This column was first published November 26, 2005

The furnace men showed up Monday morning to do whatever they do best to make the machine ready for winter. After a mild Sunday and even milder Monday, I had second thoughts about writing a check for that amount when it was so warm. Then again, since I was double-teamed, I may have received a bargain.

I know we’re going to get smacked, but Sunday and Monday were bonus days, weren’t they? Saturday wasn’t all that bad either, albeit a little chilly. There was still ice on the numerous puddles around the University of Maine forest Saturday, especially in the shadows and where the water wasn’t moving. We won’t talk about Monsoon Tuesday. I hope the wind and rain didn’t leave you in too bad a shape.

Paddling buddy Robert Causey called Saturday morning to see if I’d be interested in accompanying him on an outing with Pearl (an American Eskimo) and Merlyn (a hyper-active cocker spaniel) to work off some of their abundance of energy in the University Forest at Orono. We tromped around 4-plus miles beginning at the bike path, then over to the cornfield and back to the main road through the forest that connects to the Witter Farm Road and back via the bike path.

Trust me when I say Merlyn didn’t seem to be any less tired at the end after pulling me around that loop than he was when we started! He’s a young dog full of boundless energy. I wish I had a charge of that spunk. Lately I feel more like an old dog.

Earlier in the weekend I’d taken note of a weather forecast that called for mild weather Sunday and I’d mentally penned in a paddling outing since there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to get on the water in the coming weeks. The big problem was that my kayak was in the garage along with the roof racks for my car and the garage door was stuck. Late Saturday afternoon I’d attempted to close it and it came to a sudden stop about 18 inches shy of the ground. It wouldn’t go up and it wouldn’t go down.

No big deal, I thought. I’d get up Sunday morning and deal with it when there was daylight. After coffee and toast I did just that.

Remember when I told you about the fall ritual of stuffing the camper into the garage? How all that stuff gets piled around and in front of it? All that stuff in front had to come back out for me to be able to get at the overhead mechanism that helps lift the door. There’s a spring and cable system that uses a coiled-up spring to provide torque to an axle with drums and cables. The cables wind up around the drums when the door is raised and unwind when the door is lowered – if all goes well.

In this case the cable had become slack and uncoiled, only to jump off the drum and wind around its axle and jam the door. The first chore was to lever the door open so I could begin the task. Fortunately, there was enough room under the door for me to reach a 2-by-3 I could use as a lever.

Around lunch time, after much grunting, fussing, and groaning, I’d managed to get everything back together and in some semblance of working order. In the meantime, Causey had dropped by to lend a hand and supply the coffee and bagels. I’d managed to throw out my back and add some new knots here and there.

I was ready to escape.

Pushaw Lake beckoned.

I followed.

The exercise, I figured, would do me good. I’m not sure it did. I left shore with a knot in my back and returned a couple of hours later with the same knot. It was gone by Monday morning, though, thanks (possibly) to a couple of ibuprofen and a night’s rest.

The lake, by the way, was flat calm. I did my usual island tour, except that I stopped on Hardwood to heat up some water in my Jetboil to make some soup. My slurping was the only noise around, save for a small flock of mergansers that buzzed the lake’s surface and the cry of distant gulls and a few loons – oh, yes, and the drone of a four-wheeler somewhere ashore.

On my way past the northern end of Moose Island, a white object wedged in roots on shore caught my eye. On closer inspection it turned out to be the top of a five-gallon plastic bucket. It was stuck between some roots and rocks and I was determined to free it without getting out of my boat. My initial retrieval attempt was at paddle length and nearly cost me a bath. I pulled the kayak closer to the rocks and, after a tussle, was able to free it with my paddle blade and nab it. Believe it or not I have had my eye out for one of these. This one was trash, so I figured I cleaned up a little bit of eyesore and gain something useful in the process. (I have yet to resort to picking trash barrels for returnables, but I have been known to drag home some fine junk I’ve found roadside.)

What, you ask, would you want a bucket top for? In a recent Sea Kayaker Magazine, a reader submitted what I thought was a great idea for saving the bottom of his kayak. He used one of these bucket tops to protect the bottom of his boat when landing. Here’s how it works: Pull your boat as far up on shore as is practical without scraping the keel astern. Put the bucket top under the bow and lower the boat onto it. Then go to the stern, lift and pivot the boat on the bucket top. You’ll have lifted only half the weight of the boat and at the end of your first pivot it will be well away from the water.

The writer also uses the bucket top to stand on while changing paddling gear thus keeping his feet or socks clean.

Not a bad use for a piece of junk, no?

When I got back to shore I tried his trick, only where I landed there was a small bank. (The little beach at Gould Landing is flooded again thanks to all this rain we’ve had.) I put the top on the ground and pulled the boat up on the plastic and balanced it there while I got out of my paddling gear.

Another way to protect your boat when landing or launching is to use a boat fender. These are a bit bulkier, but they work. Put it on the shore when you land or launch and use it as a roller. I found that I had to be careful because my boat tended to want to go off to one side or the other. The fender takes up a fair chunk of rear deck space, but you can get double duty out of it by using it to sit on while resting ashore. Keep your eyes open when you’re on the water and chances are you’ll find one of these too.

And here’s one more handy tidbit (just call me Kayak Heloise or Martha …).

While you’re looking for flotsam and jetsam, keep your eye out for bait bags that lobstermen put in their traps. These things are all over the shore on the coast. Chances are you’ll find them in orange or green and most likely there’ll be a piece of polyethylene line used as a drawstring to close the top and fasten it to the trap.

Pick up as many as you want, you’re doing the environment some good.

Put a couple of the better, cleaner ones in a hatch. The next time you go ashore and there is nothing to tie your boat to, take one of these bait bags out, put a rock in it and cinch the drawstring. Then clip your bow line to it and toss it on the shore. Voila! A free anchor! It’ll keep your boat from washing out to sea if it gets floated by an incoming wave. When you’re ready to launch, put the rock back on the beach. The bait bag takes up no room, it weighs next to nothing, and best of all, it’s free.

Jeff Strout’s column  is published on Saturdays.