Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 20: "You're fired", or "Rudd'er, I don't even know her!", or "Dem bones, dem bones, dem cold, cold bones"

It rained during the night.

There is something about rain that makes it harder to start fires the following day. I do not know what it is, but will continue to research this issue. I did finally manage to start one, but it took a mess of fuel and toilet paper, and ruining my lighter with the sand. The eggs rotted in my mind. My potato yearnings overgrew with vines.

It may not have helped that it was also extremely windy. And since this is Saskatchewan, the wind never stops, but chooses some random direction in the morning, and builds all day, until by evening you cannot stand against it, the trees bow before, and all the land gets swept flat.
This is why there are no mountains in Saskatchewan. None have been able to stand up against the wind.

But in any case I alternated between fighting the wind, and walking about on sandbanks wondering what to do about it. I drew a free-body diagram which finally explained why the wind tries to turn my boat sideways. It is because considering the water as still relative to the wind, the greatest drag is at the center of the boat, and so either end facing the wind is only in a metastable position.

I thought I could attach a small sail to the front of the canoe, which might help keep me righted in a tailwind. In a headwind, the motive force of the paddle helps considerably. I got so far as to screw in a board just below the bow deck and was looking for something to use as a mast when the went laid off a bit so I could move on.

Back on the water it was clear what I really wanted was a rudder! Move the drag to the back when traveling cross to the water current, but nearly no drag when proceeding straight. And clearly I had often used my paddle to rudder the boat to keep it straight, in allkinds of winds, it would be extremely useful.

But a rudder is a thing which is very hard to build with such limited tools and materials as I had. I had considered adding a rudder back home, but thought it too much work to design and build one before my departure. Now I think it would have made better time if I had gone ahead and built it. And not only for wind - I imagined having a lot more time to read and write even on a clear river current if I did not have to worry so much about keeping the boat straight.

The next beach the wind and rain forced me to stop at was littered with bones from some long-dead bovine. I imagined that a vertebra could act as a kind of fulcrum through which I could put my favorite paddle, my ottertail, as a rudder. I'd have to saw off the paddle grip, and secure the rudder through means of, I don't know, some mess of rope and bungee I'd figure out later.

I also imagined writing a short story about finding this beast's scattered skeleton in the wind. I'd find all the pieces, and put them together with some mess of rope and bungee, and then sprinkle some magic ingreient on top, like dillweed or sweet'n'sour sauce. The bones would stand up, alive and at my service. "Master," the creature would say, "you ought to have given me a skin to wrap myself in. This wind, it cuts cold, sir, it cuts cold."

And I'd tell it (and this is true) that when the wind blows this hard the water feels warmer, because it doesn't pull away the heat so quickly. And the creature would lumber down into the water with my canoe's bow line in its jaws, to pull me along.

When finally it would be time to stop, I'd give three yanks on the rope and the skeleton would crawl back onto land. "The fish", it'd say, "tell me you have been traveling this way for quite some time."

"That's true," I'd say. And then curious, "What kind of fish were they? Do you suppose they'd taste good cooked over an open fire?"

"I cannot say. They are different kinds from when I last walked."

And then I don't know what would happen, because I never developed an actual plot for the story.

So at the end of the day, all I had for a sail, a rudder, and a short story were a board and three cow vertebrae. And it took a mess of fuel and toilet paper to get my fire started, again.

Day 20 ended: 50*58.160N, 109*33.631W

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