Friday, November 30, 2012

Paddling Country?


Lake Tenkiller, Eastern Oklahoma, in a wetter time.  Even then
you could see the waterline on the rocks was down several feet.
I just returned from what was supposed to be a paddling trip. Being desperate to get out of town, get on the water, and find new material for the blog, I was determined, yes, desperate, to make something happen. Ibi was loaded on the truck and we, Ibi and I, headed southwest. The ‘plan’ was to connect several lakes over a few days by paddling a lake during the day, and finding a place to truck-camp for the night. As you will see, if maintaining a boating blog in a place with no water is difficult, paddling in a place with no water is even harder.

The S. Canadian River of sand.
Being on the water can indeed be hazardous for the unprepared and unwary. Of course for those with a little forethought and commonsense, any boating is a leisurely, pleasant, peaceful, soul-enriching experience. The normal hazards emphasized in boating safety literature concentrate on drowning and hypothermia. In Oklahoma, a more common hazard would be sustaining a concussion when you fall out of your boat and hit your head on the red dirt and sand.

The open Great Plains.
The trip turned into a photo-op as other things attracted my attention as I drove 219 miles across western Oklahoma. While Jean and I reviewed the pictures I returned with, she remembered that a long-time friend of ours from Delaware had said he’d like to see what Oklahoma looks like. So, for those who aren’t native Okie’s, I hope you enjoy some views from the Great Plains, or the area Lewis and Clark referred to alternately as the Great American Desert, or the lands unfit for human habitation. Of course for those who are born and grow up here, their prideful opinions are likely to differ from those of our famed explorers.  Nonetheless, for you and our friends from Delaware, over the next few days I’ll show you what boating and driving in Western Oklahoma has to offer.
A view of a "no wake" buoy from Canton Lake.  I used this awhile
ago, but it's descriptive enough to warrant repeating.
First, to be balanced in my presentation, not all of Oklahoma is a nautical wasteland. The Eastern part of the state that slid across the Arkansas state line can be quite nice. The picture above from a trip a couple years ago at Lake Tenkiller shows a natural and rugged beauty. Even Tenkiller is now down 28% of capacity, and nine feet of depth. This is a much rosier picture than lakes further west that are down 70 to 106%. But, rather than digress too far, let’s just let Western Oklahoma speak for herself over the next few days.




Friday, November 23, 2012

The Complete Wilderness Paddler

The Complete Wilderness Paddler, by James West Davidson and John Rugge

(246pp. and 3 appendices, 1975, by Vintage Books, Div. of Random House, NY)

The authors use a canoe trip on the Moisie River, one of the most beautiful rivers in North America, as the vehicle for teaching us everything we need to know to make any similar successful trip. The book is subtitled as a “detailed, working handbook on planning, outfitting, and conducting a canoe trip.” It cover sections on navigation, deciphering topographic maps, portaging, camping, and without a doubt, the best sections I’ve seen on reading rivers and learning how to plan descents, ferrying, lining, bracing, and maneuvering. Chapters cover everything from how to find a wilderness worthy of paddling, to managing capsizes and wilderness disasters. One of the sections I enjoyed most was on topographic maps. First they guide you through pointers on how to read them and what scales to use, but then give you sections of map to analyze. Then that is followed by an evaluation of what you learned, and what you missed. The appendices include one on paddle strokes, the ones you need to know and the useless ones you can ignore, a second on outfitting for any trip, and the third is a bibliography on rivers guides and other informational guides.

It’s unfortunate that the book hasn’t been revised. You soon find material that dates the book, like the aluminum canoe being the ultimate canoe to the advantages of the new 110 film. These points are minor and easily ignored, as the most valuable information on things like safety, wind and current, the behavior of whitewater, are timeless. Modern innovation has little impact on wilderness survival, and when it can contribute, for things like GPS or SPOT, or heaven forbid, smart phones, survival may still require knowledge of the basics for when the toys quit. Unlike some wonderful books that have gone out of print or become unavailable classics, The Complete Wilderness Paddler is still in print in paperback, and I’d recommend adding it to your reference library.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thar She Blows

One little green pecan leaf in the center is ours.  The
rest of the leaves were delivered from afar.
It wasn’t a blowing whale, but a whale of a blow. For two weeks it kept on with from 25 to 50 mph winds. The gutter screens rattled, the windows whistled, the pecans fell by the hundreds, trees were stripped of their leaves, bike rides for exercise came to an end, and red dirt and sand covered everything. I had just raked the backyard to make finding pecans easier, and now the yard was covered with leaves, but none of the leaves were ours. The nearest cottonwood trees whose leaves now blanket our yard are downhill from here, and a hundred yards and more away.

An ambition from the past just won’t die. It haunts me night and day, and then the impetus that drove me over the edge was a four-day 50%-off sale on state DeLorme Atlases and Gazetteers. My Christmas present to myself was atlases for New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide what’s percolating in the back of my brain. They arrived today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lashing With a Centipede

The centipede is at “C” in the previous post, and is a second choice for an open boat because it is more involved, but still a lot simpler than several independent lashings. It requires a fixed athwartships line forward and aft of the cargo area being secured. This can be a thwart if one exists at that point, or a static line. A number of short lines create attachment points as loops along either side of the canoe. The centipede is a parachute cord or other sturdy line that runs between the two athwartships lines or thwarts. To simplify, at least one end of this line can be an S-hook. Secured into that line, with a clove hitch or lashings, are a series of black rubber tarp straps of appropriate lengths. These natural rubber tarp straps are stronger than the normal elastic bungie straps. Once the center line is secured, measure carefully between each pair of loops for the length of straps needed.  The tarp straps are hooked into the loops along either side of the boat. “C” shows the center line in place, and the straps hooked along the port side, with those on the starboard side hanging free. The loops and athwartship lines remain in place for the duration of the trip. Only the centipede (straps and center line) are unhooked and removed to unload the boat. To get at a single pack, only one end of a single strap may need to be unhooked.
Cheers, jim

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lashing In (Securing Gear)

As I wrote this the wind continued to howl 35 mph and gusting to 45 and higher. Forget canoes and kayaks; I wouldn’t enjoy being out in a 65-foot ketch in these conditions. Those of us with pecan trees, however, are enjoying the harvesting winds. The trees are being thrashed, and the pecans are falling like rain. The cats are sitting on the back of the sofa watching leaves flash by the window, their heads whipping back and forth like they’re watching a high-speed tennis match.

More to our normal topic of discussion, there are many nice advantages to a decked canoe, and one of those near the top of the list is the ease of securing gear in the boat so it doesn’t come adrift if you decide to go for a swim. Like a kayak, the decked canoe keeps the majority of the gear under the deck so it’s secure no matter how many times you roll, but like a canoe, all the gear is still easily accessible and able to be quickly loaded and unloaded. Only a short space exists between the paddler and either the forward or after ends of the cockpit, so the area where gear needs to be secured in the boat is minimal.

One of the disadvantages of an open canoe is the time needed to lash and unlash the buoyancy bags or all the packs. I’ve heard some grumbling about tying and undoing a spider web of lines every time you make or break camp, or even take a break for lunch. Short of using a full expedition skirt or cover, tying and untying every time you need something can get laborious. I’ve seen a number of attempts at minimizing the lines lashed along or across the canoe, but the ones I like best use a single line for managing all the packs in the entire boat. For Ibi, I use a single-link daisy chain, which can be expanded nicely for an open canoe. As a second choice, another that makes sense for an open canoe is the centipede.

The daisy chain may be new to a lot of paddlers, but we used it in sailing all the time. Like the stitching in the mouth of a feed sack, you just untie a single knot, and then just pull. No matter how long the application, like flaking headsails or securing the mainsail cover in a blow, the single line pulls through and unlashes everything in an instant. Normally, the daisy chain uses the single line to wrap an item 360-degrees. In an open boat, since we’re only wrapping less than 180-degrees, we use two lines, but only one is employed. The other remains static the entire trip.

There are a number of ways to secure line to the canoe. We won’t go into those here. Ibi uses through-bolted eyestraps. In “A” (illus. above), the eyestraps are in blue. A length of parachute cord is secured permanently with a bowline to the eyestrap under the deck, then led to another on the adjustable seat bracket. It’s run through that eye, and then led back and is tied to an eye created in the line with an overhand knot. The black line shows how the line remains in the boat when day-paddling or not carrying camping gear. Another is positioned on the opposite side of the hull and exactly the same way.

When you are ready to lash gear in the boat, release one of the lines. Holding the bight of the line over the center of the cargo, make the end of the line off to the second eye. Once this line is adjusted for proper length, it remains as is for the duration of the trip, never having to be touched again. The other line, let’s say it’s the starboard one, is untied from where it is secured, led through the loop created in the port line, tightened and secured back to the eye on the starboard side. The red lines in the drawing show how you now have two lines in an “X” across your gear. Depending on where the eyestraps are placed, you can have as many “X’s” across the boat as you want, as shown in “B.”. It doesn’t make a difference in how this works. My apologies for the rough drawings. It looks like those canoes have gone broadside into boulders way too many times.

When ready to remove your gear, untie the starboard line from its eye and pull it through the loop of the port line. If you have ten “X’s”, pull it through all ten loops. The port line is just allowed to drop into the canoe. There’s no need to do anything with it as long as you will be using it again. When you’re ready to secure your gear back in the boat, run the starboard line through the bights in the port line, tension, and tie it off. If you position eyestraps on either side of the paddling positions, the line can be run straight by the seats, and the whole boat can be done with a single line. Everything can be lashed or unlashed in well under a minute.  To shorten this post, I'll go over the centipede tomorrow.
Cheers, jim

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Storm Housing

Photo credit: Debbie Winogracki

Jean is a Jersey girl by birth, now far from those home roots, but deeply concerned about the Jerseyites who have been made homeless by Hurricane Sandy.  "Why," she asks, "can't many of those people be given a place to stay at Ft. Monmouth?"  Ft. Monmouth, some will know, has been shuttered, with the military services formerly sited there removed to another location.  Ft. Monmouth has many empty residential facilities, was not damaged in the storm,  is located close to Tom's River where so many homes were ruined, and was very recently closed so the buildings there should be in good shape.  How about it???  Such a solution would surely relieve the distress of many people who have been so hard-hit and would allow for good use of an empty military facility!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Goodbye to a River

Illus. credit:
Goodbye to a River, a narrative by John Graves (301pp, 1959, Curtis Publishing Co, and 1960, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

The electrical repairs have been done to satisfaction. I was anxious to see them done after having to wait a week for materials to be shipped here. There’s nothing available locally except the most rudimentary supplies, and everything else must come by FedEx or UPS truck, which we see in town every day. Sometimes you can drive the 200-miles round-trip to “The City”, but in this case, when the parts became as much electronic as electrical, what I needed wasn’t even available there. With the repairs done and the river beckoning, the winds piped up to twenty-five to forty miles per hour with higher gusts for the last two weeks. There’s nothing that can be done about it. This is just yet another example of how life gets in the way of living. If life and reality and encroaching ice don’t have a strangle-hold around your throat, get out there and share some time with nature. If, however, you’re bound to your armchair, here’s a good tale to preserve your sanity and bide you over.

John Graves grew up along the upper-middle Brazos River of Northeast Texas. He returned after thirty years absence to paddle the river he knew before it disappeared beneath a series of dammed lakes. He launched his canoe just below Possum Kingdom Lake Dam, west of Palo Pinto, and started downstream. Making the trip with him was a six-month old, 12-pound dachshund pup. Graves admitted he wasn’t much of a dog for such a trip, but companionship was companionship. Throughout the book, the pup is known only as “passenger.”

As the river snakes around bends, past creeks, under bridges, by gravel bars, and past small towns, the author recounts the history and folklore that occurred there, from The People, as the Comanches called themselves, starving settlers, get-rich-quick tycoons, or as Graves put it, “cattle kings and horse thieves and half-breeds and whole sons of bitches and preachers in droves and sinners in swarms.” From the ol’ timers he knew as a kid and those he met in his travels, he uses the river and canoe as vehicles to carry you through the Wild West as it really was, not as it became in movies and dime novels.

For the paddler and camper, he shares his campfire with accounts of battling the winds, fishing the gravel bars, encountering people who wander into his camp or he meets while exploring about, and watching the geese, ducks, and deer that entertain him and passenger along the way. For example, he tells of the man who decided to noodle for a huge catfish that he knew lived in a cave under the river’s bank. Knowing the fish was too big to take by hand, he had a harpoon fashioned, and went noodling. He speared the fish, and in its haste to escape, it broke the man’s shoulder in two places. He had the harpoon cabled to a barrel, and as it went downstream, the fish was finally tuckered enough to be pulled ashore. It spun the scale’s needle to 117 pounds.

Or the day that Potts walked into his camp. “Potts lingered, watching me and the boat and glancing up toward my camp. It looks great, what I was doing, he said.” “I never did much of it. It looks like fun.” “He said he got most of his exercise mowing his lawn, and the winter before he had built a picket fence around his back yard…That was what he told me, or rather told himself in answer to the discontent that sat plain on him as he looked at me and the boat and the Brazos River. He said, ’There’s never enough time.’”

Graves even adds a little camp lore, like the camper’s choice in woods for a fire. Cottonwood and willow are too soft and are quickly devoured. Cedar burns up even faster, and gives a bad taste to food. Any elm will ruin the flavor of food. Ash is okay. Oak, red or white, makes a nice fire and is one of the most pleasing aromatic fuels. Live oak and any nut woods are about the best fuels, and if it’s available, mesquite puts the nicest finish on barbecued meat.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Relief

We contributed to the Salvation Army Hurricane Sandy Relief.  We hope that you will do the same.  The Red Cross can use the funds as well, but we recommend Salvation Army because their administrative and salary levels are much lower by comparison, so much more of your dollar goes to helping those in need.  Here is the site that makes contributing quick and easy.

Thanks, jim