I´ve already received a few questions about the gear we´re hauling on the trip. As the best adventures necessitate some serious gear accompaniaments, I´m more than happy to shed some light on the tools that will be helping me out along the journey.
First and foremost, our charriot of choice for the trip is the Esquif Prospecteur 17. The Pathfinder alumni out there have to forgive me for not bringing a Hurley out on the trip…and believe me, I´ll be cursing the beam of this craft soon enough, likely the 3.5¨rocker in bow and stern as well. We don´t anticipate encountering much in the way of whitewater on this trip, as most miles will be on larger commercial waterways and rural canal systems through northeastern France.
Esquif, a French-Canadian manufacturer of a variety of Royalex canoes, is a whitewater canoe company, and so naturally river-running is the direction in which they take the design of their Prospecteur. The original Prospectors were 16-footers with extra rocker for river-running. Esquif enhances that capability by further increasing the rocker to a full four inches in the bow and three inches in the stern. The result is a boat that is clearly nimble on the river, and with proper outfitting and lighter passengers, could likely handle Class III´s that would make Hap Wilson shiver in his leather boots. Zand and I have a combined height of thirteen feet, so the vessel will be a bit top heavy running big water.
To aide us against standing water, rain, rodents, and snooping gypsies, comes the the help of the kind people at North Water spray decks. This piece is custom cut for our boat, with ¨port holes¨ for the paddlers. The skirt comes up a bit around our wastes, then our rain jackets will go on top. I´ve never used one of these before, but Zand claims the spray deck comes in best use during a strong headwind, as the reduced drag of the open boat can improve efficiency upwards of 50-60%. You´d hate to leave the gorp in your back after this is all snapped up…
As a shameless fan of technical outerwear, I´ll won´t hide my excitement around the hooded paddling jackets that will further protect us against cold and wet days on the Lower Danube. Enter: Kokatat, a great outfitter based out of northern California.
With dry suit cuffs around the wrists, and a wetsuit collar under the hood, this jacket makes those foul-weather sailing jackets seem elementary (admitted, this jacket could use a stripe of reflective neon like the sailing foulies). Other layers keeping us warm in the boat are simple synthetic long underwear (haven´t tried them yet, but the offerings from NZ-based Ice Breaker look beyond toasty). We´ll be building up enough body heat with the flat water paddling to keep us amply warm, so that just leaves the always important job of getting warm and dry once we make camp. No surprises here in the gear department (heavy fleece, puffy jacket, extra thick smart wools), but I will proudly boast of escorting my dad´s old LL Bean flannel from his Montana days. Although this has seen better days as insulation, nothing quite feels as right as a Bean flannel at a campsite.
While we´re on the subject, most of you know I wouldn´t skip a chance to proclaim the outstanding quality and customer service at Leon Leonwood Bean´s legacy outfitter. Happily taking Zand´s suggestion to pack a pair of Bean boots for the campsite, I´ll look forward to greeting winter´s flip flops at the top of the pack after a long day´s work. I don´t want to jinx it, but Leon Leonwood can likely expect a letter of thanks for the winter catalogue with a story to make the J Peterman catalogue jealous.
That´s about all the fun gear to talk about, but if anyone has any questions about more technical details like tents, paddles, backgammon philosophies of timing a back game, single malts for rainy days in the Balkans, etc, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment.