Friday, December 21, 2007

Joy For the Holidays!

As I did last year, I will take my leave of you for the holidays. I hope you will be spending the time, as I will, wrapped in family activities and fun. Enjoy! Family is all any of us really has especially if you've suffered ill luck or meager times. I'll return in January. In departing, I'll keep my tradition of relating a story. This one is French Canadian, but has roots that go back to First Nation people who also told of flying canoes and magical happenings. Enjoy!

The Magic Canoe

Joe 'La Bosse' the old cook was a hunchback. The gang of rough looking men sat on their bunk-beds, which surrounded the central cook-stove, as he worked his way from pot to pot, stirring a little here, sampling a little there. Outside the snow was piled half way up the walls of the log cabin. Now and then a tree would snap in the cold like a rifle shot and the hungry wolves would howl with fear. It was New Year's Eve, and the lumberjacks waited for Joe to give the signal that their midnight 'lunch' was ready. It had been a long winter. The men, far from home and their loved ones, eyed the keg of rum on the table, a gift from the foreman. It would help them forget their loneliness for a while. After all, it would be spring time before they saw their families once again.

While they waited one of the older men began talking quietly. "Hey Joe, why don't they have 'Witch Canoes' like the old days? We could all be home tonight if we had one of those..." A few of the younger men laughed. Here come the stories, they thought to themselves. Joe was famous for his telling of them.

"Don't you laugh! Those old stories are often true. We could have one, but the costs are too great." said Joe, looking very serious. The men began looking around at each other. Most knew the stories of the old witch canoes which could travel through the night sky, but most knew as well they were old stories with little truth to them, stories the French had learned from the Indians years ago. Their origins had long been lost in the past.

"Those are just stories, Joe. No one believes them these days..."

"Let me tell you my story then," began Joe. Here's what he told them.

"When I was 19, working in this very camp, we took a witch canoe. It was the new foreman's idea. We'd all go home on New Year's Eve and see our girl-friends. We were ready to sell our souls to the devil that night. That's how anxious we were to see our girls again.

"Dazed by rum, I was to be the 8th member of the canoe. You always needed an even number or it wouldn't fly. We went outside into the cold night air, a night just like this one, got our paddles and took our places in the camp's biggest canoe. Baptiste, an older man, was steersman. The foreman warned us we'd be taking an oath to the devil. He was very serious. None of us was to drink or swear or speak the name of God. We were to avoid getting close to any church steeples as well. Understanding the oath, we all swore it and suddenly we felt the canoe jolt into the air. We were on our way. We paddled like madmen.

"We rose into the air above the Gatineau River and Baptiste turned the canoe east towards Montreal. Our homes lay in a small village down river from Sorel and in about two hours we could see it in the distance. We couldn't believe our good luck that night. Baptiste brought the canoe down in a field belonging to his uncle, not far from the village. Walking up the only street, we soon heard the sounds of fiddles, laughter and stomping feet coming from the home of Batissette Auge. Baptiste warned us again of our oath, not to drink or swear, and to take our leave promptly when he gave the signal. We walked up the steps and entered the house.

"Of course we were recognized right away and questions of surprise rang out from around the room. My girl Lise was dancing with a guy named Boisjoli, but I managed to get between them and, to the risk of my eternal soul, we danced together for nearly 2 hours, laughing and carrying on like I'd never left for the winter camp. To my surprise, our foreman began passing a bottle of rhum around. He even offered me a drink! I couldn't understand what he was doing.

"Then, just as suddenly, he whispered to me it was time to go. We were not to argue, just leave immediately, all together, as we had come. So reluctantly, we slipped away silently, like Indians, not even thanking our hosts. We got to the canoe and as quietly, paddled up into the night sky. We soon discovered that Baptiste was very drunk. The canoe zigged and zagged all over the place, swooping up and down, nearly spilling us out several times. Once or twice we nearly collided with church steeples, one of them a temperance cross especially put up for the season. I was sick with worry, remembering the terrible oath I'd taken before we'd set out. I knew we were all going to the Devil that night...

"Just as we were coming down to land in our lumber camp, Baptiste's luck finally ran out and we hit the top of a large pine tree. The canoe rolled and tipped us all out. I heard Baptiste swear like a demon as he fell into the pine branches. We all fell down through the branches, finally landing in a snowbank at the bottom.

"The next day, no one but me remembered the trip. I never saw the foreman again either. He simply vanished. Lise, my girlfriend married that Boisjoli boy later that winter and always turned away from me when we met. I was a boor, she'd tell me. Baptiste was lost in the log run that spring. His body never found. The injury I got that night wrecked my back. I could never cut trees again. That's why I'm a lowly cook today."

Joe 'La Bosse' turned back to the stove, opened a lid and began spooning out long ribbons of maple taffy, a twinkle in his eye. The men knew the meal they'd been waiting for was finally ready.

98/100: temp -2°C; cloudy; calm

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Life's Little Barriers

We all face barriers in our lives, some big, some small. These come in many forms, but are most apparent when in the midst of some sort of challenge we've set ourselves. When they appear, we fret and curse and sometimes we let our frustrations get between us and our chance for happiness. Yesterday I faced one of those barriers...

I knew it was there, but I thought, there must be a way either through it or around it. I paddled under the old train bridge and faced 'The Ice Barrier'...

I paddled up to the ice. Surely it was flimsy, just barely holding itself together. Alas, it seemed remarkably solid in spite of its thinness. I paddled from one shore to the other looking for a weak spot. I wacked it with my paddle. It wouldn't break. I was getting frustrated. It was too strong to break, but too thin to walk on safely.

I considered ramming my way through like the old explorers used to do in their stout wooden sailing ships. A closer look at the serrated ice edge changed my mind. My gelcoat would never take that sort of punishment.

I returned to the train bridge and spent some time practicing weaving in and out of the pilings. It was good practice in small boat handling. I began to make up a game with variations: through forward, then backward, alternating the two, skipping every second opening... Well, after confusing the villagers for an hour or so, I retreated down the river to chase the many ducks which live there throughout the winter. I was beginning to have fun in spite of the Barrier!

97/100 temp: -1°C; cloudy; light wind

Update: It seems Freya has 'hit' her own 'barrier' on her circumnavigation of the South Island of New Zealand. In launching and returning through the beach surf, her kayak was damaged and part of a paddle was lost. Thankfully she's not hurt and thanks to spares and her own ability to repair her kayak, she will be able to continue. I understand people are working to replace her paddle and boat clips at the first opportunity.

You have to hand it to Freya, well into her second major expedition of 2007. When things turn against her or equipment fails, she gets tough and solves the problem. No complaining, no blaming, just on with the business of moving ahead. Very classy! Good for you, Freya!

Check her blog link in the right sidebar for details.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Amazing Goop!

The never-ending search for a warm dry paddling mitt goes on. I've been using my LevelSix mitts mostly in the last weeks. Of all the things I've tried, they leak the least and are quite warm. Their only downside is the raw neoprene outer surface which tends to be quite fragile and prone to tearing. It makes one understand why most neoprene has a nylon coating for abrasion resistance. On the upside, the stickiness of the raw rubber is an asset hanging onto paddles, cameras and other gear. Any holes that have developed have been successfully repaired with SeamSeal.

Recently I came across another seam sealing material, shown here in the picture, Amazing Goop! Richard Jensen has some pictures up on his Webshots site of a tuiliq he made, first sewing the seams and then doing a very neat job sealing the seams with black Goop (it is usually clear). I'm always looking for ways to stay warm and dry with easy to use repair ideas, so I'm going to add a tube of this stuff to my repair kit.

Now, I'm going paddling!

97/100 temp: -2°C; cloudy; low winds; lake ice...!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Traditional Knowledge

As a kayaker, I often think about the roots of the boat I paddle. It interests me to know that I paddle a craft with a long history, one that is spread across the arctic world from Siberia in Russia, through Alaska, Canada and onto the eastern shores of Greenland. The people who developed these craft and paddled them ever eastward, changed them to suit their needs. They told stories about them and incorporated them into the wider culture they lived within.

From time to time, we outsiders are given a glimpse into this world. Usually it is a view through the eyes of another outsider who was able to visit that culture and form an impression and pass it along. Sometimes, more rarely, we get a direct view and can form our own impressions. The site Traditional Knowledge is a combination of these two points of view. While the site was designed by the Francophone Association of Nunavut, many of the pieces are taken directly from stories and information provided by Inuit Elders. All very interesting. Have a look for yourself!

Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-165664

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is This A Gift?

Looking through the giant Christmas wreath leading onto the pier in North Hatley, one might be thinking about the coming holiday season. Why not? We've got the snow and all the fancy trappings most people around here look for at this time of year.

Now look a little closer. Look beyond the wreath and what do you see? That's right, you can see ice! Ice that bridges the entire width of the lake, effectively blocking my ability to get from my new put-in on the river, out onto the lake proper. I was shocked to see this ice, here so prematurely. A month early! Even the winds of the recent snow storm we've had failed to break it up. Oh woe is me! What sort of gift has Nature given me this time?

In desparation, I've driven around the lake looking for another safe place to launch, but it isn't looking good. I'm determined to finish this challenge of mine successfully, so if you live on open water, don't be surprised to see a crazy paddler launching into the storm!

Update! A related story to my previous post on Canada's approach to Global Warming was written up here. It seems some of the ever-tough souls of St John's, Newfoundland braved it all the other day to defy the coming effects of greenhouse gases. Check them out (viewer discretion advised if your mental age is less than it should be...)!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Ethical Voyager

It's too cold to paddle today (-21°C), but I've got a hot topic for you!

If you can think for a moment, of our planet Earth as your kayak afloat on the ether, then imagine that each year we make a circumnavigation around the island we call the Sun. Now as good kayakers, we all know the rules and ethics we need to follow to safely make a voyage. We need to stick together. We need to look out for each other's well-being. We need to 'get along'. We all need to have adequate safety gear and so on. All these things will contribute to a happy and successful trip. Get out of line and flaunt these guidelines, and you risk losing everything both personally and collectively as we have seen so many times in news stories, magasines, books and blogs.

Today, I'm ashamed to say, Canada has not followed the rules. We should know better. Our national representatives at the environmental conference in Bali, have stuck their middle fingers up at our fellow voyagers. Just like we all know from other group voyages, we are seeing arrogance and uncaringness. We are witnessing people pushing their own selfish needs ahead of others. We are watching people blame others for their own mistakes. We will soon be paying for this foolishness. Canada's reputation as a solid team-player will soon be tarnished. Like paddlers who follow this route, we will become isolated from our fellows. We will become pariahs among our peers. And for what end?

For nothing. Our stubbornness will gain us nothing because everyone on the planet travels together as a community of people or we don't travel at all. I trust the New Year will see Canadians jettison the leadership we've elected so that we can catch up with our fellow travelers, apologize for our foolish ways and work for the common good of all. I want to continue to enjoy this annual trip around the Sun. I suspect all our children would too!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Boo-Hoo, Sorta

Snowstorms and the effect they tend to have on the mountains road of northern Maine have conspired to cancel my little trip to the Halifax waterfront. Oh well, back to local paddling!

Speaking of which, here is a little video I made the other day while out on the water. Overhanging trees provide an interesting tree-tunnel experience and seeing icicles hanging off the cliffs make fun out of what could be just another ho-hum paddle.

96/100 temp: -2°C; snowing; light winds.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Late Night Visitors

Living as we do in the country, my wife has both dogs and horses, as do many other people in the area. Living as we do, we know all the neighbours and frequently visit back and forth, sharing news and meals and so on. Late last night, our older dog suddenly did something he rarely does: he barked. Then he barked several more times. My wife instantly knew something was up and looked outside. Sure enough we had visitors. Or, at least, our horses did!

We threw on our winter gear and plunged into the - 20°C night. Up the hill at the barn, we found the visitors. Two of our neighbours horses had decided to come for a visit with our two! All on their own, they had managed to escape from their barn, trundle down the road, turn up our driveway and here they were, now wondering how they were going to join our horses in our barn with all the doors closed!

My wife soon had the barn door opened, had grabbed some halters and lead lines and got them on the visitors. We let them have a few quick snorts with our guys and then we headed back to the neighbours, each of us with a horse in tow. Fortunately our neighbours had realized their horses were out on the prowl and met us in our driveway, so all was well and we didn't have to walk all the way back to their barn.

Another uneventful evening in the country, where life is so slow even the horses are bored, but the fires warm, the neighbours are friendly and we like it when nothing much ever seems to happen...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Icicles Galore

I didn't paddle today. The temperature was in the 'good' range, but the winds were way too high, gusting above 50 kph. That and the fetch they had made for one crazy lake. Tomorrow looks cold so we'll see what happens.

Now that I only have five days to make my hundred, each day counts! I'll be heading to Halifax on Friday for a few days. Hey, who knows, maybe I'll get a paddle invitation down there (hint, hint, if you're reading this from Nova Scotia...).

The picture is of some of the icicles which have formed over the past week or so. I'm always impressed how high up some of them are and how long they can get without breaking.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Kick and Scream No More

I was one of those people who had to be dragged, kicking and screaming the whole way before I bought a drysuit. Because I was cheap and living in denial, I opted for a suit without a hood. Everything seemed okay until this fall when I decided to paddle into winter. By mid November, I knew I had not made the best possible choice. I was going to require a warmer neck and hood arrangement if I was to be successful in my quest to paddle 100 days before the year's end.

I started looking around for hooded paddling jackets. I finally decided on the jacket seen here, a Palm designed Aleutian Ocean EXP. What I liked about this jacket was its waterproof cuffs, yet adjustable neck closure. Given I planned to wear it over my drysuit, it didn't have to have a fully dry neck seal. It will serve me well during the times I want a weather tight paddling jacket, yet don't require a full drysuit.

Thanks to this jacket, I have been paddling in some fairly nasty weather, yet have stayed warm and dry, head to toes. I purchased it through Scott Canoe, the Canadian supplier of Palm gear. I found their service and pricing to be excellent should anyone be interested in their equipment at any time.

95/100 Temp:-1°C; cloudy; winds moderate

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joy in the World

What an interesting world we live in! Yesterday I was in Montreal to visit my son who has just written his last exam at McGill. It occurred to me that at his age many of my friends were heading off to Europe to try their hand at the Grand Tour. That seemed to be the then known limits of the world at that time. I'd met a few Australians and New Zealanders who were touring the world, but they were seen as the disadvantaged, being so far from the center of the world - or so we thought.

Today, young people like my son, are multi-lingual and see world travel and friends from everywhere as the normal run of things. Speaking three languages, English, French and Chinese, the world is at his doorstep. They regularly email friends around the world.

Returning home, we gave a lift to my cousin's son. He has a friend from China will be visiting for a few weeks while en route to France where she'll do an exchange term at a French university. We stopped in at my daughter's boyfriend's family. They too have a child who headed off to Thailand when she was young. My daughter and her beau both speak English and French and a smattering of Spanish.

I, on the other hand, speak a bit of English, some poor French, worse Spanish, and I once could get by in Inuktitut. I've yet to see the world, but I'm seeing lots more of it via my children. I wish I was their age again!

94/100 temp: -3°C; cloudy; low winds

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Icy Waves

A quick paddle up the lake and back in the icy waves. For the full effect, put your dry-suit on and get in your shower. Set up a fan directed towards your face (Slather yourself with lanolin if that's your thing or if you're in an experimental mood). Turn on the cold water and let the good times begin!

93/100 Temp: -1°C; Cloudy; Variable winds.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wind, Waves and Icy Spray!

I'm having to pick and chose my paddling days carefully now as it's decidedly less fun to have to face into the icy spray when it's really cold and windy. When I passed under the bridge today to get to the lake, it was reasonable calm with only a slight breeze. I was about a couple of kilometers up the lake when suddenly the wind kicked in fairly hard. In no time, waves had built and began their nasty habit of throwing spray in my face.

I slipped over to the opposite shore and into a wind-shadow and this tactic worked for a while. Then the shore line veered off and let the wind at me again. I turned about and surfed my way back to the ice jackets on the bridge pillars. Interesting how they grow, now fat and then pinched in. I didn't stick around to watch the process, but it is curious.

I've been storing my kayak in an unheated shed which means I have to de-ice and free-up all the fittings, the rudder cables and so on before heading out. I'm getting better however. I now turn the boat over so some of the water/ice manages to drip off should the shed warm up at all. There are lots of little secrets to cold weather paddling...

92/100; temp: -4°C; cloudy; moderate wind.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

T Anyone?

Seakayaker Magasine has a nice looking T-shirt for sale on their web site. What I particularly like is the SOF on the back of the shirt. There's something about the naked frame of these traditional kayaks that is so appealing. So if you're wondering what to get yourself or a paddling friend this ConsumerFest, click on the link above and shop away!

Meanwhile, I bought some light-weight boots more suitable for snowshoeing than my heavy rubber barn boots. My wife has been running a tally of her outings either on snowshes or skis and making me look bad as a simple (minded) kayaker. Life's about to change!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Storm Paddling

Storm paddling is a bit different from the usual stuff, so here are a few things to keep in mind when heading out. First, it really pays big dividends to clear the snow off your vehicle, especially around the windows. Not only will you be able to see out making the put-in easy to locate, but people in the area will know it's YOU who is heading out paddling, not some flunky up the street.

Once at the put-in, there's no need to lug your heavy boat to the water's edge. Instead, turn it magically into a sled with a simple tap of your Greenland paddle, then begin filling it up with all your gear, food, you know, whatever and then off you go. The lucky ones can even suit up at the car, climb in and push off down hill and into the lake. My put-in is nearly level, so I pull my sled-kayak. Perhaps in my next incarnation I'll get a hill-side put-in.

Once on the water proper, paddle to your heart's content, but be watchful for ice build-up. The stuff you see here on the deck is nothing. The stuff to watch is growing out of sight on your hull, just above the water-line. In no time - if it's cold enough - you'll grow ice-sponsons, which unlike the foam kind, do not prevent you from rolling, but actually encourage it, especially the first 180° of the roll. When you've had enough fun, read this backwards to return home where a nice hot drink might be waiting for you!

91/100 temp:-6°C; cloudy; light snow

Monday, December 3, 2007

Music For The Soul

Now that your Inuktitut language lessons, which I mentioned you could take a while ago, are well underway, I have something new for you. This is particularly handy as winter brings more indoor time for many of you and time begins to drag a bit. As you've gathered already from the photo above, it's all about Flamenco, the thrilling guitar music of the gitanos of southern Spain.

This site, called Flamenco Lessons provides lessons ranging from the beginings of the art to the more advanced. As you will also discover, there's a free plug-in you will require to see the scores, but again it all adds to the pleasure of venturing into new waters, so to speak. Enjoy! Now don't forget to post up your concert videos...

UPDATE! I suddenly realised that while the snow was falling, it wasn't blowing... I loaded up and was on the water shortly thereafter. The drive to and from the lake was the adrenaline pumper, the paddle the slow, easy relaxer. There's something fun about paddling on a calm lake in the snow. The sudden encounters with ducks, the slush ice around the shorelines, the warm house lights winking along the shore... The toughest work was cleaning the snow off the decks before putting it back in the storage shed.

90/100 temp:-2; cloudy; snowing

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I'm not a happy paddler these days. The weather hasn't been helping me accomplish my 100 days of paddling goal which I set for myself in late August. It's been well below freezing, but worse than that, it's been very windy for the better part of the past week.

Now I am looking at this weather map. Above the picture on their web site, Environment Canada posted a red box in which was written SNOW WARNING. From the size of the cloud, it will snow from today right into Wednesday and they also promise high winds as well. Now, I want a white Christmas too, but I can wait for it. No need to begin piling the stuff up for a while yet!