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PostPosted: Sun Jul 29, 2007 9:16 am 
Lake Watauga 20-24 July 2007

A friend who lives in North Carolina where he’s employed by a school district as an English Second Language (ESL) social worker, another ESL school district employee, and a visiting minister from Medellin, Colombia, and I met last weekend at Cardens Bluff Campground on the shore of Lake Watauga, Tennessee, for a few days of camping and kayaking.

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The Drive There

I got up at 3:00 am last Friday morning, July 20, 2007, drank coffee the maker had ready for me, checked the weather reports at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) website, ate breakfast, dressed, and, having loaded and fueled my car the previous day, drove off along the route to Hampton, Tennessee, prescribed by Mapquest.

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The morning darkness was made fuzzier by occasional fog and drizzle as I drove up Highway 55 toward McMinnville, Tennessee. The fog or mist had dissipated by the time I’d reached the blinking orange caution light at Doyle. 55 becomes 70, and merges with 111 near or at Sparta, hometown of the legendary Lester Flatt among whose musical credits one finds the theme-song for Petticoat Junction. I recall juvenile delinquents from Warren County telling me of spending the night monkeying around along the railroad tracks that run between Sparta and Rock Island (home of Jackson Kayaks) encountering the legendary ghost of a long dead black man who, while he drew breath, had worked for whatever line then owned those tracks. Of course, kids like to embellish, and the sorts of old men who walk at night along railroad tracks like to scare kids, so who knows the truth of the matter?

I diverged at Sparta from the Mapquest route, having chosen to motor the uphill-winding old highway that runs between Sparta and Crossville. The weather held, and the sky was filling with morning light as I drove, entering Crossville by the city’s airport, and driving straight on through the town’s built-up commercial drag until I reached Interstate-40. My route lay along I-40 to Knoxville, thence unto I-81 toward Bristol, and finally I-26 toward Johnson City where I picked up Highway 321 toward Hampton and Lake Watauga. I arrived at the campground about 8:30 to 9:00 am Central Time, although that part of the world is within the Eastern Time Zone.

Cardens Bluff Campground

Cardens Bluff Campground is maintained and run by the United States Forest Service, and is located on Highway 321 near Hampton, Tennessee. All sites are first-come, first-serve. Sites 36 through 41 are those closest to and with the easiest slope to the water’s edge. We stayed at site 38, which came equipped with a fire-ring/grill, picnic table, fenced-deck, lantern stand, and roofed work-table. A drinking fountain with spigot was situated where the main campground footpath meets the path diverging to site 38. The tent-ground was made of a gray, finish packed gravel that accepted tent spikes metal and plastic, but didn’t hold them quite as tightly as I would have liked. The cost was $12.00 per night, two tents and five people permitted. Unlike most of the campgrounds I’ve used in Tennessee, one cannot pull one’s car onto most of the Cardens Bluff campsites. Sites 36 through 41 are located about halfway down a climbable but fairly steep slope from roadside parking to the lakeshore.

The Cardens Bluff campground has two or three buildings containing toilets for men and toilets for women. They are not lighted, so the wise user carries a flashlight after dark. They have sinks and mirrors over the sinks. The bathrooms did seem to have adequate toilet paper, but no soap and no paper towels, so the user should remember to Germ-X upon return to camp. The campground’s bath house consists of four separate locking toilet/sink/shower stalls on either side of the building located not far down the main campground road from the information board adjacent the campground host’s site. These smelled of bleach at least once per day, did not appear very dirty beyond mildew, and had toilet paper, hot water of the pushbutton-and-spray-for-awhile type showerheads, showerheads at adult level and at child level that frequently emitted little more than a trickle. The hypothetical wise Cardens Bluff shower user checks by pushing the shower button before committing to a stall’s use by deploying his shaving kit and disrobing. I have no idea what the stalls on the women’s side were like, but guess they were mirror-image similar to those on the men’s side.

The Forest Service operates another campground that I was unable to find on any map, Dennis Cove Recreation Area, but it is listed on their Cherokee National Forest camping webpage under Watauga Lake. Or, rather, in the Watauga Lake vicinity.

Lake Information

Information obtained from detailed lake maps downloaded for about $5.00 from http://www.scmaps.com avers that the level of Lake Watauga varies during the course of the year by as much as nine feet. theyorkieterror, replying to a query I posted at Paddling.Net message boards, directed my attention to Sportsman's Connection as a source of maps.

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The weekend we spent by the lake, the water appeared to have been about nine feet below the high water mark. The downloaded maps were .PDF pages from a larger fishing atlas available in print. Most of the information included with the maps, themselves, appears to be of the sort that would be of use anyone interested in fishing the lake, but also contained lists of local recreational resources with telephone numbers, and provided accurate information of the lake’s topography.

The U.S. Forest Service Watauga Ranger District can be reached at:
    Watauga Ranger District
    4400 Unicoi Drive
    Unicoi, TN 37692
    (423) 735-1500


Finding Things & Mountain People

The people, and I use the term thinking something else, who’d had site 38 before we did had scrawled childish pictograms and messages all over the surface of the picnic table with chalk, had placed all the food they did not consume in a Styrofoam cooler, attempting to incinerate same in the fire ring, and leaving only a stinking, still warm, and runny mess. I was able to identify something made with rice, macaroni salad, and some variety of beans in what appeared to be a mixture of pink milk and water. My gorge rose as I scooped out the mass of unclean rice – I suppose it reminded me of the frog ovaries from the middle-school dissection project that had had much the same effect on me as a youngster.

You may say whatever you like about rural mountain people, but the woman of about my own age who arrived shortly after I did to claim a nearby campsite tossed me two sets of surgical gloves when she saw the mess in the fire ring, and I call her blessed. Next time I go camping, a set of disposable gloves will be in my kit. That woman’s family or friends brought a chainsaw, and cut up enough driftwood to generously share firewood with several other campsites. Although they spoke with quick-paced, nasal, rural Southern accents, stayed up late listening to music, and brought a child who rode a rattling small bicycle up and down the foot paths, they were excellent neighbors.

Eureka! Timberline 4XT, Sleep, & Boat Greed

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That Eureka! Timberline 4XT tent I purchased last year provided plenty of living space for two, the fly and vestibule worked without a hitch, and the tarp accessory, though apparently sized for the 2XT, also provided shelter from the rain that fell Friday afternoon.
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The thing I hated about the Timberline was the A-Frame doors – a fabric lip hangs over the bottom zipper to impede the ingress of rainwater, and it consistently caught in the zipper, impeding human in-and-egress. I found the best thing was to open/close the bottom zipper while the top zipper remained closed, thus keeping the bottom zipper somewhat more taught than it tended to be after the top zipper’d been opened. Another thing that helps is to begin opening the bottom zipper from the inside, and as soon as practicable, complete the process from the outside - which gives one better control of the overhanging fabric. Eureka! ought to be able to manage something a little more “D”-shaped at either end of the 4XT. As I found in Friday afternoon’s downpour, the 4XT and its fly/vestibule are waterproof.

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After I arrived, I immediately set up the tent, then assembled the E68, and was about to lie down in the tent for a nap when my companions arrived. I helped them with their tent, they helped me with my tent’s tarp set-up, and then we got the fire-ring cleared out (as described in part above). I finally lay down for my nap, was half asleep, when my wife telephoned on the cellular device foolishly set near my dozing head beside me in the tent. I eventually did get some sleep before heading out for an afternoon paddle around that portion of the lake nearest the campsite – only about three or four miles. Brian, one of the guys I didn’t know beforehand, was able to bring only two boats, a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, and a Wilderness Systems Monteo. He was unable to get his third boat arranged securely on his roof racks, so left it at home. Because I’m a greedy pig, or maybe because I don’t have the entire summer free like two of the other guys, I never rotated out of the boat line-up.

Eric Renshaw Greenland Paddle

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That afternoon paddle was my first use of the Eric Renshaw paddle I purchased through his Ebay store. A Greenland style shouldered paddle of laminated spruce with western red cedar blades of about 35” and length overall of 88”. Blade width is 4”, which I can comfortably grasp and hold on to. I really liked the paddle, and used it all weekend. It is probably the most lightweight paddle I’ve used or handled. As with the flawed, asymmetrical paddle I made with the help of a venerable relative, this paddle didn’t stress my joints, but, being longer, was easier on my shoulders and more useful at low angle. The Renshaw GP served as a seemingly efficient aquatic prybar. At $91.00 inclusive shipping, it represents a real bargain in a commercial Greenland paddle custom made to my specifications. Mine came unvarnished without resin tips so that I could apply Tung oil on my own. I don’t much care for the feel of varnish on wood paddles. Also, synthetic shaft, as well as varnished paddles are slick as snot after one’s applied sunscreen. The oiled paddle finish is slightly rough, and not the least slippery when wet or when a film of sunscreen remains on one’s hands after application.

The Lake, Itself

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We found the lake abounded with speedboats towing oversized, colorful “inner tubes” to which clung their drivers' friends and kin, jetskiis, groups of inebriated young to middle-aged people in motor boats, cabin cruisers, houseboats, and a large number of (to my inexpert eye) 25’ to 35’ sailboats, most of which were under sail while under way. I tried to be careful of the sailboats as they tacked upwind because I wasn’t sure their pilots could see me. Of course, I tried to steer clear of the power boats, as well.

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And Lake Watauga’s a windy lake. Saturday morning, very early, before setting out alone for a first-light paddle, I walked around the campground and heard the wind waves breaking, about one per second, against the base of the campground bluff’s northeast shore. Our campsite was situated on the little peninsula’s northwest shore, and was therefore relatively sheltered from the prevailing winds, which seemed especially strong in the early morning hours, and calm in the early evening.

Umbrella Sailing Contraindicated

I wound up not using the Round-Up golf umbrella for sailing because of the large number of other boats under sail or power upon the water. With the big golf umbrella, one sails blind (cain't see through the durn thing), which I considered would be both thoughtless and hazardous. It turns out that Brian has a Pacific Action rig for his Monteo, but he’d left it at home.

Woods, Water, Living Things

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The lake’s shores are heavily forested, and at this season the trees are nearly all in leaf. I also saw some evergreen trees, but the forest seemed mostly deciduous. Neither raccoon, nor bobcat, nor bear did we see. The largest mammal we saw was squirrel, and not to many of them.

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I saw, of course, the ubiquitous ardea herodias, and many of the usual Tennessee birds. Crows awakened us each morning at around 5:30 am with their loud cawing. And the lake harbored a large population of geese.

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Along the shoreline I observed numerous rock formations of a sort not seen around southern Middle Tennessee – reddish rocks at odd angles protruding into the lake’s shallow waters. The waters of the lake, I think ranked third cleanest in the continental United States, were pretty consistently a clear green. In the shallower waters, one could see to the bottom, which made looking at fish an interesting pastime while exploring inlets or bays. On occasion, while paddling into the wind and chop, a really large fish would jump or break surface, and that was interesting, too. Typically, landings and launchings were best effected with some care because the of the shoreline’s steep slope. I think I swam once or twice just getting out of the boat, once because my foot became entangled in a small wooden industrial pallet someone’d decided to toss in I could not say how long ago, but long enough that it had no tendency to float.

Paddling and Meddling

Saturday morning, Eric and Enoc, who had not done much or any paddling to speak of, planned to follow about an hour or so after I set out, in the plastic boats. Our plan was to meet at the nearby marina, to one’s right as one paddles with Watauga dam on one’s left.

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My goal was to be back in camp by about 11:30 am to meet some other friends who were driving out from around Boone, North Carolina. So, I paddled up around the Cardens Bluff Campground peninsula, turned right, and into a strong headwind to be confronted by what were almost swells, with chop and whitecaps. I was glad I’d thought to bring and use my sprayskirt.

It occurred to me that conditions were not appropriate for my inexperienced friends, and I paddled to a place of relative calm, got my cell-phone out of its drybag, and phoned Brian, who also had a cell phone, to ask him to tell Eric and Enoc to remain in the sheltered waters to the left of the campground. He didn’t pick up, so I left him a voicemail, breathed a prayer that my friends would have the sense to know when conditions exceeded their abilities, and paddled on. Because my conscience is probably broken, I didn’t turn back myself to warn them in person, but carried on with my own plans. Personally, I enjoyed the conditions that were somewhat rougher than what I’d experienced previously. I liked the small waves crashing over my bow and the greater than normal exertions required to make headway against the wind. I paddled past the marina a way, then returned to explore it. Many large houseboats, pontoon boats, cabin cruisers, sailboats, and odd floating houses of the sort I’d not seen since Portland, Oregon.

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After paddling up and down between every dock, I paddled back toward the harbor entrance to see, in the distance, Enoc and Eric paddling against the wind and chop.

I paddled hard to catch up with them; they appeared to be paddling toward an island in the distance. I could see they were arm paddling, and I’d already hefted at camp one of their extremely heavy Voyageur aluminum shaft paddles. Neither guy appeared to be using anything like torso rotation in forward stroke. A couple of times, they stopped to rest, and I kept paddling. I thought, “Jeese, one of them will swamp, lose his paddle and his boat, and perish while I’m watching. Great,” and paddled harder. I could see Enoc was wearing his pfd loosely, and it was riding up on him – sticking up behind his head. Those guys never looked back. When I got close enough that I thought it’d be worthwhile to try to shout into the howling wind, I called out, “ENOC!” because that name has two hard consonant sounds, whereas “Eric” only has the final glottal stop. Enoc actually heard me and signaled to Eric, and I was able to catch up with them. Pictured below, by this time the wind had slackened a good deal.

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When I came abreast them, I saw that Eric hadn’t used the neoprene sprayskirt with the Monteo – he said he’d stuffed it behind the seat. Enoc’s Pungo had only half-skirt. Neither guy’d thought to bring water, so I gave them from my deckbag a quart of Gatorade to share. Eric said that although Enoc (who speaks only Spanish, and French that’s as bad as my French) had wanted to explore the marina, but they hadn’t been sure it was permissible for them to explore the harbor. Eric said he wanted to go on to the island, but Enoc said he was pretty beat, and wanted to head back to the campsite after first stopping off at the marina. So we paddled back in to the marina, and Enoc beached the Pungo, got out to stretch and walk around a bit. We then paddled back to the campsite without mishap. In retrospect, I was probably overly worried about my friends, because, as it turned out, nothing bad happened to them. I think it’s probable I’ve read too many cautionary tales on Internet kayak bulletin boards and mailing lists. Even my caution-lady wife thinks I over prepare.

Friends Visited

Math_Doc and Vic_Chic, a married couple who are friends from another Internet bulletin board, showed up around 12:00 or 12:30, and we hung out and visited. Math_Doc is a professor of mathematics at a North Carolina university, and his wife is a well-educated and qualified teacher/ESL teacher who could not find school district employment in their small community because its school system’s board found out she’d registered Republican. Southern political bias is different, I guess from that in the rest of the country, only in that it is more overt. Math_Doc hadn’t kayaked before, but was willing to try out the E68. He’s a big guy, and it was a tight fit for him, but he was able to get in the boat, and made intuitive use of the GP, although he seemed more comfortable with the Aquabound Expedition paddle that normally now lives on the E68’s back deck. I paddled the Monteo, and found it tracked well and seemed pretty speedy in comparison to my three and a half foot longer folding kayak. However, we only paddled at most a couple of miles in sheltered, chop-free waters.

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More Paddling

Later on in the afternoon, after our guests had left, I paddled straight across from our campsite to the opposite shore, paddled around by the dam, then back around to the end of the lake thus back to our campsite. Some of the motor-boaters are pretty shameless in their behaviors, and I guess that kind of surprised me, as if in boats on the lake’s surface one was granted a pass on ordinary, public decency. Dunno what to think about that, really.

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Sunday morning it was windy again. I got up early and paddled straight across the lake then right, along the far shore, exploring bays, if that’s what they’re called on lakes, and basically the entire shoreline up past the island, then around the island, landing on the island, walking around a bit, exploring around Watauga Point Recreation Area, then back again to camp via the marina as a place to rest for a few minutes. After paddling around Watauga point, I saw Eric and Brian in the middle of the lake making for the island and paddled out to them. I think they had some water, this time, and Eric was in the Pungo. I observed Brian, as I neared them, holding his paddle vertically and striking one of its blades against the Monteo’s deck. He said the blade was coming loose, so I offered him the Aquabound off my back deck. Me, again, being over cautious: I don’t know whether this is a factor of age, or of marriage, but I used to be the most reckless person I knew.

I broke camp pretty early Monday morning, my friends remained behind for awhile to get some more paddling in, but they had only a three hour drive ahead of them, whereas mine was five or so. Eric and I couldn't get his Apple Powerbook (Pismo G3 400mhz) to burn to the firewire VST bus-powered CD burner that'd always worked before with that machine. He's got a Chieftains album on it in MP3 format that I wanted.

The Drive Back

The drive back was pretty uneventful reversal of the route I took to get to Cardens bluff. Phoned my wife to let her know I was on my way.

It strikes me as odd that other drivers get upset when someone passes them on the highway. At Crossville, the stretch of road past the airport, I drove behind for awhile someone in a gray-black late model Honda roadster. He was driving too slowly, so where the road markings indicated it was permitted, I moved over to pass, shifting down into third gear, then up into fourth.

The puff-cut cretin in the Honda two-seater sped up in attempt to keep me from passing, but an oncoming box-truck in "my" lane loomed large and I cut in front of the moron in the Honda, shifting up into fifth. I don't think I caused the intellectually or developmentally challenged driver to have to brake, only slow down infinitesimally. Oh yeah, he had to also run a quick calculation as to whether his pride was more valuable than the gel-coat and finish of his roadster's paint job. The idiot, and I'd told him he was an idiot as I passed him, looking at him to see what kind of special idiot he was, then attempted to tailgate me for a couple of miles gesturing with his middle finger. I looked back and laughed at him, then showed him the back of my own hand. I know it isn't right, but I hope that vehicle represents the tip of a consumer debt iceberg that will destroy any sense of well-being he may have.

The rest of my journey was completed without mishap, and I arrived home to unpack and lay out the E68's skin to dry.


Last edited by Christov_Tenn on Wed Aug 08, 2007 8:54 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 29, 2007 6:26 pm 
Great pictures and article, Chris. And some interesting observations on the lake life/road/ and local politics for those of us on the other side of the wider pond.

Rods


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2007 2:25 pm 
knight of the folding kayak realm

Joined: Sat Apr 16, 2005 1:06 pm
Posts: 359
Location: Spruce Head, Maine
That's pretty country. Nice photos & interesting article. The names of some of those towns conjur up memories from college.


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 Post subject: lake Watauga
PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2007 10:14 pm 
I am glad to have been some help to you Christov. I will continue to help others on East Tennessee Lakes. Your report was well written and the pics were great. It reminds me of Lake Ocoee @ Parksville,Tennessee. Thanks for the reply. I joined this group to see what is going on also.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2007 9:15 pm 
lord high faltbotmeister
User avatar

Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 6:30 pm
Posts: 681
Location: Stone Mountain, Ga. U.S.A.
I must say Chris your pictures and lore of the Tennessee adventure reminds me of what I feel when I pass through your state, but just can't put it the way you do. Nice work.

Running about the same time as you, my wife and I were paddling through history as we crossed the Potomac a few times in the Northern neck of Virginia. Seeing Mt Vernon, Ft Washington and even the Pentagon from the water is a perspective I have only visulized in my mind.

It is always suprising how much nature still exists in an urban environment. Sadly, the flotsum in the Potomac is there as well. :cry:

Chris


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 07, 2007 8:10 am 
Thanks guys. Eventually, I hope to have some more exotic kayaking experiences to write about, too. Chris


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:22 am 
It was really worth to read about it, It was wonderful article I really like it, it will be worth to visit at least once and I love this type of cloudy and rainy atmosphere too much. It's a great work done by you.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 9:49 pm 
Thank you. I need another camping trip soon.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2010 11:47 pm 
Brotherhood of the Golden Paddle
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Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2005 12:57 am
Posts: 1230
Location: Anchorage Alaska
Christov_Tenn wrote:
Thank you. I need another camping trip soon.


I think the sea turtle may be a Calvinist

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 10, 2010 6:30 am 
tsunamichuck wrote:
I think the sea turtle may be a Calvinist
Predestined to swim....


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:04 am 
Brotherhood of the Golden Paddle
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Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2005 12:57 am
Posts: 1230
Location: Anchorage Alaska
Christov_Tenn wrote:
tsunamichuck wrote:
I think the sea turtle may be a Calvinist
Predestined to swim....

More like predestined to rescue stranded beings who get caught unawares by the rising tide.

_________________
Feathercraft Kahuna ( Angela )
Mariner Express ( Miruku Maru ) ( In Storage)
Innova Helios 380
Northwest Sportee (SuperBoat)
Innova Safari
Mariner I
Feathercraft Java
Nautiraid 14
Innova Sunny
Feathercraft K-Light


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 11, 2010 1:53 pm 
If the turtle's truly a Calvinist, it knows its good works have no salvific effect beyond the temporal


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:39 pm 
Brotherhood of the Golden Paddle
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Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2005 12:57 am
Posts: 1230
Location: Anchorage Alaska
Christov_Tenn wrote:
If the turtle's truly a Calvinist, it knows its good works have no salvific effect beyond the temporal

That sounds exactly like the turtle. I can send you a VHS tape. Your son would probably love it.

_________________
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Mariner Express ( Miruku Maru ) ( In Storage)
Innova Helios 380
Northwest Sportee (SuperBoat)
Innova Safari
Mariner I
Feathercraft Java
Nautiraid 14
Innova Sunny
Feathercraft K-Light


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 11, 2010 10:08 pm 
We've got that one, but I don't remember the part about the turtle. Our son probably would love that movie - surprised we haven't watched it with him before now.


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