Your #1 source for kayaking and canoeing information.               FREE Newsletter!
my Profile
Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

The Swarms of Summer—Jet-Skis and Biting Flies By Tamia Nelson

May 29, 2001

The last "Our Readers Write" appeared in January. What a difference four months makes! The paddling season's well under way in northern North America now, and we're seeing more and more canoes and kayaks out on the 'Flow. They don't have the water all to themselves, of course. We're also seeing more and more jet-skis. For the moment, there's a sort of uneasy truce between the "no-octane" boaters and the "go-fast" crowd. Still, the 'Flow's only three miles long. It can't accommodate everyone's needs indefinitely. What, then, does the future hold in store—for the 'Flow and for the country's other increasingly crowded inland waters, as well?

We're not alone in asking this question. Gerry Adler's been writing to us for quite a while. He's a sea-kayaker living in southern California, with a lifetime of professional maritime and naval experience to draw on. He also writes a regular op-ed column, It's Your Government, for his local paper. As luck would have it, Gerry and I are poles apart politically, but we still didn't have much trouble finding common ground, beginning with our shared fascination with the watery world and with all that lives in (and on) it.

In any event, however much I may disagree with Gerry from time to time, I always find his columns thought-provoking and entertaining. I'm sure you will, too. Here's Gerry's take on one of the topics of the day, from his column of 16 March 2001. Needless to say, this is one time when we're completely in sync!

Recreational Conflict

By Gerry Adler

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? The two shouldn't go together, but as someone told me today, snowmobilers back east are getting into it with cross-country skiers. Now that I think of it, I know how the cross-country skiers must feel. If you are paddling a kayak or canoe and a large powerboat passes you at excessive speed (over 5 mph in many areas) you can be swamped by its wake. (For those not familiar with the expression, you become a swimmer.) I will admit that I have not always been pleasant in such cases.

Is this "road rage" common in other forms of recreation? I would say so. Just the other day, San Diego lifeguards took a report of an assault by one surfer on another, and it is far from a rare occurrence. The surfers absolutely do not wish to share their waves with "butt surfers" (kayakers), either, and I don't entirely blame them. A loose surfboard can be a deadly weapon, and a kayak is much heavier.

Hikers and horsemen/women and mountain bikers have a history of disagreements going back to when they first shared trails.

The Grand Champion of Recreational Conflict is most likely the Personal Watercraft (PWC), also called the Jet Ski after a popular model. This vehicle makes enemies wherever it goes because of the conduct of its riders and its mode of propulsion.

PWCs are capable of speeds on the water in the neighborhood of 70 mph, and many of the operators drive as though Newton's Laws of Motion had been repealed. If a machine hits a floating or partially submerged object, it will slow or stop very quickly. Not so, necessarily, the rider. For this reason, among others, the machines are equipped with a "dead man" switch. (No, I don't think the manufacturers call it that, but such switches have been so nicknamed for a long time.) When the rider falls off, he or she pulls a key which slows the machine to idle speed, and it runs in circles so that the rider can re-mount (if able).

Operators of PWCs frequently speed to and fro, jumping wakes of passing craft and harassing other boaters and/or swimmers. Most areas have had to make special areas for them, as they are not compatible with other craft. Picture a 70-mph waterscooter cutting between a tow boat and its water skier and running into the neck-high tow rope. No, don't picture that. Collisions are bad enough, since freeway speeds can be involved, and the rider is sitting atop a fiberglass motorcycle on the water.

The motors used by PWCs will eventually doom or drastically modify them. They use a two-cycle engine to drive a water jet. The engine is basically like your gas leaf blower, chain saw or string cutter. It really revs up, and riders tend to endear themselves to all within earshot (a fairly long way) by orbiting over and over and over like an Energizer Bunny turned banshee.

The motors of most, if not all, PWCs are two-cycle in design. That design requires the burning of oil with the gasoline to lubricate internal parts oiled by crankcase oil in a four-cycle engine. This design emits far more pollution in the form of unburned gas/oil mixture into the water than the four-cycle. Since many watercourses used by PWCs (and two-cycle outboards too) are also drinking water sources, many feel that it may be time to prohibit these machines from those lakes and rivers. Some counties and parks have already banned PWCs.

Since much of the Recreational Conflict is due to inconsiderate conduct, we have the means to curtail or even eliminate it: BE NICE! Am I optimistic? 'Fraid not.

I can't fault either Gerry's prescription or his prognosis. His is the voice of reason and realism. Still, I'm only human. There are times—after a particularly narrow escape on the water, for example—when fantasies of revenge crowd everything else from my mind. These are just fantasies, mind. But fantasy can be therapeutic.

Consider the following "news" story, for example. It's from The Peasleeville Complainer, a parody newspaper written and edited by an Adirondack neighbor who's an enthusiastic canoeist. "Dolly Lama"'s not the author's real name, of course. Dolly, like "Johnny Local" and the Complainer's many other correspondents, is the creation of one individual's fertile imagination. Parody or not, though, anyone who's lived in rural America will recognize that there's a lot of truth on the pages of the Complainer. (But please don't try building one of these at home!)

Stealth Torpedo May Solve Jetski Problem

By Dolly Lama

If Hans Raeder has his way, the jetski nuisance that has been troubling Adirondack lakes for the past decade will soon be just an unpleasant memory.

Mr. Raeder, grandson of Admiral Heinrich Raeder of the World War II-era German Navy, claims to have perfected a torpedo that will reliably sink jetskis.

The design was undertaken in response to a competition sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Raeder says his plans have been submitted to the Agency and with the prize money he hopes to win he will be able to begin production of the torpedo early next year.

"You can just imagine the challenges involved in something like this," Mr. Raeder said from his home in Kaiserslauten. "The weapon has to be hand-launchable from the shore, a boat, an airplane, whatever, and not easily seen by the target. We had to assume the user is untrained, and capable of following instructions no more complicated than those for opening a beer can. "The weapon itself has to be able to sink a jetski craft without injuring the wackos who are on it. The EPA was very insistent on this, despite our objections. "Finally, the weapon has to hit the target. This sounds obvious, but under the circumstances it's terribly difficult. When you are chasing an 80-mph jetski around a lake with an underwater missile that has a top speed of 30 mph, and furthermore the jetski can dart around like a crazed chicken, you've got a real job on your hands. Also, there is the little problem of hitting the intended target, rather than some poor slob out in a canoe, for example.

"I can't go into detail, but we have met all of these challenges. The torpedo can run for two hours—that's important. Naturally a lot of computerization is involved, and we have programmed the control mechanism with a personality that is, shall we say, very, very patient.

"I also wish to assure you that we are Y2K compliant."

If only it were that simple! Happily, not all problems are so refractory. A recent column on coping with the seasonal onslaught of biting flies brought the following comments in the mail. Both writers raise important points—points that I didn't address in my original article—so I've included my replies, too.

Permethrin—Pro and Con


Regarding "Too Weak to Fight? Coping with Mosquitoes, Punkies, and Blackflies":

One strategy that you did not mention was the use of permethrin spray on clothing, particularly in conjunction with DEET. I refer you to an article entitled "DEET Cream, Permethrin Make Killer Combo" from Skin & Allergy News 28(11):30, 1997 ( 1997 International Medical News Group).

Permethrin, unlike DEET, is an insecticide killing the critters on contact. It is most effective against ticks because they must crawl across the clothes to get to you and thus come in contact with the permethrin. It is sometimes sold as "tick repellent." However, it does work on the flying guys too, if they light on permethrin-treated stuff. It lasts a good long time when sprayed on clothes—several washes, or a week or two. Before a trip, I spray my clothes, hat, and headnet with the stuff, let it dry and pack it away. Exposed skin (when needed) gets a little 20% DEET bug dope.

This has been very effective for me.


Ken E. Brown

Thanks for your note, Ken! I'm of two minds about permethrin, I'm afraid, even in tick areas. It's certainly effective, but at what cost? The stuff's a broad-spectrum (i.e., non-selective) insecticide. Bees are especially vulnerable, and they're already in trouble throughout much of North America. And that's not the only bad news. Permethrin also poses a threat to aquatic ecosystems, including critical estuarine environments. And it's toxic to all fish, from bluegills to salmon.

There are also a few unanswered questions concerning health effects. While permethrin has low mammalian toxicity, there's evidence from a number of animal studies that liver enlargement may follow chronic exposure, as well as some suggestions of fertility and immune system impairment. (For literature citations and a summary of current research and toxicity data, see the Cornell University Pesticide Information Profile data-sheet.)

Of course, the known threats to human health are small (if all usage guidelines are followed to the letter). Moreover, even if rain-water leaching, laundry wash-out, and urine excretion are all taken into account, a single paddler is unlikely to contribute much to any waterway's pesticide burden. Still, there are some 25 million of us. Taken together, our individual contributions add up. That being the case, I'd rather reserve permethrin for areas where biting flies and other arthropods are known to act as vectors for life-threatening diseases—tropical regions and places where Lyme disease is now endemic, for example—and for times when no other method works. And I'd use it cautiously even then.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.

Best wishes,


Alternatives to DEET


Very interesting article. We recently got a bug dope recipe that uses essential oils. I got the recipe from a good source (I hope). Have you folks tried any of the available recipes for those biters that utilize any of the essential oils? It is supposedly safe and very effective.


It's good to hear from you, Tony!

Have we ever used any bug dope formulated from essential oils? In a word, no. (Unless you count citronella candles, which we have used from time to time, even though one study showed them to be no more effective than ordinary wax candles!) We rely mostly on barriers (wellies, long sleeves, netting, etc.) and on what Farwell insists on calling "stoic acceptance." We also keep DEET in reserve, although we use it sparingly, when we use it at all. But—and this is important—we also do most of our paddling in areas free from the threat of arboviruses (that's "arthropod-borne viruses," e.g., West Nile virus), Lyme disease, and other insect-borne pathogens.

That said, unless you're heading for an arbovirus Hot Zone or a malaria area, I'd suggest that you give your recipe a try. Test it first at home, just to be sure you're not allergic to any of the components. (Pennyroyal, for example, can cause dermatitis.) Then, when you head out for the backcountry, BE SURE you have a back-up in your pack in case your recipe lets you down. A head net, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants—along with a good tent—will see you through all but the worst conditions, though you'll certainly get hot.

What should you expect your new bug dope to do for you? Here's one version of the Official Word, from a review article entitled "Mosquitoes and Mosquito Repellents: A Clinician's Guide," which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 1 June 1998, 128:931-940.

Thousands of plants have been tested as potential sources of insect repellents. None of the plant-derived chemicals tested to date demonstrate the broad effectiveness and duration of DEET, but a few show repellent activity. Plants whose essential oils have been reported to have repellent activity include citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cajeput, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint. Unlike synthetic insect repellents, plant-derived repellents have been relatively poorly studied. When tested, most of these essential oils tended to give short-lasting protection, usually less than 2 hours. [Emphasis added.]

As this paragraph suggests, there's still a great deal to be learned about repellent chemistry and the mechanisms by which biting flies locate and select their targets. So give your recipe a thorough trial. Be sure to keep notes, too, and please let us know what you find out.

Best wishes—and good luck!


OK. There are a lot more letters in our mailbag, but I don't want this to get too long. Look for "Our Readers Write" again in two months. Next week, however, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna on their "Trip of a Lifetime."

Keep writing!

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

Sponsored Ad:
Follow us on:
Free Newsletter | About Us | Site Map | Advertising Info | Contact Us


©2015 Inc.