed each other yet, but we have come close a few times. This year we bought an Adirondack guideboat because she likes to paddle — and has been a trusted stern pilot for years — and I have always liked fixed‑seat rowing. (I have been the up‑front power plant for years.) We prefer flatwater to whitewater so it seemed a good fit. It did take a bit of learning to deal with the very low primary stability, but we quickly adapted. (Our tandem kayak is a Nigel Dennis Triton that is 22.5 ft x 22.5 inches without a rudder.)

One of the very nice things about the stern paddler and bow rower is the fact that you are facing each other, so conversation is much easier. Also, one set of eyes looks forward, and one set looks astern, which has some benefit. Have you ever used a guideboat? Any comments or tips?

I have enjoyed your column and learned a lot.

Ben W. Quaintance

• • •

Tamia replies:

Glad you like the column, Ben. And no, despite living in or near the Adirondacks for much of my life, I've never taken a guideboat out for a spin. (Farwell's done some open‑water rowing, but that was in skiffs and dories, not guideboats.) However, if you haven't already seen Hallie Bond's Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks, you might find it worth your while to pick up a copy. She devotes several chapters to the guideboat, and these make fascinating reading. The photos are wonderfully evocative, too. Guideboats are certainly elegant watercraft.

The Noble Beech

Dear Tamia,

Thank you for the wonderful article on the beech ["The Noble Beech" –Editor]. So well written and researched, and interesting! I used to think of the beech as one of the more ordinary trees, but you made them seem much more important, and I've changed my opinion about them.

I have always loved the Boundary Waters, not so much for its wildlife, but for its trees, its granite outcroppings, its piney forest floor, and the beauties of its portage trails winding through the trees. Thanks for sharing this article with me. I am looking forward, anxiously, for more.

Bobby Yadley

Fellow Travelers

Dear Tamia,

"The Noble Beech" was a nice article, and thanks for writing it. I love trees but have to admit that when I'm paddling my attention is usually on the water and wildlife. I mostly paddle on the Maine coast, but this summer we did hit a few rivers. On the Penobscot, stately silver maples lined the banks and islands for miles. We saw a gray squirrel crossing the river. He was very determined, as it's a wide river. We were surprised to see him doing that. On the Sebasticook there were stands of tall, straight white pines. Of course, Maine is more than 90‑percent forested, so we have lots of trees. I look forward to more articles.

Pat Roy

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, Bobby, and thank you, too, Pat. I'm glad my article struck a chord. I've often seen small animals swimming across big expanses of open water. Squirrels regularly crossed a 200‑yard‑wide channel between our home on the 'Flow and a nearby island, and I once encountered a seemingly indefatigable mink nearing the end of a one‑mile‑long crossing in northern Québec. (We offered him a lift on a paddle blade for the last leg of his journey, but he declined — and he made landfall safely.)

And now for something completely different. Much to our surprise, the "experimental" paddlesport thriller we wrote almost a decade ago and published in no less than 34 irregular installments at continues to entertain readers, one of whom wrote to tell us how much he liked it.

Trip of a Lifetime

Hi, Tamia!

Guess what I found? It's a story written by one of my favorite writers. I didn't know it existed until last evening. Now, you know how much I love to read these type of stories that you write, and you know I think your stories are written so well with your style and imagination. My discovery felt like I hit a gold mine. Thirty‑three chapters of gold reading for me savor and enjoy! I briefly read a couple of chapters, and now have great anticipation for the journey to begin. I hadn't yet discovered back when you wrote and published Trip of a Lifetime, and I just didn't know it was there waiting for me until I saw a mention of it at Outside. Thank you so much for writing this serial novel way back then!


• • •

Tamia replies:

Gosh, Dan. What can we say? Other than "Aw, shucks." Thanks for taking the time to write.


Take a Trip


What about you? Is there a "trip of a lifetime" in your future? Great! Tell us about it when you get the chance. But even if you're planning on staying close to home this year, you'll find plenty of reasons to get out on the water. The geese are honking overhead, the songbird chorus is tuning up, and a warm southerly breeze is already whispering through the pines. Winter is in retreat. Spring is advancing. And open water lies just ahead. So we're sure to have plenty more letters for you to read when "Our Readers Write" returns in late June. Who knows what stories they'll have to tell? Well, you do, of course. After all, this is "Our Readers Write," isn't it? You bet it is!

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.

Copyright © 2010 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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