Sep 10 2015
I call them strainers. Others call them sieves or sifters. The names may differ, but the threat is always the same. A strainer lets water pass through. But it stops boats (and boaters) in their tracks. And all too often, the force of the moving water then holds both boat and boater prisoner. That’s bad enough, of course, yet if boater and boat now part company, much worse can follow — and follow with astonishing speed.
One of the earliest descriptions of the perils awaiting boaters who fall foul of strainers came from the hand that later wrote Treasure Island. While still a young man, Robert Louis Stevenson got the canoeing bug. His “canoe” was decked, and he propelled it with a double‑bladed paddle — making it what North Americans (and a growing number of Britons, as well) would call a kayak. But that’s beside the point. The important thing is what happened to Stevenson when he tried to force his way through the tangled limbs of a toppled tree. We’ve told the story of Stevenson’s Inland Voyage before (and you can read the book at the Internet Archive if you’re of a mind), so I’ll content myself with one short quote, Stevenson’s own summary of his narrow escape: “Death himself had me by the heels.” It wasn’t an exaggeration.
The bottom line? If you paddle, swim, or wade in rivers and don’t fear strainers, you’re not thinking clearly. In an earlier article, I tagged them “whispering death,” in honor of the ominous sibilance made by rushing water when it flows through a maze of submerged branches, a menacing music that’s best appreciated at a distance. Now, with that goal uppermost in mind, let’s take the opportunity to look death in the face… Read more…
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