Monday, July 18, 2011

How not to haul your sea kayaks! Caught in the 96 km winds that brought down the Ottawa Bluesfest main stage, July 17, 2011

Can you see what's wrong with this picture? If not, read on.
On July 17 at 7:00 p.m., the summer sky went dark and I could see I was driving into the storm. It hit my red Mitsubishi Outlander with the Maelstrom Vital and Vaag sea kayaks strapped on top all at once 30 minutes later.
Of course, there's no pic of that! This is back home safe and sound.

My first thought was, "There's a tornado hitting somewhere, I hope I'm not in it!" Or, "I'm in a micro-burst! What do I do?" There was no gradual build up of wind. Just a sudden burst of 90 km or plus wind! It was like a punch in the face. "Whoa."

When you have two 17 foot long sea kayaks strapped on top of your car, you are very vulnerable to high winds, gusty winds, cross winds, and sudden storms!

Just an hour earlier while packing up and strapping down the Malestrom kayaks on a hot, calm, sunny day at a lake up in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, my paddling partner said, "I don't think these front and back tie downs are really necessary . . . "

I said, "but this time, for the first time, we're going to do it anyway. This is how we're supposed to tie down the boats . . . so let's practice."

It was the same widespread and vicious storm with 96 km winds that instantly brought down the Ottawa Bluesfest main stage like a deck of cards at about 7:30 p.m. on July 17, 2011.

The storm also caused widespread power outages in Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec - my house too!  There were a number of large trees that fell into the street. I had to dodge a few to get home.

I was an hour and half away from Ottawa/Gatineau on an open winding country highway returning from a weekend of paddling lake and river in the Mont Tremblant, Quebec area when the storm hit me. Suddenly, I was in high wind, pounding rain and lighting.

My car, even with the kayaks well battened down and not shifting on top of the car, were really catching the wind on the highway, even at a very reduced speed.

I felt I needed to get off the road, and pulled off the single lane highway into a long driveway of someone's home, turned off the engine, and waited 20 minutes for the worst of the storm to pass over before I hit the road again. I felt better and could relax a little. Your heart can't pound too hard for too long!

This also allowed all the faster moving traffic to keep going. The other people on the road were doing all kinds of crazy and dangerous things to pass me, like passing at high speed over double lines, and blind curves in driving rain and wind.

Geez people! Don't ever do this! Never pass any slower vehicle on blind curves and double yellow lines, especially under these conditions, or for any reason! At least 50 people did just that before I found a spot to get off the road. I couldn't believe it.

Talk about ending a relaxing and enjoyable trip with a BIG BANG and an adrenalin rush of fear! 

This is how I used to haul a sea kayak
With spongy foams on a car rack and straps, with no tie downs in the front or back.

"Tisk, tisk!" My beautiful and beloved Boreal Baffin is literally a "sitting duck" on my vehicle. Or rather, it would be a flying torpedo if I had to stop suddenly or worse. In a strong crosswind, the nose would quickly blow sideways.

What was I thinking?

I wasn't thinking! My kayak was not very secure. And, my plastic Boreal Baffin oil-canned where the straps held it in place every time it was hauled any kind of distance in the hot summer or fall sun. Luckily, the newer plastic boats have a "memory" and usually go back into shape unless you abuse them too much or too often.

I hate to admit this, but I hauled my kayak this way for several years on long trips from the National Capital Region in Canada (Ottawa/Gatineau) to many lakes and rivers, and ocean in places like Seal Cove, Maine, and the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Combine that with many short and long hauls in Canada, including a trip to the Saguenay River near Tadoussac, Quebec, and much more.

All with no problems other than oil canning. I was lucky, but luck usually runs out at one point.

I don't even want to think about what might have happened if I had been caught in the July 17, 2011 storm with sea kayaks strapped on to my car like this.  

Other kayakers who were tying down their kayaks properly started to shake their heads at me. I took notice, and took action. Sometimes, peer pressure is a good thing!

I did research, compared notes with other paddlers, and bought good quality car racks for my new red Mitsubishi Outlander, kayak saddles (I love them!), and two strong tie down ropes for each boat. I already had good, strong straps for kayaks.

Now, in addition to strapping the kayaks down on to the racks, I use rope to tie down the front and back of EACH kayak and attach it to something solid on the car frame or tow bar. I tie down using the toggles or through the well-battened down deck lines on the front or back of the kayaks. Never tie down using a bungee and never tie to a bungee. They stretch!
I also tie a knot on each buckle of the straps to prevent slippage while driving.
Luck or fate?

The first time I finally tied down our sea kayaks properly was the first time I really needed to on July 17, 2011. Luck or fate? Or rather, it was time to stop testing fate and good luck.

And I'm so happy I did! I was just taught a good lesson.

I think I just went through a pretty good test of why it's a good idea to learn how to properly haul a sea kayak. And this is why I'm sharing this story with you. Maybe you need a push, just like I did.

How do you haul your kayaks? The right way or the wrong way?
Hauling your boats properly is not just about your safety, or protecting your gear investment. It's also about the safety of others on the road with you. You wouldn't want your racks and boats suddenly ripping off the top of your car and flying off behind you. In our paddle chat community, we do hear tales of this happening.

Happy and safe travels!
I guess you could say I was just in a maelstrom (bad storm) with two Maelstroms (two terrific boats!).

The BaffinPaddler

Watch video of the Ottawa Bluesfest Main Stage going down and read more about the story:

Ottawa Sun

The Globe and Mail


  1. Wow! It's a pain to get the front and back lines on; so few cars come with easy to reach tie downs, but this tale is a good incentive to put in that extra effort.

  2. I'll agree with you. It's extra work to tie down the front and back of your kayak!

  3. Found your site tonight as we were trying to find out where to tie the back rope of our kayaks for a long journey from NH to Nova Scotia. We have a new Town and country mini van and we had to go searching in the back end. I went today and got some Thule loops to attach to the engine frame of the front and they stick out under the hood for the front tie downs. We have always tied them down! Glad you did last week!

  4. If you find that your car has no obvious anchor point for a bow tie down, make some.
    Look under the hood (aka bonnet in some countries) and attach a loop of webbing to one of the fender fasteners.
    For a detailed explanation with images: