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The GOSSIP

Number 218 / April 2010

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Published by the Open Canoe Sailing Group

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the stern bulkhead and the small of our backs. We learned in our daily packing to calculate the diameter of these bundles to a fraction of an inch, so that we were aware of an easy leverage from toes to hops, and a slight stiffening of the physical tension gave us, when necessary, quick power in our paddle strokes. This was undoubtedly what MacGregor meant when he insisted that his canoes be made to the measurements of his own person.

A sustained feeling of grip and fit is of high importance in sea canoeing. Much practice will bring experience to meet in comfort any of the variety of wave and wind conditions, but from the start it is well to know that canoeing of this kind is a single art. The canoeist is, in fact, riding the canoe. Braced to hold it to him, and actually to wield it as a weapon of battle with the sea, he will learn how to lift it, and when, at the approaching waves. He must be as conscious of riding as a cyclist. With a beam-breaking sea, for example, there is a trailing of the lee paddle and then a sudden thrust and lift with it; at the same time the haunches give a flick of the canoe towards the wave, with precisely the movement used by a Hawaiian maiden to swing her grass skirt.

Two people in one canoe will be very expert indeed if they can do this with perfect timing together. Most of the canoeing accidents happen in double-seater canoes that are neither big enough to be boats nor small enough to be solo weapons. We became convinced that the single-seater canoe is altogether safer, and makes this wave-jousting most joyous. Whatever the excellence of the folding boat, many of which we tried, it would seem certain that the best canoe for sea and shore work is a rigid model, with some keel protection for the fabric.

Each craft should have its own safety margin. We felt doubly provided for with our rubber-tyre lifebelts and the sealed bulkheads. The canoes would remain afloat with the centre section completely water-logged, while if we lost them altogether the lifebelts would have been a solace. We never had to resort to the latter test, but the tyres were comforting. A sea-canoe must carry its own buoyancy. The water cannot be kept out except by seaming the canoeist to his craft by means of his garments, a dangerous practice in our beamier European canoes. If the hull is open from end to end without bulkheads, it can fill in a sea and be sunk. Inflated beach balls, or anything of the sort both light and airtight, should be stuffed into the bow and stern points and tests made to ensure that the filled canoe can still float in rough water bearing twice the canoeist's weight. A picturesque buoyancy device is the installation at each end of the hull of a sufficient quantity of table-tennis balls, penned in by a barrier of net.

Comfort, a word which has made several recent appearances in these pages, is admittedly only relative in its meaning. We rarely travelled dry, and it was normal for us to be sitting permanently in several inches of water. From time to time in our day's journey we would stop to bale this out. For this purpose we had cans, and sponges to mop out the last half-inch. Sitting on the extreme lowest part of the craft one becomes aware of the slightest first intrusion of water and so it is better to develop a familiarity - an attitude not difficult after the first chill tremors and trickles.

We grew to a similar state of mind in the matter of our canoeing clothes. These were mere scraps we simply took off on landing and threw in a heap, knowing there was little chance of their being dry in the morning anyway. Saltwater-soaked clothing will not dry until it has been rinsed in fresh water, and we did not find it necessary to go to such elaborate lengths.

We found quickly, as we must, methods of packing that kept the rest of our equipment imperviously dry. Treble-wrapped in rubber groundsheets, oiled silk, and then heavy oilcloth, all bound like string bags, our bundles shared the swilling bilge water with us and never leaked. One separate bundle apiece contained our 'going ashore' outfits, along with a dry towel. On landing, we would heave the canoes up out of the sea's way, pick a camping site, and run the tent up. The going-ashore bundles were jerked open; our singlets and shorts cast aside. The towels flayed us up pinkly, and in seconds we would have thrown on shirt, kilt, jacket, bonnet, shoes and stockings, and be ready for visiting.

If the day was dark and chill when we arrived, making it necessary to postpone until the morning an excursion for provisions or conversation, we varied the routine by crawling with all our bundles into the tent, lacing the door, lighting both stoves, and sitting naked upon a blanket while steam rose from us in a most pleasing way. Only mounting hunger would drive us to stir from the luxurious dwam that this practice induced.

This may be the proper place at which to say something of our food arrangements. We had two folding pressure stoves and a suitable outfit of lightweight utensils. The provisions we carried in waterproof bags, and very large bundles they made. Bread, we found, was not a suitable item of travelling provisions, unless for our midday sandwiches. It was bulky, and we could dispose of six loaves at frightening speed. The basis of our eating was oatmeal, lentils, dried fruit and potatoes. We made quantities of lentil soup, or at least a pottage, boiling up steeped lentils into a fine green khaki mush into which we dropped, when we could spare it, a rasher of bacon by way of stock.

Oatmeal brose was the true foundation of the expedition, and the correct method of making it must be put on record. A quantity of coarse oatmeal - with salt 'to taste' as they say - is placed in a bowl and boiling water poured over it. The water must be boiling hard as it pours and there should be enough of it to just cover the oatmeal. A plate is immediately placed over the bowl like a lid. You now sit by for a few minutes, gloating. This is your brose cooking in its own steam. During this pause, slip a nut of butter under the plate and into the brose. In four or five minutes whip off the

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