Wednesday, November 21, 2012

BLOG 30. Lines

 BLOG 30. Lines
Cliff Jacobson

One way to tell a novice paddler from an experienced one is to check his or her canoe for the presence of “lines”.  “Canoeists” will usually have a line (rope) attached to each end of their canoe; “canoers” never do. The ready lines come in handy when you have to work your canoe around rocks in shallow water (and possibly avoid a portage) or track the boat upstream in a current or around a downed tree.  Lines are a “must have” when the canoe sleeps overnight on land—experienced paddlers always tie up their boats before they retire for the night.  This, more than anything separates knowledgeable paddlers from those who have no clue.

Lines coiled and stuffed under a loop of shock-cord on deck.  Important: leave a few inches of the bitter end exposed so you can just grab it and pull to release the coil.
You seldom see lines on canoes in the Boundary Waters and Quetico. Evidently, lake country paddlers must think that a beached canoe is safe from high winds that may push it aloft and out to sea.  I can recall two occasions when I’ve chased canoes that had blown into the water. One was when my friend Al Todnem and I were camped together on Miles Island on Saganaga Lake.  Around 2am, in the black of night, we heard a swish and splash.  Al’s eighteen foot lightweight Grumman, which was well up on shore but not tied up, blew out into the lake.  Wearing only undershorts, Al leaped out of his tent and dove in after the rapidly disappearing canoe.  He caught it just in time, towed it “home” and tied it securely to a tree.  Afterwards he nursed a sprained toe and scraped knee.  I won’t mince words: lines are essential whether you’re going to the Boundary Waters or well beyond.

What kind of ropes and how long should they be?  I prefer brightly colored woven (not braided) polyester or polyethylene rope (that floats)—three-eights inch diameter for tandem canoes and quarter-inch for lightweight solos.  My ropes are about eight feet longer than the length of the canoe.  Thus, 25 foot lines for a 17-footer, 22 foot lines for a 14-footer, etc.  A longer than the canoe length” allows you to spin the boat completely around while standing on land. When not in use, ropes are coiled and secured under a loop of shockcord on deck. They release instantly by pulling on the end.

Lines are essential on a canoe that will be paddled in currents and rapids, but—except for tying the boat up at night—you can probably get along without them in lake country like the BWCA. After all, most (nearly all!) people do. But even here, there’s subtle value in that the lines enable you to more easily descend routes that will get you away from the crowd or possibly, eliminate a portage.  For example, my favorite BWCA route is the Frost River (details are in my book, Boundary Waters Canoe Camping, 3rd ed.). 
The Time Lake cut-off bypasses the 100 rod portage into Mora Lake
In the route description I suggest that if you want solitude, take the “Time Lake” cut-off out of Whipped Lake (heading towards Little Saganaga) rather than the routine 100 rod portage into Mora Lake which bypasses this section.  Hardly anyone goes this way.  Why? Because there are a number of small canoeable rapids and several sections where you must either line your canoe around rocks in the current or bushwhack a portage.  You can canoe the Time Lake cut-off without lines, of course, but having them makes things much easier. In a nutshell, lines on a canoe increase your security and safety and allow you to more easily access treasured places in the backcountry.
Cliff lines his 14-foot solo canoe (Pakboat®) around a dicey rapid in Norway



Boundary Waters Blog Lady said...

Miles Island on Seagull Lake I'm guessing. I guess I prefer to carry my canoe as I don't put lines on it and I carry it up well into the campsite when I'm not using it. Haven't lost one yet, knock on wood.

Cliff Jacobson said...

Yep, it was Miles Island. But over the years there have been numerous times when we would have lost a canoe if it had not been tied down in camp. "Losing a canoe" is mostly just an inconvenience in the BWCA. In Canada or Alaska, it's serious!