Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh Look! A Kayak, Yum, Yum!

A few years ago some kayakers left Salluit on the north coast of Quebec on a paddling trip to Kuujjuak at the head of Ungava Bay. It's a desolate coast yet an interesting one to travel along for many reasons . You begin with high hills which plunge into the chilly waters of Hudson Strait and gradually as you move eastward the land flattens out somewhat. Kangirsujjuak is a large fjord-like inlet and the first village you encountered after leaving Salluit. The high surrounding hills make it a very scenic paddling venue by itself.
At the turn into Ungava Bay, called Cape Hopes Advance, is the village of Quoartaq. From this point southward, it is not unusual to encounter walrus basking out on floating ice pans. You can also expect to see bears. In fact, the whole of Ungava Bay has a reputation for bear sightings and sometime bear chases!
Our kayakers had had a good trip getting as far as Cape Hopes Advance, but the ice and poor weather in Ungava Bay began to slow them down. By the time they arrived at the mouth of the Payne River, they were nearly out of food. For some reason - perhaps it was the rough tidal action at the river mouth that intimidated them - they chose to leave their boat and walk to the village of Kangirsuk a few miles up river. Here they were able to re-supply and head back to their waiting kayak. Today there is a rough road leading down to the coast, but back then it was a tough walk across very uneven, rocky ground and tundra ponds. By the time they arrived at their boat they were exhausted.
Coming around the shore towards their campsite, they could immediately tell something was wrong. Their double kayak had been broken into and badly smashed. Their gear was all over the place, much of it torn up and chewed. Their trip was over. Bears had made certain of that! They had little choice but to hike back to Kangirsuk and fly out.
What should they have done? It's hard to say, but I would have paddled up the river to Kangirsuk rather than leave my kayak - and sole means of travel - unattended in bear country. There is a slack water opportunity to get up the Payne River, not to mention several quieter sections near the shore where you can work the eddies. Failing that, they might have made an effort to put their boat up on a stone kayak rack. There is no shortage of stones in that area and an hour's work would have put the kayak up where a bear might not recognize it as a food source. Giving it a good wash before leaving it may also have made a difference. Still, bears will be bears, it is their country too and they do love to munch on kayaks now and then... Yum!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Signs of Life

You might not think this young lady was ready to go kayaking, but let's look closely. That little smile. Doesn't it say, "Let's go!" to you? And the casual pose. Surely she's up for an outing of some kind. Just look at those boots. They're ready for some serious work at the put-in, I'd say. But best of all, is the tarp. Look at the size of the thing. That says, "Let's do some serious kayaking-camping, dude. Let's talk about several weeks in the bush! Let's get it on down to the water..."
All to say, when I went paddling today, on my favourite little lake, I wasn't alone. For the first time since the fishermen appeared in April, there were other signs of life. Kayaking life, actually. I spoke with a young lady out in her brand new Dagger, an excited beginning kayaker. She was so thrilled to be out on the water. Then there was a older couple in some 'swamp darters' boats, little open cockpit jobs, which just love to sneak into every little creek to explore. They tried to avoid eye-contact, but I yelled, "Hello" anyway and waved, not easy with a paddle in your hands. Then a young guy paddling a canoe, you know, the way they sit just aft of center with the thing cranked right over so there's hardly any freeboard left at their hip-side. He glided around looking very sure of himself. Fortunately the motor boats weren't out churning up some wake for him. Might have caused some panicky moments.
I did my usual circuit, along one shore, under the two bridges, down the river to the dam and back (no, the naked lady wasn't sun-bathing today), back up the other shore and then the long open crossing back to my put-in. A quick, pleasing hour or so on the water in familiar surroundings. Just the cure for the nagging little thoughts which irk you for no reason.
Then I went home and wondered what to do about the hog-back keel line in my SOF which lies dormant in the garden shed. Not able to reach a decision, I went into the workshop and put the finishing touches on my new Greenland paddle, a spare for my trip coming up to the Gaspé abd beyond. I know you're not supposed to, but I think I'll put satin vanish on it. I love the feel of vanish in my hands. So sensual, somehow...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

... there's more!

I had no sooner posted my item on the Search for the Grail in Newfoundland than new information came in which is truly startling! You might be wondering why are paddlers searching for the Grail in Newfoundland this particular year? Why not some other year? Well, as we all know, timing is of the essence! You see, this year, October 13 falls on a Friday! What's important about this date? Until the year 1308, there was nothing interesting or strange about the 13th falling on a Friday. Suddenly everything changed in 1308. It was the unlucky year of the Knights Templar. It was on that date the Catholic Church decided enough was enough, the knights must go, and go they did, to the stake! Every knight that could be found was killed and Friday the 13th became a thing of legends and myths. Guess what? This year, 2006, has October 13th falling on a Friday!
To make matters worse, who was the patron Saint of the Knights Templar? No! Not St John? Yes, and of course the capital city of Newfoundland is named for him.
Want more? Did you know there is a mysterious 'Veiled Madonna' in a church in St Johns? It was commissioned in Italy in the 1850's, but why was she veiled? Is it so we don't know who she really is? Could she be Mary Magdalene? If so, then another connection to the Grail can be made, as it is sometimes believed that it was she who secreted the Grail out of the Holy Land, brought it to France where the Basques may have brought it to Newfoundland for safe-keeping...
I wish I had Dan Brown's money. I'd be out paddling somewhere instead of coming up with this rubbish! But all in good time. I'll be out there soon enough and boring you all with another kind of nonsense.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kayaking for the Da Vinci Code and the Grail!

Have you been been to see the movie yet? Neither have I. Probably won't need to with the real thing so close at hand...
You see the Holy Grail was secretly (naturally) taken from it's hiding place in Europe years ago and hidden in Nova Scotia ( that's 'New Scotland' - you get it?). Yes, I know - incredible, but there's more. Have you noticed that several more or less unknown kayakers have been making curious connections with Nova Scotia this summer? Have you noticed that they have suddenly - for no obvious reasons to most of us - set out on 'expeditions' which each begin with Nova Scotian links? Well I have. Surely this cannot be coincidental? Occult things like this never are. Every little nuance is important and part of the mystery. Just like The Last Supper painting, we need to take a closer look at the picture in front of us.
And, sure enough, there's more still. Two of the 'expeditions' have somehow discovered quite apart from each other, that the Grail has more recently been moved to a location somewhere along the coast of Newfoundland (again notice the 'New' in the name. What other reason could there be for calling it 'new', except to link it New Scotland! Clever, eh?) Which in turn explains why would anyone want to paddle such a desolate and barren coastlines when Florida, for example, remains still above sea level in the midst of Global Warming, is warm, has huge cuddly alligators and is always sunny? Surely we're looking at Quests for the Grail in these stories! These paddlers are, in fact, modern Knights!
One 'seeker', an academic accompanied by a Germanic Knight all dressed in Black, has already begun the search along the south coast, although without apparent success to date. The other pair of 'seekers', both young and keen eyed Knights, are keeping a very low profile, probably due to their having mono-syllabic names. Little is known about them or their steeds other than a brief trip report of their Prior search along the Cape Breton shores of Nova Scotia. Lastly, a sole female paddler-Knight - with links to the Holy Land - and with a very mysterious Name is searching for the Grail along Iceland's coastal shores. Perhaps she knows something the others don't, but I doubt it. The Grail is definitely in the New World, brought here and carefully hidden by the T-Knights of Olde. I refuse to believe it would have been returned eastward. To what possible purpose? The Holy Land connection is troubling though, I do admit.
The big question we're all now asking is will any of these people find the Grail? Will it change their lives if they do? Will we all be changed? Or will we continue to paddle as we always have, seeking our own Contentment and solving our own Mysteries as we always have? Only time will tell, but I think I know where my Grail lies. Of course, that's my Priory secret, isn't it! Good luck finding yours...
And thanks Monty Python for the neat castle pic!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fishing Camp

When I woke up with the wind was trying to roll the tent over, but a few hours later, having worked hard banking up gravel berms on the tent's windward side, the wind seemed to peter away to nothing. I rushed to stow the camp into the kayak hatches and launch. I was off again, but for how long? Soon the wind began making cat's paws on the surface. I pondered whether I could make it across the open bay, a distance of perhaps two or three miles. I decided to chance it. The head of the bay would take all day to make good what crossing directly would give me in less than an hour.
Reaching the far shore without too much drama, I discovered high gravel banks with no place to pull up a kayak to camp. The wind fortunately blew straight off the high shore leaving me to paddle in the lee. I plodded along the shore as it slowly curved away to the left, mile after mile of monotonous grey shoreline.
Finally I saw something different, a slight point of land up ahead with just enough level ground to pull ashore. Within the hour I was rounding it, looking into the mouth of a small gushing stream tumbling downwards to the sea. Just beyond the far shore were three white tents and a bunch of people looking in my direction. I headed towards them.
Two of the men waded into the water to catch the bow and guide it around the rocks lying in wait on the bottom. As soon as it was shallow enough, I clambered out and promptly slipped and fell in the water. I'd been paddling too long and the stiffness in my legs didn't add much gracefulness to my entry into the Inuit fishing camp!
I was helped up and managed to shake hands and say hello with everyone while the men kindly carried my kayak to shore. I was invited up the beach to the larger tent to have tea. They were the first people I had seen since leave the village of Hall Beach almost a week ago. It was good to have smiling faces and conversation again.
It was also a chance to try out my very rusty Inuktitut as the adults spoke only a few words of English and the children who did understand some English were far too shy to speak above a whisper and that only to their parents. I struggled for words long forgotten after nearly 30 years of being away.
I was offered one of their tents that evening and accepted. During the night the wind rose again and I could feel the tent beginning to give way. I went out and started adding extra stones to the guy lines. Soon everyone was out doing the same as the wind continued to rise. We all got up several times, but eventually there was a roar and screams, then laughter and cursing. I ducked out of the tent to see the large tent had completely disappeared leaving people and their belongings sitting out exposed to the elements. Parents were up quickly grabbing things and weighting them down with rocks, children were sent running after items which were heading off across the landscape.
By the end of the day most of the larger items had been recovered and the tent put up again, but it was decided to repair a small wooden cabin which was close by. We spent the next day working on this. We repaired the leaky roof and chain-sawed a hole in one wall so we could put a window, frame and all into it to give us some light. All eight of us, adults and children bedded down on the floor together, family and stranger in a big pile of bodies and sleeping bags. In the midst of all this the lady of the 'house' produced tea and bannock nearly non-stop, we continued to fish and the wind continued to blow.
Five days later when the wind finally ease up a bit, the big freighter canoes were loaded and my new family headed for home across the open water. I watched the sea dancing in the wind for several more hours wondering what to do, then decided that the wind had dropped enough. I could manage the crossing as well. I left and arrived several hours later in the midnight sun to greet old friends on a familiar arctic beach. Tikipunga!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Have you been speeding lately?

Summertime is the season for getting out on paddling adventures. Several big time expeditions are underway or will be and many of us will soon be heading out there as well to do our thing. No matter what your plans are, there is often a question of how far to go in the time you have. The relationship between these two variables is what we call 'speed'. When you add in the third component of 'where', then you can refer to your speed as your 'velocity'. So what's yours?
If you're booked into a group outing, then how fast you go and what you get to actually see as you paddle along will be determined by the skills of the group. Add an inexperienced, slower paddler, and the whole group slows down to a speed just above 'drift'. You can nearly drown in the flower smells as you gradually drift by them. On the other hand, you can go out with the racing crowd and never see a flower, let alone smell one. Again, it's your call.
The choice is yours. You can pick and chose who you paddle with. On commercial trips, that option is more limited, but usually the outfitter will let you know who's in the group and the general skill level of the paddlers signed up. Another option is to travel solo. Here your speed is what you make it: fast when you want fast, slow when you prefer that.
The best option of all is to find that special someone who paddles the same speed you do, shares the same ideals as you do, wants to stop at the same places and race to the same campsite at the end of the day. Partners like these are out there, but they are not easy to find. Cross your fingers however, and keep on searching. There's got to be one out there for you if you keep looking! In the meantime keep paddling, stay positive, stay calm and watch for the speeding signs...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Qajaq Montreal

Last weekend a group of Greenland style kayakers had a booth at the Outdoor Festival and put on several demonstrations for the Montrealais who showed up. Saturday it rained so hard the site, (part of the old Expo 67 World's Fair on an island in the St Lawrence) was rapidly disappearing into the river. Mud was the order of the day, glorious mud. However once in the pond next to the site the people along the shores were entertained watching various rolls and braces. Nicolas Bertrand managed to do a stand up paddle until a kid in a bath-tub plastic kayak bumped into him. All in all a fun day and a chance for many people, both spectators and Euro-style paddlers to get an idea of what Greenland-style kayaking is all about. I think one interesting thing was that of the many people who went out to paddle during the two days, only the Greenlanders rolled their boats, suggesting that this critical skill is not given much value among most of the paddling public. Is that a good thing? I don't think so...

This was our little sancturary from the rain on Saturday. We had a larger crowd on Sunday after the rain let up and were able to show a lot of people how our boats are made. As most people think only of glass or plastic kayaks, it opened a number of eyes. After all, SOF kayaks are where it all began and in Montreal, it is beginning to return to its roots. More and more people are building boats and developing new skills. Is a good thing? I think so!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cheery news!

Every now and then something happens to stop you in your tracks and make you feel good all over. I had one of those moments earlier in the week. Years ago when I was teaching in a small Inuit village in northern Quebec called Kangirsuk, I lived with a family in order to try and improve my Inuktitut language skills. It was the village where I watched an elder build a qajaq in the old way, using a bow drill and caribou sinew for lashing materials. I wish I had known that people with his skills were rapidly disappearing at the time. I would have paid more attention to him!
The lady of the house was named Ikuma. She was an outspoken and fun loving lady who taught me many things about life even though my language skills remained poor. When my wife and I brought our first child home from the hospital, it was Ikuma's lessons on how to fold and put on a diaper which saved us from certain disastor!
This week a friend of mine was speaking to Ikuma as she passed through a northern airport and he said, "She spoke with great fondness of you. Tears came to her eyes as she told me that she still refers to you as "irnira" "my son" in her conversations with others... and that there never has been a teacher so attuned to the Inuit..."
Now are those nice words or what? I am so touched by these words. Maybe it's time I went 'home' before she disappears as well...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hey Freya, Happy Birthday!

Can you imagine a better birthday activity than paddling the south coast of Newfoundland? I can't. I'm so jealous! Anyway, Freya (seen here last March instructing at the Sweetwater Symposium in Florida), I hope you have a great day, with sunny skies, a comfortable tail-wind and no fog.

Now I have noticed that several other bloggers are heading off on their summer adventures in the next couple of weeks. I'll be heading to a Greenland paddling event in Montreal this weekend, and then I too will hit the trail to adventure. The setting will be someplace in a well known galaxy, not very far away, in a time set with sunny skies and friendly people. I know, I'm a little hazy about exactly where that is as well, but much depends on dinner, saith the Walrus through his salt-teared eye. I'll try to post from the leading edge...

Monday, May 8, 2006

Getting older?

You're an aging kayaker if...

1. You've tried to find water-proof hearing aids in case you roll accidently.
2. Your adult diaper has a Coast Guard sticker allowing it to be used as a PFD.
3. Your wooden GP paddle comes apart and converts into crutches.
4. Your beard is a mix of white hair and green seaweed.
5. You know which seaweed relieves the discomfort caused by gas or heartburn.
6. You use wrinkle-abatement sun screen lotions.
7. You can list a few pension-stretching paddling locations.
8. You think 303 Protectant helps in the treatment of arthritis.
9. You take Viagra to improve your forward stroke.
10. You own a pair of sponsons for easy entry and exiting when kayaking.
11. You own more Ace bandage tape than you do duct tape.
12. You use arch support insoles in your paddling booties.
13. Your dry-suit has built in support-hose.
14. Your pacemaker has a GPS display option.
15. You've bought a wooden coffin which works well as a touring kayak.
16. You've taken a course in hip replacements using an all-in-one tool.
17. You attach your Camelbac bag to your catheter tube.
18. Your maps all come with big-size print.
19. You freeze-dry the meals you get from the 50+ Club.
20. The foam in your Thermo-Rest has more memory than you do!

(With thanks to the folks at PaddleWise who dreamt many of these up!)

Poor granny.
I hope she wasn't out kayaking when it happened...

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Here and There

Years ago, when I was a young boy, my friends and I would come to this spot each Spring to collect frogs eggs in the shallows by the grass. We'd take them home and sometimes to school to watch them go through their stages. When I got a bit older, we would play pirates in this same spot. We all had row boats and would make surprise attacks out of the creek mouth, descending upon unsuspecting passers-by and threaten them will all manner of horror. We never caught anyone one, but pretend pirates seldom did. It wasn't the point.
Still later when we graduated to motor boats, we discovered a hidden log just off the creek mouth. It was sticking up from the bottom and could catch the odd motor boat, breaking its shear-pin and giving us that pleasure that comes from knowing something hidden to others.
Today, I still paddle up that creek each Spring sort of to check on things, see what's the same, what's changed. Until recently I would come here at the request of my children. We'd come by canoe so we could all share in the pleasure of visiting this special spot in nature. Both children have lives of their own now and no longer live at home, but I'm sure they're thinking about this creek and the pleasures it has given all of us over so many years.
I went there today. The frog eggs are just appearing. The log is still waiting for the unsuspecting. I was the only pirate present, but I could feel the others. Their spirits were there. We all had a grand time, and then I paddled home!

Friday, May 5, 2006

Kent's Strippers

I first met Kent LeBoutillier at a Newfound Rendezvous several years ago.

He had brought along several boats, an SOF and this strip built boat, an Outer Island. To say the boat was stunning is to vastly understate Kent's skills. Not only had he chosen a wonderful paddling boat design to build, but his woodworking skills resulted in a work of beauty and class. We were all fighting for a chance to paddle it!

This year Kent brought another strip boat, his newly created Derijp, replicated again with superb skill. Many people have seen his pictures of this boat on QajaqUSA, but to see it in the flesh is to marvel. He recently responded on QajaqUSA to the question of how this version paddled compared to the Derijp original SOF. Unfortunately he was unable to make the comparison as he was unable to get into the SOF version due to the ribs restricting his entry. One advantage of the strip version is obviously the ease of entry into the rib-less interior.
Isn't it great to have skilled people like Kent producing these beautiful boats? It would be interesting to get a Greenlander's reaction!

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Smooth Paddling

I was in the United States last weekend for the Greenland event in Burlington, Vermont. Crossing the border, I was asked to give 'proof of identification', so I handed over my photo-ID driver's licence. No problem. I was welcomed into the 'Land of the Free, Home of the Brave". Next year it won't be quite so easy. I'll require a valid passport.
Well, quess what! My new Canadian passport application is all ready to be sent away and in a short span of time, I'll have the offical document itself. Then, not only will the USA be my paddling wonderland, but the rest of the world as well. Which brings up another problem... Do I break down and buy a bag boat, like a Feathercraft? How do I chance on renting something sea-worthy?
I remember reading that delicious book by Paul Theroux, "The Happy Isles of Oceania' and thinking what a strange thing to do. That was before I discovered the pleasures of traveling by kayak, however, so now it seems like a perfectly natural thing to get busy doing.
There just may be a folder in my growing stable before too long. Armed with my new passport, fresh and flush from a juicy bank robbery, international travel looks like a future worth living!

Today's picture was on the lake this morning. A brief interlude between the rain storms we've been having lately.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Watching Wenley's Winsome Wenches

For some time now many of us have followed the trials of Sr Palacios as he has gained his kayaking skills and led us through his trials in the ever shifting fields of romantic endeavour. Lately he has set his paddling eye on the Isle of Skye on the west coast of Scotland, yet his recent efforts at attracting a suitable "ginger haired" companion have until now left him without. Well, finally, a valiant knight has offered up two attractive offerings, ginger haired from stem to stern, and they seem fond of the sea as well... Will he bite? Check his 'On Kayaks' site and see.

My own trials continue as well. I sit and wait upon my skin. My canvas skin, that is, with which to cover my now much lower volume qajaq. I'm growing impatient.

Much like the poor bears, sixteen of whom set their minds on feasting upon Nigel Foster and Kristin Nelson during their paddle through Ungava and Labrador. Meeting and speaking with Kristin is not to know her inner strength nor her way with bears, but to read their story in the recent SeaKayaker magasine is to learn she is very special indeed. I recommend this article. It will prepare you for the rest of their wonderful story when Nigel's book hits the bookstores someday soon.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Paddle dragging news...

So... I'm not anywhere on the list! Now what? The link to the list is on Justine's site and is all about keeping track of expeditions indicating who went where, when, first and how. Looking through her listings, circumnavigating Antarctica is nearly the only challenge left for us hardcore paddlers. Are we at an impasse, now forced to think up new ways to paddle old routes? Will we be seeing 'Oldest Guy Around Cuba' or first to paddle around 'Borneo Backwards' on the list soon?
What's it really all about anyways, this business of long distance paddling? Why do people go?
Some will say, 'Because it's there'. For many people that's the challenge. After paddling around Manitoulin Island when I was 60, I wanted to tell everyone. I wanted to have my story published. I wanted to be on a list someplace so everyone would stare at my name in awe. Then, I discovered another paddler, who having done the same trip, simply looked ahead to his next expedition. He felt very differently about his accomplishment. It was not a glory trip, but a thing of quiet inner joy for him. That realization hit me then and stays with me now.
It's actually why I had paddled around Manitoulin Island in the first place. It wasn't for glory. It was so that I could feel something inside. Not getting published and not presenting a slideshow at a major Outdoor Show has not changed the joy I still feel about what I was able to do as a 60 year old. Perhaps that's what going on long paddling expeditions is really all about for me. It's about making connections in my life between the things I dream about and the things I can do. It's about connecting the dots, living the mystery, nurturing my insides. It isn't the publicity or the job offers, although those don't hurt if they come. It's just not why I leave the shore in the first place.
So I won't be doing something crazy just to get my name on Justine's expedition list. It isn't my goal at all. Paddling my dream is much more important. I'll focus on that, the rest will come. Perhap's even a slot on Justine's list!

Monday, May 1, 2006

We were all mad back then...

It's over. Summer can now officially start anytime in northern Vermont. The assembled kayakers have rolled in competition once again at the Burlington Boathouse. The highlights for me were Michael S's walrus pull and seeing a number of young people out there learning and enjoying.
However, the big disappointment was the flat refusal of the triple decker tour boat to even attempt a basic balance brace. I mean, even I can do that if pushed as hard as they were. Isn't that so, Cheri? Remember, that time in your 'cheater' boat?

On Sunday 20 paddlers headed out for lunch on the far side of Lake Champlain. It was sunny, with a light wind, lots of good humour and best of all - at least for coffee freaks - was Turner's amazing expresso beach cafe! Who would have thought that what Wendy Killoran wrote about in Sardinia would show up on a beach in northern Vermont! Turner added to the ambiance by appearing in his black monk's habit and surrounded himself with people equally dressed in black. Only Freya was noticeable absent...