The strap. It is a simple thing. A strong canvas, leather, or woven fabric nylon webbing that offer strong results. Used in place of a rope, its fasteners or buckles hold things in place. A mere two-inch-wide strip of nylon can tow a car or truck. They come in a variety of lengths and colors. And when it comes to boating, its overlooked and often forgotten both in our thoughts and literally at the boat access.
You will never see your favorite boater’s magazines with headlines like these… New Straps for 2015… Boater’s Guide for Straps 2016…. or What Your Strap Color Say About You. That would just be silly. Canoes and kayaks will always get the glory. Those sleek, majestic and noble crafts that put us on to the lake and stream filling our paddling dreams. But, we ought to realize we would never even get close to the water without our faithful strap.
It was invented before time. Our prehistoric ancestors lashed their supplies together while trekking through the snow across what is now Europe chasing the woolly mammoth. Needing provisions all tied together would of course help then to inspire travois, dogsleds and then the wheel. If man would travel he would need a strap.
The buckle came later. The Romans would developed it for their soldier’s helmets and body armor. Made out of bronze, these buckles were functional for their strength and durability for the centurion. The concept is still used today in our plastic helmets and buoyant PFDs. But it was the strap that helped conquer the world. To carry a sword, the soldier wore a belt and buckle diagonally over the his right shoulder down to his waist at the left holding a scabbard. Therefore, the strap and its buckle became an important element to the campaigning Roman army.
Throughout the ages the strap and the faster became tools of war, peace and taming of the wilderness. When the voyageurs were portaging from stream to stream carrying packs laden with pelts while pulling their canoes along through the shallow water, the strap was there of course. Rough, back breaking work to say the lest. Furs were in 90 pound bundles. If they couldn’t be transported by canoe they were carried by the men through the shallow waters. The standard load for a voyageur on a portage was two strapped bundles, or about 180 pounds. There are reports of some voyageurs carrying five or more bundles and legends of them carrying up to eight, a physically grueling lifestyle not nearly as glorious as folk tales make it out to be. There helping shoulder the load was the fearless the strap.
Sometime in the age of automobiles, someone thought: instead of carrying our canoes over our heads lets carry them over the tops of our Ford. It was revolutionary! No need to rent a boat at the lake when we could take our own. Tie the canoe down in the truck bed and drop it off at the access. Boundary Waters, Grand Canyon, or the Allagash River, no trip was too big or small for our friend the strap. Since we began carrying our boats with our vehicles, much of the gear has had some wholesale changes. Roof racks now come with saddles, rollers and load assist. Trailer equipped outfitters haul numerous stacked boats everywhere. However new the technology of boat transport, the strap has stayed the same. You can’t change perfection. It’s job has been what it has always been. Hold it and secure it tightly.
We will either carefully tie down our kayaks or yank down on the strap binding them with all our might. We do this all while taking the strap for granted. We lend them, we toss them and never seem to have enough of them. At the access we will gently lay our canoes into the water while wadding up our straps into balls of spaghetti, throwing them into the back of the truck. We pay little concern as they become faded and frayed under the strain of our use. When loading up, one is always invariable left behind to another boater who doesn’t have enough of them, saying to us, “Use me till you lose me. I’ll make the sacrifices to get you near the water. I know my time is short.”
As you can see the strap is an ageless wonder, however, its only a matter of time before your helpful strap is either lost or worn out and left behind at the access dumpster. So I give this tribute to the strap. The guarding of our paddle sports world, forever embracing our wandering.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nick is the author of an awesome blog on paddling, Outside Adventure to the Max. He recently wrote a great article on watching the Perseid Meteor Shower from the cockpit of a kayak. Check him out!