The Ignorant Traveler   


Canooists, Waphties in Tenuous Boat Truce;
New Lodging Rift Looms

By Dick Sheppard

June 3, 2006, Delaware River - Following several years of acrimony and name-calling among Canooists and Waphties, the Churchyard Boys enjoyed a tenuous truce during Canoo Weekend, 2006. "Life is hard enough without bickering with your best friends," notes American Canoo Alliance founder Dick Laresch. "We had a good solid trip this year; it was a little gloomy but didn't rain hardly at all. It was a textbook trip, and I must hope that between Canoo and Wapthy factions, peace is at hand. 

Whether in the hardbody canoo or softbody waft, all were as one on the river." His optimism, however, is tempered by a looming new rivalry over which hotel will be the preferred lodging choice next year. "We're like a bunch of broads sometimes," adds Laresch, "we gotta be annoying about something. After a promising Canoo/Waphty truce in 2006, 2007 might be the year of the hotel wars."

Laresch and Gibney 

For twenty-seven years, typically at the end of May or beginning of June, the Churchyard Boys have journeyed up to the tri-state region where the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania borders converge.

They've stayed for many of those years the Port Jervis (Po' Town), N.Y. Comfort (Comfy) Inn. The hotel has at different times been a Holiday Inn and maybe some other forgettable names. Also for many of those years, all of the participants, usually numbering 9-10 Churchyard Boys (with some occasional extra visitors), have navigated the Delaware River in canoos, or for those with an independent streak, a kayak

But several years ago, a rogue faction of the group split off and decided that the canoo was either too frightening, or too much work to paddle and steer. They would instead do the trip in big wubber waphts. Chris "Big Daddy" T. one of the rogue waphties, insists the switch was made for convenience and comfort, and not out of fear. "When we get in the waphty, we don't have to paddle, we never worry about going over, and everything stays dry. It's a win win win. All you have to do is watch Laresch go over in a canoo to realize you don't want to go there."

"That's bullshit," insists Commodorre Zachow, the American Canoo Alliance's most forceful advocate. "They are terrified of the whitewater, and prefer to rub knees in the wapthy." Zachow, who along with his canoo partner Eddie G. has formed the Polish Navy for nearly the entire twenty-seven years the Delly trip's been made, makes paddy-cake pantomime motions and exclaims, "This is what they do in the waphty: Paddy-cake! Paddy-cake! They're like girl scouts!"

Safely though the whitewater, Laresch and Gibney glide serenely downriver.

The canoo faction rests much of their case on tradition. "Look, the weekend is called 'Canoo Weekend,'" asserts Dick Laresch, "and there are strong feelings of tradition, especially from the storied Polish Navy, who have by far the longest tenure of any crew on the river."

He goes on to note that his own canoo partners change frequently, and that this year he partnered with Jack Gibber, who was making a rare Delaware appearance." And there's the logistic element: if the river is slow and the wind in your face, the waphties don't move. So the group splits up instead of enjoying the river together. Last year, the waphties went perhaps a few hundred yards before putting out at a different base 100 yards downriver from the one we started at. They did the non-existent Pond Eddy-to-Pond Eddy trip. Atrocious!" 

Canoo, kayak and waphty in happy on-river meeting.  (Click to enlarge.)

"We all want to stay together, that's the entire point of the trip!" exclaimed Zachow. "It's like two trips now instead of one!" He would not comment on a truce, but sources indicate he will be the hardest to convince. "I agree with Commodore Zachow," relates Laresch, "I understand and deeply appreciate his strong feelings of tradition and being manly on the river, as exhibited by canooing the river with all of its uncertainties."

For this year's journey, the river cooperated nearly to perfection. The water level was rising above 4.5 feet as the trip began, offering an easy ride for the waphties and a decent challenge for the canooists. And though the day was overcast throughout, there was nary any rain, and mere breezes if that. Had the sun been shining, it might have been among the best trips in the long string of nearly always great trips.

Waphties in imaginary danger.

"I think the ideal river conditions, combined with the conscious effort of canooists, waphties, and kayaks to keep together, signaled an important rapprochement." Laresch said optimistically. Still, he admitted that the rivalry can flare at any time. "All it takes is one venomous email for us to be at each other's throats again," he lamented. But after giving it a few days thought, hardliner Zachow emailed, "For the record, the Polish Navy was impressed with the performance of the waphties this year." 

DRINKING PROBLEM.  (Click to enlarge.)

The friendly trip was helped by the river gods. The river was full Saturday, and continued rising through the day. "A rising river flows all boats, including the waphties," chuckled Laresch. "A rising river is a feel-great event at any time; you don't always catch it so," agrees Zachow. Laresch surmised that this helped to heal the debilitating rift between the Canoo/Waphty factions. "You can't get on a river like that and have a bad time. We were all at one with the baby Jesus, and those good feelings carried over into the Canoo/Waphty pull-over gatherings throughout the day."

Empty wapht.

"Sure, me and Gibber went over a few times, once was my fault," admitted Laresch. "And I'm insanely jealous of how beautifully dry and tight the Polish Navy were. But while you never want to go over, sometimes you do, and it's how you recover. I'm ashamed to admit that I was complacent in prepping our canoo; too much hubris that I didn't need to have everything battened down. Consequently our flips, while not as bad as some past foul-ups, were more trying than they should have been." Laresch concluded, "Even after 27 years you can learn, and I learned this year that you do not get complacent. We had a great trip, Canoos, Waphties and Kayaks often combined in a happy flotilla of love and joy, there were hoots of delight and yips of unadulterated fun on the river, just as it should be. I hope this tenuous, encouraging truce might hold." 

Harmony-or Steady Gibber!  (Click to enlarge.)

The group also had a change of scenery on the lodging front, which in the days since the 2006 Delly journey has ignited fears of a new Churchyard Boys schism just as the Canoo/Waphties are settling their watercraft acrimony. The lodging switch was prompted by a level of sameness to the Po' Town Comfy Inn experience, combined with cheap internet pricing at the Best Western in Pennsylvania where the group lodged this year. "We're trying to keep this trip interesting, so we decided what the hell, let's try the Best Western," explained Commodore Zachow. "Too many people are not taking the trip seriously as an important annual milestone. I'm not sure a new hotel is the answer, but it didn't hurt. Some weren't impressed enough with the new lodgings that it would make a difference how they plan and attend the trip. And there was no train riders this year, either," Zachow noted sadly, referring to the Friday morning Hoboken-to-Po' Town train ride some of the group took and were hoping to ensconce as tradition. 

Pensive Polish Navy.

But after a few days reflection, the new Best Western lodgings did not impress most of the group enough to abandon the Po' Town Comfy. Eddie G. - arms short and purse deep - strongly advocates the Best Western in Pa. "I saved $100 dollars over the Comfy, plus the bar was better," he predictably crowed.

Polish Navy pre-rapids.

Others were unconvinced and mentioned other seemingly mundane but critical differences. "There's no Sportschannel New York or YES network in Pa," observed Charles I. Tuna, attuna-at-law, one of the group's ardent kayakers, "and usually there're decent games in those weekend time frames." Notes B-Bob Camo, "the windows don't open!" an important consideration for smoking types. Commodore Zachow, who maintains wide influence over many aspects of Canoo Weekend added that the Po' Town Comfy breakfast was self-serve and fast, whereas the Best Western required being seated and served. "On Canoo morning, I want to get my effin' coffee and bagel and get onto prepping for the journey," he asserted. 

Polish Navy pushes on.

Even the presence of a Baby Grand piano at the Best Western, a possible lure for one of the Chuchyard Boy's absent long-term companions to join next year's trip, was unpersuasive. "There was a piano there - a baby grand?" asked Zachow. "I never noticed the fcking thing!" Zachow was also perturbed by the geese inhabiting a pond behind the Best Western, exhibiting zeal in chasing them around. "It's an epiphany!" he exclaimed when asked about his distaste for geese. "I guess I have problem with them!" 

Your Polish Navy - High, tight & dry

"If we stay at the Po' Town Comfy next year," Laresch laughs, "it may be worth a trip to the Best Western not just for possible nite-life, but also to watch the intrepid Commodore Zachow chase them geese!"

Shep-Gib Hard Landing.

For now, just a few days removed from the recent feel-good trip and with Canoo Weekend 2007 nearly a year off, heads are cooling and prevailing. It's way too early for serious preparations and decisions about who is staying where, next trip. So the truce among Canooists and Waphties may solidify into peaceful reality. However, notes Laresch, "this accommodation rivalry - Po' Town Confy vs. Mo' Town (Matamoras, PA) Best Western could become as bitter, divisive, partisan, and hate-filled as the previous Canoo/Waphtie rivalry. A rivalry which caused so much heartache and tragedy." He considered it, then added, "in the end, we have to stop behaving like bickering bathead broads, and do Canoo Weekend right. A return to the traditions which served so well. One of our non-Canoo Weekend Churchyard Boys, San Miguel Canuto, hopes we can Keep It Simple Stupid going forward - no fancy hotels, odd logistics, etc. Next year, I'll be as stupid as I can be and try not to outsmart the inevitable fun that abounds on Canoo Weekend."

Pre-trip group.  (Click to enlarge.)