Pt 2, Ch 2/Canoeing, Sailing & Motor Boating/Miller



by Warren H. Miller.




THERE are two kinds of canoe cruises, both of them splendid outdoor recreations for boys, the lake and river cruise in the open canoe, with the paddle as motive power, and the decked sailing canoe where the paddle is of secondary importance and a pair of batwing sails eats up the miles of distance between you and your destination. Both are fine sport, and both constitute the easiest form of travel in the open. Do not take sails on a canoe cruise unless you are going to have plenty of use for them, as they are heavy and much in the way in stowing duffle; and do not take an ounce more weight in any case than is positively necessary.

I would set a limit of fifty pounds of belongings to every man on the trip. Even if there are only trifling portages, such as lifting over down trees, around obstructions on the banks or over dam sites, too much duffle becomes a burden, and when afloat its weight brings the canoe dangerously low down in the water and puts a lot of work in paddling on the voyageur's shoulders. The same canoe that will fly along like a fairy when properly loaded will act like a submerged turtle when just a wee bit overloaded. And it is so easy to take too much!


One of my first canoe trips was nearly spoilt by just this duffle trouble. We both swore ourselves black in the face that not a pound extra would be taken, but this is what we actually did take : -- For guns we took the shotguns as a matter of course, and, as if that was not enough, the rifles also, in case any long range shots might offer, and then, piled on that, a revolver each for snakes and turtles, ammunition in generous quantities for the three, -- let's see, that makes 26 pounds of extra useless weight, not counting the shotguns, which are doubtful commodities in a summer trip and apt to get you into trouble with game wardens, as snipe are the only game birds shootable in September when we went; then, as we might have a few miles sailing, we took along the sails, 25 pounds more, mostly in the way, and only used once, for we had headwinds on all the other open stretches; then we took along a sack of potatoes when we knew well we would pass lots of farms, another useless 20 pounds of weight -- the wonder to me is that she floated at all when we set forth!

As it was she had just three inches of freeboard, and was as logy as a water-soaked tree trunk. Well, we had a strong northwest wind to face the first thing; five miles of it. Did we hoist the sails and tack? We tried it, but made as much leeway as headway and finally ended by paddling the whole distance, arriving by nightfall where we had allowed to reach in but three hours on the schedule. All the blankets, etc., were soaking wet, from water shipped aboard off the whitecaps, and we were half the night drying them out so that we could get off to sleep.

Our first portage was a hummer! Only around a dam, a few hundred feet, but it took five trips to do it -- firearms, bedding, grub, cook outfit, tent and sails (now soaking wet, and all weighing twice what they would dry). Again tribulation camped on our trail when we struck long reaches of shallow water. She drew so much that we both had to get out and wade, towing her up stream. The end of the second day saw eleven miles of progress and 150 miles to go. On the third day we passed under a railroad bridge, went into camp and shipped back home by express the sails, guns, ammunition and spuds, and kept only the fishing tackle, tent, bedding and cook outfit, with a few provisions. Then we made easy progress, but our bad start had cost us two days' fishing at the lake which we were headed for.

This little sketch of how not to do it brings to mind several points taught us by hard experience. In the first place everything in a canoe that water can hurt must go in a waterproof duffle bag, either side-opening or end-opening. For clothing, blankets, tent, etc., the 11 x 24-inch brown waterproof end-opening duffle bag costing a dollar is the thing. It will take folded blankets and tents easily and they can be pulled out without trouble. For food the side-opening bag 8 x 22 inches, with rows of pockets inside, is the thing. When you go ashore for the night campment, drive in two upright stakes to windward of your cook fire and hang up this bag by the grommet holes in the lip, put there for that purpose.

All your main food sacks are now in plain sight, in rows along the bottom of the kitchen bag, where each can be chucked back as used; and in the pockets are small bags of salt, tea, baking powder, soup powders, etc., while the knives, forks, spoons, chain pothooks and the like are handy in the top pockets. This duffle bag has a stout maple rod sewed into one lip, and to fasten it up you roll the other lip around this rod until the bag is rolled tight and then secure with rope around the bag or a pair of school book straps. As these side-opening bags are rather expensive to buy I will give you the way to make them yourself.

Get a yard of ten-ounce brown paraffined duck canvas at a ship chandlers or awning maker's. It costs forty cents a yard, and comes 28 inches wide. Cut off an eight-inch strip along one edge and out of this strip make two circular ends for your bag, 8 inches in diameter.

Get a 1/2-inch maple dowel from a pattern shop or department store or hardware store, and cut it 20 inches long. Sew a hem along both lips of your bag, and slip the rod into one lip and secure by sewing over the end of the hem. Now sew the circular ends half around to the side of your bag and fill in the rest of the space with a khaki end-cloth as shown in the pattern, finishing the whole thing with an edging of gray tape. Sew inside two khaki strips 8 inches wide by 30 inches long, to make two rows of three pockets each. Each pocket is 8 inches wide and will take ten inches of your cloth, the back of the pocket being the wall of the bag. Put two school straps around the bag, about a foot apart, and join with a strap riveted around each of the two straps to make a carrying handle, or else just get a ten-cent shawl strap at the five-and-ten-cent store and use it in lieu of the school-book straps. Total cost: canvas, 40 cents, khaki, 20 cents, shawl straps, 10 cents; all together, 70 cents.

One bag will hold all the food four men will need on a week's canoe trip, and keep it dry and handy to use. For food sacks the standard sack for bulk food is 8-inch diameter by 10-inch depth, and they cost fifteen cents each. To make them yourself get from a sporting-goods store two yards of paraffined muslin, cut out eight-inch round bottoms, and 10-inch high by 24-inch circumference sides, sewing the sides around the bottoms and turning inside out. It can all be done on a domestic sewing machine, using a heavy needle and number 40 cotton. Finish the food sacks with a foot of white tape, sewed up near the top of the bag for a tie-string.

You will also need three plain rectangular 4-inch by 9-inch bags, and four small 3-inch by 6-inch bags of the same paraffined muslin. To make paraffined muslin yourself, buy the ordinary unbleached muslin and steep in a mixture of a pint of turpentine with two bricks of paraffin dissolved in it. It will not dissolve cold, but if your tin can of turpentine is warmed in a kettle of hot water it will dissolve the paraffin readily. Hang the muslin out to dry after soaking in the solution.


The large food bags are to be marked RICE, FLOUR, SUGAR, OATMEAL; the 9 x 4's, CORN MEAL, PRUNES, COFFEE, PANCAKE FLOUR; and the small 3 by 6's, TEA, COCOA, SALT, RAISINS. Milk goes in its own cans of evaporated cream; eggs, in a 3 by 5-inch tin can with friction top (holds 14 fresh eggs broken into it); potatoes and onions in an ordinary muslin flour sack; meat, bacon, butter, etc., in 8-inch friction top tin cans, costing 25 cents each, two will be plenty. All these provision sacks except the spud sack will go in the side opening grub bag; will weigh, all told, for a week's cruise, about thirty pounds and will make about 150 pounds of cooked food. Rain and spray, upsets and hard knocks will then make no difference to the grub pile; it is the only way to stow and carry food in a canoe.

The cook kit to be taken along may be any of the well-known outfits, such as the nesting aluminum set for four, the Forester, Stopple, Boy Scout, etc., or it may be plain set of nesting tin pails, three of them one inside the other, a couple of fry pans and some 7 by 2-inch tin mixing and baking pans. Each man has his individual table set, of knife, fork, and spoon, cup, and nine-inch tin or aluminum plate, and you will want a wire grate and a folding reflector baker or an aluminum one with cover on which a fire can be built like a Dutch oven. The wire grate should have a cloth bag to pack in as it gets very sooty and will soon get the rest of the things in the canoe dirty if uncovered. For a tent there are several special canoe types on the market, the Hudson Bay, Dan Beard, Canoe Tent, and Forester being four types that have made good on long canoe trips where each night a new camp is made. You want something quickly and easily put up, with a few pegs and few poles.





Canoe-cruise regulations call for a heavy meal at breakfast, an all-day paddle with a bite of lunch eaten in the canoe at midday, and a rousing feed at night. One usually looks out for a good site and a spring along about four o'clock, as camping and cooking after dark is a nuisance and takes away the pleasure of the cruise. Wherefore you want a tent that can be quickly put up, almost anywhere.

The Hudson Bay tent calls for a handy tree and a pair of shears in front (for it is too much to ask, to expect two trees to grow just the right distance apart at the right place, with a level bit of ground in between them!). The Canoe tent needs one short pole and two long rear stakes; and the Forester, three ten-foot saplings. These are easy to find in any thicket along a lake or stream bank. All three tents take eight to ten short pegs, and are put up in ten to fifteen minutes time. Never pitch on a sloping ground site unless the slope runs from head to foot of the tent, a side slope is very uncomfortable to sleep on and the boy furthest uphill will be continually rolling down on the others in his sleep. One man can put up the tent, while the others get night wood, water for the cookee and browse for the tent bottoms.


The man elected cook sets about preparing the evening meal. He will need about 45 minutes to do a good job, and will want good hot woods to do it with, so see that he has plenty of dry, hard maple, blackjack oak, white oak, pignut hickory and white birch to do with. The surest way to have a slow meal that is forever cooking, is to give the cook any old dry trash wood, such as balsam and pine. There is little heat in them, they are "out" most of the time, and the pot is forever boiling. But blackjack and maple will not only start the pots up in no time but their coals will keep them going after the flames have subsided. Get the boiled things going first, the pots over the fire amid the flames, and the potatoes and onions peeled into the ''mulligan", a handful of rice added and some salt, and you can put the cover on and let her simmer.

Add soup meat if you have it, or grouse breasts, chunks of deer meat, cut up rabbit, any old meat component; add a bouillon cube for each man when the stew is nearly done, thirty-five minutes later, and she will taste fine and keep you in good health. Fry your fish dipped in egg and rolled in corn meal and set some one to tending the fry pan over a bed of coals while you make up the corn bread batter, squaw bread dough, or doughgods. These require for a hot high fire a couple of blazing logs lifted up off the main fire and set on the edge of the wire grate, and the baking tin is then put under them on top of some coals, or the reflector baker, with its pan full of biscuits, is set in front of them. Boil rice in the other pot, and tea in the pail. For breakfast use your flapjack flour for pancakes, and have coffee, fish fried in bacon grease with bacon on the side, and potatoes cubed and creamed. Plenty of these, with lots of fruit, will run you all day long.


Aim to get the canoes in the water by eight o'clock, stop paddling about noon for an hour to serve a cold lunch of ham or sardines with chocolate, cheese, raisins, nuts, and some Graham crackers, and be on your way again in an hour. At four the definite stop for the day is made. Pick a good site, on a point if possible to get away from flies and mosquitoes, and be sure to pitch somewhere near a spring. Any river that is inhabited, -- that is, has farms and small towns on its banks, -- is unsafe to use for drinking or cooking water. My twelve-year-old boy got a case of typhoid fever from one of our canoe cruises, where there was but one town on the river bank. The rest of us were badly physicked and just missed typhoid, but he had a severe case which nearly cost him his life. Since then I have always insisted on a spring for water or else boiled it before using. And, by the same token, refrain from dipping up the river water in a cup and drinking it, unless the river is wholly wild, like the Allagash in Maine, or the Lumbee in North Carolina, or Wading River in New Jersey, all of which streams give fine canoe trips.

In lieu of a sail, a good thing to take along is a tarp for a floor cloth made of some light waterproof tent textile. If you have a mast step screwed to several ribs of your canoe, and a detachable cross bar, with a two-inch hole in it for a mast hole, and two brass hooks with wing nuts to secure the cross rail to the gunwale, you can easily cut spars at the lake bank and rig the "tarp" as a sail when you have a long downwind traverse to make. Without the step and bar it is rather awkward to rig anything that will stand wind pressure and not become dangerous from coming adrift and upsetting the canoe in a gust. In making any traverse, study your weather and white caps before venturing out, for it is braver to say "No!" and stay ashore windbound than to be foolhardy and go out and get swamped. If you must make the traverse and the waves are high, do it with canoe lightly loaded in two trips, as a logy, heavily loaded canoe is a dangerous thing in choppy seas.

In river work, haul her over logs, down trees and the like by getting out on the log, one on each side, and sliding the canoe over between you with the duffle aboard. In navigating rivers keep cutting across the heads of bends, the bow man anticipating the river at each bend and getting the canoe headed for the shallows, when the stern man can then exert his strength and shove her ahead. Keep out of the full force of the current in the bends; it only makes you paddle twice as far and hard, and the force of the current is always throwing your canoe broadside onto alders and rocks in the elbow of the bends. In running a rapids, be first sure that they are safe, as they change almost daily with the height of water. Look for a portage trail if you know nothing about the rapids and if there is a landing above the rapids, with a clearly defined trail through the forest, it is a safe bet that the rapids are dangerous and have been portaged by better men than you. In running white water the stern man has the say and the bow man should not embarrass him by attempting to fend off with the paddle, etc. Only do this when it is clearly evident that the stern man has not control enough to prevent her ramming. As a rule, the water parting around a rock will carry her bow clear if the stern man guides her and sees that the stern follows clear.

In general, back paddle so that the current flows faster than the canoe is going, and let her down easy at the difficult spots. In any event, keep out of the main force of the current if there is an easier passage, and always go along a rapids on foot ashore before running it. In many rivers and broad creeks there is plenty of white water not dangerous, only exciting. Follow the current where it is clearest of rocks, and, in passing one, back the stern of the canoe away from the rock, letting the current carry the bow clear. In all rapids running the duffle should be lashed in by your tracking line; in traversing a lake everything should be free and clear, as you may need to empty her in a hurry. In both cases stick to the canoe in case of upset, get her ashore in the rapids, and dump the water out of her in the lake, letting the duffle float where it will until the canoe is ready again.

In both cases the paddles should be lashed to the canoe with about six feet of cotton rope, as they may be your only hold on the canoe, and if she once drifts away from you in a lake you are lost. Two men treading water can lift a canoe clear enough to turn out most of the water, and then can get aboard from bow and stern simultaneously, being careful to jump at the same moment so as to balance the weight.

One man alone can hardly empty a canoe unless over sixteen years of age and husky. If strong enough you can rock it out, or "shove" it out, either by swashing it from side to side, letting it slop out, or by giving it smart shoves to and from you, when the momentum of the water will slop it out over bow and stern alternately. A boy of twelve is not strong enough to do this and had best get inside the canoe and lie down in her awash. She will not sink, but will lie with about an inch of gunwale exposed. Keeping her on an even keel, the water can be dashed out of her if reasonably calm, but with a sea on the best way is to go astern and kick her ashore, climbing in and lying down in her when tired. Sooner or later she will drift ashore. Keep cool, play safe and do not start anything rash that you may not be able to finish. The canoe will always float herself and you, and if not too cold you will arrive safely in time, even if you have a mile or so to drift.

In river travel the banks are near, and if you stick to the canoe no eddy can pull you under. As a matter of fact upsets are extremely infrequent in canoe travel. I have yet to have my first one in over thirty years of canoeing in river trips, and in my sailing canoes have but three upsets in all that time to record.

The second great branch of canoeing is that of canoe sailing in the great open bays and lakes, where the wind is too strong and the seas too heavy for an open type canoe to live. The wooden-decked sailing canoe has always been a popular "poor man's yacht," but for boys she is so heavy to paddle that until you get sixteen years or over it is too hard work to be fun.

However, we boys did not let that worry us. We built decked canvas-covered sailing canoes that weighed about forty pounds, and had two sails, mainsail and jigger, and they could beat anything of their inches that carried canvas, and live in a sea that sent big catboats into harbor with three reefs in their sails. These craft I built four of; my chums two or three apiece, and, for long cruises down the great saltwater bays of the Atlantic Coast, sleeping in the canoe every night, they were simply Jim Dandy!

Thirteen feet long by 32 inches beam and a foot deep was the preferred size, with a six-foot cockpit in which you could sleep when the canoe was hauled out on the beach and the sand banked up around her. Contrary to the general impression spread by writers who do not know, the canvas-covered canoe is not "limp and logy"; instead she is fast and lively; she will not sink when capsized, but will keep herself afloat and you, too. And she paddles like a bird with the double-blade paddle, which the wooden sailing canoe would never do on a boy's strength.


We cruised in ours for weeks at a time. Sometimes it would be but a day's expedition up some big salt marsh creek after railbirds and snipe; other, it would be a fishing trip down the bay to some favorite bank, where the canoe would be moored to an oyster stake while its crew attended to the fish market; again it would be an extended consort cruise of two or more of these canoes, when both of them would be hauled out on the beach and the cockpit tents set up, while a board running from one canoe to the other would make the eating table. Many a night have I dozed off to sleep with the strong salt breeze strumming through the guy ropes of my canoe cockpit tent, the mosquitoes humming a lively tune outside, while within there would be solid comfort from the muslin mattress filled with fragrant sage and making the round contours of the canoe as comfortable as your bed at home. I have paddled out into a roaring sea that even a large sloop would respect, in those able little decked canvas canoes, setting up a rag of sail and beating to windward like a flying fish, and only once in hundreds of miles of such canoeing have I been upset.

It was during a squally northwest blow and I was snipe shooting on Marsh Point on the Raritan. I got thirsty and so set sails for the opposite shore a mile away where I knew there was a spring of iron water, highly prized by us boys because we believed that drinking it would make us strong! As the tide was running out strongly it took several tacks to make up for the drift in getting across, and in one of them my rudder jammed. Its regular pin had been lost and it was therefore hung with a couple of makeshift copper lashings to the screw eyes. At every other gust the canoe was knocked down to her cockpit coaming, but that was nothing unusual, -- one simply jammed one's toes under the lee rail and hiked out over the pickle! But this rudder jamming was another matter; I couldn't steer now, except with a paddle blade, which is nix in a decked canoe, as it will not let you hang out to windward when the gusts come.

Several times I was nearly unbalanced by the knockdown puffs, and finally one got me and I was pitched bodily overboard to leeward, taking the canoe with me. I remember leaping headlong into my own mainsail, and then a smother of salt water. When I came up, the first thing I noticed was my precious moccasins wavering down through the water. They had come off my feet while doing the dive into the mainsail. I dove for them with both eyes open, and got them both by great good luck. Next I felt inside the canoe for my gun; it was lashed in securely, thank goodness! Then I loosened both main and mizzen halyards and unstepped the masts, which released the canoe so I could right her.

The next stunt was to roll up the two sails and stow them inboard, and then go swimming after the paddles. I was a great little retriever, and soon had all the canoe belongings back in the cockpit, which was awash in the whitecaps. I was half a mile from shore, and so I went astern and turned myself into a human propeller, so that, helped by the strong wind and sea, I had soon kicked her where I could touch bottom and begin to wade with her. A fish hawk had been following me interestedly, and now he swooped down and flew off with a white package left behind in my wake. I suddenly realized that that was my package of lunch he was making off with, with all my sandwiches in it! A frantic grab for the gun was futile, as he was already out of range -- I owe that fish hawk a grudge to this day!

However, there were two hard-boiled eggs and a couple of boiled crabs in the canoe, and so, taking off all my clothes and spreading them abroad in the marsh, I sat down on the paddles to a lunch of egg and crab while the clothes dried out. About four o'clock the snipe came up the marsh in great flocks of fifty or a hundred apiece and I had some royal shooting. It was too dark to see the gun sights and the shells all shot before I was ready to go home. Outside the drawbridge to the open sea, the waves were high, as I could tell by the big, smooth swells in the river, but she shot through the draw in great shape under paddle alone and made the two-mile trip in the dark, open sea without incident, hurdling the big whitecaps like a huntsman. A great little boat !

I use the mate to her now, and in one of these chapters will tell you how to build one for yourself at a cost of $7.50, complete. In paddling against a headwind with such a craft you had best leave the dandy up, as it not only keeps her head staunch to the wind, but every side puff fills the dandy and you can just feel her shoving you along!


Click here for larger image of stem.

Click here for larger image of stern.

In the paddling canoe with sail I have had two upsets in thirty years, one of which was in a howling southeast gale when we ran aground on a point and she turned a somersault over her own leeboards; and the other was in a squally northwest wind when I was navigating a narrow, crooked lake under sail. While the canoe was ''in stays,'' -- that is, luffing and coming about on another tack -- a sudden gust blew out of the wall of forest, broadside on, and knocked her over as if you had struck her with a giant hand!

No amount of seamanship could have avoided this, as the sail was perfectly loose and free, but a broadside gust from an entirely different point of the compass from that in which the wind is blowing is likely to hit you unexpectedly in narrow waters surrounded by high banks of forest, and so it is always much safer to use paddle only in such places. As to the other upset, the leeboards were straight down, and you should always avoid a point likely to have a shoal on it when tacking in a high wind for, if she strikes bottom with the leeboards, you will have the ignominy of upsetting in a foot and a half of water!

As to rigs for canoes, I have tried them all; leg-o'-mutton, batwing, lateen, and Canadian Club or battened leg-o'-mutton; and have settled on the latter for all my later canoes. Leg-o'-mutton is a slow sail, because of its bad leach, and its spars are so long as to be unstowable in a canoe with six-foot cockpit. Batwing is too complicated a sail for most men to make, and easily gets out of gear. Lateen has not only too long spars, but is unreefable, and is a dangerous sail before the wind in a heavy blow.


The Canadian Club, shown in our illustrations, has comparatively short spars, a good flat leach, and is easy to reef and stow. The dimensions given are right for a twelve-foot canoe, a larger sail can be carried, but you will have to reef it most of the time. A single set of reef points in mizzen and mainsail gives you canvas for a heavy blow, while reefing her down to her battens will give you a rag that you can navigate a gale in, like the time last summer when I crossed Greenwood Lake in ten minutes in Waterat IV, the present representative of the canvas-covered decked sailing canoe in which I navigate. Taken all in all, canoeing is a great sport, and one that appeals particularly to men and youths who have the adventurous exploring spirit in them. I have sailed everything from a full-rigged ship to a canoe, and, to this day I still keep three canoes in my fleet of pleasure craft, one of which, Waterat IV, is still the unbeaten crack of this section!

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