Water, water everywhere

Michael Johansen
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One-half hour earlier and she would have been mine.

She lay on a lawn in Owen Sound, Ont. She was beautiful: a wooden-framed kayak almost 90 years old.

The sight of her stopped me dead and for a moment all I could do was gaze in adoration at her Inuit-inspired curves sheathed in baby-blue canvas.

At a glance I could tell she would ride any wave with ease. The canvas was a little worn and torn, but not so badly that it couldn’t be mended. In respect of her age she belonged in a museum where she could be pampered and preserved, but in appreciation of her exquisite design she clearly wanted to return to the water.

Being so old, the kayak knew Lake Huron when the rocks were several feet deeper and motors, besides steam engines, were still rare. The world had changed around this craft, but she remained constant. I wanted to be the one who paddled her on Georgian Bay again.

The front door of the house was open, but a bug screen blocked the way of the shaggy little dog who answered my ring. He barked at me in pretend fury.

“That should get someone’s attention, eh puppy?”

But the noise didn’t work. No one else came to the door.

Leaving the dog, I scouted around the side of the house and found a path to the back yard, where an older man was cleaning a pool.

The kayak, he told me, was on his front lawn because he was selling it for a friend, but it was no longer for sale, since someone had already bought it.

Affordable cost

“How much did he pay?” I asked, hoping it was so much that the kayak would have been too expensive for me.

“Forty dollars,” he answered, breaking my heart. “I was asking $75, but he said it wasn’t worth more than $40.”

I went away disappointed, but I shouldn’t complain too much. The kayak I actually took on the waters of Georgian Bay the very next day was almost as old, just about as beautiful, and also made with canvas covering a wooden frame — and she was all mine, a gift from an old friend.

The Klepper, as my new boat is called, was made to a sturdy German design more than 60 years ago, but she has a wayward personality and acts like a wilful horse.

As long as I keep my eyes on my direction and my hands firm on the paddle, she tracks straight and true, but if I pause to chase a bug away from my nose, or get distracted by the strange sight of million-dollar docks sitting too high and dry over the lake to be used, the kayak will suddenly veer left or right.

The kayak didn’t allow much leisure for drifting, but there was much to see.

On that rare windless day, the bottom of the bay was clearly visible through the still surface. Everything looked blue. The large round stones were blue, the sunken logs, the sand, the abandoned water pipes, the little crayfish that hunt through the shallow waters and even the water itself was all blue, but not blue like the sky.

“Torquoise,” says Matt. “Or it should be.”

Lax regulations

The shoreline resident says the lax regulations that allow quarry developments to silt up entire coves are not alone in showing how poorly Lake Huron is being protected.

Of more concern is the dramatic drop in water levels that is being blamed on both the excessive dredging of some stretches of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the right of thousands of people to take tens of thousands of litres of water a day.

The lake the baby-blue kayak first knew is nothing like it is today, or like it was in the 1950s when the Klepper might first have plied the waves.

With drainage, pollution and invasions by new species, the ecology has been radically altered. Scenic Georgian Bay now swarms with hundreds of new fibreglas and plastic kayaks of all designs, but what the lake will be like when they’re all antiques (should they survive that long) is anyone’s guess.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Owen Sound St. Lawrence Seaway Labrador

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