Ask Eddy

Beating Bears or Building Rafts? Eddy's Got Answers

Illustration: Aaron McKinney

(Ed’s note: In the interest of, you know, facilitating dialogue, we’ve decided to start rolling out one of the magazine’s longtime recurring features, “Ask Eddy,” here on the website; the latest, from the August 2011 issue, follows. We invite readers to submit future questions for Eddy’s consideration here, at our Facebook page or by regular ol’ email:

Could I outpaddle a polar bear?
People have clocked polar bears swimming at up to 6 miles per hour and a loaded expedition sea kayak tops out around 7, so yeah, you probably could get away. But polar bears have better things to do, says Kieran Mulvaney, author of The Great White Bear. “They are pretty risk-averse,” he says, and their diet is almost 100 percent seal. So to a polar bear, humans are a serious wild card. One scientist scared off a curious bear just by unzipping his sleeping bag. Most polar explorers feel safe in camp if they’ve rigged a trip line to trigger flares or knock pots around. Many do carry firearms in polar bear country, though, “just in case they meet that one Jeffrey Dahmer bear,” Mulvaney says. In that case, getting in your boat and paddling away is probably a solid defense—hunting from the water is never part of a polar bear’s strategy. They take seals from land or ice, and when they are swimming, walruses and even beluga whales have no trouble driving them off. Eddy, of course, fears no bear, as he’s been accepted into their totem brotherhood. At least he thinks that’s what the Great White Bear spirit was saying when Eddy’s vision quest was rudely interrupted by rangers last spring after a mere 54 hours. Apparently, visitors to Wisconsin State Parks are not welcome to hang naked from their heels on tree limbs overnight.

How do I build an emergency log raft?
Eddy’s only experience with a log raft was the time he “borrowed” the floating dock from Camp Ketch-Un-Any and drifted down the Menominee River. But oil-drum floats and a waterslide lookout tower aren’t probably what you had in mind, so Eddy asked Mike Lummino, owner of Bushcraft Northwest in Goldendale, Wash., what guidelines he has for raft building. “You’ll want a minimum of 6-by-8 feet,” he says, depending on the buoyancy of the logs you use. A bigger raft will float you higher and be more stable, he says, but will take more time and effort to move around. “Ninety percent of the job will be in finding your materials,” he says. For structure, he suggests clamping the logs together with a pair of perpendicular poles at each end, one above and one below, and binding the two pole-ends tightly with rope or cord, or even strips of cloth. That way, you’ll only need four lash points. None of that on hand? Twist willow branches to loosen their fibers into pliable cordage. Lastly, Lummino says, be sure to build your raft as close to the water as possible—even a small log raft can end up weighing hundreds of pounds.

Greenland-style kayak paddles: awesome or anachronism?
Marcel Rodriguez, a Greenland-style paddling enthusiast from Portland, Ore., admits that some paddling purists think Greenland-style paddlers are “a lot like people who dress up as knights at a Renaissance fair.” Let them laugh, he says. The long, narrow Greenland sticks can hold their own against more familiar spoon-like Euro blades in just about any discipline. The speed record for rounding Vancouver Island was set with a Greenland-style paddle, and Rodriguez regularly uses his for surf paddling. Even in short sprints, like evading rogue polar bears, the paddles do just fine. Though they appear quite skinny, Greenland paddles have the same surface area as spoon-shaped blades, so they can pull just as much water. But because that surface area is spread into a longer blade (and overall paddle length), Rodriguez explains, the paddles “might not be ideal for shallow rivers.” Where Greenland paddles kick ass, he says, is for people with shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries, and for people learning to roll. The paddles have no offset, providing a more ergonomic stroke, and don’t require confusing arm positions to wrangle an Eskimo roll. “We can get most anyone rolling a kayak Greenland-style in 30 minutes,” Rodriguez says. But how would the paddle fare in a battle royale vs. a Renaissance knight’s broadsword? According to Frank, the Greenland-style dweeb who keeps tagging along with Eddy’s Voyageur reenactors, it’d dominate. Eddy remains unconvinced.

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  • Scott Sandefur

    I would like to remind to “Ask Eddy” readers concerned about outpaddling a Polar Bear, to be extra diligent in foggy or other low-visibility situations, you may stumble upon an suspecting animal with all the risk that implies…

  • Gary Moles

    In the June 2012 issue of C & K you answer the question, “Can I patch my canoe with duct tape?” I’ll submit this experience of mine that you may use, edit or whatever. If you attribute this to anyone use only the the initials G.O.
    In Sept. 2011 after 5 wonderful days of fishing the small Boundary Waters lakes south of La Croix my son, Matt and I made a side trip into Iron Lake. Since the wind was quite strong and most campsites taken we decided to overnight on the western shore and prepare to go for the exit the next day. We beached the boat on the upwind side of a small rocky peninsula and immediately set up camp as the weather looked threatening. Suddenly a loud crash disturbed the quiteness of the BW; looking lakeward I saw our canoe at least 4 feet above ground and pointing upward at a 60 degree angle. There are several more loud crashes and a big splash. Running toward the shore and into the lake I am barely able to grab the boat which fortunately has landed upside down.
    On dragging it out of the water we find that it has a 13″ gash extending from below the gunwale downward to the underside and another small hole above waterline. It surprised me that the wind could lift the canoe as it had and that the Bell 17′ Northwind Kevlar would sustain such damage. We were very concerned about the possibility of walking out from Iron Lake.
    Matt had a small strip of urethane tape that barely covered the long split. Then we applied a generous layer of protective duct tape on top.
    After a nearly sleepless night we made the trip to the Moose River entry point in a 10 hour struggle. Water levels were very low and we had to pull over numerous rocks and beaver dams and line long portions of the Moose River. On Agnes we encountered continuous white-caps.
    The tape held up well throughout, but this was not dollar-a-roll economy duct tape; it was Scotch brand with a very strong adhesion. Lessons learned: carry patching material of some kind, think about the possibilities, watch the wind. And I am considering going back to a royalex boat.

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