Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas Story - 2011

It had been the best fall ever for Siasi Putayuq. He had found a job working on the communities water delivery system. Best of all he was driving the truck and not working the hoses at the back. It doesn't get better than that, especially when winter temperatures dropped to -30°C and lower.

With some money coming in at last he put in an order for a brand new skidoo, one of the top models. No longer would he have to drive a fixer-upper and spend most of his weekends working in his tiny shed repairing one thing or another.

By late November the river finally froze over, late again this year… Siasi was anxious to cross the river and head off to Tassuiyuq and do some fishing. Most of the nearby lakes and streams on the town side of the river were pretty well fished out. There were just too many people to feed with the town growing the way it had been for the last few years. Anyway, the big weekend came and all week long people were testing the ice to see if it was safe to cross. The word was that by the weekend, the first party of fishermen would head off and Siasi was going to be with them.

About ten snow machines were ahead of him, but he didn't care as they left the shore and ventured out on the ice. Snow covered for the most part, but a few ice patches were scary. Still no one slowed down, they just kept on the throttle all the way across and only the tidal ice gave them any difficulties. The jumbled blocks of snow and ice caused where the tide rose and fell was always a problem until the worn track was created. This year was no different, but finally all the machines were up on the land and heading for the lake.

The fishing was everything they expected. With no one there fishing for several months, the fish were hungry to be caught. By Sunday evening most people had filled a bag or two full of fresh, frozen trout tied on their kamotiks made the long trek home. Siasi and a couple of friends couldn't tear themselves away. It had been so long since they'd been out on the land, they wanted to squeeze every last second out of it. Finally, the brief sunlight already gone, they loaded up and followed in the tracks of those already departed. They made a stop for tea about half way to the river and then another to tighten the sealskin lines holding the sacks of fish on the kamotiks. As they swept over the last hills before the river banks itself, they suddenly halted. The ice had broken up leaving large stretches of open water between them and the village on the opposite shore…

The ice must have broken up with the last tide as the snow-machine tracks headed right down the tide ice and out onto the last remaining ice. No tracks led either up or down the river. Just as they were about to head up river to see if they could cross further up, lights could be seen coming down to the river on the opposite shore. As they watch, it seemed that someone was launching a boat to come across for them. Siasi breathed a sign of relief! His job would be there in the morning. He didn't want to lose it so soon after he started and his precious skidoo was only partly paid for!

When the boat approached the edge of the ice, Siasi was shocked to see it was a member of the village Qajaq Club in his qajaq! After learning that it was the only craft available, the larger boats having been hauled away from the water weeks ago, Siasi managed to lay down on the rear deck and hang on as the qajaq carefully made its way to the far shore. Other than getting his mitts wet, he managed the trip remarkably well. Within a short period, all the stranded men were safely back on the village side of the river.

I wasn't long before the boat was across the river and Siasi and his friends had grabbed the bow line as it was thrown to them. What became clear as well, as that while they had been rescued, they would have to leave their snow-machines behind. The boat couldn't take them. Still, Siasi reasoned, in a few days the river would freeze over again and probably by next weekend he'd be riding once again!

However, the river ice and the tides had other plans. As it dragged into December and came closer and closer to Christmas, the river would freeze and then break-up, freeze again and break-up again. One weekend, Siasi and his brother went far upriver looking for a crossing place, but found nothing they considered safe. Things were getting more and more depressing. It was especially frustrating when he made his monthly payment on a machine he could even see, let alone use!

The week before Christmas a poster was put up in the Coop store advertising that the new helicopter company in town was going to raffle off a Free Christmas Helicopter Ride. A $2.00 ticket would raise money to win the ride and the money raised would go to building a new Fire Door on the community hall where weekly movies for the children were held. Siasi bought a ticket. He couldn't afford to pay for a helicopter to fly over and pick up his skidoo, but if he won, he'd use his Christmas ride to pick it up and his friends' machines as well.

At the end of the week, on the day before Christmas, everyone crowded into the Community Hall to see the winning ticket being drawn. The mayor reached into the pot and handed the ticket to the manager of the helicopter company. He read out the name. He didn't hear the name very clearly, but it wasn't Siasi, that much he did know. Oh well, he thought, the river will have to freeze sooner or later. He'd just have to be patient. He looked over that one of his friends who also had his machine stuck across the river. He looked back and shrugged then walked out of the Hall.

Christmas day arrived and still the river ice wasn't safe to travel. Around one o'clock in the afternoon, Siasi heard the helicopter taking off. That must be the free ride people getting their free ride, he thought. He turned up the TV to block out the noise. It didn't really matter, helicopters, especially ones that you really wanted to be on, have a way of intruding into your head whether you want them there or not. He could hear it on one side of the house, then it would disappear for a minute or two, only to return again on the other side of the house and again disappear this time for a bit longer.

Just as he was about to get up and turn down the TV, the noise returned and this time it seemed to be right over the house! Was it going to crash on top of him? That's all he needed! The noise was deafening and forced him out of the house to see what was going on. As soon as he stepped out he was caught in the downwash from the rotors, Siasi scrambled away from the house, practical on his knees and then turn and looked up at the crazy helicopter hovering over his house. There, in a sling under the skids hung his skidoo! The chopper moved slightly sideways and lowered the machine gently to the ground, placing it a few feet from his shed.

Siasi rushed over and untied the sling allowing the helicopter to lift up and head back to the river on its way to pick up the next snow-machine. As Siasi turned around one of his friends came around the corner of the house, a big smile on his face. "Merry Christmas, Siasi" That was my uncle who won the helicopter ride. Pretty neat, eh? But…

I know, said the friend, he said he was too old to fly around in a helicopter, but not too old to help young people go fishing!

Note: The images were made by drawing directly on blank 35 mm slides with coloured ink by various people in Kangirsuk in 1972

Monday, December 12, 2011

Eastern Sharbot Lake Paddle

Sharbot Lake is another smallish lake in central Ontario which I visited recently. While it's mostly cottage country, with some built on islands as well, it is nonetheless an interesting paddling venue. While I prefer cottages to be old fashioned and tucked away from the water, it is of some interest to see how building tastes have changes over the years. Some reflect our growing affluance and are virtually palaces. Elaborate docks and floating rafts are all part of the cottage experience...

Of course, no sane cottager would not have an Adirondack chair or two out somewhere on the property for the comfort of out-of-season paddlers...

Warm weather for late November made the paddle pleasant, as did the calm waters. This island cottage appears to have been an old home which has been 'upgraded' with turrets and a fancy boathouse. The 1% builds, the 99% (or a part of them) paddles!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Speaking In Qajaq!

Obviously it's no secret, kayaks or qajait were invented and refined long ago by Inuit people in Canada and Greenland. Today we benefit from their skills and knowledge and use that information to produce the boats that most of us paddle in places around the world. Some of us have tried our hand at reproducing the original kayak designs by building 'skin-on-frame' (SOF) boats of various sorts. This endeavour has enabled the builders to get a bit closer to the Inuit and their way of thinking.

Now there is another way to get closer still. Learn to speak the language of the Inuit themselves: Inuktitut! The one hour audio book called Inuktitut will get you started hearing the sounds of the language and provide you with some useful phrases and vocabulary. As most SOF builders chose to build Greenland style kayaks, this audio book is particularly helpful as the dialect taught in the book is 'Greenlandic'. This dialect varies somewhat from the Inuktitut dialects spoken in arctic Canada, however there are many similarities between the various dialects (and some often amusing differences as well!). Clicking on the link above will bring you to the site at, however it's also available from the iTunes store by searching for 'Inuktitut'.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Paddling Smaller Lakes

We all dream of paddling bigger and bigger waters, challenging ourselves with rougher seas, larger crossings, exotic locales and so forth. It's part of the thrill of seakayaking to discover that you have what it takes to take on more difficult paddles than you've done before. Yet, there are small lakes that, taken in detail, can offer up great satisfaction as well!

This past long weekend a few friends and I set up our camp on Lake Clear, Ontario and settled in for some paddling, some socializing and story-telling. The troubles of the world disappeared with each stroke of our paddles as we left the launch site. The warm, clear water and the quiet and rustic camp-site became our world for the next several days.

We explored the lake with its islands of crown land, We drifted past the quaint log cabins and the newer, monster homes. We slipped up narrow, rocky inlets and watched the turtles slide silently off their sun logs and into the water. We smiled to see the baby ducks still swimming together now their parents have left them to fend for themselves. Blue herons drifted over the water in front of our kayaks. We paddled to the far end of the lake to replenish our ice supply and then arrived back of the camp with bags of cold water and peels of laughter. We screamed at the sudden wind-storms that turned quiet ripples into white-capped waves, sending our kayaks surfing down their fronts. We felt the hairs on our necks rise when something came crashing down in the night. Was it a bear? Only in the morning did we discover it had been a tree.

At home today, I washed the camp-fire smoke off everything, my clothes, my tent, my dishes, even my water filter smelled of wood smoke. What a wonderful, sensuous memory of a long weekend hidden away from the world on Lake Clear with good friends.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Saguenay Scenery

Once again, I'm out of the water and examining the shoreline to see what there is to learn. This time I'm at the mouth of the Saquenay Fjord in Quebec on the St Lawrence river. Just a short distance down-river from the town of Tadoussac are enormous sand banks lining the shore. Locally referred to as 'dunes' they are actually the remains of a giant river delta that formed during the last glacial period. There are several levels to the 'dunes' suggesting that there were various stages of development.

Once down on the shoreline one gets a clear picture of how big these dunes are and how steep the face is. What is also clear is how much of the dune is now missing, having been washed away by both tide and river actions over the past several thousand years.

Climbing up the dune also contributes to the wearing away of the sand although I don't imagine most people would notice much change in a single lifetime. There is lots of sand to last us for some time yet! In this last photo one can see the last high tide line right against the bottom of the dune. Not a good place to find oneself on a windy day at high tide...!

I've posted a walking tour guide on EveryTrail about this area at:

Tadoussac Dunes
A walking tour of the dunes located near Tadoussac, Quebec

Monday, July 11, 2011

Knowing the Scenery

As we paddle along the seashore, we often watch the scenery and look for interesting items which make the paddling experience more rewarding. The possibilities are nearly endless, but recently I had occasion to be in a particularly interesting spot: The Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. This place is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO because of the fossils found in the area. I took the beach walking tour, but when the water is higher, it's possible to paddle along the cliffs and see more or less the same things I saw. In the photo above you can discern the recent high water mark right at the base of the cliff, but being the Bay of Fundy, one needs to be very vigilant of the tides as they are among the highest in the world. As well the cliffs are very active with frequent rock falls exposing new fossils all the time.

There are two ways to see the 300 million year old fossil trees embedded in the cliffs. The first can be seen above as an impression of the bark of the tree remaining in the surrounding rocks where the tree once was. Often the results are astonishing clear and vivid, as seen in the above photo.

The second is the fossilized remains of the tree itself as seen above. These particular specimens once grew up to the height of ten story buildings. Today, their nearest relatives are club mosses, only a few centimeters high at most. Fossils collected at this site were used in the famous Darwin evolution trials in England, which partly accounts for the site's status with UNESCO.

At the time these fossil trees and animals were being buried, so where the swamp beds which created the oil and coal we find today. The Joggins area is laced with coal seams. In the above photo, a tiny one can be seen heading out into the Bay. Other larger ones can be seen in the cliffs, and the beaches are streaked with coal dust eroded from the cliffs.

So next time you watch the shore as you paddle by, wonder about how old it is and what its history might be. Oftentimes you'll be amazed!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Compleat Kayaker

Over the years I have slowly been evolving to meet any and all conditions while I attempted to paddle my kayak in places far from home. Here one can see what's happened during this voyage of discovery. First the kayak, mounted on it's long distance delivery system. Next comes the home away from home where the paddler, that's me, rests between bouts on the water, and last, the local delivery component which also doubles as the put-in scout vehicle, the foldable micro-transporter which allows me to venture here and there peddling between various bits of kit and caboodle which most paddlers carry about with them for reasons known mostly to themselves. It's been known to bring food and drink in as well!

It all seems to work rather well, amazingly enough!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Apple Blossom Paddling

I went paddling on a couple of Ontario lakes this past holiday weekend and discovered not only some paddling spots, but another whole new experience. It rained apple blossoms. A nice change from the other, more common sort of rain. Here one gets big white petals for drops and an enchanting scent which fills the air with delight. Fun!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting To The Beach On Time

I just added a new piece of equipment to my hoard of junk. With it, I'll be able to get to the beach quickly, paddle sooner, run errands, lower my carbon intake, attract girls and generally get more out of life. Well, mostly, perhaps, if I'm lucky.

One of the things about kayak camping is being able to explore the coastline. However, I like to see the coastline from both sides and with my new folding bike I'm hoping to do more of that during my travels this coming summer. The MEC folding bike is actually made in Taiwan by Dahon and comes well fitted out for day cruising both in town and out in the country. I can just picture me now, returning after a long day's paddle, peddling down to the store for some cold ones, a bit of firewood and then curling up to a camp fire meal with all my gear close by. You guessed it, idyllic isn't it?

While the bike folds into a relatively small package, it's too large for my kayak hatches. It might work as a deck ornament for short outings in calm waters, but that's not my objective. This bike is one which will pack easily in my small car, yet rides much like a full-sized bike on shore for trips here and there. While I've yet to test it out, I'm pretty sure I can set it up to tow my kayak to the beach if I don't feel like carrying it that far. I already have a cart which will carry the boat and only need a rig to fix the bow to the bike. I can't wait to see how it works out!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not Today, Mate!

Looking up the driveway this morning after yesterday's snow storm was a mixed bag. While the snow had been cleared finally and the cars were now visible under their new white blankets, the kayaks are still a long way from the water...

But it's March and the sun was warm while I shovel around the cars. The melting has begun already. I'll be back on the water soon. Sure I will!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Not Drive?

Many kayakers dream of paddling in the far north around ice bergs and seals and all that arctic stuff. Most of us are held back by the frightening cost of air transporting our kayaks and other gear from wherever we live to a decent put-in beach in the high latitudes. Well, that's about to change!

In the above photo, you can see the answer! Get yourself one of these buggies and you're good to go wherever you want. Made to tackle the polar ice, the bears, the darkness and cold, you'll be assured of being first at the launch site.

Personally, I'm taking a wait and see approach and thinking of doing some warm water practice session in the meantime. Still, they are kinda cool-looking...

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Pinnacle, Baldwin's Mills

EveryTrail - Find trail maps for here and beyond

I've recently been playing with putting up trips on the Every Trail web site. The idea being, it might give me another way to enrich the blogging experience if more information is provided on where exactly I paddled, hiked, skied or whatever. The Every Trail people provide a convenient way to do this on their site and also provide a simple way to embed the trip onto a blog. I'm not sure this is exactly what I'm looking for as it doesn't look quite the same as on their site. For example, the photos block the route map and the speed of the video is too fast to really get a view of anything, however, it's a start. Actually I find that playing it over again seems to slow it down on my computer, making it easier to see where the photos were taken and what the route was. You can compare this with the Every Trail version on their site by clicking on the link above.

Below is the non-photo version...

Pinnacle, Baldwin's Mills at EveryTrail

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Yoga App

I recall several years ago it being announced at the Delmarva Paddler's Retreat that there would be yoga session for anyone interested at 6 in the morning. Needless to say, I slept through that nonsense! With age however, has come a bit of wisdom and I am now into doing yoga. Last fall when the dawn call went out for yoga at the Ontario Greenland Camp, I was there with the others doing whatever the leader requested of us. And I truly believe I was the better for it!

Back home however doing yoga without a leader to guide you has been problematic, but not any more. There's an 'app' for that on iTunes. Actually there are lots, but the one that I like and use on my little iTouch is called 'All In Yoga' which has 200 poses one can assemble in any order to make programs or one can follow pre-set programs. I do both. As I'm a beginner at this, each of the 200 poses has a photo and description which helps one decide whether it might be useful to a paddler like me who wants to benefit from flexibility poses more than strength. Using this information, I have made up a program I've called 'Paddler' which I do a few times each week and I follow one of the app's pre-set programs called 'Sun Salutation' which I do most mornings.

When you actually run the program it automatically marks your effort on a built in calendar, Nice! Even better, I can bring my iTouch along with me camping and paddling so there's no excuse not to stay flexible doing daily yoga exercises!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Future...

Looking back over the past several years I've been writing this blog, it's clear there have been changes. Not only has the visual aspect of the blog changed, but also and perhaps more importantly, it's clear it doesn't command my attention as it once did. Now that the staff have been dragged kicking and screaming from their Holiday revelries, it's time to wonder what's been going on over the last few years. Certainly many of the early kayaking bloggers I started with have practically disappeared from view, their space now taken up by newer bloggers. At some point, it might be instructive to see where my blog might profitably go in this changing environment as the new year plods merrily along.

For me, perhaps the biggest change over the last few years has been the arrival of René Seindel's 'Paddling Planet' site. Not only did this site collate most, perhaps all, of the world's kayak blogs in one place for easy viewing, it also meant that fewer people needed to visit those blogs directly. Comments have tended to be fewer in number as a result, although controversy still managed to pull people in now and then. Personally, I've enjoyed being able to read many new blogs at the 'Planet' site and even tried my dismal linguistic skills when necessary. I am particularly intrigued with many of the Scandinavian and Italian bloggers out there, from whom I've learned much.

The other big change to the blogging world has been FaceBook. Just look at the picture above to see how the 500 million users and more have straddled the globe! This has been yet another way to form a community of kayakers and one which I have found myself visiting more and more often. Unlike a blog, there is much more immediacy in these FaceBook contacts and one quickly gets to know the writers and where they paddle most often. It has however meant that what I might have once posted on my blog, instead went to FaceBook with less detail perhaps, but more interaction.

Twitter has taken over many bloggers output as well, although I have yet to figure out how to say anything in so few words...

Photo credit: The Thought Catalog