Monday, July 5, 2010

Tale of Two Boats

July 1st, Adventure Chick, Adventure Dog and the Newanderthal launched the canoe in the Sabine River below Toledo Bend. The custom made sun shelter kept the late morning heat off the thick-haired dog as we pushed off from the sandy bank. Our goal was simple, tackle the Class II and III rapids that lay along the next third of a mile of river without dashing our skulls against the rocks.

Neither of us had ever attempted rapids, not even Class I, so it made sense to go head on with Class III before learning the easier stuff. It's how we roll.

The first set looked a little hairy, but as we entered, we quickly found out that it wasn't that big of a deal. The water was quick but shallow, so we were dragging keel for most of the way and didn't spin wildly out of control, flying, flipping and dying. We actually came through alright. Since it looked a little nasty, I opted to pull the canoe over to get some photos of the rapids we had just conquered.

Ahead, a rock shelf stretched a third of the way across the river. We aimed for it and glided the bow of the canoe onto the submerged shelf. Then the trouble hit. The current began swinging the stern of the canoe around to the port side, forcing more of the canoe onto the shelf. I dug my paddle into the rock, but unfortunately the current was stronger. The entire port side slid onto the rock, raising it. The starboard side dipped and we tilted. A half second later, the weight shifted abruptly and the canoe shot out from under us.

The icy water came up to greet us and the entire boat seemed airborne. It went completely upside down, trapping the Adventure Dog between it and the sun screen, under water. I planted my feet and grabbed the gunwales, flinging the swamped canoe over while the Adventure Chick yanked our fuzzy friend free. Though startled, he calmed down almost instantly and retreated to the bank.

We laughed at the incident, but watched our point-and-shoot camera float around in the flooded boat. Should have put that one in the dry sack with the SLR. Oops. After bailing the boat, we launched again and proceeded toward the next set of rapids.

This one seemed a bit worse. The right side was Class III, which means lots of obstacles and fast moving water. The left side was Class IV, which means you stay away from it when inside a canoe. We hugged the far right side, navigating our way through a narrow shoot, around a tight bend, and over a small waterfall. Back in calm water, we managed to pull over and get photos without flipping the boat.

After a relaxing paddle around a calmer section of river, we ate some lunch and headed home. We'd tackled our first rapids and came through unscathed. We just have to watch out for the calmer waters. That seems to be where we have our troubles.

On July 4th, I headed out with Captain Thorton on the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The clouds were gathering, but the rain wasn't coming yet. The two of us and his dog, Tabasco, cruised downstream watching the pelicans and gulls. A few minutes into the trip, we spotted a pod of dolphins shadowing a shrimp boat.

Twenty or so miles into the trip, we pulled into a small cut off the side of the channel. While idling along, the engine died. After a few failed attempts to restart the motor, Captain Thorton investigated, discovering that the fuel filter was in dire need of changing. But after several attempts to unscrew the filter, we realized that it was rusted in place. We wrapped a belt around it, using it for grip, but it still wouldn't budge. Then we drove a screwdriver through the side to create a makeshift handle. It bent the screwdriver and tore a hole in the filter, but still it wouldn't loosen.

A passing tanker made its way up the channel, redirecting the current as it went. Suddenly, we were being sucked back into the ship channel. With no power to alter our course, I rushed to the bow of the boat and dropped anchor. As the ocean liner faded into the distance, the current switched again and we were safe.

Finally, after much frustration and a little blood, the entire housing was unbolted and removed. We then set about the task of ripping the filter apart with screwdrivers, knives and pliers. Once the seal was stripped away and the filter lay in pieces atop the ice chest, we were finally able to break the threads free and remove what remained of the filter. The new one went on without a hitch and a few minor frustrations later, the housing was connected to the fuel lines once more and we tried the engine.

Crossing our fingers we listened as the engine cranked up, then died. The captain tried again, and it started. This time, it remained running.

We moved back into the ship channel and headed toward the launch. I had a barbecue to get to and Bobby had fish to catch.

The fuel filter tried its best to strand us, but after a small blood sacrifice to the maritime gods (in the form of bloody knuckles scraped against jagged metal) we had defeated the filter soundly. We always win and future problems should keep that in mind.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 3

The storm has passed and the lights are out. With any luck, your house was not cut in half by a falling tree. If it was, I am deeply sorry. Now that the town is in ruins, what do you do?

First, you want to be careful. Before venturing outside, make sure there are no downed power lines in your yard. If there are, try contacting the power company. Avoid any downed lines at all costs. There's enough electricity running through those things to fry a whale, you don't stand a chance.

Check the perimeter of your home. If you have any damaged windows, you'll want to remove whatever projectile the hurricane felt the need to shove through the glass and string up a tarp. If you don't have a tarp, tack a sheet to the window frame on the outside of the house. Though not waterproof, it will still keep rain out, along with bugs.

If you want to scout the damage around your home, be wary of dangerous animals. Snakes, raccoons, wasps and other critters might be in the area. Everything was shaken up by the storm and in quite a panic. They will likely seek shelter beneath anything, including a sheet of metal that blew into the yard or an overturned trash can. They're already spooked and startling them can easily provoke an attack, so watch out. Approach every piece of debris cautiously and if you pick anything up, use a stick to lift it first, looking underneath. Do NOT stick your hands or fingers under something unless you have first made certain that there's nothing under there that can hurt you. A bite from a copperhead won't kill you, but the tissue damage will ruin your weekend and the medical bill will likely cost more than your car. Not to mention the fact that you could have a couple fingers fall off.

Moving around the town might be a bit difficult. Downed trees and telephone poles will be a constant nuisance, not to mention business signs and chunks of sheet metal. Avoid running over any debris, especially wood and sheet metal as they will likely contain nails or screws, and also power lines. If the wind is still blowing hard, be mindful of intersections. Those heavy traffic lights can snap loose and do some real damage to you and your vehicle. If they are hanging at weird angles, try to cut through a parking lot or drive in a different lane to avoid being directly beneath them. You may have to get out and walk if the streets become too clogged with debris. After Rita, navigating most neighborhoods had to be done on foot. Be careful of snakes if you're hoofing it. Also, if any cops pass through, wave or nod at them. Do NOT try to duck them. They might assume you're a looter and toss you in the slammer.

Check on any nearby friends and family members and see if they need help clearing branches from their driveway or road. If you have friends nearby who evacuated, check on their homes in case there's damage. the only thing worse than having your home damaged while you're in it is having it damaged a week before you can get there to prevent water from pouring in.

Communications will likely be down for a while. Your home phone will go out as soon as a line gets snapped, and cell phone towers can take damage. Turn on your phone and check for signal. Get in the middle of your yard for the best chance for reception. If you get no signal, turn the phone off. Check it again in a day or two, turning it off when not in use. Also, remove the battery. If you run down the battery when you don't have signal, you can't use it when you do.

Listen to your radio. If the National Guard or the County/Parish sets up a relief center where citizens can get food, water and ice, you need to know about it. Also, if the tap water is not suitable for drinking, you need to know. Only run the radio for a few hours, and actually listen to it. Keep it tuned to the local emergency station or the weather station.

Open up your windows to let some cool air blow through the house. Without air conditioning, your home will become an oven when the sun comes out. Get some fresh air in there. At night, only open the windows with screens over them.

There will be bugs. The storm will have blown down every wasp nest in a 200 mile radius and quite a few will be in your yard. And the ground hornets will be flooded out. If they become a nuisance, the solution is easy and cheap. Fill a glass or ceramic bowl with steep sides with a sweet liquid. Sunny Delight works best, but any fruit juice, Kool Aid or even cold coffee with sugar will work. Fill the bowls about halfway and set them around the outside of your house. The wasps will fall in while trying to drink. It's an easy to make wasp trap. If they fill the bowl, scoop the dead ones out with a spoon and toss them in the dumpster.

Start cooking your refrigerator food so it doesn't go bad. Remember to keep your refrigerator visits short and few. The more time that door stays open, the faster it will loose its cool air and things will begin to spoil.

If the National Guard is called in and your area is declared a Disaster Area, the whole situation changes. You need to find out when the curfew begins and ends, and where the Disaster Area boundaries are. If you leave the area, you will not be allowed back in. They don't let people return, even if you never evacuated. Even if you left for a couple of hours to purchase food for your family, on the return trip they will turn you around. They will not allow you to bring food to your family that's still in the area. However, they can't cover every route in and out of the disaster area. They'll start by blocking off the interstate and major highways, and then move on to smaller highways and large roads. However, even the National Guard doesn't have the manpower to block all the roads.

Before leaving for food, you should scout some of the back roads that lead in and out of the area. If you see the National Guard has a checkpoint on the highway leading out of town, find a way around the checkpoint before you leave. On the way back, take the detour to avoid them. You need to scout these alternate routes ahead of time. If they are blocked by downed trees, you need to know before leaving.

If every road is blocked, there's still a way to get food from a safe zone back into town, but it's tricky. You need several people and two vehicles. What you want to do is leave a vehicle parked on the inside of the disaster zone near some kind of path, such as railroad tracks or a pipeline, anything that you can traverse on foot. You then take a second vehicle out to buy groceries from a few towns over or the next state or wherever. On the way back, if the National Guard won't let you through, you park your car near the path, out of sight. Then, using backpacks or a four wheeler or a little red wagon, transport the groceries to the car on the inside of the disaster area. Any time you need to make a supply run, just walk over to the car on the outside and make your run. Then park it and sneak back in.

Don't run around at night. There will likely be a curfew, and if there isn't, you'll look suspicious. Also, it's dangerous. You could step on a nail, a snake, or get mugged. Stay around the house and have a barbecue. Eat some of that food you have thawing out. Clean up in the cold bath water and get some sleep. Read a book.

Lastly, try to have fun. Explore your damaged town and take lots of pictures. Keep a journal about all you've seen and done. Tell ghost stories, play games or just sit around and talk. Or go camping. You could even spend a night under an overpass. Some of them have a neat little shelf at the top that offers protection from the wind and rain. They're quite comfortable and can keep you safe from the elements, even during the storm itself (I speak from experience). The storm is only a disaster if you don't find a way to enjoy yourself during the experience. If you can enjoy yourself, then it's an adventure and you'll have much better stories to tell.