10 Off-Water Things Every Paddler Should Know

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Rule number one: Get a seat with a view. (Photo courtesy OARS, www.oars.com)

Sure, there are things on the water all paddlers should know — how to read water, use a throw rope, swim a rapid. But there are also a slew of skills off the water to master, a handful of which we bring you in the following compilation. Have them in your arsenal to distinguish you from other waterman wannabes.

Make Cowboy Coffee

No fancy French press or filter? No problem. Eschew the toilet paper and make your coffee cowboy style. For a large pot, simply boil the water and then throw in seven handfuls of grinds (technically, one heaping scoopful per cup). Stir them in, remove from heat, and wait a few minutes for the grinds to settle. Hint: to further encourage settling, tap the side of the pot, or add a few drops of cold water and/or eggshells. Then sit back and say “Aaahhh!”, careful for ensure no grinds get stuck in your teeth.

Make a Kelp Horn

Dinah, blow your horn. You’ll hear that aplenty with this little ditty that’s a favorite of seasoned sea kayakers everywhere. First, find a long piece of kelp with a softball-sized bulb at the end. Next, cut off the hose portion of the stem about five feet down, and slice about a quarter to a third of the bulb off. Then purse your lips, puff your cheeks and blow like Louis Armstrong.

 Seal a Dry Bag

A dry-bag is only as good as the person who rolled it. To ensure water-tightness, first pack it well (i.e. no bulgy items, soft things towards the top, and not too full). To seal, match up fold flaps (if applicable) and then tightly roll down a few times before pushing down on the bundle to purge of air. Use your knee to keep the bag’s seal from unrolling and then buckle the ends down and tighten the straps.

Pitch a Tarp

Just like rivers, no two tarp set-ups are alike. But there are certain techniques you can use to help keep the elements at bay (Hint #1: tie cord to the grommets beforehand). If a storm hits and there are trees around, here’s a technique recommended by Trailspace.com. With your back to the wind, walk up to the tree and tie a corner of the tarp to it. Then walk backward into the wind, pulling out the tarp as you go. When taut, firmly stake down the opposite corner, and then the two sides. Voila! You have an instant shelter. In bad weather, keep the tarp low; in better weather raise it. Another option is the A pitch. Stretch a rope between two handy objects (i.e. tree, bushes, paddles, etc.), throw the tarp over and stake down each side.

Change Clothes at the Takeout (Across From a Baptist Church in West Virginia)

Sometimes, there are no changing rooms, bushes to hide behind or other ways to hide your derriere. Fear not with this time-tested nudey cure. Simply open two car doors to create three-walled barricade, wrap a towel around your waist and then slide your shorts off underneath said towel. Key: Lay your clothes out beforehand to minimize your time in the buff, glance around beforehand for errant passersby, and try to get your pants back on before the towel falls off.

Run shuttle

This is a toughie, requiring every bit of algebra and geometry gleaned from your school years. Yes, there’s actually an art to this most necessary of all river-running rituals. The key: getting at least one vehicle to the take-out without leaving the car key at the put-in (bonus points for having the foresight to leave dry clothes in the take-out vehicle). To do it, you either all meet at the put-in and shuttle a car or cars down to the take-out, and then pile in one car to drive back up; or all meet at the take-out and leave one or more cars there while piling in a put-in rig. If it sounds easy, it’s not. You have to consider seat space, boat space and more at both ends, which becomes even more paramount on the 420-mile, 12-hour round-trip shuttle from Boundary Creek to Cache Bar on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. And you an botch the process easily any number of ways, including forgetting to fill up with gas (nothing worse that arriving to a car on E at the take-out); not having a spare tire; and the worst infraction of all, leaving the take-out car key at the put-in.

Rule number one: Get a seat with a view. (Photo courtesy OARS, www.oars.com)

Set up a groover

Aside from the obvious – making sure the seat’s on correctly, not placing it next to someone’s tent door, and ensuring a modicum of privacy – there’s really only one thing to make sure of when setting up a river toilet: choosing a spot with a view of the river. Bonus: bringing along a copy of Weekly World News (“Woman Gives Birth to Orangutan!”)

Daisy-chain a boat strap

This cool little techniques guarantees there’s no percussion beat coming from your rooftop on a long shuttle, of extra flaps laying around on your gear boat that could python around an errant ankle. Plus, it’s just plain cool and raft guides do it.

Set up a Z-drag

It’s all in where you tie it off. If the rope is tied off to the anchor and then runs through a pulley at the load, the mechanical advantage is even (2:1), and doubles with each pulley added (i.e. 4:1, etc.). Tie the rope off to the load and then slot it through a pulley at the anchor, and you gain no mechanical advantage (unless you add another pulley by the load, in which case the mechanical advantage is odd (3:1)). If the last pulley in a system is on the anchor side it only changes the direction of pull and does not offer any mechanical advantage. Count the number of rope strands between anchor and load to gauge the mechanical advantage. A compound pulley system is a simple pulley system pulling on a simple pulley system, multiplying the results (i.e. a 3:1 system pulling a 2:1 system yields a 6:1 mechanical advantage).

Portage a Canoe

You can always double carry, but for real backwoods cred hoist your boat solo. Stand adjacent the center thwart, facing the canoe. With your knees bent into a high squat, jerk the boat onto your thighs by the near gunwale. Reach across the boat and grab the opposite gunwale, then slip the near arm under the hull. Kick up with one knee and swing the canoe up overhead, placing it over your head like the world’s biggest hat. Allow the central thwart or yoke to settle onto your shoulders behind the neck. Jump up slightly and click your heels together, then start off at a brisk trot. Trip over the bow line you forgot to stow.

Now, don’t bother thanking us — get out there and practice those skills!