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HomeNL-2019-05 Paddling Perspectives

Paddling Perspectives: Your Cosmic Paddling Questions Answered
May 2019
by Kent Walters

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column is intended to be funny, but for reasons unknown to the author, this one provides some surprisingly accurate answers to the first and the last of the questions posed.  

kw pp

Q: Following up on a question from last month, I have heard that only the female mosquitos bite.  How can you tell the difference between a male mosquito and a female mosquito?

A1: If a mosquito is biting you, it’s a girl.

A2: If you see a mosquito that is not biting you, it is most likely a female, and she will be biting you soon.

A3: If you can hear a mosquito, it is most likely a female, and she will be biting you soon.

A4: (summary) Male mosquitos are generally smaller than female mosquitos, and have feathery antennae.  They don’t hang out around people so you won’t see them and, since they are not around you, that irritating whine will not likely be coming from them.  They make a similar sound, but lower in pitch.  You are not likely to notice them at all because you are not their target demographic and they won’t be irritating you.  NOTE: Extension of these last general observations about mosquitos to other species (for example, Homo sapiens) is ill-advised.

kw pp

Q: I heard that a 700-year old dugout canoe was discovered on the Red River a while back.  Which racks would be better for toting that baby around, Thule or Yakima?

A: I assure you, you would not want to “tote that baby” around, and you are most certainly starting with the wrong question.  “That baby” is almost 34 feet long, and I imagine it weighs a lot more than either Thule or Yakima racks are rated for.  Did you see the episode of “Home Improvement” where Tim Taylor dropped an “I” beam on his wife’s restored Nomad?  If you could somehow hoist “that baby” on top of your car, it would flatten your car before coming to rest on your vehicle’s remains about twenty inches above the ground.  Note also that this canoe is not in the best shape.  It needs some serious work before floating it anywhere.  There are some other practical considerations you might want to work out.  For example, how will you get it past Security at Texas A&M where it is being preserved?  I mean, somebody might notice you and your crane messing with the huge tank it is soaking in, and then if you got it out, a 34-foot hunk of wood scraping and groaning across the parking lot could raise some eyebrows.  Are you going to use bacon grease, butter or WD-40 to help with the stiction/friction issues?  To answer your original question, I would use Thule racks because the Yakimas always roll over when you are trying to position your boat on them.

kw pp

Q: How do “they” know how old this boat is?

A1: “They” found the HIN plate on the aft starboard side, barely hanging on.  It read, “CADDO09C1376”.  In the pre-1972 Hull Identification Number decoder ring, the first 5 alpha characters were allocated to manufacturer, the second group of 3 hexadecimal characters was reserved for the serial number, and the third group of 4 numeric characters specified the manufacturing year 1376.  NOTE: This particular HIN scheme is only valid for boats made from AD33 through AD1971.

A2: The same way “they” always determine the age of organic materials – radiocarbon dating. The Cliff Notes version of this process is that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis.  Animals get radiocarbon when they eat the plants (irrelevant to this discussion about trees, but fascinating nonetheless). When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment (that’s how a doctor knows when a person is really dead), and from that point onwards the amount of radiocarbon it contains begins to decrease as it undergoes radioactive decay. Measuring the amount of radiocarbon in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate how long it has been since the animal or plant died.  For conspiracy theorists, this is elitist hogwash – an explanation dreamed up by academics and promoted as a widely accepted “methodology”.  You can tell that this falls into the same category as New Age Sedona crystals because of the use of the word “cosmic rays”.  I mean, seriously?  Think about how this looks in light of the subtext to the title of this unsyndicated column.  In defense of the academics, it seems to be “bought” by the majority of the population, so why mess with something that is working?

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Q: So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a few moments that radiocarbon dating is legitimate.  You have the remains of what looks like it could have been a canoe made of a hunk of a tree (wood).  When the tree was five years old, the center of it was already out of the carbon-exchanging business, so if the tree lived another 505 years and the scientists took their sample from the center of the bow, the radiocarbon clock would have started 500 years earlier than when the tree actually died – more than a daylight savings time error.  When the tree died, the radiocarbon decay clock on the outer layer started ticking.  Sometime later the tree fell over.  Then the tree could have been laying there for God only knows how long before a Caddo Indian stumbled onto it and thought it would make a nice canoe.  Then he had to round up a bunch of his buddies who were doing all kinds of other non-canoe-related stuff and convince them that this was a worthy project.  When they came to a consensus, they started burning and hacking away the insides of the tree.  So how old is the finished canoe, and how do “they” know?

A: “They” don’t actually know how old the canoe is, as in the date it entered into service as a canoe.  The IRS only mandates that records be kept for the first 7 years, and since they don’t have any record of this, we only know for sure that it is older than 7 years.  “They” pick something that sounds newsworthy (older than anything else), glue a couple of random facts to it, like the radiocarbon scam, and then “consult” (party) with each other for a few years to make it seem well-thought out, and then finally announce it to the public with great authority and fanfare.  A perfect example of this process is the recent announcement of the 50,000-year-old Homo Luzonensis (look it up). Link: 

kw pp

Q: I’ve heard of strainers and sweepers, but what’s a sieve?

A: A sieve is a lot like a sweeper in how it works, but it is much less forgiving.  Review: A sweeper usually consists of an exposed (above the water) fallen tree with branches hanging in the water that “sweep” you out of your boat as you try to go under or through, or, grab/pin you as you get swept into it by the current while you are trying to paddle around it.  In confined channels, overhanging bushes or cane can sweep you out of your boat in much the same way.  A strainer is the same thing, but underwater with branches poking up through the surface.  An innocent-looking bush or small tree sticking up from underwater at flood stage can also become a very effective strainer.  Now we get to the subject of this answer – the sieve.  A sieve (aka siphon) is where the water in the channel travels underneath rocks as it continues downstream.  If you and your boat are just a little too big to get through, this is not a good place to be.  You don’t even have to be upside-down to drown in this situation.  If there is enough water rushing through the funnel, the kayak will buckle and bend, trapping the kayaker inside. If the kayaker is swimming, sieves are even more dangerous as the swimmer can be sucked into a sieve and held indefinitely without the chance of escaping.  

The video clip in the link below is a heart-stopping example of how an experienced kayaker momentarily let himself get distracted in his exuberance and got himself stuck in a sieve in New Zealand.  Start around 1:40 for the event, but the entire video is quite enlightening. 

NOTE: Our club trips are not in New Zealand, and all of our club trips are quite a bit tamer than this.

The author, Kent Walters