Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ottertail Paddle - "Pros and Cons", "How it's Made”, and "Let's Give it a Test"

A Quest for an Ottertail Paddle
Canoe paddles come in various shapes and styles.  I have used square tip, bent shaft, beavertail, and oversized paddles - but never the Ottertail.  My quest for an Ottertail paddle began this summer on the Trent-Severn Waterway after I met Dick Persson of Buckhorn Canoe Company in Buckhorn, Ontario.

Dick was providing me a tour of his workshop/store, when I asked about the thin blade paddle hanging along showroom wall. Dick’s explanation of the Ottertail caught my attention when he mentioned you could do the J-stroke paddle return without taking the paddle from the water.  I have been using the J-stoke when canoeing for the past few years, and his mention of a change in my J-stroke was something I just had to try.  Dick shared his use and knowledge of the Ottertail paddle in the video below.

What is an Ottertail Paddle - and its Pros and Cons?
The video interview of Dick best describes the use of the Ottertail, but as an introduction here, let me respond to the obvious question, “What is an Ottertail paddle?”
The major distinction between the Ottertail and other paddles is its narrow blade.  The Ottertail is most often used from the stern. Its distinctive shape is easier on the shoulder for traveling long distances.  The Ottertail is popular with canoeists for lake and flat water travel.  
Ottertails come in a variety of shapes and materials. The grip has many styles (Maine Guide, t-grip, standard grip, etc.) The Ottertail blade is thinner than most other paddles.  Blades can be straight, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, and thinner at the top and wider at the bottom.  Most blades are rounded at the end and allow the paddle to slice the water easily and gently. 
Ottertail Paddle is similar in design to that of the Beaver Tail but has a narrower and rounded blade towards the tip and has a shorter shaft length.
All canoes must be equipped with an extra paddle, so why not carry an Ottertail for the long trip on flat water.  When in whitewater or needing speed to return back to camp for dinner or get out of a coming storm, grab the beavertail or square tail paddle.
A Custom Made Ottertail Paddle
My next step was to try an Ottertail paddle. Interestingly, none of my paddling buddies had an Ottertail, so I turned to my cousin Linwood, a Master Maine Guide.  He located a paddle maker, Dri-Ki Woodworking in nearby Patten, Maine where I could have my own Ottertail paddle built custom for me.  An exchange of emails with owner Rick Keim, led to my visit to Dri-Ki Woodworking to watch the Ottertail paddle being made.  Rick not only gave me a tour of his shop, but he said, “Let me build an Ottertail for you now”. 
The below video shows craftsman/artist/Rick going through the various processes required to build my custom paddle.  Rick buys the white ash logs with a beautiful grain and strong wood.  Rick dries and mills the logs himself, then uses the outer part of the log, the straightest grain, for the paddle.  The paddle is outlined in pencil on a plank, and a band saw is used to rough cut a rough shaped paddle.  Then a variety of planer and sawing equipment are used to obtain the Ottertail shape.  Once Rick is comfortable with the paddle, it receives two separate polyurethane dips.  The paddle is now ready for the canoeist.

There are various ways to determine the length of an Ottertail paddle.  The method we used was to measure from the floor to the bottom of my chin.  And while we were at it, why not make a custom paddle for my grandchildren, Madison and Carson.

Let’s Give Our Ottertail Paddles a Test

Our quest for the Ottertail has taken us to two countries and two northern New England states. In August we went to the Buckhorn Canoe Company in Buckhorn, Ontario and Dick Persson compared the Beaver and Ottertail paddle, and Dick explained the use of the Ottertail in the J-Stroke. In November we next went to Dri-Ki Woodworking in Patten, Maine for our made-to-order Ottertails, and to see how the Ottertail and Beavertail Paddles are made.

The first paddle with our personalized Ottertails came in Sunapee, New Hampshire on a below freezing December day with ice forming on Perkins Pond.  This was no time for a flip!
Enjoy this video as my friend Dundee I test our paddles for their virgin dip in canoeing waters.

Never say, “I wish I had canoed with an Ottertail Paddle

Give the Ottertail Paddle a try - it will enlighten your canoe experience.
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·        Buckhorn Canoe Company
·        Dri-KiWoodworking

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Peak Foliage Paddling and Camping in the Green River Reservoir of Northern Vermont

Enjoy the below video and pictures of the magnificent foliage colors of northern Vermont.

In late September, five outdoor enthusiasts and I, using five kayaks and one canoe, did three days of paddling and two nights of tenting in the Green River Reservoir of northern Vermont.

Green River Reservoir became a state park in March 1999 when 5110 acres were purchased from the Morrisville Water and Light Department. This is not your typical Vermont State Park – Green River Reservoir provides camping and paddling experiences in a remote setting. All campsites can only be reached by paddling to them - some a 1 to 2-mile paddle from the launch site.

The park will remain in its wild and undeveloped condition, with low-impact, compatible recreational use allowed on and around the Reservoir. Management activities will be only those necessary to maintain the property’s character, protect the environment and critical resources, demonstrate sustainable forest and wildlife management, control excessive recreational use, and ensure high-quality outdoor experiences for visitors.

The 653-acre Reservoir includes about 19 miles of shoreline, one of the longest stretches of undeveloped shorelines in Vermont. Access to the park is in the southern part of the Reservoir off of Green River Dam Road. The Reservoir is designated as a “quiet” lake under Vermont “Use of Public Waters Rules.” Boats powered by electric motors up to 5 mph and human-powered watercraft (canoes, kayaks, etc.) are allowed.

There are 28 remote campsites at various locations around the Reservoir. Camping is allowed only at designated campsites and can only be reached by boat. Each remote site has a maximum site occupancy based on the characteristics of the site. There is one designated group campsite that can accommodate up to 12 people. Some campsites are closed each season and rehabilitated due to overuse through the years.
To view all JPEG pictures Click Here.

Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” is also available as an e-Book at Kindle and Nook.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Locks of the Trent Severn Waterway

Honestly, I found this blog post very difficult to make concise.  Our Trent-Severn Waterway trek was so unique - such as experiencing going through fourteen Locks and living for eight days in a houseboat moving each day along the Waterway.  With so much content, how do I describe all this and keep the videos under a few minutes?

The Trent Severn Waterway is one of Canada's most spectacular waterways. The Waterway stretches 240 miles from Lake Ontario's Bay of Quinte to Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. My wife and I readily accepted an invitation to join our friends Linda and Dundee for a week on a houseboat on the Trent Severn Waterway.

Friends ask many questions such as, "What and where is the Trent-Severn Waterway?", “What was the houseboat like?”, “What did it feel like going through a lock?”, “How did you navigate?”, and “Did you spend all your time on the houseboat?”  I finally came to the conclusion I could only do this by breaking the trip into small videos and letting you choose for yourself which ones to view.

The waterway is an impressive chain of lakes and rivers linked by more than 40 locks and some 33 miles of excavated channels. All of the locks are situated in beautiful park-like settings and most are integrated within small and inviting villages. Indeed, the Waterway is a unique gem of Canada.
Given the extensive length of the Waterway, our timeframe of eight days, and the need to return our rented houseboat to where we picked it up at Happy Days Houseboats in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, our trip would take us through only seven of the locks as we headed from Lake Ontario and turned around after we locked through Kirkfield Lift Lock.  On our return we would repeat each of these seven locks.

The Waterway is home to two of the world’s highest hydraulic lift locks, located in Peterborough and Kirkfield.  Indeed, we locked the Kirkfield lift twice.

In addition, we visited via car four locks (Trenton, Glen Miller, Sydney and Peterborough Lift Lock). These visits gave us another perspective of the locks because at two of these locks the lock master allowed me into their lock houses to be an “associate” to work the controls to “lock in” and “lock out” the boats.  I was even told by one lock operator, “You are the oldest kid whoever assisted us!”  Indeed all the lockmasters and operators were wonderful.

 The Lock Operators – Ontario Ambassadors

The lockmasters and operators who guide and oversee the lock as your boat passes through the locks offer extraordinary assistance and indeed are ambassadors to Trent-Severn, Ontario, and certainly Canada.  The warm welcome and support we received from them in going through the locks were exceptional.

We slept on the houseboat all nights tying down seven nights in defined wall areas just outside the locks, and one night we tied to trees on Wolf Island in Lower Buckhorn Lake (The back of the boat was anchored in the lake.)

The Trent-Severn includes fixed chamber locks and hydraulic lift locks (at Peterborough and Kirkfieldtwo of the world’s highest hydraulic lift locks. Indeed, we locked the Kirkfield lift twice.)  A lock is a device for raising and lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on lake, river and canal waterways. The distinguishing feature of a conventional lock is it has a fixed chamber in which the water level is lowered or raised (as is the Bobcaygeon Lock); whereas in a boat lift lock, it is the chamber itself that rises and falls (such as the Kirkfield Lift Lock). 

Navigation Aids and Tour Our Houseboat

We used navigation charts and a GPS to follow the Trent-Severn channel.

The houseboats are advertised for even novice boaters, and houseboat companies will provide you with an orientation course including hands-on demonstrations and navigation skills, followed by a checklist, before you cast off.  Personally, I would not recommend this trip for a complete boating novice without being sure at least one driver feels comfortable in big boats.

My friend Dundee is a fully qualified boater, and I have a nineteen foot deck boat.  The biggest challenge was driving and navigating our forty-foot long and fourteen-foot wide houseboat into and out of the lock areas. 

History and Specs of The Trent-Severn Waterway
Construction began in the Kawartha Lakes region in 1833 with the lock at Bobcaygeon marking its beginning. It took over 87 years to finish the entire Waterway and only until 1920 could a boat travel the whole route between Lake Ontario to Lake Huron.

The navigation channel runs a depth average of six feet from start to finish. The conventional locks vary in raising and dropping water levels, whereas the Kirkfield Lift is 49 feet and the Peterborough Lift is 65 feet.

Peaking at Balsam Lake the system takes the traveler 600 feet above Lake Ontario and 250 feet above Lake Huron’s, Georgian Bay.

Standard lock dimensions are one hundred and twenty feet long by thirty-two feet wide. The two exceptions are the Big Chute Marine Railway at one hundred feet long by twenty-four feet wide and Port Severn is only eight-four feet long and twenty-three feet wide setting the limit if you wish to traverse The Trent Severn Waterway from one end to the other.

“What Does it Feel Like Going Through a Lock?”

First, be sure read the above Seven Easy Steps for Locking Through.  Then, click on the two below videos to see what it feels like to go through the Bobcaygeon Lock and the Kirkfield Lift.

·       The Bobcaygeon Lock – a conventional lock

·       The Kirkfield Lock – a Liftlock

“Did you spend all your time on the houseboat?”

There are many places to enjoy on the Trent-Severn and I cannot possibly discuss them here.  I will, however, refer to three that are special to me.

·       The first is the Buckhorn Canoe Company. Dundee and I discovered this unique canoe building company owned and operated by Dick Persson.

Dick's company builds, restores and outfits traditional all-wood, wood-canvas canoes, and small boats. We were immediately impressed with Dick's extensive historical knowledge of restoration of old watercraft, old canoe companies, and their boat and canoe models.  His shop and showroom were museums unto themselves.

Go to Dick’s Blog and read his passion and unique perspective for the history, research, building, repair, restoration, outfitting and use of wooden canoes.

With Dick’s permission I did a brief video of his comments on the differences between the Otter Tail and Beaver Tail paddles.  Indeed, I will shortly be using an otter tail to see if I can improve my J-stroke by keeping my return stroke in the water.

·       My next "must share" is my swimming in Burleigh Falls.  I wanted so much to swim at least once on our trip, and this was my opportunity.  The below brief video has my brave five foot ledge jump into Burleigh Falls.
·       Last, I must introduce our visit to the magnificent Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario.  This huge museum had exhibits and live and hands-on demonstrations of canoe and kayak building.  Embedded throughout the museum was the history of the native people and the essence of canoes and kayaks in Canada’s being. 

Click below for a brief video of special moments at the Buckhorn Canoe Company, swimming Burleigh Falls, and the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Never Say, “I wish I had locked the Trent-Severn Waterway”

The Tent-Severn Water is a wonderful and memorable experience, and now Cathy, Linda, Dundee and I will never have to say, “We wish we had house-boated the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario Canada.

More Videos and Pictures

I have many videos and pictures of the inside and outside of the houseboat.  In addition, as we went through the eight locks (twice each), I took lots of pictures and videos.  I made an effort to divide the pictures into four groups, so if you have the time, here they are:

·       Special Memories

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References to the Trent-Severn Waterway

o   FAQ

Monday, July 23, 2012

Four Days in Northern New Hampshire with Family and Friends Hiking, Paddling, Tenting and Moose Sighting

Grab a cup of coffee or another favorite beverage, kick up your feet, and enjoy how a family bonds in the great north woods of New Hampshire.  My 18-year-old nephew Austin graduated from his southern California (CA) high school.  For Austin to achieve this educational milestone, my wife Cathy and I arranged for him to fly to New Hampshire in July to experience our “Live Free or Die” outdoors.

The four-day trip describes:
(1)   Hiking Tuckerman Ravine Trail from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Pinkham Notch hut to the AMC Lake of the Cloud (LOC) hut for a one-night stay.
(2)   Hiking from LOC hut to the peak of Mt Washington, the highest mountain in the northeast at 6,288 feet and "Home of the World's Worst Weather".
(3)   Tenting for two days at Lake Francis State Park in the Connecticut Lakes area in Pittsburg, NH.
o   Hike to and around the 4th Connecticut Lake located on the border of Canada and the United States. The 4th Connecticut Lake is the headwaters of the 410 miles long Connecticut River
o   Paddle the Third Connecticut Lake
o   Paddle Lake Francis
o   Moose sightings on 18 mile Moose Alley

In addition to Austin and me, our fellow trekkers were his father (my brother Dennis), my sons Timothy and Shaun, my two grandchildren 15-year-old Madison and 12-year-old Carson, Ron my brother-in-law, and invited friends Justin and his 17-year-old daughter Sarah.  Ten would hike to the Lake of the Clouds (LOC) hut and Mt Washington, and seven of us would continue to the Great North Woods Lake Francis State Park campground.

Preparing the Hike to Lake of the Clouds Hut (LOC) and Mount Washington

As the hiking trek leader I had responsibility for the safety of my fellow outdoor enthusiasts:
· Which trail should we take? I had hiked Tuckerman’s many times, and although Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail is one of the most dangerous trails to LOC and Mt Washington, I wanted my group to experience the scenic, excitement, and knowledge of hiking this unique trail.
· What time in the morning do we start our hike to LOC?  LOC serves their family-style meals at 6 pm sharp (breakfast at LOC is at 7 am sharp).  I expected the hike from Pinkham to LOC to be between 4 and five hours.
· What kind of clothing, supplies, and food do we need for a one-day overnight hike in the White Mountains?  Hiking Tuckerman Ravine Trail is not to be taken likely.  Snow, high winds, rain, lightning, and fog can be expected year-round – this means ALWAYS prepare to spend the night on the trail in the mountains.
· What emergency supplies do we need in case of an unanticipated overnight while hiking?
ü  AMC’s Ten Essentials for a Safe Hike are mandatory.  I enforced this by giving each person their own whistle and flashlight.
ü  For each person I provided a 3 ml / 30-gallon contractor bag (aka trash bag) in case we had to immediately camp on the trail (or daresay get lost for an overnight).  To use this bag we would make holes in the corner of the bag for our eyes and mouth, slip the bag over the head, and have some level of protection.
ü  Duct tape. You never know when this can come in handy e.g. broken eye glass frame, sling, strap, etc.

You need to be in good physical shape for a five-plus hour hike up Tuckerman’s Ravine with sections nearly straight up (no need for climbing ropes), but certainly, there are places where you use your hands to assist in crawling up rocks.
My training schedule included two hikes up Uncanoonuc Mt in Goffstown, NH.  Uncanoonuc, combined with two months of four times a week speed walking four miles in my hiking boots, prepared me for Mt Washington, and in particular climbing the headwall of Tuckerman Ravine.

An Educational Dinner
Hmm, how do I emphasize the importance of hiking safety to teenagers? The night before our trip my wife Cathy made a great spaghetti dinner for Austin, Madison, and Carson. This dinner was my opportunity to stress safety and the necessary items for the hike. Unannounced, I demonstrated my hiking whistle (One toot for, “Where are you?” Two toots, “Come to me”, and three toots, “Emergency”.) I gifted each a whistle and asked them to demonstrate a signal. Yes, they thought I was “loony”, but indeed they practiced a lifesaving skill.
We talked about hiking in groups. My son, Tim, has hiked with me many times and has my confidence in tight situations. He would lead one group up the mountain. Ron was also experienced, and he would lead another group. The sweep group (the slow hikers) would be led by me. Other than the aforementioned, no one was to get ahead of their leader – no matter what. We did not want to experience a lost hiker.
We talked about the importance of stopping every 10 to 15 minutes to drink water.  An earlier hiking involvement, followed by a wilderness first aid course, made me realize dehydration can cause nausea and headaches and is easily avoided by frequent drinking of water.  Mt Washington is a steep, long hike, and hydration is critical for our troops.

I emphasized no cotton clothing – including underwear.  I emphasized this “strange request” by asking, “How long does it take cotton to dry out after getting wet?”  In survival situations, cotton is known as "DEATH CLOTH." Cotton holds moisture instead of wicking it away from the skin, and when wet, cotton has zero insulating properties.

Pinkham Notch to Lake of the Clouds (LOC)

I had concerns about guiding my group safely up to Lake of the Clouds.  Before, when Tim and I took the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lake of the Clouds hut, we found extensive fog and could see only a few feet ahead.  On that trek, we used cairns, the rock piles designed to designate a trail, as the means to ensure we kept on the trail.  I needed to watch closely the expected Mt Washington area weather.  I would not put my party in danger if the weather report indicated severe weather.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Enjoy this short video of our hike up Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lake of the Clouds Hut followed by a next day hike to Mt Washington.

The northern tip of New Hampshire has a pristine area known as the Great North Woods.  I wanted Austin and my grandchildren to enjoy and appreciate this treasure of New Hampshire. Its many summer outdoor opportunities include paddling and fishing the Connecticut (CT) Lakes (Forth CT, Third CT, Second CT Lake, First CT, and Lake Francis), hiking the Fourth CT, and Moose sightseeing.
Moose Watching.
The moose is the biggest and most mysterious four-legged inhabitant of northern New Hampshire.  Seeing a moose is always a thrill for me. Certainly, for Austin and my grandkids, the thought of seeing these huge six to seven-foot-tall and 700 to 1200-pound animals was an expectation like waiting to get a glimpse of Santa Claus!  There are 6,000 or so moose in New Hampshire. The Connecticut Lakes area, in particular, enhances the opportunity to see a moose. 
The last 18 or so miles on route 3 in Pittsburg are designated, Moose Alley.  Driving slowly on Moose Alley at 5 am also enhances your chance to see a moose.  And, dusk is another good time. 
What is the best way to find moose?  My answer is always simple – look for cars pulled alongside the road.  For two days at dawn and dusk, we drove very slowly up Route 3.  See our success here.

As we hiked to the Fourth Connecticut Lake I shared a history lesson not readily known.  For a few years in the 1830s, an area of today's Pittsburg, NH was an independent republic, not part of New Hampshire and not part of the United States. The US attempted to tax the 360 inhabitants, and Canada tried to make them serve in its military, so the people decided to establish their own sovereign nation called, The Republic of Indian Stream. The existence of the Republic was ended by New Hampshire in 1835.  Later, the Webster -Ashburton Treaty of 1842 established the border between Canada and the United States – the border markers that we would crisscross as we hiked to the Fourth Connecticut Lake.
Hiking the Fourth Connecticut Lake
The 78-acre Fourth Connecticut Lake is located on the USA/Canada border.  It is called a “Lake”, but in my mind is similar to a small bog or marsh.  The narrow swampy walk around the lake took us a half-hour.  The Fourth CT is the headwaters of the 410 miles long Connecticut River that ends in Long Island Sound.  The trail to the lake starts at the United States-Canada customs border crossing station in Pittsburg, NH on the international border between the United States and Canada.  The whole hike from the customs station to the lake, walk around the lake, a brief ten-minute break, and then hike back, was less than two hours.

Paddle Third Connecticut Lake
This 235-acre Lake is located about a half-mile downhill from Fourth Connecticut.  During our paddle on this pristine lake, we saw beaver lodges and dams, loons, and the outlet to the Second Connecticut Lake.  Carson went for a swim. As we paddled around the northern end of the lake, we stopped to see the inlet from the Fourth Connecticut Lake.
To view a ten-minute combination of the above videos click here.  To view all JPEG pictures Click Here.  To view all Videos Click Here

Bedford Community Television (BCTV) is now showing Four Days in Northern New Hampshire with Family and Friends Hiking, Paddling, Tenting and Moose Sighting.
Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” is now available as an e-Book at Kindle and Nook.