Preparing for a Sea Scout Canoeing Long Cruise
Sea Scout Ship North Star (Ship 90), located in the Endless Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania, has been canoeing as part of its program since the ship was established in 1943. Through the years the ship has endured badly designed canoes, high water, low water, fierce storms, and now no cell phone reception for most of the trip. The many experiences through the years have resulted in the adoption of strategies that improve our canoeing trip experience.
Most of our long canoe trips occur on the upper Delaware River which marks the boundary between Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The National Park Service has jurisdiction over recreational activities on the river but most of the land in the river corridor is privately owned. A railroad right of way runs along the river crossing from side-to-side. The land between the river and the tracks is generally available for camping but the steep, rocky banks make finding a suitable campsite a daily adventure.
The first preparation step is planning a route and selecting possible dates to give us the most participation. Achieving maximum distance has not proven to be a productive goal. Most of our crew is not interested in a down-river dash. Most are still learning canoe handling skills and learning to read the river. For us a long day would be 20 miles. Our last day is normally less than ten miles because of the time needed to get the canoes and gear loaded and traveling home.
When selecting dates it is a good idea to select alternate dates in case bad weather is predicted on the primary dates. A canoe or a tent is not a good place to experience during a major rain event. Scattered thunderstorms are not uncommon and may considerably alter your planned progress.
A normal day is about six hours of paddling. We plan to be off the river about 3 PM. This gives us sunlight to dry our clothes if we went swimming in the rapids, an unhurried camp set up, time to collect firewood, time for fishing, time for hiking and exploring, and time for swimming.
Transportation to the river
After the water route is set, vehicle transportation needs to be mapped out. We normally elect a drop-off and a pick-up, taking all our food and gear in the canoes. We have talked to others who use vehicles to transport their gear from campsite to campsite. Both systems work. Our campsites are free and generally are not near roads. Campsites with road access normally require significant nightly fees. Keeping our trips very affordable is one of our goals.
Food planning is the next preparation step. We prepare a meal-by-meal menu and figure purchase quantities based on the number of crew going. We try to stay away from items requiring refrigeration. When we want to incorporate meat into a meal, we use canned meat. Our goals for each meal are fast, easy, inexpensive, filling, and teen friendly. A typical day might be:
- 2 instant oatmeal packets
- Pop tarts
- Coffee/tea/hot chocolate
- Individually wrapped cookies or crackers
- Canned chicken sandwiches
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Cool aid
- Granola bar
- Canned stew
- Mashed potatoes
- Green beans
- Choice of beverage
- Trail mix
We use squeeze bottles for jelly, mustard and mayo. The opened mayo is discarded after the meal. Deli rounds have replaced sliced bread as they stay fresh longer, pack in a smaller space, and resist crushing.
After the food is purchased we have learned from experience that each day’s food must be packed separately. If this isn’t done, finding the right food for a given meal is nearly impossible. We use screw-top plastic, 5-gallon containers to transport food that would be damaged if submerged.
The food committee also selects the appropriate cooking utensils and cookware for the trip. They also ensure that we have enough water containers. Water is very heavy but rather than boiling or chemically purifying river water we haul a two- to three-day supply in collapsible plastic jugs – some two gallon and some five gallon. We can normally find water every two days.
Several weeks before the planned trip date we distribute and discuss a gear list like the one below:
Personal Gear Requirements
- Sleeping bag and ground pad
- Canteen or water bottle
- 1 Pair Long pants
- 1 Pair Shorts
- Chambrey Scout shirt – long sleeve
- Ship T-shirt
- Ship Ball cap
- Extra Shirts and shorts
- Get wet sneakers – to wear canoeing
- Trail shoes/sneakers – to wear in camp
- Duffle bag or bags to pack double-bagged gear in
- Toilet gear (soap, washcloth, towel, toothbrush & paste, toilet paper)
- Foul weather gear, rain suit or poncho
- Extra garbage bags & twist ties
- Safety strap for glasses
- Ammo box
Optional Recommended Gear
- Insect repellant
- Pencil & notebook
- Spending money
Using the gear list we spend part of several meetings explaining the use and proper packing of the required gear:
- The items most ignored are wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are needed to protect against sunburn. Sunburn has been our most common and painful issue.
- Shoes – We start the trip wearing socks and the wet pair of shoes. When we camp the wet shoes and socks are removed and the nice dry ones are used in camp. The next morning the wet socks and shoes are put on and the dry ones packed with our dry clothing ready for use at the next camp.
- We use a double bag process for packing clothing and sleeping bags to keep them dry. Place two large, black plastic garbage bags, one inside the other, into your duffle bag (knap sack, gym bag, book bag, suit case, etc.). Put your clothing into the inner plastic bag until your duffle bag is full or you have everything in. Twist the inner plastic bag closed tight. Double the twist over and secure it with a twist tie or a rubber band. Then repeat the twist closure process for the outer plastic bag. Now, the duffle can be closed securing the double bagged gear inside. The duffle or other type bag is there to protect the plastic bags from damage and to give you handles to secure the gear inside the canoe. It is generally easier to pack clothing and sleeping gear in separate duffle bags.
- A military surplus ammo box works very well for keeping gear dry and handy. This is where medications, cameras, wallets, IDs, pencils, notebooks, money, flashlights, snacks, get put. Each paddler ties his ammo box and water bottle to the canoe where he can easily reach them while on the water. Our first aid supplies are also packed in an ammo box and assigned to a leader.
- Toilet paper is at the top of the “must be kept dry” list. We recommend that each scout make several waterproof packets of toilet paper. There is no need for full rolls of toilet paper. Over the course of the several weeks before the trip I recommend the scouts keep on the lookout at their house for rolls of toilet paper getting near the end. These now reduced rolls will contain enough paper for the trip and are easy to pack. We recommend at least two packets of double zip locked toilet paper, one in the ammo box and one with the clothing or sleeping bag.
- Foul weather gear is kept available for quick access.
- We don’t make a gear list for each canoe, but if we did it would include:
- Two large bailers made from plastic laundry soap containers cut so that the handle remains. The bailers are tied at each end of the canoe with enough rope so that each paddler can bail without untying the bailer. Note, when the canoe is filled with water it cannot be bailed and must be gotten to the shore or shallows where it can be tipped. The bailers will finish the job.
- Three paddles – one for each paddler and the extra one within reach of the sternsman because he steers the canoe and is more likely to lose or break a paddle. A sternsman without a paddle would potentially have the greatest consequences.
- Three lifejackets – Two worn, strapped tightly to the paddlers, and one carried just in case.
- Lots of ¼” braided nylon rope to hold all the gear in the canoe even if it goes through the rapids upside down. We know it won’t get wet – we just don’t want it to get away.
- Our ship provides the tents for our trip by borrowing them from scouts, parents and leaders. This has worked very well for us. We always use a tarp under the floor of the tent to prevent sticks or rocks from damaging the floor. The tarps are tied over our loaded canoes and act as a second line of defense to keep gear aboard.
- We have used wood fires in the past for cooking but the last two trips we have included propane stoves for cooking. The stoves have earned a space in our canoes.
Well, that in a nutshell is my take on what it takes to prepare for a Sea Scout long cruise paddling canoes. Can all that planning and preparation be worth it? You bet. Youth and adults will be ready to do it again next year. Maybe it is because our river is great but I don’t think it is much different than most rivers. It does have rapids and whitewater that create excitement, so you may want to look for that when planning your trip. Even without whitewater this slow, quiet trip into nature will be enjoyed, talked about, and looked forward to by everyone.
Chuck Jaget, Skipper, S.S.S. North Star, New Milford, Pennsylvania