This column was first published June 10, 2006

Everyone pictured in Monday’s paper looked a little soggy, didn’t they?

There were wet Maine guides in wet canoes, wet dogs, wet runners, wet Soap Box Derby contestants, wet walkers at Acadia National Park, wet walkers in Machias’ Trails Day celebration, wet kids and monster trucks in Hermon, even a wet basement and booted homeowner in Brewer. Rain gear was in order. (Too bad that the most prominently pictured guide standing up in his canoe wasn’t wearing his PFD!)

Things didn’t change much for the rest of the week except it got wetter…

Saturday morning drizzle had turned to rain when the former Baron of the Bunny Hutch called to invite me out to watch the inaugural voyage of his latest invention – a fully foamed-out version of an Old Town Scout canoe, complete with enough rigid foam to keep the QEII afloat.

Never mind the rain, I thought, this would be worth it. My paddling buddy, also known as Robert Causey, was going to take his fiancée’s two dogs along on the outing. The two canines are the reason for all the floatation in the first place. I’m partly to blame for this project, you see, because I was the one who told him about this fantastic deal on an Old Town canoe last year.

The company had a yard sale and was selling hull kits for a really good price. I knew Causey was looking, albeit casually, for something besides a kayak in which to take the two dogs along on his water outings. So I gave him the hard sales pitch. He bought it and the boat and I helped him put it together.

Then he decided it would need some “extra floatation” – not just a float bag or two. No, that wouldn’t do because there had to be room for the dogs! And an inflatable float bag is vulnerable to dog claws. So Causey put on his inventor’s cap and came up with the idea of stuffing rigid foam blocks into the canoe, tying them in with steel shelving brackets and bolts, and making it all fancy with vinyl flooring. It’s a winder to behold. It weighs slightly less than the QEII!

We headed out for Pushaw Lake around 11:30 a.m. with a plan in mind. I’d tag along in my kayak while Robert and the dogs paddled about the lake.

There was one minor problem, however. By the time we reached the lake, the wind was blowing 20 knots or more from the east and the lake was all riled up, except for the cove area near the beach at Gould Landing.

Fine! We’d stay in the lee and Causey and the dogs would make their maiden voyage. After much adieu and swapping the canoe end-for-end to keep the dogs from escaping over the bow onto shore, we were off. It turned out to be a success, as long as I stayed a good distance away. Every time I got close to the canoe, one of the dogs would bark incessantly.

Then it was time to try capsizing the craft to see if it was truly buoyant. While Capt. Causey took his charges to shore and back to his car, I went out into the wind and waves to play in my kayak.

Meanwhile Causey put on his rubber suit, ditched the extraneous gear and headed back out on the water. Capsizing was a snap! But getting the monster flipped back upright turned out to be a struggle worth the price of admission.

It involved much grunting and squeaking as neoprene slid up the bottom of the canoe. When he was about mid-ship Causey had to practically stand on the bottom to get it to begin to turn over. We later reasoned that a loop of rope on both sides could be used as a stirrup to aid in the process.

The beauty of having all that foam in place is that when swamped, this canoe has nearly 6 inches of freeboard! By pushing one end down and then pushing the boat away from him, Causey was able to get nearly half of the water out of the boat. That’s pretty good. If you’ve ever tried this with a regular canoe (one without foam filling) you know it takes a lot of work to get this much water out.

With the water half out, Capt. Causey was able to flop back into the wallowing boat and begin bailing with a paint bucket.

After the second successful re-boarding I headed back out to the wind and waves to play again in the whitecaps. Causey headed to shore and packed up.

Happy ending

Monday morning’s e-mail revealed a saga that happened Sunday at Plumb Island, Mass., involving two sea kayakers who were flipped into chilly waters by rip currents. The story ends happily because the two were properly equipped to be on the water and were wearing personal flotation devices. It’s nice to hear for once, about a rescue gone right.

Here’s what the Coast Guard sent out from its Boston office:

“A Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, HH-60 helicopter crew rescued two kayakers from the waters south of Plum Island about 1:30 p.m. today (Sunday, June 4).

“Keith Attenborugh of Marlboro, Mass., contacted the Coast Guard about 11 a.m. via VHF channel 16 on a hand-held radio, stating that he and John Raleigh of Newburyport, Mass., were in separate kayaks when they got caught in a rip current, which caused their kayaks to flip, leaving them in the water. Both men were wearing dry suits and life jackets. One kayak got away from them, but they were able to climb on top of the other overturned one and launch a flair to indicate their position.

“A 47-foot Coast Guard rescue boat from Station Merrimack River was deployed, along with another 47-foot Coast Guard rescue boat from Station Gloucester and an HH-60 helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod.

“Due to shallow water, the rescue boats could not reach Attenborugh and Raleigh, so the helicopter crew hoisted them from the water, and transported them to Plum Island Airport where there was an ambulance waiting. They declined medical attention, but both were reported in good condition.

“The four attributing factors to these men surviving were the life jackets and dry suits they were wearing, in addition to the flares and hand-held VHF radio they had on board,” said Lt. Greg Callaghan, Coast Guard Sector Boston duty officer.

“The second kayak was pulled from the water by local police.”

If you’ve attended any of our Paddle Smart seminars here in Bangor in the past six years, you already know about the keys to this successful rescue.

But the remarks by Callaghan are telling. The fact that these two paddlers were wearing dry suits and life jackets, carried flares and had a working VHF radio contributed to a timely and safe rescue.

You could argue the rescue wouldn’t have been necessary if the two had not been paddling where they were. Planning an outing involves such considerations as tide and currents as well as weather and paddling skills. But accidents can happen and being prepared, particularly in this case, helped bring this story to a happy ending.

Fort to Fort on June 25

Here’s something to mark on your calendar. It’s one of those paddle-friendly outings that happens annually and one I keep promising to myself I’ll do … maybe this year.

On Sunday June 25, Augusta’s Old Fort Western is sponsoring the Fort to Fort Paddle – Fort Halifax in Winslow to Fort Western in Augusta. This is a non competitive event open to all. Shove off time is 8 a.m. at Fort Halifax park in Winslow. You could also put in at the Waterville landing. The full trip is expected to take between five and six hours, and shuttle service will be provided back to Winslow between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Water and snacks will be provided at the Sidney landing, roughly halfway. Total distance is 17 miles. More information is posted on the Fort Western Web site

Jeff Strout’s column is published each Saturdays.