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Thread: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

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    Default A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Winter is winding down, days are getting sunnier, and thoughts of sailing are creeping in again--but it's still more ice than water around here. So, time to revisit my tradition of posting a thread on a previous trip--this one a week-long cruise on Ontario's Lake of the Woods from the summer of 2019. With the kind permission of Small Boats online magazine, which published my original article HERE, I'll enjoy a few days of re-living the trip here on the WBF.

    For those not already sick of reading about my boat, it was built in about 14 months (spread out over 7 years!) with lots of help from my brother, mostly to Don Kurylko's "Alaska" design:

    Alaska Plans.jpg

    The most obvious thing I did differently was to leave out the mizzen entirely, for a number of reasons--I sail with the mainsail only, stepped in the alternate center mast step shown in the plans just aft of the grate-covered anchor well in the bow, like this:

    email photo.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-03-2021 at 10:20 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Looks great, I would love to hear your thoughts on the boomless standing lugsail as your only sail.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    For a number of reasons, I wasn't able to get away for 3-4 weeks in a row, as usual. But quite serendipitously, I managed to wrangle an invitation from friends to join them at their island cabin on Lake of the Woods--that's a big (60 mi x 60 mi) lake about 200 miles northwest of Lake Superior. With their invitation in mind, I bought a chart and started thinking about possibilities:

    Overview 1.jpg

    A closer look shows a relatively uninteresting SW section that's all open water, and then everything else a sail and oar treasure filled with islands and narrow passages:

    Overview 2.jpg

    My friends' island was only about 10 miles away from the nearest launching point, and I had a week or so open for sailing. Where to go? What route to take? Hmm...

    One of my favorite parts of a trip is thinking about how it might all come together. I'm almost always surprised by how it turns out.

    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Okay, I'm interested.
    ​In a world full of wonders, man invented boredom.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by cluttonfred View Post
    Looks great, I would love to hear your thoughts on the boomless standing lugsail as your only sail.
    Short answer: I love it.

    Long answer: Because leaving out the ketch mizzen opens up a lot of room for seating (and farther forward, too, which leads to better fore-and-aft trim). AND because with no mizzen, there's no need for a complicated double-sheet arrangement for the mainsail--instead, I use the French misainier technique of sheeting to a cleat on the leeward quarter, and moving the sheet manually at each tack. Very simple! Works very well.

    Also, previous Alaska builders reported that with 134 sq ft of sail in the ketch rig, they typically had to drop the mizzen entirely when winds got to 15 knots or so. Since my Great Lakes home grounds can be fairly windy, I figured I wouldn't miss the mizzen. That has worked out well.

    Finally, the boomless aspect--I really love that. With the correct sheeting angle (which I pretty much have), performance is good. Off the wind, I can't sheet out very far without the yard coming forward of the mast and risking the "death roll," but for all practical purposes, that doesn't seem to matter at all. It's faster to "tack" downwind anyway, and the boomless sail does just fine with that. I honestly expected to like the boomless sail a little less than a boomed balance lug, but it has turned out to be quite the other way 'round for me. I quite like not having a boom.

    I think of this single boomless sail as the perfect rig for those who want a boat that disallows Type A behavior. I think that's a fair summation, with all the costs and benefits it implies.

    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    I launched from a little marina in Morson, Ontario. Like most Canadian venues I frequent, it turned out to be very low-key and relaxed. I arranged parking, paid the launch fee, and then--hoping to provide a little economic boost to the locals--took my last few Loonies into the store. Nothing. All fishing gear. Not even any food or treats that looked interesting. I finally bought an airborne Chinese candle lantern, thinking that it might be kind of fun to start my own forest fire:

    lantern.jpg

    As it turned out, the plastic bag was just the right size to fit my 1:150,000 chart--a waterproof(ish) chart case! With that, I finished loading the boat (if by "loading" you mean "transfer heaps of gear from the car to the lawn to the boat, hoping not to forget anything essential") and was ready to set out:

    loading.jpg
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    But of course, life has a way of getting in the way. I had a Zoom interview for a new teaching job scheduled a couple of days later. So, I would have to come back the next day, find an Internet connection, and do my interview. I hadn't even started my trip, and already had to plan for an interruption!

    My launch point was tucked a mile up a narrow inlet called Hanson Bay, which opened onto the 10-mile-wide Sabaskong Bay in the southeast corner of the lake (10 miles wide, and only one tiny corner of the whole lake!):

    Sabaskong Bay.jpg

    Winds were light to non-existent--for all my talk of the benefits of the single-sail rig, I could have really used the 49 sq ft mizzen--but I stubbornly (stupidly?) refused to pull out the oars. Eventually I floated my way around the lake for five or six miles--there were some cottages in otherwise promising camping locations--before finally finding a nice sandy beach, with room for a tent, on an island that was free from cottages (no cottages even in sight, in fact):

    Day 1.jpg

    A nice start to the trip, even if I knew I'd have to head back to the marina the next day for my interview:

    1.jpg

    I had seen enough already, though, to wonder how much of a problem it would be to find cottage-free anchorages on Lake of the Woods. Only one way to find out...

    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    She's a nice looking boat!
    Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have them look forward to the journey.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Short answer: I love it.

    Long answer: Because leaving out the ketch mizzen opens up a lot of room for seating (and farther forward, too, which leads to better fore-and-aft trim). AND because with no mizzen, there's no need for a complicated double-sheet arrangement for the mainsail--instead, I use the French misainier technique of sheeting to a cleat on the leeward quarter, and moving the sheet manually at each tack. Very simple! Works very well.

    Also, previous Alaska builders reported that with 134 sq ft of sail in the ketch rig, they typically had to drop the mizzen entirely when winds got to 15 knots or so. Since my Great Lakes home grounds can be fairly windy, I figured I wouldn't miss the mizzen. That has worked out well.

    Finally, the boomless aspect--I really love that. With the correct sheeting angle (which I pretty much have), performance is good. Off the wind, I can't sheet out very far without the yard coming forward of the mast and risking the "death roll," but for all practical purposes, that doesn't seem to matter at all. It's faster to "tack" downwind anyway, and the boomless sail does just fine with that. I honestly expected to like the boomless sail a little less than a boomed balance lug, but it has turned out to be quite the other way 'round for me. I quite like not having a boom.

    I think of this single boomless sail as the perfect rig for those who want a boat that disallows Type A behavior. I think that's a fair summation, with all the costs and benefits it implies.

    Tom
    Only recently came across this when I discovered Roger Barnes.
    ​In a world full of wonders, man invented boredom.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Such a beautiful design, and there's something a bit viking about the single sail..
    It's all fun and games until Darth Vader comes.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods


    Small boat heaven. The whole area looks like you'd get wet shoes if you stepped sideways.
    ​In a world full of wonders, man invented boredom.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WX View Post

    Small boat heaven. The whole area looks like you'd get wet shoes if you stepped sideways.
    Pretty much what I was hoping for!
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    I spent the evening wandering around my island. A slab of granite at the water's edge made a nice viewing point to enjoy--Lake of the Woods is at the very farthest southwestern stretches of the Canadian Shield, which is (essentially) a wide swath of Canada that has been scoured by glaciation, leaving the granite bedrock close to, or at, the surface. Some of my favorite country for wilderness travel.

    Found this little guy:

    2.jpg

    And soon realized there were others, too--a veritable secret crayfish graveyard of the North:

    3.jpg

    A surprisingly poignant reminder of the fate we're all headed for, at varying speeds. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio...

    4.jpg

    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the boomless standing lugsail and I am enjoying seeing this trip though your eyes, great posts!
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    Matthew Long
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Thanks for the comment--it's a fun way for me to fritter away some time when I can't (yet) be sailing.

    It was time to head back to civilization for my interview the next morning, but I had enough time that I decided to check out the back side of my island under oars (I wasn't ambitious enough to want to sail the upwind leg in the morning's blustery east wind):



    Things were looking pretty good--not as many cottages as I had feared there might be. I got about this far:

    Day 2.1.jpg
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Before hoisting the sail for some (lazy) gentlemanly offwind sailing:





    And then it was back to the marina at Morson for my interview.

    Day 2.2.jpg

    I'd seen just a tiny corner of the immense lake so far--enough to make me even more enthusiastic for Phase 2, when I'd have a full week of sailing, including (at some point) 2-3 days with my friends on their island.


    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    But the "real" Lake of the Woods trip began a couple of days later--same departure point at Morson. Looking at my chart, I couldn't help but be drawn to the convoluted land mass at the center of the lake. Turns out this was not, as I'd hoped, a large island (and thus circumnavigation-susceptible), but a 600-square-mile peninsula with one frustratingly narrow neck connecting it to the rest of the mainland. With 600+ pounds of boat and gear, I wasn't going to be doing any portages.

    But closer inspection showed a vaguely promising "canal" notation, and even more encouragingly, a red line marking an apparently navigable route going over the isthmus and continuing onward. Except... the red line from the north includes an arrow pointing south, and the red line from the south shows an arrow pointing north--did that mean both routes dead-end at the isthmus?

    Chart 1.jpg

    Cats, incidentally, are always keen to lend a paw in the planning stages, though I've yet to meet one who is happy aboard a small boat (yes, I have tried it...):

    Lake of the Cats.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-07-2021 at 09:01 AM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    So, with the vague hope of a canal in mind, I settled on a circumnavigation of the Aulneau Peninsula as my Plan A. The distances were about right--it looked like it would take about 100 miles by the shortest route to circle the peninsula, taking the long way around to my friends' island just 10 miles from my launching point. 100 miles is a comfortable one-week average for me on most of my trips.

    What would I find at "Turtle Portage"? A canal? A dead end? Over the years I had even heard vague rumors of a hand-operated marine railway there to lift boats over the neck--but those reports had been uncertain, indirect, and often contradictory: There had never been a railway. There used to be one, but it was removed when they dug the canal. It was going to be decommissioned this year but might still be working. The rails were still there, but the cart had run off the end of the railway and sunk into the lake, rendering it useless.

    As I wrote in my Small Boats article, either there'd be a way over the isthmus, or there wouldn't. I'd find out when I got there. Uncertainty is the essence of travel; everything else is tourism.

    And so I set out across Sabaskong Bay sometime in the afternoon, hoping to make it 10 miles or so to the portage to find a camping spot there. Exciting stuff, sailing...

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    I made it about this far, doldruming my way across the lake, sitting to leeward to keep some wind in the sail--at this rate maybe a week wouldn't be enough!

    Day 3.jpg

    But with the sun sinking lower and lower, and the wind dying away completely, I finally gave up and took to the oars.

    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-04-2021 at 11:58 AM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    A nice evening...

    5.jpg

    The breeze came back for a bit of sailing, but by the time I reached the narrow entrance channel leading to Turtle Lake, both the light and the wind was fading fast, and it was rowing again:

    Day 3.2.jpg

    6.jpg

    Good thing summer nights are long up north--even so, I had another mile or so to go--20 minutes of rowing--so I'd probably be trying to find a campsite or anchorage in the dark.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-04-2021 at 10:31 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WX View Post
    Only recently came across this when I discovered Roger Barnes.
    Mikey Floyd shows the same kind of "hook the sheet on a cleat at the leeward gunwale at each tack" system in his Salty Heaven plans--that's another 17'(ish) sail and oar boat, but beamier and thus aimed a little more toward the sailing end of the spectrum.

    It really does work well to handle sheeting this way--especially since, with my bungee-and-line "self-steering," I can push the tiller over, let go, and tend the sheet while the boat tacks itself around. You do have to spin around backward at each tack, which might seem odd to some, but I really like it. I think it's the best solution for my particular situation, and my particular aversion to complicated sheeting set-ups.

    I started sailing small boats with a Bolger Cartopper that used the same kind of sheeting for its boomless spritsail, so it feels pretty normal to me.

    Tom
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    I did manage to find a buoy marking the entrance channel to the portage:

    7.jpg

    I had great fun writing this next section of my Small Boats article (the actual experience was, shall we say, a bit less enjoyable...):

    And then, with the flashlight’s beam, mosquitoes. They swooped down on the boat in ravenous thick-thrumming clouds—biting, biting, biting, biting—swarming my face, my eyes, my nose, my ears, my feet. I pulled on my rain coat and rain pants, rowed at full speed to the channel’s end, splashed awkwardly to shore, and began to set up the tent in the dark with a rush of slapping and swearing, not even bothering to look around for the railway. Biting, biting, biting. My arms, legs, and face were smeared with blood. Mosquitoes crawled in wriggling masses up my sleeves, under the brim of my hat, up the legs of my rain pants. Biting, biting. The air was thick with them, their buzzing the livewire hum of a high-voltage transformer. Biting, biting, biting. I held my hand over my mouth and nose to avoid breathing them in, and still a dozen mosquitoes fluttered in my throat at each inhalation. I unzipped the tent, threw in whatever gear I could reach, and crawled in after it. I spent the next hour killing every mosquito that had found its way in. By the time I was done, the walls were covered in streaks of blood, and the floor was strewn with heaps of crumpled bodies.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-04-2021 at 12:13 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    I woke the next morning to a complete absence of mosquitoes! Here's what I found at the portage (I love how this picture shows that the mosquitoes were so bad that I abandoned ship without tidying up even a small bit, leaving one oar all askew):

    9.jpg

    No canal. But was there a railway?

    10.jpg

    OK--looking better and better! But, was it operational?

    8.jpg

    Hmm...
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-05-2021 at 10:06 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    The cart--at least, I thought it must be the cart--was sunk deep in the lake on the far side of the isthmus. The decommissioning notice didn't look good. But I spun the big wheel (it got easier once I realized the default setting was "brake on," and pushing down on the foot bar released the brake) and the cart creaked slowly and steadily up the rails!

    11.jpg

    Nothing fancy, but it looked like it might get the job done. And so it proved:

    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-04-2021 at 12:34 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    And just like that, with a functioning rail portage:

    12.jpg

    and a morning breeze coming up, my circumnavigation of the Aulneau peninsula was underway.

    13.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-04-2021 at 12:33 PM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Thanks for posting this Tom. Makes me want to get back there again!

    Bruce

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    About 35 years ago I chartered a keel boat out of Kenora for a week of sailing on Lake of the Woods. With two non-sailors and one with limited experience with me it was stressful with that keel boat. There are a LOT of rocks that can snag a deep keel. OK once anchored but wasn't relaxing sailing.
    Alex

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Uncertainty is the essence of travel; everything else is tourism.
    I'm stealing that.
    ​In a world full of wonders, man invented boredom.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Mikey Floyd shows the same kind of "hook the sheet on a cleat at the leeward gunwale at each tack" system in his Salty Heaven plans--that's another 17'(ish) sail and oar boat, but beamier and thus aimed a little more toward the sailing end of the spectrum.

    It really does work well to handle sheeting this way--especially since, with my bungee-and-line "self-steering," I can push the tiller over, let go, and tend the sheet while the boat tacks itself around. You do have to spin around backward at each tack, which might seem odd to some, but I really like it. I think it's the best solution for my particular situation, and my particular aversion to complicated sheeting set-ups.

    I started sailing small boats with a Bolger Cartopper that used the same kind of sheeting for its boomless spritsail, so it feels pretty normal to me.

    Tom
    I've built 2 Cartoppers and fitted the hooks, and only now do I understand their purpose.
    I am now resurrecting a 3rd Cartopper a friend built but I am closing in both ends as flotation and storage. I'm also going to try it with a junk rig.
    ​In a world full of wonders, man invented boredom.

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    So - they'll decommission that wonderful railway & replace it with... nothing - right?

    Great to see some more of your travels - thanks!
    "If it ain't broke, you're not trying." - Red Green

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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'll post a bit more--continuing with day two of my "real" trip.

    It was fairly early morning, with a gentle following breeze filling in from the southwest as I headed north up the east side of the Aulneau peninsula. Perfect cool-weather morning sailing.

    14.jpg

    This was the upper (southern) reaches of Whitewater Bay. No cottages or development that I saw, and no other boats at all. After a few (3-4?) miles:

    Day 4.1.jpg

    The terrain started getting pretty cliffy--this turned out to be one of my favorite sections of the journey.

    15.jpg
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    The pull of stopping to explore, and the pull of adding miles--a constant tension for the sail-and-oar traveler. I suspect I tend to sail longer legs than a lot of people, and stop ashore less frequently; I find endless satisfaction in just sliding along magically propelled by the wind, with only the trickle of water past the hull. But eventually--about 6 or 7 miles from the railway, I think--I pulled in to do a little exploring on foot:

    Day 4.2.jpg

    I found a nice sandy landing point on the north side of a narrow spit (a tombolo?) linking two islands.

    16.jpg

    The western section of the island was a single tall granite dome. I was able to scramble up (pretty easy, but brushy in places) for a view up Whitewater Bay back toward the south.

    17.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 03-07-2021 at 11:43 AM.
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    There were a fair few handfuls of blueberries scattered around the island, so it took me a while to make it back to the ship. I guess that's OK when you're the only one with the authority to hoist the Blue Peter, and the entire crew as well. But soon enough I was heading farther north up Whitewater Bay. Beautiful country for sailing.

    There was a boathouse and cottage--the first I'd seen on Whitewater Bay--just to the north of my tombolo island, but no one around to be seen.

    18.jpg

    Yep. I dig Whitewater Bay, especially the upper (southern) reaches. Of course, if Ontario really did decommission the railway, this stretch of the lake is now about 90 miles from my launch point in Morson--180 miles round trip. Well worth it, though.

    19.jpg
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    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Uncertainty is the essence of travel; everything else is tourism.
    Quote Originally Posted by WX View Post
    I'm stealing that.
    It seems to be a popular line with readers--I've had a few comments about it. Steal away!

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

  35. #35
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    northwestern Wisconsin
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    9,497

    Default Re: A Kurylko Alaska on Lake of the Woods

    Quote Originally Posted by WX View Post
    I've built 2 Cartoppers and fitted the hooks, and only now do I understand their purpose.
    I am now resurrecting a 3rd Cartopper a friend built but I am closing in both ends as flotation and storage. I'm also going to try it with a junk rig.
    You can sheet your junk sail to those cleats, I imagine. From there, I find that running the sheet forward to an oarlock, and then back to my hand, works well to reduce sheet loads and give me a place to tie off with a slippery hitch at the oarlock for hands-free moments.

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

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