March 2006

By Reinhard Zollitsch

I agree: Paddling is where it is at; everything else is secondary. But wait, if you do not take care of your boat properly year-round, that fun can be greatly diminished. Here are a few pointers, most of which most of you already know, but it never hurts to see them listed again and finally feel compelled to do to your boat what you should have done and meant to do all along.

We know that all boats are NOT created equal. If you happen to have a varnished wooden or a Greenland skin boat, your care should be completely different from that needed for a fiberglass, Royalex or ABS boat. The latter are low maintenance boats, as long as you do not just throw them on your lawn at the end of the paddling season (see picture one; the boat owners shall remain nameless), or worse, on top of an uneven surface like the junk you have on your garage floor.  Especially ABS boats will pick up those lumps and will develop a permanent case of oil-canning, which in turn will affect your paddling speed significantly come spring.

If at all possible, all boats should be stored indoors over the winter months, at least up here in snowy New England, but especially wooden and skin boats, and those made of Kevlar or carbon fiber without a gel coat. Sunlight breaks down the fibers, and Kevlar loses its rich honey color and develops a real sunburned look. It is also a good idea to get a protective travel bag for these boats, made of acrylic fiber, to protect your investment at all times.

Broken dreams
This is no way to treat an old friend

Canoes are best stored upside down on sawhorses in your barn, garage or basement, if you have a large enough basement door to get them in and out. Kayaks, on the other hand, appreciate being stored right-side-up in slings from the rafters, high enough so you don’t clunk your head on them. Lighter racing canoes get the same treatment, once I run out of floor space.

This is no way to treat an old friend
Broken Dreams

My precious outrigger canoe
My precious outrigger canoe

I thought I had everything planned and taken care of to perfection.  Having grown up a sailor boy, I learned early never to let boats touch bottom, never! I also hate to see a boat being dragged, so I still carry and shoulder my canoes, kayaks and outrigger and still enjoy an almost showroom smooth bottom for maximum speed, efficiency and pride. (Whitewater boats are exempt from this claim, of course.)
To this day I cringe when I see a boat being dragged over anything harder than grass.

I admit, I love my boats and dogs and the joy they give me. So when my boat park grew, I even chose not to store my car in our barn, but rather turned it into a boathouse. My VW can take the Maine cold and snow much better than my boats, I reasoned. My various boats got hung very neatly in slings, often one above another, in their new home. It looked so perfect ... till one New Year’s night, just after midnight, at sub-zero temperatures, a water pipe fitting in the guest room above my boathouse suddenly let go, and the ensuing flood was not noticed till hours later.    

The guest room was afloat, and the water had run through the floorboards and the fiberglass insulation into my boat house. My open canoes, my kayaks and even my brand-new solo outrigger canoe, all boats hanging right-side-up in slings, had filled with water till the slings let go or the nails pulled out and had CRASHED to the concrete floor or on top of the lower boats. “Officer, it was horrible!” It was a disaster scene! Four boats had crashed down on top of the lower boats, water was everywhere, and everything was freezing up. 

My daughter Brenda rushed to my rescue, because the water-filled boats were simply too heavy to move or dump by myself. We bailed and mopped frantically for hours in stunned silence. Not a single bad word was spoken; we were both in shock and simply too wet and too cold from the ever dripping ceiling.

The following pictures tell the story. My carbon fiber/Kevlar outrigger hull had broken in half and was a total loss; only ama, iakos and seat could be salvaged. Our father-daughter Kevlar Whitewater X racing canoe was bent out of shape so badly, it almost looked funny. The Kevlar skin was severely creased in several places but had not been punctured - small comfort.

A month later, when the initial shock had faded somewhat, I attacked the “Kevlar pretzel” with morose glee, since I felt I could not hurt or damage the boat any more than it already was. I drilled out the rivets holding the bent thwarts and seat, straightened them out, but especially pulled, yanked, pried and even jumped on the gunwales to bend them back into shape. To my and everybody else’s surprise, I succeeded, and the boat even ran straight and didn’t leak in the annual 16.5 mile Kenduskeag Stream canoe race in Bangor, Maine that April.

I am writing about my New Year’s Day midnight mishap because I do not want any of you to go through the same agony I went through. So please do yourself a favor and hang your boats UPSIDE-DOWN when there is any chance of water coming from above, like in my boat house, or any basement for that matter.
Two more little items, once I have your attention. If you happen to have a boat with a fixed rudder, get yourself one or two of those inexpensive little wooden or aluminum camping stools, so the weight of the boat never rests on the rudder. Rudders resent that, for sure.

And I know my son Mark will hate to hear the following, but always walk around your car before driving off, to see: a) that you did not forget anything on the ground, and b) that the boat is properly tied down. An untied solo Olympic racing kayak can fly quite a distance off your van when you get going and is never the same after its airborne excursion.

Enjoy and be nice to your boats. They will pay you back gratefully if you treat them right, just like your dogs. WOOF!

© Reinhard Zollitsch