Dogs and paddling

Reese on a calm (and dry) day at Colorado’s Barr Lake.

Water belongs outside of the boat. No matter what type of craft—be it canoe, kayak or cutter—and regardless of the nature of the water—river, lake or sea—this is the first rule of boating. And if it’s not, it should be.

This basic commandment may seem obvious, but it doesn’t really, um, sink in until you’ve capsized. It is also not an easy rule to explain to a dog.

Riding shotgun on the Missouri River.

The maiden voyage of the canoe Erebus could hardly be called a success. Perhaps I doomed the vessel by fate-temptingly naming it after a British ship that became stranded in the Arctic ice while attempting to navigate the Northwest Passage in the 1840s and the ill-fated rig that carries Willard and Co. upriver in Apocalypse Now. Nevertheless, it was Reese’s first time in a boat (on the water at least), and he had difficulty finding his sea legs.

We (Reese, my friend Matt and I) were pretty much smack in the middle of Barr Lake when Reese jumped up on the gunwale to investigate the splash caused by a massive carp. His forepaws slipped on the damp edge, throwing us off balance and submerging the canoe lengthwise.

The humans decided to flip the boat bottom-up and paddle it back to shore, which was a good half football field away. We settled on this course of action (as opposed to rolling the canoe upright) because we had already spent a few minutes treading the brisk water while simultaneously trying to drain enough liquid from the boat to keep from sinking, collecting our paddles and packs, and warding off a 70-pound dog who was alternately attempting to scramble atop our shoulders and gain perch back on the listing boat.

Dog is my copilot.

Lest anyone accuse me of endangering or making light of my panicked canine companion, let the record state that Reese was wearing a life jacket, and the dog is part divining rod and part otter. He was also not forced into the boat, and it wasn’t until we were seemingly miles from shore that he got fidgety.

After those initial desperate moments, Reese turned and paddled for shore, leaving Matt and I to kick for the shallows like Brody and Hooper at the end of Jaws.

Reese takes a knee after a hard day of (doggie) paddling.

Since that day, Reese has returned to Barr Lake, frequented Dillon Reservoir, spent a week paddling the Missouri River in Montana, and put in at Montana’s neighboring Hebgen and Quake lakes. And we’ve kept the water outside the boat every time.

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