Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Battle Scars

What good is a pirate without a scar down his cheek, a peg leg, or a hook for a hand? These eye-catching battle scars tell a story, and add credibility to the force of his “Ahrrrrrr!” Except for some wooden craft with carefully selected wood colors and inlays, I can’t help but get the impression that the same is true with canoes and kayaks. You might say, “I got this scrape on the Susquehanna. The dent came from going sideways against a rock on the Missouri. The torn off piece of gunwale happened when I bounced off a moored barge on the lower Mississippi.” They’re almost like badges of honor. Show me your scars, and I’ll show you mine.

This is all so much different from when we were sailing. Except for some of the “Clorox bottles” that have been popped out of molds in the last couple decades, sailboats are works of art, things of beauty. Regardless of what other characteristics they may have, they first have to appeal to the eye even if they‘re a century old. They and their owners develop bonds I don’t see with paddle boats. Sailboats are named with great care---almost like naming a child---and become part of the family. While most theologians would argue against them having a soul, they unquestionably have unique personalities, even for identical models coming out of the same shop. Their maintenance is an obsession with their gloss finishes, sparkling varnish, polished stainless and brass. They have their own sounds that talk to the owner in the night. So, the idea of allowing your baby to get a blemish is unimaginable. I once got a four-inch scratch in the topsides while backing into a slip in 30-mph winds. Someone had driven a nail into the side of a piling, rather than the face, and I came to rest against it. The resulting scratch haunted me for years. None of this seems to apply to canoes and kayaks. A flush with a hose and a wipe with 303 is called maintenance. As long as they’re structurally sound, scruffy is not a look, but proof of experience. So, correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I’ve drawn this conclusion. While a sailboat is a companion and a work of nautical art steeped in centuries of custom and tradition, a canoe or kayak is a tool. Sure, many have a lineage, like a Pal, Prospector, or Tripper, but they’re still just tools. The latter explains why some paddlers also have a dozen boats---a different tool for different jobs. Drag it through the brush, slide it down the riprap, bounce it off a dozen rocks in rapids, and as long as the trip is completed, all’s fair. You may not want to bang it up, but like a flak vest, as long as it gets you safely through the mission, even an infrequent hole is just part of the game.

Thus you should be able to see my emotional dilemma. I picked up my beautiful Superior Solo Expedition from Scott Smith and took it on a trip along the Gulf coast. See! Right there you can see the conflict, referring to ’it’ rather than ’she’. It was shinny and flawless until I used it. In short order, just being on the coast brought my new canoe, the first new boat I’ve ever owned, in conflict with the oyster shells and gravel along the shore. Some places left no alternative to dragging the canoe a few feet. It came home with scrapes all over the bottom. While my objective mind said this was okay and to be expected, my subjective mind said I couldn’t allow it out in public again until I had repaired all the scratches and made them disappear. Until I could make it whole again---flawlessly smooth and shiny---it was sent to rest upside-down in the shop on a couple sawhorses. Maybe I need to look at it like a NASCAR driver might. If I’ve gone too far with no scrapes, perhaps I’m not trying hard enough. Illogical or not, my baby looks like new again.

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