Friday, July 29, 2011

River Access Rights

Credit: Steve Dunleavy

There has been a lot of discussion, argument, even court battles over who owns the rivers, who has the right to gain access to them, and who has the right to claim them as personal property and deny their use to others. Attempts have been made to post rivers with no trespassing signs, string cables and storm fencing across them, and even sabotage their use by stringing barbed wire both above and below the surface with total disregard for the risk of injury or death of those who try to float past the obstructions. Canoe & Kayak Magazine published an article about a paddler that dared to force his rights of public access, and ended up being sued and taken to court. The editors invited anyone with a view on this problem, that they would like to express, should email them to:

Brian, “Capt’n of the “O” Dark 30”, posted the National River Law on his blog. It can be accessed with the Favorite Blogs link in the right margin, and by checking his July 19 post. It is probably something you’d even want to copy and keep accessible.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Polar Warming: Fact

Probably the greatest thing that distinguishes we humans from other species is not our opposing thumbs as much as our proclivity for arguing---about anything. It is this reason that has had me wrestling for several days over how to present this topic. This is not about politics, although many tend to make anything political. This is about nature and our planet---enjoying it and protecting it.

One of the topics most likely to get an argument going is global warming. Whether you want to blame the issue on political agenda, seasonal or cyclic fluctuation, a conspiracy, mere attempts to gain funding, apocalyptic hysterics, or whatever, with the accumulated evidence built over time, we have to appear insane to deny facts that are as obvious as the sun rising in the east. To find answers to the global warming issue, we need only go to the polar caps. The polar regions are to the earth what physical vital signs are to us and our overall health. For the truth, rather than rely on groups that visit the polar regions for a couple months and leave, or politicians who can gather information and statistics that can be selectively slanted to prove any given point of view, we need to seek out those that have observed polar trends in weather and nature for decades. They are the ones in the position to give the best unbiased report on conditions, trends, and apparent consequences. While scientists and politicians will still argue over the ultimate long-term consequences of global warming, like the sun rising in the east, the obvious facts should be---well, obvious.

In their Oct.,2010, issue, Cruising World printed an article by one of their favorite cruising and writing teams, Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke, of the 40-foot ketch Northern Light. The article, “Home, Sweet Home,” was about their return to a peninsula on Antarctica that had been home for an entire winter a decade before. Their observations on the changes that have occurred there, which are on-going, are clear, indisputable, and scary, and their words need to reach as wide an audience as possible. When I wrote Cruising World for permission to reprint just the last couple columns of the article, I made the point that I felt paddlers are probably even more closely tied to nature than sailors, and that you too would be interesting in this report. Cruising World sent my inquiry directly to Shapiro and Bjelke, who graciously consented to the reprint.

Rolf Bjelke

Deborah Shapiro

To give you an idea of their credentials, Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke have sailed Northern Light since 1976. They have done several circumnavigations, and have spent extended periods in high latitudes, both Arctic and Antarctic, covering 230,400 miles. Between 1982 and 84, they sailed to both the Arctic and Antarctic. In 1992 they wintered-over in Antarctica, and then in 1994-95, they wintered-over in the Arctic. Between 2000 and 2010 they completed two circumnavigations while again visitng numerous parts of Antarctica and the islands of the Southern Ocean. They have written several books, including Letters from the Sea, Northern Light, Time On Ice, and the latest, Pearls Around the White Continent, is nearing completion.

With their permission:
“On a windy, snowy, low-visibility day, we finally reach Hovgaard Island. Standing on a hill next to our winter-over anchorage, I turn 360-degrees to reacquaint myself with the magnificent alpine scenery. As the exhilaration of arrival wears off, it dawns on us how dramatically the landscape has changed. There’s a lot less snow and ice than when we left in 1992. And the snow line is much higher. “Look, Rolf,” I say pointing across the bare rocks. “That pool over there stayed frozen when we were here. And the area around it was always snow covered. We skied here year-round!”

“Rolf doesn’t answer me right away. He closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly in disbelief. Then he remarks softly, “Remember what an issue drinking water was for us? Well, no one needs to melt snow or ice any more?” I touch his arm, and we both turn our gaze to the melt water running in rivulets and streams down the rocks.”

“Neighboring Pleneau Island is also remarkably different. Its south side used to slant toward sea level, and the slant provided ice caves to examine and ice walls to climb. That face is now vertical. Our playground has evaporated, as have the snowcaps on the small adjacent islets. Two ice tongues that slanted away from the top and had provided ski access are now gone. These changes represent the loss of millions of cubic yards of snow.”

“After scouting around the island group, we realize that both animal and bird life have changed substantially. The gentoo-penguin population” (preferring ice-free areas and nesting on bare stone, grass or moss-covered areas) “has exploded. The rookery that covered a corner of the island now rings 50 percent of the coast. And due to less snow cover, gentoos now nest on rocky areas and at higher altitudes than before. In contrast, the cormorant colony has dwindled, and although the few remaining adult birds look healthy, their nests are of remarkably poor quality, compared with those we saw last time. And their chicks are in poor shape. No surprise, they beg and beg for food, yet remain unfed. And the biggest surprise: There’s moss growing on the islands’ northern slopes! It hits us that the Antarctic Peninsula has started to resemble the South Shetlands of 15 years ago.”

“Back then, when we wintered at Hovgaard, we sent observations to various scientists working at Palmer Station. When we now send an email to ecologist Bill Fraser describing the changes in bird populations, he replied that our observations parallel theirs and that, indeed the recent changes in the state of the peninsula are staggering. He sums them up: glaciers retreating, ice shelves disappearing, air and water temperatures up, krill biomass” (the foundation of the food chain) “down, Adelie penguin populations collapsing, cormorant and chin-strap penguin populations down, but gentoo penguin numbers increasing---up to 6,000 percent near Palmer Station. The conclusion? The entire ecosystem along the Antarctic Peninsula is being transformed---from a polar to a subpolar one.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Josh Underway

Josh is doing a great job so far, and making friends all over the place.  Note that I have added his blog (titled Paddle for Wells) to the Favorite Blogs link in the right margin, so you can access his blog directly from here.  His fish count is zero, but he has posted some nice pictures that he's shot.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Are Your Odds of Rescue?

Credit: noaanews

In a recent SPOT newsletter, they covered the subject of how to get rescued from the perspective of the rescuer, and what you can do to improve yours odds of rescue and help them arrive sooner. The first is to get rid of the 911 Syndrome.

I taught sailing, seamanship, and navigation for 29 years. The hardest thing I found to fight against was the expectation of instant remedy. No matter what went wrong, there was someone else charged with the responsibly of correcting our mistakes, compensating for our shortcomings, and risking their lives to save us from our own stupidity. I started calling it the 911 Syndrome. It suggested that we didn’t need to learn pilotage, because we had Loran. We didn’t need to learn celestial, because we had GPS. We didn’t need to worry about survival, because someone would rescue us before we had a chance to get cold or hungry. Since we would be rescued almost before we got wet, we didn’t need to worry about liferafts, EPIRBS or SPOTS, PFD’s, or rescue beacons. For most people, the thought of self-sufficiency never crossed their minds, and if anything went wrong, it was someone else’s fault. It never occurred to many that the reason such equipment or training exists is because people have died to show the need for it. The bottom line is that we should be able to save ourselves without putting others at risk, or if help is actually needed, make our recovery as quick and safe as possible for all concerned. In short, WE are the ones responsible for our survival and rescue.

Here are some of the tips they offered:

1) Make your SPOT profile as complete as possible. Be sure it includes the description of your boat, your skill level, what survival and rescue equipment you have on board, and your experience level. If you get separated from your boat, what survival equipment will you have on your person?
(2) If it is a long trip, modify the profile to include a float plan---tentative schedule, route,
the contact person, who else is in the party, any special medical needs, what your check-in or reporting schedule is and from where, etc.
(3) The contact person should have as detailed an itinerary on the trip as you have, equipment list, full bio info on all persons in the party, etc.
(4) Realize that a rescue takes time to arrange. You must be prepared to make-do on your own for at least several hours to maybe a day or so, depending on how remote you are or how easily you can be reached.
(5) In addition to a SPOT, have a means of communication to converse with rescuers, such as SAT phone or VHF.
(6) In spite of the technological advances we are accustomed to, plan for the possibility that the EPIRB or SPOT may malfunction or land features may adversely affect transmission and make it impossible for the signal to get out. In that case will you
have a signal mirror, survival blanket and other means to survive the conditions, etc.?
(7) They can’t find a needle in a haystack when the haystack keeps moving. If you don’t know exactly where you can find help without transmitting a call for help, then once the call has been made, pick a clear spot, and stay there. You are a very small spot in a large wilderness, so do whatever you can to make yourself visible.  

Lastly, don’t panic until you get the bill.  In some cases, we may be charged for the cost of the rescue, especially if the emergency call was made necessary because of poor planning, preparedness, or just plain stupidity on our part.  Since this may run into tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, there is indeed a very selfish reason for being well prepared.  If there is no thought for the safety of the rescuers, maybe we can find that we are concerned about personal bankrupcy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Waters Less Traveled

Little has changed here in Oklahoma---drying lakes and waterways and deadly temperatures and heat indices. The only thing that has changed is that the heat dome has spread east and north, so now heat indices of 110-115 degrees reach clear to the Canadian border. With the extreme drought, our house foundation has buckled so that three interior doors won’t close, and the back door is completely jammed in its frame and can’t be opened. It hasn’t been serviceable since we returned home a month ago.

My way of handling the conditions is the same as my approach with panhandlers---ignore them and they’ll go away. So my latest effort at ignoring reality was to pick up Doug Alderson’s Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida’s Big Bend Coast. (Univ. Press of Florida, 2005, 130 pp.) We met Doug while in St. Marks, FL, and got the chance to paddle with him on the Wakulla River. (see May 16 post) This is the first of eight books written by Doug, and covers an exploratory paddle he and Liz Sparks did while setting up the Florida Paddling Trail. The trip takes them around the Big Bend of Florida’s panhandle from the Aucilla River to Cedar Key. The book takes the reader through Florida’s human and natural history, the impact of industry, logging, and tourism on the region, the history of smuggling along the coast, and brings to life old stories about people and towns that have come and gone over the last couple hundred years. For more information on Doug’s other books, visit

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Distant Fires


For most people further north, winter is the reading season, the time that our paddling is done through the pages of someone else’s adventure. Here in Oklahoma, I find myself hibernating through the days when the thermometer is bumping 110-degrees. By heading back to the four-page Paddlers’ Reading List I posted here on the blog last February, I selected this armchair companion. Distant Fires , by Scott Anderson (Pfeifer-Hamilton Pub., Duluth,MN, 1990) is a short book of 156 pages. It is a story about a nearly 2,000 mile trip from Duluth, MN, to Hudson Bay by way of Lake Superior, the Grand Portage, Lake of the Woods, the Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, Gods and Hayes Rivers to Hudson Bay. Scott planned the trip for 1987 when he was 22 and a college junior. Within five minutes of setting out on their first day’s run, they had to turn for shore only to be swamped and have all their gear soaked. Such is the adventure of paddling. Miles weren’t coming easily either. It was about day five or six when they reached Tofte. A man asked where they had come from, and Scott answered that they had started in Duluth, to which the man responded that he thought that was a pretty good day’s run. They were crushed.

Accounts of such trips tend to bring out real-life situations, like maintaining harmony with a paddling partner for long periods when they never get more than a few feet away, reaching consensus on who makes camp, prepares meals, cleans up, whether you stop for lunch or press on, whether time is for paddling or if miles gained should be traded for fishing time. You get a chance to share rare experiences, like living with the Cree Indians, watching the Northern Lights over God’s Lake, or traveling a week or two without seeing another human being, but rather moose and caribou. For a $2 transfer fee from another library, the book kept me company for a few days, and kept my interest in paddling alive.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Dry Is It?

This is a copy of an e.mail I received today from a fellow Oklahoma drought victim.  The weather service reports we are at the same drought severity as during the Dust Bowl years.  The only thing that prevents a repeat of those times is the changes that have occurred in agricultural practices.  The eastern part of the state continues to receive precipitation, but we remain in extreme drought. 
How DRY Is It in Oklahoma???
A buddy out of McAlester said he'd killed a mosquito that was carrying a canteen.
A man in Lawton said the chicken farmers were giving the chickens
crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.
In Ada, they caught a 20 lb catfish that had ticks on it!
But just this week, in Okmulgee, a fire hydrant was seen bribing a dog.
It's so dry in Oklahoma that the Baptists are starting to baptize by sprinkling,
the Methodists are using wet-wipes,
the Presbyterians are giving out rain-checks,
and the Catholics are praying for the wine to turn back into water.

Now THAT's Dry!!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oklahoma's Disappearing Water

Lakes are much more beautiful with water in them.

If paddling in Oklahoma wasn’t hard enough, even the potential destinations are disappearing. Grand Lake of the Cherokees, in Northeast Oklahoma, is the third-largest lake in Oklahoma, exceeded by Texoma and Eufaula Lakes. I wouldn’t expect such a huge body of water to experience such water quality problems, but the lack of rainfall and exceedingly hot weather has had a serious impact. The lake was closed over the Fourth of July holiday due to blue-green algae blooms and high toxin levels. Several other lakes are being tested for similar problems. Beaches on Arcadia lake have been closed due to e.coli levels in the swim areas. The rest of the lake is reported to be fine. I didn’t understand how high e.coli levels were a health risk on one side of the swim area ropes, but not if you were skiing or swimming off a boat on the other side of the ropes.

Water levels are becoming another problem. The best places to find wildlife and more interesting paddling are in the pools and feeder streams. Water levels are dropping enough to make such areas inaccessible. The conservation pool on Chouteau Lake, another being tested for high toxin levels, is only at 44% of its pool depth. Altus is down 73%, Kemp is down 54%, Canton 33%, and so on. I try not to even mess with one down more than 5%, so paddling options are also drying up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Planning Pains

Paddling with Fred Borg and Doug Alderson on the Wakulla River, FL.

Planning a trip should be part of the fun. When we were sailing, we approached planning from two different points of view. I doubt paddling is any different. When we were looking forward to a cruise, we would spend months trying to anticipate what conditions we might encounter, what history we might enjoy and learn, how we would handle provisioning, what charts we would need, what emergencies we might need to prepare for, and the list went on. We’d make imaginary cruises through the charts, and thus often discover a lapse in coverage, or a harbor or reef-studded area where a more detailed chart might be needed. Conversely, the other approach would be getting ready when circumstances demanded having the kit ready for departure within a number of hours, or just a few days. When we did vessel delivery work, this situation usually arose when a delivery needed to be done on short order. Fortunately, our cruising experience pretty much taught us what we needed to have for a safe and successful trip, so if we needed to be on a boat 500 miles away within 48 hours, we always seemed to manage to do it. Paddling, however, seems to have some unique contradictions. One of these contradictions is really the subject of this post. If anyone has solutions to offer, I’m all ears.

One of the first paddling safety rules is to never paddle alone. If you were to interpret that literally, it would mean I should never go paddling. My experience has been, at least here in Western Oklahoma, the chances of finding another paddler available to share the trip are on a par with locating a commercial igloo contractor. If you don’t go alone, you don’t go---period. I’ll have to admit from the start that I’m partly responsible for the dearth of prospective paddlers. Both for safety and enjoyment, I like to go paddling when 95% of the populace is at work, so I plan trips during mid-week and never during a holiday. Still, you would think there would be someone with similar interests. For safety, this greatly reduces the likelihood that I’ll get run down by an inebriated power-boatman. From the point of view of enjoyment, the solitude and quiet enhances the appreciation of nature, increases the selection of campsites that aren’t next to a drunken or drugged crowd that riot until three in the morning, and free me from simulated whitewater created by a parade of bass boats, ski boats, and personal watercraft. Another aspects that favors paddling in company is companionship. Nothing augments the enjoyment of an experience more than sharing it with someone else. The best days, when I was paddling the Gulf Coast, were when I was joined by Jim, Fred, Doug, Paul, Gus and Don, for short paddles. The people you meet are always the best part of any trip. The time shared adds to the experience, takes the tedium out of the constant paddling, and adds the opportunity to learn skills and techniques that others have acquired. I’ve tried posting trips on, Oklahoma Outdoor Network, meetup groups, and while I say it tongue in cheek, there seems to be more and more truth in my assertion that water hasn’t been invented in Oklahoma yet. That isn’t true in Eastern Oklahoma, which looks more like Arkansas than the Oklahoma we know here in the Dust Bowl, but the search here has brought no apparent interest. It means going 1,500 miles, but it seems that only way to find a paddling partner would be to go back to Florida.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth

Here's the flag that started it all---the one watched by Francis Scott Key as he penned the Star Spangled Banner.  Thanks to all who have endeavored to preserve our freedoms and this great nation.  Enjoy the holiday.