By Alan Mapes
Spring is nearly upon us, and the paddler’s thoughts turn to water – liquid water! Here are a few ideas for getting ready to paddle this spring.
Some folks will put on a wetsuit or drysuit and will venture into the cold waters very soon now. I hope they are up to speed with their knowledge about cold water shock and hypothermia, and how to avoid them. Most of us will wait a while, until the water warms to safer temperatures. In any case, here are some preparations that paddlers can make now for the coming season. I’m thinking about kayaking with most of these, but they most will apply to canoeing as well.
Tune up your body. The most important part of the kayak or canoe is the engine – that’s you! Keeping yourself in good general condition is important for paddling. Over the winter, I exercise walk, snowshoe, do some yoga, and work with the weight machines at my local YMCA. As March comes in, I redouble my efforts on stretching, giving special attention on two areas. Loosening the hamstrings will help you be comfortable sitting in a boat with your legs out in front of you. The other area is twisting the torso, getting my shoulders close to 90 degrees from the plane of my hips. This action helps provide power for paddle strokes. Many kayak maneuvers are best done with the torso rotated so your shoulders are in line with the edge of the boat. That way, you can face your work and can get more power on the paddle. For stretching exercises that relate to paddling, check the article section of Paddling.net, “Skills for Paddling: Exercises.”
Fix up the boat. Modern kayaks and canoes are low-maintenance items, but a few items should be checked. Rubber hatch covers on kayaks are often quite hard to take off and on. Get out the spray bottle of 303 Aerospace Protectant and give the covers a good coating, both top and bottom. I spray some on, then working it around with a small rag. I make sure to get the 303 into the groove underneath the hatch covers and I also coat the rim where the cover goes on the boat. This treatment makes the covers last longer and is magic if your covers are hard to seal – they should slide right on. Use 303 on the whole boat if it’s plastic – it should help keep the plastic from getting brittle over time. You can find 303 at your local paddling dealer.
Kayak footpegs can become sticky and hard to adjust. Check their action to make sure they are not jammed by sand and dirt. Most of my boats have metal footpeg rails that can develop a little corrosion, also making them stick. A good washing out with a hose may solve the sand problem. With metal rails, spray on a small amount of WD-40 and work the pegs back and forth to take care of the corrosion.
Skegs and rudders often have mechanical problems. Check their action and the condition of the cables that make them work. It is hard to lubricate cables where they run through tubing inside the boat. Though it’s a hassle, sometimes the only way to make a skeg work well is to remove the cable and lube it with some silicone spray. A kinked cable should be replaced.
The bungee cords and safety lines on the deck of your kayak will wear over time. Your local dealer will probably have new material if you need to replace frayed lines. Take a close look at the end toggles that are used to pick up the kayak. Replace any frayed line so it will not break and let the boat fall.
Check over your other paddle gear. Paddles may need a little cleaning at the ferrule, the connection where the two halves go together. Put each paddle together and pull it apart a few times. If it sticks or fails to click together, you may need to flush out some sand or other crud. I would not lube it with WD-40 since it may attract more sand. Cleaning will usually fix the problem, but some graphite lock lube might do the trick if needed. Many paddles have a metal spring clip/button that clicks the paddle halves together – that can get rusty or weak. Replace bad ones by pushing the button in as far as you can and pulling the clip out with pliers.
Some of my paddles are all-black carbon fiber, beautiful and light weight. The downside is they don’t help make you visible to other boats on the water like a bright-colored paddle does. I add a stripe of reflective tape to both sides of each blade, making me more visible both during the day and at night.
Check your dry bags for leaks. I find that they do not last forever. The best way to check is to run some water inside a bag, and see if there are any holes to let it out. In similar fashion, your paddle float will not last forever. Blow it up and dunk it in a pail of water – see if any air escapes. I’ve seen more than one rotten old paddle float fall apart when a paddler tried to inflate it. While you are at it, stick your bilge pump in that bucket of water and see if it still works. Best to find the flaws in your safety gear before it’s needed.
Check your paddle clothes and wash up any that did not get it last fall. Zippers can be a problem with paddling garments, especially if you’ve had them in salt water. I use Max Wax zipper lube from Aquaseal on them. It’s a wax-like material that comes in a small stick. It can do wonders when you rub it on those sticky zippers. At my house, it also gets used to fix balky zippers on all sorts of non-paddling gear. Zipper lube can be found at paddle supply stores and even on Amazon.
Pool sessions, guide books and paddling groups. Here are a few more thoughts on the theme of preparing body and mind for the upcoming paddling season. Pool practice sessions are offered in several places this spring. They offer a chance to shake out the rust and learn some new strokes or rescue techniques. One organization offering pool sessions is the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, adk-albany.org.
As I daydream about the new paddling season, I like to research some new launching spots. On my book stand are two new paddling guide books for our region – “Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures” (ADK) by Phil Brown and “A Kayaker’s Guide to Lake George, The Saratoga Region & Great Sacandaga Lake” (Black Dome Press) by Russell Dunn.
Finally, I suggest joining a paddling group like the Adirondack Mountain Club paddlers, the Albany Area Kayaking Meetup Group, or the Capital District Kayakers (also a Meetup Group found online). I always learn something new when I spend time with other paddlers.
Alan Mapes (email@example.com) of Delmar is the owner of North River Kayaks, offering kayak instruction, canoe and kayak repairs and Greenland paddles. He has instructor ratings from the BCU and the American Canoe Association.