|Canadian Canoe Routes
|Ocean Canoeing - some basics
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|Author:||SGrant [ June 30th, 2007, 11:51 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Ocean Canoeing - some basics|
This information is aimed at experienced canoeists who are considering venturing onto saltwater. When we were at that stage, we regarded coastal canoeing with trepidation, and we've found this is typical of people in that situation. Since I believe that when used thoughtfully, canoes are perfectly suitable ocean craft, I'm offering this to encourage ocean canoeing by shedding some light on the unknowns. Hopefully not completely, though. Facing unknowns is part of good adventuring, and concern about them shows lack of the bravado that gets people into trouble on the ocean.
I'll try not to reiterate advice for flatwater or moving water canoeing, focusing instead on what's different about ocean canoeing. For those contemplating heading out on saltwater, this can serve as an orientation. For those already ocean canoeing, it can act as a checklist.
A brief version of this information appeared in the Winter 2007 Kanawa magazine, along with a few photos. The topic has too much in it for the amount of space available in a paddling magazine, so I decided to distribute a more detailed version by posting here.
My saltwater paddling has been on the west coast of Canada, and what I have to say has been shaped by that environment. I don't regard myself as an expert, and have relatively little canoe experience, let alone on the ocean. I only appear to know a few things because there is so little alternative information on the subject.
Why Go Ocean Canoeing?
Well, because there's a lot of fine paddling to be done on saltwater. Ocean canoeing doesn't mean setting out across an ocean, and I advise against doing so. The opportunities range from sheltered tidal inlets not much different from large lakes, to sheltered inside passages and island-hopping, to the wilds of the exposed outer coast. Careful planning allows you to determine exactly the level of difficulty encountered, and this range of options probably is more extensive than what's available in freshwater canoeing. It certainly vastly expands the scope of your canoeing.
Why Canoe Rather than Kayak?
Canoes and canoe-like craft have been used all over the globe by humans through history. The canoe was the only means of water travel by the First Nations in the Pacific Northwest. Even the Inuit, credited with inventing the kayak for hunting in the Arctic, also used open umiaks for transportation.
No vessel, including kayaks, can handle all sea conditions. On the other hand, you could go to sea on a plank if the conditions and your other gear, skills, party and judgement were up to the task. Operators of all vessels must ensure they stay within their safety limits. This requires no more or less judgement by sea kayakers than by coastal canoeists. The process is the same and the decisions will be similar. The difference is that the canoe paddlers must make more conservative choices. Compared to the range of possible conditions, the gap between what a sea kayak can handle but a canoe cannot, is relatvely narrow. Really bad storms will keep both craft ashore, and obviously both work fine in nice weather. There is a lifetime of coastal canoeing available without, say, venturing around Cape Caution in the winter.
A sleek kevlar canoe with spraydeck will cost about $3000, while a couple of kevlar sea kayaks, or a double, will be at least twice that. A family with two children using two kevlar double kayaks can expect to lay out at least $12,000. How much time do you have to work to save the $9000 difference, compared to being out on trips? While the kayaks are more seawothy, the canoes are more flexible as families grow up, they are much faster to pack and unload, are more comfortable, and easier to handle on land. A tandem canoe typically weighs less than a solo kayak, let alone two double kayaks. And while inattention can easily result in a capsize in a single kayak, this is much less likely in a canoe. For instance, falling asleep in a single kayak can be fatal.
Unless the kids are older and are using sprayskirts rather than sitting in a cargo hatch, a double kayak is no safer than a canoe. Yet they are relatively cramped, hard to pack, more awkward to carry and store, and cost a fortune. A double paddled by one adult and one child is no faster than a tandem canoe either.
Besides allowing ocean paddling at a far lower cost of entry, ocean canoeing vastly expands the opportunities for those who simply perfer canoes over kayaks. Some people just cannot get comfortable in kayaks, find the paddling motion difficult, or have health issues that preclude using kayaks.
Will the canoeists suffer a speed penalty? Basically, no. A modern tandem tripping canoe actually is faster than a single sea kayak. A double sea kayak is faster, but not over marathon distances.
This also means that as long as the craft, skill and endurance of the paddlers are similar, mixed parties of kayaks and canoes work just fine. Most of our ocean outings include both. A few times we have run into temporary conditions where the kayaks could contine while the canoes could not. These situations were more matters of convenience, rather than being dangerous.
Ocean Canoeing Safety
Rule Number One: Wear your pfd's at all times in the canoe.
Other than one trip, we have always ocean canoed with a child in the boat. Our overriding credo is that we simply must not have an accident. We realize an accident is possible despite our best efforts, but our attention to avoiding an accident pervades our ocean canoeing. We regard that attention as an obligation and price of entry to the activity, as opposed to a something that's optional or detracts from the trips.
You would think that visiting the Deer Group (exposed to the open Pacific) in November in a canoe, with a child aboard, is unthinkable. Yet, we have done that, taking advantage of suitable weather. On the other hand, a deteriorating marine weather forecast caused us to come back earlier than the kayakers. We've summoned a water taxi to leave Sechelt Inlet in the middle of the summer. It's a matter of matching one's judgement to the conditions, evaluating the weather and sea state, the strength of your party, availability of rescue or water taxis, quality of one's gear, and skill level.
An excellent preparation is to read "Deep Trouble" by Matt Broze. Mostly set in the Pacific Northwest, Broze describes and analyzes a large number of kayak accidents and fatalities. This is an eye opener that will alert you to many hazards unique to the ocean and which you may not have considered. Other kayaking books, magazines, and on-line publications and discussion groups are similar valuable resources.
Since this is flatwater canoeing, it could be assumed whitewater canoeing skills are unimportant. That's true to a degree. But the better your moving water skills, the greater your margin of safety, or the more demanding trips you can attempt.
I would recommend that canoeists be of intermediate skill level considered as a mix of flatwater and moving water. Knowing how to do a good brace should be a minimum expectation. Manoeuvering quickly to take large waves is important, as is having the experience to understand how a given wave will affect the canoe, and reading the conditions to anticipate wave action. For instance, knowing that a tugboat or fishboat will throw out a wake much larger than similar sized pleasure craft due to their far greater displacement. Similarly, being able to estimate how much wakes lose energy as they travel allows you to guage how their threat level decreases with greater distance from the other boat or ship.
Knowing how current combines with wind to change waveshape is essential. Or being aware of the action of reflected waves. Being able to anticipate changing combinations of weather, waves, tides, currents etc. along the route ahead is essential to safety. Carry tide tables, and have local information for particularly dynamic locations. Know the laws of the sea so you don't end up annoying others or ending up in unsafe situations. Carry and know how to use a map and compass for travel in fog. Even better, add a gps for fog.
Obviously for landing in surf, being able to brace and backpaddle straight is essential. Localized conditions may require that you be able to do a ferry. On the other hand, there's little or no need for eddy turns on the ocean.
Safety also demands that you know a variety of recovery methods, ranging from the traditional canoe-over-canoe or "T" rescue, to being equipped for deepwater, unassisted capsize recovery. The latter has been covered extensively on Canadian Canoe Routes http://www.myccr.com/SectionTechnique/P ... covery.htm and was featured in the Fall 06 edition of Kanawa magazine. Basically it involves taking advantage of a secure spraycover plus a kayak-style double paddle with paddlefloat to recover and reenter the canoe.
Note the weather conditions and sea state all the time, even when ashore. Check the marine weather radio for updated forecasts. Listen to the updates for areas outside where you are, to get a bigger picture of what may be arriving from farther away. Minimize exposed crossings. Keep your distance from large sea mammals.
Trimming the canoe is important. Since our daughter boards after we load the canoe, the other gear has to be arranged to balance her off-center weight. We also trim the canoe end-to-end, depending on the conditions. Usually you want the heavy end to be into the wind, so it's more "locked" in the water while the lighter end weathercocks. However, if one person tends to navigate or take photos, you might want to trim their end heavy so the canoe maintains a straighter course while the other paddles.
We don't secure the load in the canoe, and we usually don't use the one drybag we own. We may be wrong about this, but we think the spraydeck would keep most things inside the canoe should we capsize. Lower your challenges if you don't wear wet or drysuits. Tie up your canoe at night, and don't make the novice mistake of neglecting it to be floated off by a rising tide.
Often on ocean trips, you will do day outings from a base camp. This means the canoe is travelling relatively unloaded, and therefore becomes vulnerable to crosswinds. Given that winds build during the day, this can prevent you from making it back to camp later in the day. Ballasting the canoe is an important tactic. Not to the extent of running out of freeboard, but sufficient to give the hull some bite in the water. Don't use rocks. If the canoe swamps, the rocks will take it to the bottom. Driftwood is a good choice, as it can also be used for firewood. Sealed food containers filled with water are also suitable, take up less room and don't mess up the canoe.
Carry a waterproof marine VHF and know how to use it, and the rules governing VHF use. Cellphones work in a lot of places, but don't depend on it. Carry contact information for local water taxis, lodges and perhaps even marine businesses. Evaluate the proximity of potential rescuers and time needed for a rescue relative to the survivability of the circumstances of your party. Have more than one boat in the party, and bear in mind the overall strength of the party. Use a modern flatwater canoe equipped with a spraydeck. Make sure your pfd is of good quality, and is adjusted so it won't ride up should you end up in the water. You might consider attaching to your pfd: flares, a knife, waterproof means to start a fire.
Anyone exposed to the open ocean, whether ashore or on the water, should keep an eye out for rogue waves. Recent findings are that rogue waves are not rare at all, and can appear at any time. I would say that of all the hazards of ocean canoeing, this is the one I feel least able to manage. Similarly, when choosing a campsite or location for a fire, or storing boats, consider not just tides but also rogue waves and wakes from passing vessels. Ferry and cruise ship wakes are notorious for causing problems along the BC coast.
Most of the exposed coast is not beaches, and landing gracefully amid waves crashing on rocks, or on cliff faces is impossible. Therefore as you travel along the coast, consider where you may be able to get ashore should things go wrong, and plan accordingly. Venture into surge channels, sea caves and tunnels only with the utmost caution and the most benign conditions.
Let's rummage through our gear, stem to stern.
The canoe is a Clipper Tripper. At 17.5 feet long, it's a nice compromise between speed and stability. Families with two kids probably would want a larger canoe such as the Sea Clipper. The Clippers are uncommonly fast for their dimensions, and the shallow arch bottoms are not "caught" by waves passing from the side. They have a lot of deadwood, the extension of the keel at the bow and stern to the point where the ends are almost vertical. This deadwood makes them slow to turn, but this pays off in flatwater touring as they hold a course well. Similarly, there is minimal rocker.
They come with low-mounted tractor seats. Tractor seats prevent you from moving sideways to the gunnels, but the Tripper is narrow enough at the ends that you don't need to do this. There is barely room to get your feet under the seats for kneeling. Ours has the stern seat mounted even lower than standard, which pretty well prevents kneeling. However, the low-mounted seats in combination with footbraces and backrests, mean that you can achieve a level of stability while seated that demands kneeling in other canoes.
On the seats we've installed pads with low backrests made by Wenonah. These make the seats very comfortable, and the combination of backrests and footrests allows for better energy transfer between the paddle and the canoe without tiring one's trunk muscles. In fact, the seat setup secures you in the boat similar to being in a kayak, but still allows freedom of movement.
However, people use all sorts of canoes on the ocean. You just have to be aware of and stay within the design limits, and also accept the speed penalty of a slower hull. Not having exactly the right design is no reason to stay home.
We use Bending Branches 7-degree bent shaft Cruiser paddles. The design concept behind bent shaft paddles makes sense to us, but we found when we were novices the more extreme bend of the usual 14-degree bent shafts interfered with steering. We figured the 7 degree paddles would be a nice compromise, and indeed they are. We sanded the grips with fine steel wool to lower the surface friction and so prevent blisters.
For spare paddles we carry a Mohawk double-ended canoe paddle. This is like a large kayak paddle, and comes apart in the center. We carry it assembled, with a standard kayak paddlefloat on one end. This comprises part of our self-recovery system. We also carry T-grip handes for it, which convert the double paddle into two single blade paddles.
We have a NorthWater spraydeck, fitted for the Tripper. In combination with the white hull, our red spraydeck with black trim looks so sleek it's not funny.We chose an extra cargo hatch so our daughter would have her own place to sit in the canoe. Rather than use the factory system of lacing the cover onto the canoe, we installed hooks on the sides of the canoe, and replaced the nylon lacing with a thick bunji cord around the perimeter of the spraydeck. The lacing hooks are tough plastic, bought from a marine supply store, and they bolt to the hull with stainless steel hardware.
This system allows the spraydeck to be mounted or removed in seconds, and adjusts for different load heights. The downside is the hooks on the hull can be a nuisance. Don't even consider using metal hooks, because they will cut your hands and damage your paddles. Snaps could be used alongside the cockpits because there's no need to tension the deck there, and snaps would not be in the way as hooks are.
On the top of the spraydeck I've mounted some criss-cross bunjis like you see on kayaks. These are very handy for temporary "deck cargo", and secure the long rescue paddle. There is a velcro paddle shaft strap on the spraydeck, and this is where we attach the handgrips that convert the double paddle into two ordinary canoe paddles. The two handgrips are male and female, so they clip together and can't escape from the strap. Just ahead of both cockpits are wide strips of velcro. With a strip of mating velcro on the Sealine mapcase, it can mount in front of either paddler.
Under both seats go our plexiglass waterproof boxes. They are lined with thin foam to keep contents from banging around. They have handstraps added, plus webbing and fastex buckles that can fasten them to mating straps and buckles mounted under the seats. Contents typically include: car keyfobs, VHF/weather radio, first aid items, wallets, sunglasses, and monocular. In deteriorating conditions, watches and cameras go in the boxes, while the VHF radio goes on someone's lifejacket.
In the cargo bay behind the bow paddler goes various packs, cooler, dufflebag, small water containers etc. The duffelbag organizes all the loose stuff such as gas cans, footwear, and so forth that always seems to end up on these trips. Plus rigging to hoist our food into trees.
Fitting perfectly lid-to-lid under the center carrying yoke are two 5-gallon rectangular plastic pails with waterproof lids. These contain our food. They also make camp stools, and can't be opened by any animal less than a bear. They are easy to carry and hang up.
Our daughter sits in one side of the cargo bay behind the yoke. We line the bottom of the canoe with a blue foamy, and she has a small pack or stuffsack full of clothing to sit on or lean against. To her side is a plastic-lined backpack containing our tent, sleeping bag and thermarests. At age 7, her increasing need for legroom means one of the food buckets has had to be stowed elsewhere.
Behind the stern seat, depending on the trip, goes a 5-gallon water jug, tarp, or a daypack. We carry a bailer and a throwrope clipped to the main rear thwart. The canoe has bow and stern painters, under velcro straps atop the spraydeck. There's always a few sponges scattered around inside. The bow paddler's foot area is covered with a foam pad, to absorb water off footwear that would otherwise run around inside the canoe.
We also carry "skids". These are a couple of pieces of 2x3 wood, about 18" long, with a concave top and covered with javex bottle plastic. Landings in the tidal environment often feature jagged rocks and barnacles. Rapid and large water level changes due to tides mean the canoe has to be moved a lot while ashore. To preserve the canoe's bottom, we use these skids. They also make it possible for one person to move the fully-loaded canoe. Since portaging is rare in this environment, the extra weight of the skids isn't a problem. We've seen kayakers use pool noodles for this, or diftwood. We just decided to always have something like that with us.
Some people carry canoe carts. Shallow beach angles can combine with very low tides to make for a long walk from the boat to where you will camp. Carts can be used to run the loaded boats between the water and the high tide line.
You might also consider mounting cleats on the end decks to allow quick deployment and removal of ropes for towing other boats. We've thought about adding a kayak rudder, but so far haven't bothered. We also don't use a sail, due to the fact that sails lower the margin of safety and we canoe partly to get exercise.
Given our climate, we usually take umbrellas along. These allow moving around camp in the rain without donning full rain gear, and let you go for walks or look at the view without getting wet.
Initially we carried lawn chairs, but soon found they were basically a nuisance. If it's raining, the chairs always get wet. Virtually every place along the coast has things to sit on, so this is one place you can cut back on the clutter. In fact, the canoe's own seats, with the backrests, have turned out to be the most comfy seats in camp.
When considering what quality level of gear to purchase, we bear in mind that our entire outfit cost less than a used outboard motor. So don't feel guilty about buying nice stuff instead of what you could get by with. Our canoe is our human-powered yacht.
We have done an ocean trip with a solo canoeist. He is an expert, and was using a relatively large and long Prospector design. In the best conditions, we got to slack off a bit, but it was clear that as conditions got worse the solo padder was putting more energy into controlling the canoe and less into making headway. In the worst conditions faced, the difference was sufficient that we were just poking along and even stopped occasionally to allow the solo paddler to keep up.
On the other hand, while beating into a stiff headwind and minor chop, he overtook some surprised kayakers.
The ocean is a dynamic place, and wind is typical. Solo canoes will have more trouble dealing with those conditions than tandems. Vancouver Island has been circumnavigated by solo canoeists, but the two I've heard of both got into trouble.
Daily Tripping Distance
A canoe like the Clipper Tripper easily can be paddled by two people of intermediate skill and fitness at around 6 kilometers per hour, for half a day. This translates into 24km. We've found this range is more than enough to get us where we want to go in a day, so we seldom end up paddling any farther. In addition, it's unfair to any kids on the trip to keep them cooped up in the canoe any longer than that in a day. This distance and speed can be considered the same as for typical recreational kayakers, so you can use the trip times in kayak guide books.
Because of the restrictions of entering and exiting their craft, kayakers have a strong perference for landing/launching on beaches. If you visit the big outer coast beaches you will face this challenge. Often beaches have protected hooked ends, or spots behind islands where the surf is lower. Use weather reports, knowledge of the layout of the landing, and your observations to estimate the surf conditions at your destination. Bear in mind that from offshore, you're looking at the backs of the waves, from where they seem smaller than they really are. One way to handle it is to arrange your plans so that if the surf is too large, you can go elsewhere. Launching, of course, reduces the mysteries.
Kayakers land by pausing beyond the breaking zone, waiting for some smaller waves. Then, just as the crest of a wave reaches them, they sprint forward with the goal to stay ahead of the breaking zone and wash up on the beach on the "cushion" of the water from the previous wave. There are some problems with this. You have to look directly behind you to see what's coming because your boat has to be facing the beach. Loaded paddlecraft are slow to reach speed from a standstill. The water on the beach may be draining off the beach, which will stop you so the following wave breaks over your boat. The risk, of course, is that the breaking wave, which may be going faster than you are, accelerates the stern of the boat while the bow is tilted forward into the slower-moving water ahead of you. What can easily happen is that the boat gets turned sideways, broaches, and is then rolled ashore by the breaking wave. This can be very dangerous depending on the size of the surf and the dynamics of the crash. Another risk is that a boat, supported only at the ends or the center, has little to keep it from capsizing. In both these scenarios, knowing how to brace can prevent an accident. Kayakers who play in surf learn how to land sideways bracing on the wave pushing them.
Kayakers launch facing the surf. In a single, they can get things together while sitting in the runout zone of the waves, then push themselves into the surf. They have to be prepared to have breaking waves dump over the bow, and many a kayaker has gotten a lapful of water because their sprayskirt was not yet secured. I thought kayakers landed facing the beach to protect their rudders. But of course they can't use their rudders when landing anyway.
As we contemplated our first canoe surf landings and launches, I considered that years earlier we had done a week-long trip in a couple of Clipper Norther Dancer canoes. They are composite Haida war canoe replicas, 33' long. On that trip, with experts at the helms, we always landed stern-first. Just outside the breaking zone, we'd pivot around, then slowly back ashore. The stern paddler could see what waves were coming and could order us to paddle forward if a large wave approached. Usually at a certain point, a breaking wave would catch the canoes and we'd gracefully and effortlessly glide ashore - backwards. This was also the way First Nations landed to show that they arrived in peace. To launch, we'd push the big canoes out and people would board as their part of the canoe reached deeper water.
I've also read that for really extreme conditions, you could rig a sea anchor to control the speed of the landing. This could be done forward or backward, but obviously would require a tight spraydeck. Again, knowing how to brace is essential since the canoe will only be partially supported by the water as waves pass beneath the hull.
We've only been on one trip requiring surf landings and launches and it was pretty tame stuff. The people we went with have always landed their canoes forwards, but have had several accidents doing so. I decided we would land backwards, and it worked just fine. It means that you will sustain at least one wave breaking against the bow, so you have to be prepared for that. In our case, the breaking waves just reached the top of the bow and didn't spill onto the spraydeck. I found I could not watch for large approaching waves, steer the canoe perpendicular to the waves, and watch the beach at the same time, so I asked my bow paddler to do the watching for big waves, and otherwise follow my instructions to paddle forward or back, draw or brace.
The more seasoned canoeists, observing our drama-free landing, commented that perhaps they should try landing backwards. Obviously some practice at a nice warm, safe beach, prepared to dump, would be a good idea.
You can't do much coastal paddling without doing crossings. We typically run into crossings of up to 3km. While this may seem like a long distance if you're used to river trips or hugging the shores of lakes, it can be managed. Consider that at 6kph, a 1km crossing will take ten minutes; a 3km crossing 30 minutes. If you have been tracking the weather both on the radio and by looking around, have studied the ship traffic using the channel, and have determined the tidal current, wind direction and speed, you can make your decision confident that not much is going to change in 10 minutes or half an hour.
Don't start across if there are whitecaps. If you do find the conditions deteriorating, or you find conditions are worse as you get farther into the crossing, turn back. The farther from land you get, the worse it will be, and the more difficult it is to see prior to crossing. Whitecaps are almost invisible from behind. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, always assume conditions will be worse the farther out you get. All the other factors such as gear quality, strength of the party, availability of rescue etc. will combine to determine what crossings you tackle and when you decide to turn back. Turning back is a sign of good judgement, not of failure.
There are whole books about sea kayak navigation, and you should go through one of them. I can't do much but skim the subject here.
A map is essential for anything beyond the most minor daytrip. We've found that while 1:50,000 topographical maps are sufficient for inner coastal trips, the outer coast demands marine charts.
There are several reasons for this. While topographical maps show elevations such as mountains, marine charts more completely and accurately depict islets and other small features. Marine charts include navigation aids such as markers and buoys. Very importantly, marine charts map shoals. These are underwater hazards that are submerged at some tide levels, and exposed at others. These features are coded so you can determine for any given tide level the risk of running into these things. Because the charts represent completely flat water, a more subtle but very real danger is when you add sea swells into the picture.
A shoal may remain unseen below the surface during a set of minor or average waves. Then, the arrival of larger waves, with deeper troughs, can suddenly expose the reef in a boiling morass of tumbling water. They are called "boomers", and require a lot of vigilance to detect so you don't get capsized by the water or by being dropped on the rock. Paddlers typically travel close to shore where these things are most common. Watching for these things far ahead increases your chances of seeing them until you're in danger.
Conventional wisdom is that paddlers are safe in kelp. Kelp grows to a certain length and you won't see the flotation bulbs on the surface in very deep or very shallow water. Often there are zones of kelp-free water amid the thickets of surface kelp. But if you see a "donut" of kelp, it may well be surrounding a boomer. My experience is that kelp does not grow above boomers, since it would be wrecked by wave action.
Travelling through kelp will slow you down, but not damage the canoe. Kelp has the effect of dampening waves, and may be used for a refuge from challenging seas. However, a capsize in kelp beds carries the risk of entanglement with the plants.
Marine charts can also show you where you can sneak behind an island or point to make a safe landing protected from the surf. Marine charts note the makeup of the shore, so you know beforehand whether it's a cliff, rocks, mud or nice sand.
Know how to determine your position or destination by map and compass. While maps view things from above, you see your surroundings horizontally. Islands can merge with each other or hills to make it very difficult to determine where you are. Following the shore isn't practical if you are island-hopping or doing a crossing.
Fog presents another unusual challenge. Usually it's not so dense that you have to worry about a powerboat running into you, but if you end up in extremely dense fog, you might want to sound your whistle or an air horn. Not that either would do much good against a powerboat or a ship. So you want to evaluate very carefully the potential marine traffic if you travel in fog.
Travelling in fog demands that you have map and compass and/or a reliable gps and know how to use them. The gps has a feature that is amazingly handy. You can enter the coordinates of your destination, then put the gps in a mode that shows speed, distance to destination, and which way you should turn to stay on course to that destination. But be very careful to practice this beforehand, and set things up right, and doublecheck using cues such as wind or wave direction. A mistake could send you paddling out to sea or into dangerous water.
Be aware that currents will shift your course in a way not evident while using a compass or gps. When planning any route, consider the tides, currents, weather etc. to determine when and where you are likely to encounter adverse conditions. Or determine a route that takes advantage of the conditions, such as tailwinds, favourable currents, or areas sheltered from wave action.
Narrows and tides pose another challenge not typical of inland waters. Tides generally consist of two high tides and two low tides per day. The timing varies continously, as do the heights. Therefore carrying tide tables on saltwater trips is pretty well essential. Not to mention for choosing campsites that will remain dry all night and knowing how high to stow your boat.
Any narrow passages will have water flowing through them, in volumes that vary depending on the size of the opening, the volume of the area being drained, and the rate of change of the tide. In complex inlets, these currents may run opposite to the direction you might assume. The speed of the current may be sufficient to cause whirlpools, or standing waves beyond that navigable with paddlecraft. During the moments when the tides reverse, there may be no current at all, allowing well-timed and completely safe passage by paddlers who've determined when slack tide occurrs. Calculating tides and currents can also be the difference between fighting for distance, or getting a boost like travelling downriver.
Clothing and Footwear
We take clothing very similar to what we'd use for mountain hiking. The core garment is the GoreTex parka. For warmth, we include some sort of insulated jacket plus various fleece garments. Rainpants are essential. We don't worry much about wool vs cotton etc, since having a canoe as opposed to hiking, and not portaging, means you can take all the dry or clean clothing you want.
Baseball caps help keep the sun out of your eyes, but don't offer the sun or rain protection of a "Seattle Sombrero" or wide-brimmed hat. Children can use an umbrella for rain protection if they're pre-paddlers. Note that we had one blow out of the canoe, and it sank before we could back up to fetch it.
Footwear isn't a simple thing to answer. Given barnacle-covered landings and frigid water, bare feet aren't usually an option. Some people use sandals, and some use rubber boots. Both have liabilities. Crocs are trendy, but are a nuisance to stow. Our favourite are Chota Mukluks, the gold standard of sea kayakers. These are thin, waterproof neoprene boots with treaded rubber soles and tops that seal off fairly well just below the knee. Since they don't breath, moisture accumulates inside them, and we wear thick socks to accommodate that. The socks simply get dried out when we have the chance.
Since having a canoe allows taking extra footwear, we typically have another set such as runners or hiking boots, depending on what else we'll be doing during the trip. So we can put the Chotas in the sun to dry, or at least wear them around camp with the tops rolled down so they can air out. Occasional treatment with enzyme wash and repair with Freesole will extend their life. They are a real luxury in the canoe, and allow you to wade to do "wet" launches and landings to reduce damage to the bottom of the canoe.
Wet and Dry Suits
Many very sensible people consider it folly to venture on the ocean anywhere but in the tropics, in paddlecraft, without wetsuits or drysuits. Reading "Deep Trouble" reinforces that advice. But we don't, and the canoeists we paddle with don't. Nor do any but a very small proportion of the kayakers we paddle with. How do we reconcile this?
We approach capsizing as backcountry skiers regard avalanches. The consequences of either are so serious that virtually all the effort has to go into avoidance. Just like in avalanches, specialized gear such as wetsuits or transcievers will save the victim only part of the time. We are out there to enjoy ourselves, and if we wish to avoid the discomfort of wet or drysuits, then we have to scale back what we tackle. Similarly, and especially with children, the balance of satisfaction from the trip has to be shifted away from accomplishing difficult routes to enjoyment of less difficult things going smoothly and safely.
Notwithstanding the small number of saltwater canoeists, we have never heard of a canoeing fatality on the Pacific Northwest coast. Let alone a fatality involving "family" canoeing or kayaking. We do know of accidents, but they've been confined to launching and landing at beaches. Reviews of flatwater canoe accidents clarifies that canoes don't just mysteriously capsize. In fact, loaded canoes are very stable. Canoe accident fatalities tend to group around fishing accidents, drinking, and lack of pfd's.
The lack of fatalities on the ocean is no doubt due largely to the small number of participants. Our absense of capsizing could be due either to luck or good judgement. For the present at least, we believe we are making appropriate decisions in scaling back the level of danger we take on rather than wear wetsuits or drysuits.
We carry a marine VHF with weather radio function. These have gotten cheap and small enough that it would be remiss not to carry a waterproof model. There are laws and strict rules governing their use, so make sure you know how to use it without making a nuisance of yourself.
FRS radios would seem to be a good idea for inter-boat communication. However, in practice we have found this not to be the case. I'm at a loss to describe why, but they just don't. Maybe they'd work for some people. We continue to carry one only because our FRS radios have a weather function, which makes it a backup for our VHF's weather function.
Cellphones can work to get weather reports and to call for help, but either don't depend on it at all, or ensure you know exactly where they will work and where they won't. Consider what happens in a capsize given that they are not waterpoof. If you have it stowed in a waterproof container, will you, after a capsize, be able to get it and use it without it getting wet, and while you are still able to operate it? I wouldn't bet my life on it.
We know people who don't carry so much as a weather radio for ocean trips, but we just can't understand that. We think it's an essential, while at the same time try to be aware that up to 20% of coastal storms are predicted wrongly, or not at all.
I carry our VHF in a plastic box under my seat, but in circumstances where I think there's any risk of having to use it, I stuff it into my pfd. Probably I should secure it somehow. If I go into the water, I have to be able to access and use it immediately.
Depending on your attitude to them, water taxies can be irrelevant, a curse or a blessing. They allow less experienced paddlers to access more remote places. Which is great for them, but may dismay more expert paddlers used to having fewer people around. Certainly water taxis can assist in situations where you are at your limits, but do not need a real rescue. In our case, the Queen Charlotte Strait trip with the big Northern Dancer canoes started with a water taxi ride to the far end of the trip. We then basically paddled back to where we'd started.
On another trip, one canoe in the group was unable to make headway into wind and waves. We were an hour from the end of the trip, and wanted to catch a car ferry home that day. We could have waited and camped another night, but instead as a matter of convenience called for, and were picked up by a water taxi. One thing that vastly eases doing this is to research the services in the area of your trip, and call the operators before the trip to determine how you can reach them if you need to. They are glad to have your business. The cost is not prohibitive spread over the group, and in comparison to motorized recreation.
Camping, Fresh Water and Risks
Park information and kayak guidebooks are the primary sources for camping and water source information. On more remote routes, talking to others who've been there is a way to determine spots to camp. Usually we carry water sufficient for the whole trip, but at minimum we carry a suitable container plus a water filter.
As I mentioned above, most coastal campsites will have beaches, since they tend to have been established by kayakers who need or prefer beaches. Another peculiarity of the west coast at least, is that many campsites are at locations used for thousands of years by First Nations. Naturally they tended to use sites with easy access, open flat land, fresh water nearby, and clam beds. It's quite impressive to see an area the size of a city block that's been leveled by discarded clam shells piled up to a depth of 10 to 20 feet. Naturally, respect for these sites is common sense. You may even be visited by First Nations patrollers.
Make sure your canoe is stored well above the high tide line, and tied to something.
Naturally you will meet kayakers. Generally they don't seem to be impressed at the arrival of canoes, don't think canoes have any place on saltwater, and believe canoes are dangerous and slow. But if you ask them about their kayaks, they'll keenly appreciate your interest. We have met a few who couldn't contain their disdain of canoes, and a few who were genuinely interested in the canoes. I find it odd that people want "fat" bicycles, fat suv's, fat clothing, fat food, but when it comes to paddlecraft, they want the most streamlined things around.
One nuisance on the west coast is that yachters use marine campsites as places to shit their dogs, and in contrast to their antiseptic boats, many do not clean up behind their pets. They have a website, which I call "The Coastal Dogshit Guide", which although disguised as a hiking trail guide, actually is a comprehensive list of places to empty dogs. http://www.island.net/~bcamp/ You may find this useful for identifying campsites or water-accessible hikes.
I've heard a lot about bears becoming habituated to humans, and becoming dangerous at lake or river campsites also used by motorized recreationists. This isn't a problem on tidewater because usually motorized people are either daytrippers, or live aboard their boats. However, you should take precautions typical for hiking. Bears and cougars are around, and there are even rare incidents involving wolves. Try not to be more than 10 feet from toddlers, as cougars see kids as prey.
Keep an eye on the wee ones playing by the water. Since shorelines often consist of slippery rocks and sharp barnacles, it's not a bad idea for the smaller ones to keep their pfd's on while playing. Our daughter once slipped and fell face-first onto barnacle encrusted rocks. What was a minor incident would have been very serious had she not been wearing her pfd.
On nice thing about saltwater is that it largely eliminates pests such as mosquitoes and blackflies. There can be noseeums and things like sandfleas, but an ocean paddling camping trip is a nice relief from the insect problems of the backcountry.
Whales, seals and sea lions deserve mention. There are detailed published guidelines, but I'll be brief here. Keep your distance. Just because you want a better photo or others are going closer, doesn't give you the right to disturb the animals. I know of no cases of aggressive contact with canoes, but there have been a few ambiguous incidents. And some "charges" by sea lions that were unambiguous. You have no way to prevent the animals from approaching you, so give them a wide berth and leave them alone. Sea lions and seals will often pop up just behind paddlecraft, while they are relativey wary if you are beside or approaching them.
Food and Cooking
Food would be pretty much the same as for any canoe trip. Perhaps more on the heavy side since there's no need to portage. For instance, a cooler with ice, or frozen 2-l containers of juice or pop are not uncommon on our trips.
We carry a small gas bbq that's about the size of a large pot, and we're quite happy with the range of cooking options it allows. It works well as a regular stove, or can be used with a grill or rack. It runs on the standard Coleman 16oz propane cylinders.
Weather and Topography
On the west coast, weather systems usually come in off the ocean. But the leading edge of low pressure areas blow from the southeast. As the storms pass, the wind backs around from the northwest. Overlaid on that pattern is the nightly outflow winds of cool air from the coastal inlets, and moderate to strong onshore afternoon winds as the landmass heats up from the sun. The more clear the weather, the more dominant is the latter pattern.
This means that you want to try to do your paddling in the morning, the more so during good weather. Inlets and passages funnel the wind, and combined with current, can either lower or steepen waves. The direction and speed of a current relative to a constant and mild breeze can have a huge effect on whether you can ignore the waves, or will be unable to cope with them. Somewhere between wind of 10 to 20 knots, or 20-40kph, we stay ashore.
Waves called "chop" will at some point force you off the water. Ocean swells, and wakes from distant large ships can be unnerving at first, but in open water are harmless. They do, however, make it more difficult to keep track of other boats in your party.
After the Trip
During a saltwater trip, besides getting on the surfaces of your gear such as the canoe and spraydeck, salty water will also wet the seams and crevices. Salt absorbs moisture from the air. After the trip, these salt deposits will remain damp even if you carefully dry the equipment. The salt will corrode zipper pulls, aluminum rivets etc. So if you want your spraydeck and canoe rigging to last, flush out the spraydeck and the canoe with fresh water before drying and storing them. Anyone considering saltwater canoeing would already know to dry tents, tarps etc. before storing them.
Where to Go on the West Coast
Start with daytrips in completely protected water, such as where you might find marinas or float homes. On the west coast, False Creek is the obvious choice. Then you can go farther afield, to Deep Cove or cautiously venture into English Bay. Try an overnight trip up Indian Arm or Sechelt Inlet. Then you're ready for longer trips up Sechelt Inlet, the Gulf Islands, or inland routes on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Only then should you consider the classic outer coast routes such as Vargas Island and the Broken Group Islands, or the more serious inner coast areas such as the Broughton Archipelago.
Again, the best resource is sea kayaking guidebooks. Anything rated as suitable for novice kayakers is fair game. You can also check websites of commercial sea kayak operators. Usually they advertise that they travel only in sheltered water. Usually government park information outlets list if sea kayaking is a typical activity in their marine parks.
Sights to See
Saltwater marine life is quite different from that in freshwater, and arguably more spectacular. Coastal scenery has qualities simply different from anything that can be seen on lakes. The ocean has other interests. The weather itself just looks different. Marine traffic and facilities such as docks, lighthouses and marine-based industry can be interesting. Dark nights reveal amazing biolumniescence, and some of our most memorable (and cautious) paddling has been in the electric light world of shallow saltwater at night. Our kinfolk in sea kayaks are always interesting to meet, as are the other characters of the seaside. It's simply quite different from the freshwater crowd, whether in terms of residents, workers or recreationists. Just like mosquitoes, water skiers and jet skiers are mercifully virtually absent.
Ocean Canoeing Season
The ocean doesn't freeze but your margin of safety falls with cooler air and water temperatures, worse weather and fewer other people around. Our first saltwater trip every year is at Easter, but that's with a large group in moderately sheltered waters. Our trip latest in a year was in November, but that was unusual. Typically the pattern is the same as the sea kayakers, with most outer coast trips happening in August, with shoulder seasons of July and September.
And lastly, is it fun? Most certainly, but not so much in a superficial or thrilling sense as in something much more profound.
Though it seems over the top to regard a canoe as a ship, much of what you have to deal with is the same as for any mariner, and you do get the feeling of being connected to the history and scope of ocean travel. So much important human history has taken place along the coasts, and ocean canoeing places you in that setting. Saltwater, tidal and coastal ecosystems are distinctly different from what you experience inland. Even the air smells different. You feel the ageless rhythm of the tides, and the march of weather systems. After doing enough ocean paddling, you'll find it odd that lakes don't have tides. You get a glimpse into the other planet under the surface of the water. There is a sort of enjoyment and satisfaction to canoe camping on tidewater that is distinctly different from freshwater canoeing.
|Author:||Backwater [ July 2nd, 2007, 11:15 pm ]|
Youve got me convinced. I live on the north coast of B.C., and there is a wealth of paddling to be done here. I will venture forth for a small, conservative Ocean Canoe trip, and let you know how I made out!!
|Author:||siren1 [ July 3rd, 2007, 10:45 pm ]|
I've been waitin' for this A r t i c l e.
Having met Monster-Man and hearing his tales . . .
like catching a Salmon for Din-nah is just too rich (and a waste)
so he jigs for Cod (= a nice Suppah)
I AM IN AWE of you Guys on the Oceans!!!
whilst we ply the B u c o l i c Rivers and Lakes of 'Safedom'
Keep on riding the swells- we are listening and waiting for your reports
here on the Eastern Shield.
|Author:||SGrant [ July 3rd, 2007, 10:57 pm ]|
Note that the ocean canoe post counts as 1 canoe-related post, just like the folks who stuck the word "canoe" in some crap just to play games.
I also note with some disappointment the amount of interest this essay got, compared to the pages and pages of dross reeling off regarding dogs and souped up cars.
Anyway, thanks for the responses. To be fair, I envy those of you with the skills etc. to do the big northern rivers, and I also envy those of you with those thousands of lakes in central Canada. 1500 miles of canoe routes in Algonquin alone. Amazing!
I also post such an article with some trepidation. It may be we've been lucky not to have an accident. Now, if I ever do, I'm obligated to 'fess up, and I can be sure that article will come back to haunt me. One more reason to practice safe ocean canoeing.
|Author:||Krusty [ July 4th, 2007, 4:19 am ]|
Thank you for the article, Mr. Grant.
|Author:||Robert I [ July 4th, 2007, 7:32 am ]|
What a well-written thoughtful piece!
Thanks S. Grant.
|Author:||yarnellboat [ July 4th, 2007, 12:45 pm ]|
Just because people don't reply doesn't mean it's not appreciated!
I'm impressed and intrigued and I'm glad to know it's here, and I'll come back to refer to it when the time is right (whereas I won't come back searching for the old off-topic posts).
|Author:||kingfisher [ July 4th, 2007, 1:27 pm ]|
Would you Grant me permission to copy this piece of practical prose to a word document file?
|Author:||SGrant [ July 5th, 2007, 12:08 am ]|
I don't see a problem with copying it for personal use. Or other non-commercial use as long as it's properly credited. I think commercial uses without my involvement would be improper.
If I change anything substantial, I'll also note it in a post. I fixed up some minor errors yesterday, and I think there's still a botched sentence somewhere, which I can't find now.
|Author:||Otter Mel [ July 5th, 2007, 11:45 am ]|
Hey Steve !!!
Thanks for the great article. I hope to be able to do a "salty" trip one day.
You did not mention the effect of salt in the air on photographic equipment, especially on windy days, where the salt deposits will accumulate on lenses and filters and frequent cleaning is required.
|Author:||SGrant [ July 5th, 2007, 11:57 am ]|
Thanks for the thanks.
I have never had any trouble with cameras on these trips. I suspect any conditions sufficient to blow salt spray around would be ones where we would not be on the water. There is always a fine salt mist in the air, but it hasn't been a problem.
My "saltspray detector" is my glasses, and I seldom need to clean them during the day on a saltwater trip. The camera is exposed for a tiny fraction of the time my glasses are, so that gives an idea of the degree of the problem.
Monster uses expensive camera gear, and has done some longer saltwater trips, so maybe he can comment on this. And Westcoastpadder, who kayaks, but does a large number of trips plus extensive photography.
Some of our friends have wrecked their cameras on these trips, but usually that's associated with abuse such as dropping the camera in the surf zone.
I do avoid using cameras with external zooms, since sand in the mechanism basically writes off the camera.
I've just started taking a waterproof helmet cam, which of course is completely invulnerable to salt, and which can be left out in the rain without worrying about it.
|Author:||SGrant [ July 5th, 2007, 12:05 pm ]|
A story in the paper today says a kayaker drowned while crossing Johnston Strait between Telegraph Cove and Hanson Island. He was wearing a pfd, and the incident was called in when his companion found he had not completed the crossing. Sounds like they got separated, and the story speculated they had run into wind combined with current.
This hits close to home, since we have considered doing that same crossing, and I think Monster did that last summer. This is a popular route for kayakers.
|Author:||John Marshall [ July 6th, 2007, 1:36 am ]|
Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful information. I did my first solo salt water canoe trip just a couple of weeks ago in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. I have done a kayak trip on the outer west coast of Vancouver Island and have some familiarity. I decided to take the canoe this time even though I own a nice kayak. I am a photographer and the canoe carries way more gear and is easier to work out of. I did an easy trip and conditions were benign. There was nothing difficult about it. But I know people have drowned trying to go to the same place under differant conditions. I have an appetite for salt water paddling. I do know that sometimes I will take the kayak. The differance in a stiff wind is amazing.
As far as waves go, the solo canoe with spray cover makes me feel just as prepared as the kayak. I am glad to hear your comparison of a tandem canoe to a double kayak. I have felt that two strong paddlers in a tandem canoe with spray cover could travel as fast and handle almost as as bad a stuff as a double kayak. Obviously the canoe is far easier to launch and land and will carry way way more.
|Author:||SGrant [ July 6th, 2007, 12:52 pm ]|
Here's more on the kayaker fatality a few days ago near the north end of Vancouver Island and the Broughton Archipelago. This "accident" is instructive in terms of a danger not uncommon on saltwater, plus the importance of making conservative decisions. The crossing they were attempting is about 3-4km, or about 40 minutes.
If the tide was rising, it should have been flowing from the NW to the SE through the area. Weynton Island, being at the SW end of Hanson island, would be "up current" from the route between Telegraph Cove and Hanson. I can see the SE wind blowing the kayak up there, but not the submerged body. So the details of the story don't completely add up.
http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolo ... 99&k=15964
Enderby kayaker dies after capsizing
Louise Dickson, Can West News Service
Published: Wednesday, July 04, 2007
A kayaker caught in a rising tide and windy conditions drowned Tuesday when his boat overturned in Johnstone Strait off Telegraph Cove.
The mishap happened before 5:45 p.m. when the kayakers were trying to cross Johnstone Strait from Telegraph Cove to Hanson Island. One paddler made the journey safely, then called in a May Day because he thought his friend had capsized.
A massive search by the Coast Guard and volunteers boats from Telegraph Cove and Port McNeil began. About 30 minutes later, a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter found a capsized yellow fibreglass kayak southwest of Weynton Island.
The kayaker was found a short distance away, beneath the surface of the water. He was wearing a personal floatation device.
CPR was not successful. The man was pronounced dead in Port McNeil Hospital. His death is being investigated by the B.C. Coroners Service. No foul play is suspected, said Cox.
Howard Pattinson, owner of Rip Tide Grizzly Tours, checked conditions in Johnstone Strait Tuesday afternoon and was aware the the tide was rising and the wind was blowing from the southeast.
"The wind was blowing up Johnstone Strait and the tide was running down Johnstone Strait. The wind against the tide makes for really choppy difficult conditons," said Pattinson, who didn't go out in his covered water taxi Tuesday. "I thought it was a really tough day. I was happy to sit around with my feet up."
Most commercial kayak companies cancelled their tours from Telegraph Cove Tuesday because of the conditions.
Louise Defryn, owner of North Island Kayak, cancelled their tour on Tuesday, but headed out today in calm sunny conditions.
Wild Heart Kayak Company headed out with a group Tuesday, but turned back because of the rough conditions, said Karen Watkins at the Telegraph Cove Resort.
Brian Henry, owner of Ocean River Sport in Victoria, said kayaking deaths are usually pilot error, people going out when they shouldn't or going out without proper training or clothes.
"It's all about good judgment," said Henry, an expert kayaker. "If you go out really prepared, chances are you're going to be fine.
"Kayaking is a great, wonderfully safe sport. I think way more people in small aluminum dingys drown than in kayaks because people in kayaks tend to be that much more cautious."
|Author:||Tom H [ July 14th, 2007, 9:18 pm ]|
Very good article, Steve. You know the most important item of safety equipment is the canoeists/kayaker's own brain and attitude, and this it is.
Incidentally, I was curled up, "in bag" on the day the guy died out of Telegraph Cove, on the very south end of Burnett Bay, on the mainland. It was howling south-easterlies that day and I spent most of it listening to the drizzle being lashed against the sides of my tent. I nearly met my end the day before while shooting Schooner Channel on the ebb, on the north side of Bramham Island because the outgoing tide was running up against the big oceanic rollers, and it created a stationary (relative to land) train-of-huge-breaking-waves that were 4 meters high, and 5 or 6 meters from crest to crest --- any small craft of less than 40 feet LOA would have been broached, rolled and pitchpoled all at once, guaranteed. I'm not exagerating. A kayak, going straight up the middle of this small-craft deathmachine would be tumbled repeatedly. Apparantly this is a well known hazard, and the outflow can create this wavetrain deathmachine several kilometers from land, in fact.
I heard it before I saw it because the visibility was down due to the drizzle, "Hmmm, what's that continuous roaring noise?" And then I saw it, "Are those rocks being covered and uncovered by waves, or islands really far away being partially concealed by mist, or oh my god, it's a series of stationary breaking waves 20 feet high!" It was this stationary wavetrain of huge, breaking rollers. I knew from my prior experience with these types of conditions that towards the sides of the outflow, the waves are actually flattened instead of heaped-up, and so I successfully skirted the breaking wavetrain by following the shoreline on the north side of the channel and all was good.
Burnett Bay was then just a few km to the north, and by sticking to the extreme southern end, i was able to avoid having to figure out surf landings in real time.
All of the methods Steve mentions for determining when to go and not go are exactly applicable to kayakers as well as canoeists.
Long story short --- it was the most fun I've ever had with my pants on. Even though my camera I stupidly dunked on day three, I did take a few pictures, here's a link to an album of them, if anybody is interested:
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