Thursday, July 19, 2012

The ultimate canoe adventure-Labrador

When I think of the ultimate canoe adventure, I picture myself somewhere in northern Canada. Actually to be more specific, Labrador. Why Labrador, you ask. Well lets go back in time a bit and let me tell you about an incredible adventure that has whet my appetite. It is July 1903, two men and their Guide are about to set out on an incredible journey through the Northwestern section of Labrador. There are no maps to guide them, only tales of the great caribou migration and beautiful, but desolate terrain. There are reports of an Indian tribe called the Neskaupi, which has never been seen by white men wholly because none has ever been insane enough to explore this region. It is an area that does not lend itself well to exploration. Winter comes early and stays late, and if that is not enough to discourage you, then consider the black flies, mosquitoes, and all their relatives that can make life miserable in the short time between winters entrapment. Leonidas Hubbard, a writer for Outside magazine based in N.Y.C. and his friend Dillon Wallace, an attorney also from N.Y., boarded a steamer in the early Spring of 1903 loaded with gear and supplies and headed North. In early July, they arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company’s, Northwest River Post on Grand Lake, Labrador. On July 15, they loaded their canoe and headed out. Carrying an enormous load which included, 4- 50 lb sacks of flour, 30 lbs of bacon, 20 lbs of lard, etc., etc., they went looking for the mouth of the Naskaupi river. Their hopes were to follow it upstream to Lake Michikamau and then north, down the George river to Ungava bay to journey’s end at the George’s River, Hudson Bay Post. Their first error was in mistaking the Susan River for the Neskaupi. The Susan, although part of the same drainage basin as the Neskaupi, was a much smaller river and presented a difficult challenge to our 3 adventurers, much more so then their intended route would have. With no maps or local inhabitants with which to confer they pressed on, unaware of what lay ahead. When September rolled around the decision was made to turn back. Having spent the last 2 months laboring through and over some incredible terrain they were out of food, disheartened, and in their minds, had no choice. Mistake #2, had they only explored a bit further they would have discovered they were actually camped on the shores of a back water to Lake Michikamau. From here it would have been a cake walk to journey’s end compared to what they had been through. On the long return trek they endured incredible hardships. The fish and game so abundant earlier, had all but disappeared. So desperate for food were they that the hide and hoofs of a caribou shot a month before, were searched out and consumed with a passion. As the elements began to close in and take their toll, Hubbard succumbed, and died. Wallace, along with the guide survived, eventually making it back to the Hudson’s Bay Company Post on Grand Lake, where they spent the winter, then returned home, only to return 2 years later for another attempt. This time however the scene had changed somewhat. Now we have two parties. Hubbard’s wife, Mina, leading one and her former friend, now arch rival Wallace in charge of the other. Blaming Wallace for her husband’s death, she was on a mission to prove the voyage could be done and was determined to complete it before Wallace. As fate would have it both parties set out from opposite sides of Grand Lake on the same day, June 27, 1905. If I could go back in time, this would be my destination. What makes it even more intriguing is that a friend of mine actually retraced the the routes and wrote a book about it. If you want to know how it turns out, I suggest you read it. It is called “Great Heart”, by John Rugge and James West Davidson. If those names sound familiar, which they should to a canoeist, they also authored “The Complete Wilderness Paddler”, one of the best books ever written on “how to” canoeing. I would also suggest reading the accounts of the journey written by the original players. “Lure of the Labrador Wild” and “The Long Labrador Trail” by Dillon Wallace, along with Mina Hubbard's “ A Woman's Way Through Labrador”. Until next time, Happy Paddling!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Car Topping Long Boats

As modern times dictate smaller vehicles with shorter roof lines, transporting longer canoes/kayaks becomes increasingly challenging. The main issue here is that there is simply not enough room between the racks to adequately support the hull of your craft. Add to this the lighter construction of boats to save weight making them a bit more delicate especially in the wider sections and you have a recipe for disaster; either cracking the hull from tying it down to tightly or having it ripped off your vehicle by the wind. If you find yourself in this situation there a several things you can do to save your boat and give you piece of mind while you travel. But first, let’s look at the problem so we understand what it is we are trying to solve.

The main issue, as stated above, there is simply not enough room between the racks (crossbars) to do the job properly. You have a 17’ canoe lashed down to your roof with straps approximately 5’ apart. Basic math will tell you this leaves over 2/3rds of the hull unattached. Now we can and should attached lines to the bow and stern but they do not have the same effect as attachments that wrap completely around the hull. When the wind hits the boat it will try to pivot it around the forward rack. The more you have in front of this crossbar, the more surface area the wind has to work on. One solution I use is to put as little of the boat out in front of the forward crossbar as possible. There is not much pressure on the rear crossbar, unless, the front one lets go(been there, this is not a good deal). Just make sure you do not have too much hanging out the back to cause a problem with another vehicle. Refining a bit more, try putting the canoe or kayak on backwards. Most hulls today are asymmetrical which means the two ends are not identical. The bow or front of the craft generally is higher sided than the rear/stern. Putting it on in reverse reduces the amount of surface area even more. Now some people have a problem with this, superstition I guess. All I can say is that it works for me. Another issue with narrow spacing on the roof racks is that the widest part of the hull is sitting on the crossbars. On a high end, lightweight craft this can be a serious issue. These boats are fabricated as light as possible. While sitting in the water the structure is fine however set it on a flat surface and torque it down to tightly you can oil can the hull and possible fracture it. For kayaks there are various attachments you can purchase such as “J” cradles or saddles. These work as far as saving the hull from fracture but you are still stuck with most of the hulls length exposed to the wind and the twisting effect mentioned above.

Not long ago I needed to transport a 17’ lightweight tandem kayak over to Lake George. This was not going to work well on my Subaru Forester. The racks are just to close together. After much deep thought I remembered back to my racing days. Back then as is today, these boats were very long and fragile and transporting them was always an issue. A great approach I used was to first tie an aluminum ladder to the racks. This acts as a platform for the boat. You can tighten the living daylights out of the ladder and not hurt it at all. Next you put the canoe/kayak on to the ladder and tie it down. The tie down points are not limited by the crossbars on the rack but rather the length of the ladder. This allows you to get the ropes/straps more towards the ends of the hull. You will still have the wind trying to twist and torque things around but now it will be putting the pressure on the ladder vs the boat. Just be prepared for some strange looks as people pass you buy, wonder what on earth you are doing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Encounter with a Moose

About 10 years ago, if not more, in May on the St. Johns River in Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Area, I had a unique close encounter with a moose.

After a day of paddling on the river we had stopped at Nine Mile Bridge to camp. After unloading the canoes, three of us, Sue, Dan, and myself were relaxing in a nice flat grassy area. I was lying on the ground with my head propped up on my pack, as was Dan who was 30’ to my left. Sue was 75’ directly behind us standing at a picnic table brushing her hair. After only a few minutes of relaxation a young bull moose sauntered into our campsite in front of Dan and I. I would guess it weighed in the vicinity of 700 lbs. Everybody froze and watched as it stood at the edge of the woods only 50’ from me. It sniffed the air and jockeyed in and out of the woods several times. You could tell he wanted to come over and visit but just wasn’t quite sure if it was the proper thing to do with out an invitation. Eventually in a lackadaisical manner he wandered over in my direction. None of us dared even breath. He kept looking at me, then Dan, and then Sue. You could tell he wasn’t quite sure what to make of us. His curiosity finally over came his bashfulness and he walked directly over to me and stood at my head, perpendicular to my body. I did not move and truly was not scared, although I was planning my escape route if one became necessary. He stood there a minute and checked me out from head to toe, twitching his ears and occasionally the skin on his back to rid it of flies. Then all of a sudden, he lowered his head towards mine, I assume to get a better look and/or smell. When his nose and mine were within a foot of each other, I began to get a little tense. He and I were eye to eye. I could actually count the black flies in his nose. When he came a few inches closer it became very interesting. My eyes I am sure became very large as did his. I began to raise slightly and roll away. At the same time he realized that I was alive and definitely was not a fellow moose.

The only way to describe the situation at this particular point is to have you envision a scene from a Scooby-Doo cartoon. The expression on his face was priceless. “Rut Ro” (uh-oh in Scooby-Doo language). He snapped his head back and all four legs went in different directions. Dust and dirt went flying and so did I. When all four of his feet got headed in the same direction he bolted behind me like he was shot out of a cannon. Head down, ears back and headed, headed somewhere other than here. Poor Sue jumped up on the table as he flew by. I dove into my pack, grabbed my camera, and rushed off behind him down to the river to get a picture. It couldn’t have taken me more than 30 seconds. By the time I got to the water, he was a good ½ mile away and still moving with a purpose. Occasionally he would turn around for a look but never broke stride. The encounter made for some very interesting conversation around the fire that evening.

Happy Paddling!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kayak Paddles

Nothing bothers me more than seeing a person in a kayak basically rowing the boat, usually with a paddle that is 10 times longer than it should be. Which brings me to my next pet peeve, people paddling with a kayak paddle that is way to long? How do you know what size is right? Let’s talk about it.
The first thing you need to understand is how you paddle. Paddling style will dictate the overall length you will need as well as the type of boat you are in and the style of blade. For starters let’s look at the stroke itself. All too often as mentioned above I see people literally rowing their kayaks. Paddle almost parallel to the water using big arcing strokes that cause the boat to veer right then left as each stroke is applied. This is actually called a sweep stroke and used for corrective measures. The proper form is to keep the paddle shaft as vertical (90°) to the surface of the water as possible which in turn will allow you to draw your paddle stroke parallel to your direction of travel pulling your craft in a straight line.
There are basically two types of kayak paddling styles you will hear people discuss, high and low angle. High angle being vertical or within a few degrees of it, while low angle will drop down some but should still be less than 20° off vertical. The lower your angle of paddle, the longer the paddle will need to be. Check out the Olympic sprint kayaking races this if you want to see truly great form.
Your hands should be placed about shoulder width apart and put those drip rings out where the shaft meets the blade (the throat). This will keep the water from dripping into your lap. If you need a marker for hand placement put a small piece of tape on the shaft. As you paddle, the entire blade should be submerged in the water but no deeper than required to get it below the surface. Make sure the top hand is pushed straight forward using your shoulders and keep it level with your chin.
Next let’s look at the width of the craft. The idea behind a self propelled water craft is to be efficient. Remember, you are the power supply, not a 50 hp outboard. The narrower/longer the kayak the more efficient it will be in moving through the water. Relax, I do understand most of the recreational boats out there are quite short and relatively wide. So, the wider your boat, the farther you will need to reach out to get your paddle in the water. In doing this you will need to lower your shaft angle, hence require a longer paddle.
You have probably noticed at least two very distinct blade shapes. One is long and narrow and the other shorter and wider. Paddles are sized generally in cm and the length given will be from blade tip to tip. What we really need to focus on is the length of the shaft, not the overall length of the paddle. A paddle with a high angle blade style (short and wide) that measures 220 centimeters will have the same shaft length as one with a low angle blade style (long and narrow) that measures 230cm( give or take a few cm in either direction). When buying one focus on the length of the shaft from throat to throat and not the overall length of the paddle. When your stroke is at your hip, the entire blade should be buried in the water with as little distance from the throat to the surface as your paddling style and boat will allow.
If you are currently paddling with a paddle that is to long, try using a shorter one sized as we discussed above. You will see improved performance, efficiency and lighter weight as you will have less paddle in your hands. As with anything there are lots of variables along with personal preference. For me, I am 6’1” and paddle with a 220cm paddle which has a high angle blade shape and it would not be awkward for me to use a 210cm. Until next time, Happy Paddling!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moose River/Jackman Maine

About 25 years ago I spent some time fishing northwest of Jackman, Maine and to this date it is still the best brook trout fishing I have ever experienced. Some of it I am sure was just timing as we hit a hatch which brought out all of the big boys. I don't think we caught anything less than a couple of pounds. Last year I decided to re-visit the area and paddle the Moose River/Bow loop to see if the fishing was still a good deal. All I can say is my first 3 casts produced two brookies over a pound each(The first cast cost me a fly in the alders). On this trip it was just me and the dog, Emma. We had a great time but rushed it a bit covering the 40 miles in just 2 days. I vowed to return soon and spend more time fishing. That soon, became this summer with my brother in law. We have paddled together on trips many times in the past but always with a family group. This would be our first time alone, except for Emma. The goal was number one, see moose and number two, catch fish. DJ lives in New Jersey working in Manhattan and even though he visits us in NH quite often he has yet to see a live moose. I promised he would on this trip.

Jackman Maine is about 80 miles northwest of Skowhegan Maine way up on the border with Quebec. The Moose River starts basically on the Quebec border west of Jackman coming out of a small set of hills and lowland area. It travels from there for the most part, in a south/easterly direction through multiple ponds and lakes until it empties into Moosehead Lake at Rockwood Maine.

What makes it such an attractive canoe route is that with a small portage you can do a loop ending right where you started. Thus eliminating the need to shuttle vehicles all over the place which can be a timely and costly exercise, especially in northern Maine. The put in is at the northeastern end of Attean Lake just where the Moose River flows out, from here you paddle about 5 miles west to a portage about 1 ½ in length which leads to Holeb Pond. From the east shore of Holeb Pond the route heads west to the ponds inlet, approx. 4 miles. About 1 mile up the inlet it intersects the Moose River. From here you simply follow the Moose through the valley behind the two lakes where it empties into Attean Lake and paddle the eastern end of the lake back to the rivers outlet and your vehicle. The total trip is about 40 miles.

It is a great trip exposing you to a variety of paddling conditions, wind, waves, riffles, rapids and waterfalls. Be advised, thunderstorms come up quickly and sometimes unannounced as we found out the hard way spending an afternoon huddled under a tarp in a spruce thicket at the edge of Holeb Pond. You will see moose, otters, beaver, eagles, osprey, herons, etc., etc. For fish, of course native brook trout and salmon.

DJ, Emma, and I hit the water late in the afternoon on our first day. A beautiful sunny day with no bugs to speak of. A quick paddle a mile or so up Attean Lake we set up camp and enjoyed a bit of fishing and a fine steak dinner complete with roasted corn and baked potatoes. Day two started with blue berry pancakes and sausage. Once on the water we covered the length of the lake rather quickly. DJ is a good, strong paddler plus we had a nice tail wind. For the portage to Holeb pond, DJ volunteered to carry the canoe. Wow, I do not think I have ever been on a trip where I did not have to carry the canoe. Without arguing I dawned the food/cookware pack, filled my hands with paddles and fishing poles and off we went. A quick break at the other end and we headed back for the 2nd pack and other misc. items. Upon our return to Holeb Pond we attempted to eat lunch however we were both still full from breakfast. Our plan was to head to the far end of the lake, set up camp and then go up the inlet to fish for the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately shortly after we got back on the water, a thunderstorm rolled in and pinned us down in the pucker brush for a while. We eventually got to a campsite and no sooner set up when it began to rain again. Dinner tonight was chicken stew. A good choice for a rainy camp. Especially the dumplings. Surviving a barage of thunder/lighting we emerged well rested in the morning to a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast. Lots of bacon as we needed some for dinner. We quickly broke camp and headed for the river. At this point we had not seen any Moose. Not a major concern as I was positive we would encounter more than our fair share on the river. On the other hand, it was a bit surprising we had not even caught a glimpse of one. It has always been said that if you are looking for them you will not see them and we were certainly intensely searching for them. Once on the river DJ began fishing while I worked the canoe. Not much luck. We came to the spot where I had landed my first two last year and beached the canoe for a thorough attempt here. After a good ½ hour the only catch was a small creek chub. Time to move on. As we rounded each corner both of us were scouring the shoreline and backwaters for any sign of moose. While tons of fresh tracks, no actual sightings. We stopped for lunch, did a bit of fishing and had a discussion about our lack of moose sightings. It was agreed that we were looking to hard, however it was hard not to. The pressure was on. We were on our 3rd day of a 4 day trip so time was running short. Shortly after lunch as we paddled along I was beginning to think we might not see one. I believe DJ was on the same wave length.. We had always joked that he was just cursed in this area. For a short moment the thought of moose left my mind. As we rounded the next corner DJ exploded with excitement, quietly. There directly in front of us, 100 ft. away was a cow and calf. Unfortunately before DJ could get his camera out they moved up into the beaver swamps. No big deal, we finally saw one. DJ was in awe. We spent the night at the base of Holeb Falls. After a dinner of bacon, and garlic risotto, fresh green beans, garlic bread and jello for dessert we tried our luck fishing again. Yes I did say jello. Not much luck fishing, a small salmon and brookie between the two of us. Not really an issue, we had seen a moose and that's what really counted.

Another night of rain but a beautiful sunny morning complete with freshly baked berry muffins for breakfast. The day was spent lazily paddling and fishing with not much luck. The water was quite low over last year so that was our excuse. Later that day at the base of Attean Falls we saw another moose. This time he was feeding in a large pool and was not in a hurry to leave so we got plenty of pictures. Dinner was pasta and sauteed tomatoes. After dinner we fished between two sets of falls and were only able to produce multiple small creek chubs. We turned in for the night, planning to get an early start for home in the morning. We had about a 6 mile paddle back to the car. Up at 5, fed, packed and on the water by 7am and headed out of the parking area by 9. A great trip which I am sure we will do again.