Letters from America [27]

Norm Sanders is rediscovering the country of his youth – this time with a paddle in his hand. The following disjointed communications describe his adventures so far

4 May – Old Sea Dog Surfs The Internet From America

The OSD has apparently overcome his Neo-luddite, anti-Internet prejudices sufficiently to leave an account of his North American adventures in the NSWSKC mailbox.

He says that the 12 hour nonstop flight from Sydney to LAX was uneventful except at the end, where a one liter bottle of a white, powdery substance was found in the bowl of one of the loos. Apparently, somebody chickened out at the last minute.

US Customs, already alerted to the presence of miscreants on QF 7, pounced on the OSD’s custom paddle case (skillfully crafted to hold an Alan Wilson folder) and accused him of carrying a rifle. All’s well that ends well, as they say, and the OSD was soon released from custody into the LA smog. He made his way to his Uncle and Aunt’s place in Redondo Beach, whereupon his Uncle presented him with a ad clipped from the paper which read “Kayak Man – Instruction, Rentals, etc.” There was even a phone number: 1-800-374-6248. Uncle Dan thought the place might be in nearby King Harbo(u)r.

The OSD called (rang) the phone number and a young woman with a Southern drawl answered. The OSD, asked where the Kayak rental firm was located. The operator said she didn’t know, but offered to page the Kayak Man who would call (ring) the OSD right back, which he did.

Doug (all Yanks are eager to be called by their first names) said he indeed did rent Kayaks at King Harbo(u)r and was duly impressed by the OSD’s modestly imparted qualifications. Doug said the young woman didn’t know where he was located because the paging service was based in GEORGIA, several thousand miles away. Apparently transcontinental phone calls are cheaper than local ones, or something. The OSD’s mind was boggled.

Anyway, he showed up at the Kayak Man’s place and was allowed to rent Doug’s very own craft, a Dagger Seeker, a little sister to the Apostle. The rate was $15/hour for the first hour and $10/hour thereafter.

The OSD made a good show of putting his paddle together and donning all his gear. There was a slight delay as Doug scouted around for a spraydeck, which is not normal equipment.

The OSD eventually got kitted out and hit the water, from a floating dock. He paddled up the coast for about 5 miles into a 10 knot wind and reports having a pleasant time of it. On the run back, the Seeker didn’t track all that well, but was in general a nice boat – kind of an American Skerray (with less room for the feet.)

The OSD was feeling so pleased with himself that he let his hubris get the better of him as he returned to the KAYAK MAN’s dock.

“O.K. if I do a roll?” he asked Doug. “Yeah, great. Wait a minute until I get the rest of the guys. They’ve never seen a roll before,” he replied.

When everyone was assembled, the OSD turned over with great confidence, got set up, and BLEW IT! He claims his knee slipped because of lack of padding. He tried again – and again. Finally, he exited and attempted a re-entry and roll. Still no luck. Crestfallen, he swam to the dock and climbed out of the water. He now learned about the basic difference between Yank kayaks and Aussie ones. Yank Kayaks often have no bulkheads. The beautiful aquamarine Seeker was full of water and weighed 1000 pounds (500 Kg.)

Now thoroughly humiliated, the OSD helped Doug peel off the aft hatch and bail out enough of the Pacific Ocean to pull the Seeker up on the dock.

When the Seeker was finally restored to normal operating weight, the OSD paid Doug for the rental. Doug’s parting words were: “It’s nice to meet someone who knows what he is doing.” The OSD still isn’t sure if this is an example of sardonic Yank humo(u)r or not. Anyway, he plans to try again in a few days, at which time he hopes to erase the blot he has placed on the reputation of Australian sea kayakers. He promises to make contact with the NSWSKC again in future, if he can sit on his prejudices and scrounge the use of some more hardware.

18 May – Old Sea Dog Defies Coriolis Force!

In his latest message from North America, the OSD proudly announced that he had mastered the Hemispheric Block to his Eskimo rolling.

During his stay in Santa Barbara, he scored the loan of an Aquaterra Chinook for three days. He enjoyed paddling the calm, red tide infested waters of that fabled coastline. After placating the local sea spirits and centering himself, he managed a series of rolls, much to the amazement of the locals.

The locals consisted of four women paddlers, three of whom were in the ubiquitous sit-on-tops and one who was paddling a Sealution. The OSD met them while dodging jet skiers well offshore. All the paddlers decided to travel together for mutual protection.

The OSD gallantly offered to teach Pam, the Sealution owner, to roll and later had a go in the craft himself. He liked it very much and rated it the best plastic boat he had ever paddled.

The OSD asked Pam why she thought so many women paddled in California. (They greatly outnumber the men.) Pam replied that it was because of the dreaded sit-on-tops. They were less threatening and easier for beginners. They were very slow, though, which is why she got a real sea kayak.

The OSD reluctantly left his Southern California paddling buddies and flew to the San Juan Islands, off Seattle. Here he stayed with some old Alaska friends and borrowed a classic fiberglass kayak for cruises around the area. The weather was sunny, but cool. He encountered the usual orcas, eagles, and seals and a huge number of kayaks. They were mostly tourists on commercial tours, some in huge three hole aircraft carriers. (D. Winkworth take note.)

The OSD managed to phone the elusive Jacqui Windh on nearby Vancouver Island just as she came ashore after guiding a group at Tofino for three days. He made arrangements to meet her on her next days off.

The OSD mentioned the lack of sit-on-tops in Australia as a possible reason for the scarcity of women kayakers. “Rubbish!” snorted the normally subdued Jacqui. “It’s because of all those macho males down there,” she added thoughtfully.

She then asked if Arunas had drunk all her wine yet.

After visiting Jaqui, the OSD plans to spend a day or so in Seattle talking to paddling gurus, take a side trip to Idaho, and then head North.

30 May – Old Sea Dog Meets Even Older Sea Dogs!

Now poised for his leap into the Alaskan Arctic, the OSD reports paddling with a living legend in the San Juan Islands between Seattle and Vancouver Island.

He was invited to join a party of paddlers led by Susan Meredith, an octogenarian kayaker who began her career as a hospital ship nurse in Southeast Alaska in the 1940’s. Susan was hit by polio when young and could walk only with difficulty. She discovered that the native kayaks gave her mobility and has been paddling ever since.

Susan and her friends paddle a 40-year-old fiberglass design called a Tyee One. The kayak is about 16 feet long, beamy and comfortable.

The OSD showed up at the appointed time decked out in cag, hat, sunglasses, bathers and paddling shoes. (These are a marvelous purchase from K-Mart: pseudo wet boots in lurid colors and carrying the brand of Baywatch Gear. $6.95 plus tax.)

The other paddlers looked at the OSD with tolerant amusement. They wore their ordinary clothes — coats, jumpers, pants, even leather shoes. A few put on wellies to keep their feet dry when launching.

The rest simply climbed into the Tyee’s ample cockpit and slid down the gravel beach into the calm water. They then paddled about two miles to an island which is part of a chain of locations which are reserved for paddle craft camping! The OSD thought this was a very civilized idea indeed.

After a thoroughly enjoyable time in the San Juans, the OSD took the ferry to Vancouver Island. He had intended to travel to Tofino to visit with Jaqui Windh, but found the logistics (three separate buses each way, plus an overnight stop in Victoria) and coordination with Ms. Windh’s days off to be very difficult. He reluctantly headed east to Idaho instead.

Here he visited friends on Lake Pend Oriolle (pronounced Ponderay). They numbered two sit-on-tops among their aquatic toys. The OSD spent many happy hours on the huge lake, paddling along evergreened shores, below snow-capped peaks. Eventually, he had to admit that S.O.T.s were O.K., even though he always felt naked and vulnerable to chop.

When last heard from, he was near Spokane, Washington, visiting friends who had a flying service. He has reportedly traded his paddle for a pair of hiking boots while his friend drops the OSD in improbable places by helicopter.

1 June – Here Follows a Plain English Summary of Events Thus Far!

Dear residents of Oz!

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest of America! I am currently near Spokane, Washington visiting with some old friends from Santa Barbara who I haven’t seen for 20 years or so. They have 2 dogs, 2 horses, one Cessna 182 airplane and one helicopter. (Americans like toys.) Actually the airplanes are part of the business which is called Gary’s Air Service. Gary hauls wires between power poles and does other aerial chores with Panache.

Yesterday I traveled to Boise, Idaho and back (1200 km) with Gary’s wife Libby to pick up a new horse trailer (float). We left at 7 am and got back at midnight. I saw lots of great scenery, frightening white water rapids, and many golden eagles as we sailed along in a gigantic Yank pickup truck. The mountains are up to 10,000 feet high and still covered with snow.

Before I came to Spokane, I stayed with some other old friends some 100 miles northeast of here in Idaho. They live on the shore of a huge lake called Lake Pend Oriolle. (Pronounced Ponderay.) They too have lots of toys, including a 32 foot trimaran for sailing, a runabout, a canoe and two kayaks. I had lots of good kayaking on the lake (once the rain stopped.) I am very glad I brought my folding paddle.

Before that, I was on Vancouver Island and in the San Juans. More friends, this time from Alaska. They had kayaks, too. I paddled with a bunch of old time kayakers who all had a 40 year old fiberglass design called a Tyee One. I changed into my paddling gear and waited for them to do the same. They looked at me strangely and jumped into their craft fully clothed, including rubber boots (some even had on normal leather street shoes!)

This was preceeded by my Southern California sojourn. (I managed to borrow a sea kayak for three days in Ventura.)

On Monday, June 3, I fly out of here for Anchorage. Then….two months of checking out Alaska after an absence of 40 years.

It seems like I’ve been on the road for 6 months. Every week is crammed full of experiences. Oh well, I certainly don’t feel like I’m rusting anymore.

Stay tuned for further developments!


Stop Press – Letter From Alaska

OSD Used as Bear Bait — Survives Alaskan Ordeal

Anchorage, Alaska. June 14, 1996. The OSD, normally an oceanic person, was recently enticed into the Alaskan hinterland by unscrupulous companions on mountain bikes. The Alaskans loaned the unsuspecting OSD an aging Sekai and drove him to Denali National Park for the expedition.

The three intrepid bicyclists penetrated 60 kms. into the Park over gravel roads, camping out along the way. The trio was confronted by sub-zero temperatures and frigid headwinds. The OSD and his companions laughed at the mere discomfort. (The OSD, after all, had survived the notorious Jervis Bay Hell Paddle.)

Ultimately, it was the threat of dismemberment which kept the group from reaching their goal, the base of 20,230 foot-high Denali. (Which the legendary OSD had climbed in 1954.)

Coming around a corner in bleak and treeless Sable Pass, the adventurers found their path blocked by four grizzly bears. Now the OSD realized why he had been invited along — As oldest and slowest, he would be the first to be devoured as the bicyclists attempted to outrun the bears. (Grizzlies can run at speeds of 60 kph.)

The trio managed to turn around without infuriating the wildlife and sped back down the hill. A short meeting came up with a unanimous decision to set up camp in a bear-free area and devote the rest of the day to eating and planning the return to civilization.

Civilization in this case means Anchorage, a place where Chemists (Payless Drug Stores) send out junk mail ads with Magellan GPS for $200, Coleman Canoes for $500 and .44 Magnum pistols for $499.99. However, there is a wonderful *R*E*I* store in town. (They don’t sell guns.)

The OSD reports that the US is heavily armed and considered dangerous. In Los Angeles, he saw a license plate frame which read; “Keep on Honking. I’m reloading.” On his famous bike trip in Denali Park, he had an encounter with a woman ranger in a large Chevy 4WD. When the OSD spied a 12 gauge pump shotgun in the vehicle, he remarked to the ranger that her Australian counterparts were unarmed. She expressed surprise. She then displayed the .357 Magnum pistol on her belt and thumped herself on her chest. The OSD sprang backwards in shock as the ranger’s breast responded with a loud “thunk.” She was wearing a flak jacket! When she extracted her handcuffs from another holster on her belt, the OSD beat a hasty retreat, fearing involvement in some sort of kinky bondage scenario. He longed for the wholesome woman rangers of Nadgee.

In a few days, the OSD will return to his natural marine habitat. His host in Anchorage, old school chum Will Knoppe, has put the OSD in contact with Richard Larson, mountain biker, kayaker and author. Larson and the OSD will be paddling for a week in a little-visited part of Prince William Sound. Larson is writing a kayaking guide to the region and has never been to this particular remote location before. The OSD has borrowed an Aquaterra Chinook (without bulkheads, in the American manner.) Access to the area will be by chartered fishing boat. The OSD is looking forward to the trip, but his enthusiasm is slightly dampened by the fact that the region is blessed by 400 inches of precipitation yearly.

Stay tuned….

Peace and Semolina (unfortunately unavailable here),


(Hey Jim!: The OSD has graciously granted me permission to tack this message on the end of his great contribution: A coffee bar here in Anchorage has a computer which can access the dreaded Internet. I was hanging out with a bunch of the Alaskan Kayak gurus and punched up the NSWSKC home page. Wow! We were all very impressed. Really great presentation. Congratulations! Inspired by your effort, the Alaskans have vowed to set up a home page of their own. They have fond memories of Australians. Mike Emery, Arunas’ Tasmanian friend, came through a while back and taught some of the Alaskans to roll. Speaking of Australians, Andrew Eddy is supposed to be here right now, planning to embark upon the same body of water I will be paddling on … )