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.

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