Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old Family Canoes XII

Continuing the "Wooden Canoe" article about my 1948 canoe trip:
Shooting rapids was a thrill in more ways rhan one. It never dawned on them that they  should have life jackets (this was before these were called "personal flotation devices"). Deep River Jim's book didn't mention them and Lloyd's Emporium didn't say anything either. Their whitewater training was strictly on-the-job when they started encountering rapids, far, far out in the wilderness. Grandpa said that if they really screwed up and needed to be rescued, they intended to set an island on fire in the hope that the Canadian authorities would fly over to see what the heck was going on.
The Otca and the Penn Yan performed admirably in the rapids (no longer catamaraned of course). They slid off rocks that their drivers weren't skilled enough to avoid with hardly any damage beyond scratched paint. Even when their drivers involuntarily bailed out, the canoes continued to run the rapids (upside down or right side up, depending on what caused the paddlers' departure). Then the canoes would wait patiently in some downstream eddy until the swimming or wading voyageurs arrived. The performance of these canoes was a true testament to the practicality of wood and canvas, said Grandpa.
According to him, the most difficult decision when facing a rapids often was not so much whether to run it, but whether to unload the canoe and carry the gear around. A bad decision in this regard meant wet sleeping bags for a couple of nights and the scorn and/or pity of one's companions.
In portaging as in paddling the two teams were well matched. The huskier team carried the  heavier Old Town and the smaller team carried  the lighter Penn Yan. All portages were two-man carries. No one had the skill to carry an eighteen footer solo.
Attempts to emulate the Indians by carrying gear wth a tumpline over the forehead failed miserably. They could not stand the pain in the neck caused by bearing the weight of the pack. The four college guys had to admit that volleyball, downhill skiing, or elbow bending does not develop neck muscles. The best pack turned out to be a war surplus ski trooper rucksack. It rode on the hips, had a low center of gravity, and had room to lash gear on top.
Next: Conclusion of Grandson's "Wooden Canoe" article. 

Emailed August 19

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