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Source: Kayaking Journal
Buying a Kayak is a Big Step... Take Your Time, do Your Homework, and Make the Right Choice
Yes, choosing the right boat is the most important (and most expensive) decision a kayaker has to make. But buying a Kayak doesn't have to be a nightmarish experience. Much of your decision depends on the type of paddling you plan to do. If you'll be spending most of your time on the ocean, lakes, or other flatwater, you'll probably be in the market for a "sea" or "touring" kayak. On the other hand, if you'll be spending your time riding whitewater rapids, then you'll want a "whitewater" or "slalom" kayak which is shorter, lighter, and has a tighter turning radius.
Sea or touring kayaks tend to be longer, faster, and more stable than their whitewater cousins. They can measure up to 20 feet in length and weigh upwards of 60 pounds. They have several water-tight compartments for stowing enough food and other gear for extended journeys. Touring boats also displace more volume due to their added length, width, and deeper draft. They have a much flatter keel line than whitewater boats, giving them greater straight-line speed but less "rocker" and thus less maneuverability in tight spaces.
A whitewater or slalom kayak is generally stubbier and rounder than a touring model. They usually measure in at around 10 feet in length and weigh anywhere from 30 to 40 pounds (an important consideration since slalom boats often have to be ported several miles into the river). There is little or no storage space in a slalom boat, but since most river trips tend to be one day affairs, there isn't as much of a need to haul around a lot of gear. Slalom kayaks come in several different designs, with some built for general river running and others more suited to racing or playboating.
Another important consideration will be the hull material of your new kayak. Most modern boats are made of either fiberglass or polyethylene plastic. Another popular material is a kevlar/fiberglass hybrid. All three of these materials have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Polyethylene hulls are rugged, inexpensive, and produced in the widest variety of shapes and sizes. They're also heavier than the other two materials. Fiberglass, on the other hand, is lighter, but more expensive and not as rugged as plastic. Kevlar, the third material, is even lighter than fiberglass, is very strong (i.e. bulletproof vests), but can cost twice as much as a polyethylene-hulled boat.
Another option for the recreational flatwater paddler is a folding kayak. These touring boats have a fabric hull that slips over a wooden or alumnium frame that can be taken apart when not in use. When disassembled, these boats fit into a carrying case that's not much larger than a backpack. The main drawbacks to foldboats are weight (they can weigh upwards of 80 pounds) and price, which can run up to 20 percent higher than a comparable fiberglass boat.
Take It For A Spin
Okay, now that you've decided on the type of boat you want and the best hull material for your needs, it's time to start kicking the tires. If you have a good sports shop or kayak outfitter in your area, drive down and take a look at the different models they have on display.
Sit in the cockpit -- make sure it's a cockpit size that physically fits you (later you'll want to custom-fit your cockpit to your tastes, but make sure the boat feels right to start with). Make sure that your thighs, knees and hips comfortably touch the interior walls. If the boat has foot braces, make sure they're firm and easy to adjust.
If the shop has a body of water nearby, see if you can take your choice out for a "test drive." Some outfitters will even have rentals of that model available, and ask if you can apply the cost of a rental to the price of the new boat. When test driving a boat, see how it handles on the waves and in windy situations. A kayak's tendency to weathercock will be most evident in a strong breeze. Capsize it a few times to see how well it performs during an Eskimo roll. If it's a slalom kayak, see how well it turns and handles in rapids. If the boat seems sluggish or unresponsive, you might want choose another model.
This is just a general overview. There are many more choices and options when selecting a kayak. If you're pressed for cash, you might consider buying a used kayak. If you're a beginner to the sport, and you're worried about getting caught in the boat during a roll, take a look at a "sit-on-top" model that allows the paddler easy exit from the boat. There are inflatable kayaks that are inexpensive and easy to transport, multi-day touring kayaks that have rudders for easier steering in the wind, etc. And then you'll have to decide how you'll be transporting you new pride-and-joy back and forth from your home to the water.
Buy a good kayak helmet and protect your most valuable asset -- that space between your ears
A kayak PFD is another must-have accessory. Choose one that's lightweight and comfortable.
Kayak bilge pumps
Kayak bilge pump -- Buy a good kayak pump for safety and security on the water
Lost on the Water? Buy a Good Kayak Compass and Navigate Like a Pro
Kayak spray skirts
A Kayak Spray Skirt Should Fit Your Kayak -- And You
Wet and dry suits
Wet suit or dry suit -- your protection against hypothermia
Use good kayak flotation to keep your boat on the water
A good kayak carrier is the best way to get your boat to and from the water
Selecting a Touring Paddle
Find out why shape, length and size do matter when selecting a touring paddle
Don't be afraid of taking your tech toys into the backcountry -- a good GPS unit can be a lifesaver
Source: Excerpt from the book "Cradle to Canoe"
Article from Blazing Paddles reproduced below for convenience.
Canoes are the workhorse of wilderness travel. No other means of transportation is as suitable for travel in large areas of North America's wilderness. No other way of traveling through the wilderness makes it as easy to take children along.
The first step in choosing a canoe is to carefully define what your requirements for the craft are. Does it have to be light? How much weight will be carried in the canoe? Will it be paddled with different people, or will the partners be the same people all the time? Will it be used it in rough white water?
The more carefully you prepare a list of what you want from a canoe, the more likely you'll choose the right one for your needs. Keep in mind though that there is no one perfect canoe that will fill every need. Any canoe design will involve some compromise. Just be sure that you don't compromise on the things that are high priority items on your list of requirements.
Choosing a canoe that's suitable requires knowing a bit about the various parts of the canoe and what the functions are. Many of the canoe parts have names that come from old English terms used in the wooden boat building industry and some of the names are quite interesting.
At first glance, canoes appear to be the same at both ends but they are a little different. One end is the front (bow) while the other end is the back (stern). The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the seats. The stern is smaller and placed nearer the end of the canoe while the bow seat is wider and is placed closer to the middle of the canoe.
Remember this, those of you who paddle the canoe back to front. You know who you are.
The graceful curves where the sides of the canoe come together at the front and back of the canoe are called the stems. The shape of the stem can be plumb (straight up and down) recurved (bends back towards the middle of the canoe) or flared (top is farther out than the bottom). Canoes with a flared stem tend to be drier in rough water because wave splashes are directed away from the canoe. Recurved stems produce gunwales that are narrower in the bow and stern, which makes it easier to paddle the canoe.
The front part of the canoe that slices through the water while its being paddled is called the entry line. A sharp entry line will tend to be fast to paddle, but won't be as dry in waves and will usually be a little harder to turn. A blunt entry line will be a little slower, but ride over waves rather than slicing through them and tend to be a little more maneuverable.
Just behind the stems are little covers called the deck plates. The deck plates give some rigidity to the stem section of the canoe and provide a convenient place for tying ropes or handles to carry the canoe for short distances. Attached to the deck plates and running down the top edge of the canoe are long strips of wood, aluminum or vinyl called gunwales (also called gunnels or rails). The term was originally used for the place on wooden ships that carried canons. The one on the inside is called the inwale and the on the outside is called the outwale. The line that the gunwales follow is called the sheer-line. Canoes may have a very flat sheer line with an abrupt rise at the end to meet the stem, or they may have a sheer line that rises gradually from the center thwart to the stem. Flat sheer lines make it a little easier for paddling because the sides of the canoe aren't as high but raised sheer lines help to keep the paddler drier in rough water.
Besides the seats that are attached to the inwales, short canoes will have a single long, thin piece of wood called a thwart spanning across the middle of the canoe. Longer canoes may also have a second thwart between the stern seat and the middle thwart. Canoes that are outfitted for solo paddling will sometimes have a special thwart that is wider, tilted a bit and lowered so that paddlers can use it to kneel against. Some canoes may have a specially sculpted thwart in the middle of the canoe called a yoke. The yoke is a wide piece of wood that is shaped to fit your shoulders with a notch in the middle for your neck. This makes it easier to carry the canoe on portages. Yokes may all look quite similar, but many of them can be very uncomfortable so it's important to try a yoke before getting one for your canoe.
When purchasing canoes, it's important to understand what some of the specifications in the catalogs mean. The greatest distance from the bow stem to the stern stem is the canoe's overall length. The length of canoe that is actually in the water when it is floating with a normal load is more important for canoeists to know and that may be different than the overall length depending on the shape of the stem. A plumb stem will have identical waterline and overall lengths. A flared stem will have a shorter waterline length than an overall length. A recurved stem may be shorter or longer depending on where the recurve is in relation to the waterline. A canoe with a greater overall length than the waterline length (flared stem) will tend to be more affected by the wind. Its important to know that manufacturers don't all use the same method for publishing their sizes. Some publish water line lengths, some use overall length and some use a measurement that is a compromises between the two.
The curvature of the bottom of the canoe from end to end is called rocker. Canoes with a lot of rocker turn easily because the ends are higher out of the water so there is less resistance to turning. Ones with little or no rocker are easier to paddle in a straight line but do not turn very well. Canoes with ends that drop below the middle of the canoe are referred to as hog-backed. Because they are hard to maneuver, they are considered poor designs. The easiest way to tell how much rocker a canoe has is to put it on a level surface and support it so that it stays upright or have someone hold it. Walk back a bit and bend down to look under the canoe. It's easy to see where the rocker starts and ends by where the canoe's bottom looses contact with the ground.
The center line along the bottom of the canoe that goes from bow to stern is called the keel line. Keels are a long thin piece of wood or metal that runs the length of the canoe. Some canoes have no keel, others have one attached and some have a keel that is molded in. Keels are not really required on most canoes. Their original function was mainly to provide some protection for the bottom of canvas canoes. People often assume that keels are used to keep the canoe going in a straight line. In reality, they don't have much influence on that at all. The ability of a canoe to stay on a track has more to do with the shape of the hull than anything else. Keels will only have an effect if a canoe is being forced sideways through the water, like when its being blown by the wind or it passes over a current in a river. Some canoes were manufactured with three keels along the bottom. The extra keels will have no impact on the performance of the canoe they simply add stiffness to the bottom of the canoe.
If several different kinds of canoes were cut in half and the midsections examined, it would become apparent that there is a lot of variety in their shapes. The widest area of the canoe is called the beam. Canoes with a wider beam will be more stable and can carry more gear, but they tend to be slower. The area where the bottom of the canoe turns up to become the sides of the canoe is called the chine or the bilge. If the sides of the canoe rise straight up they're called plumb, if they get wider they are called flared and if they curve back in it's called tumblehome. This inward curving in a canoe means the canoeist doesn't have to reach out as far to put their paddle in the water so its easier on the arms. The term "tumblehome" has its roots in the English ship building industry. The exact origins are obscure, but "home", in ship terminology implies being "drawn in" towards the centerline as in "sails are sheeted home", "the anchor is brought home". In older English cities many of the houses were often referred to as "jumbles" or "tumbles" because they were slowly leaning over and were supporting each other. It's likely that sailors put the two words together to describe the leaning of the ship's sides toward "home." Flare-sided canoes tend to be drier in rough water and are harder to tip but require a wider reach for the paddler.
Some canoes will have quite flat bottoms while others will have a shallow arch and others will have a bit of a V shape. Flat bottom canoes are very stable, but tend to be slower to paddle. They don't perform well in rough water. Shallow arch designs are the most common bottom shape in quality canoes. They tend to be fairly quick and gives a very predictable ride. They may feel a little tippy for novices when first getting in, but that feeling goes away quickly. A canoe with a shallow arch is actually less likely to tip than a flat-bottomed canoe in many circumstances. Canoes with a V shaped bottoms are a compromise between a flat-bottomed and a shallow arch. They tend to ride a little deeper in the water and don't turn quite as easily, but are generally easier to paddle in a straight line.
Its important to find a hull shape that gives you the kind of performance you want for the type of paddling you like to do. Generally, most canoes hull shapes are optimized for one of three things:
Speed - long, narrow canoes with little rocker and sharp entry lines
Carrying capacity - wider canoes with flatter bottoms that are able to carry a lot of gear
Maneuverability - shorter canoes with a lot of rocker that feel at home in moving water
Many canoes do all of these things reasonably well, but shine more in one of the three areas. People intent on canoeing with a family will probably prefer a hull shape designed for tripping because it is most suitable for their needs. Tripping canoes are the pick-up trucks for paddlers. They have the capacity to carry a lot of gear and are usually 16 to 18 feet long. Two adults, two infants and enough gear for a couple of weeks can be squeezed into a 16-foot canoe, but it gets a bit crowded. Adding an extra foot to the length of the canoe doesn't seem like it would make a lot of difference, but the longer canoe also becomes wider so it will accommodate a surprising amount of extra gear. An 18-foot canoe will handle a lot more gear, but they tend to be a little too heavy to handle comfortably on portages and more difficult to maneuver on the water because of the extra length. A longer canoe makes it easier to travel as a family, but children are not like other loads that remain a constant size and weight. Every year they grow a little and eventually, even an 18-foot canoe will be too small for a family of four. By the time our children were five years old, they were contributing enough with their paddling that we felt comfortable heading out in two 16-foot canoes. As long as both parents are comfortable controlling a canoe, each adult can take a stern seat while a youngster can occupy the bow.
A fairly recent concept in canoe designs are hull shapes that are made asymmetrical (the front of the canoe is a different shape than the back). Traditional canoes were identical in both ends and the only way you could tell which was front and which was back was by looking at the seat placement. The asymmetrical hull is quite different at either end. This type of design presents some problems for families that want to involve young children in paddling. The asymmetrical shape gives some speed advantage, but we found it hard to adjust the trim of the canoe properly. Trim is the distribution of weight in a canoe. The goal is usually to have the bow of the canoe just a bit higher out of the water than the stern of the canoe. When the weight of the stern paddler is so much greater than the bow paddler, no matter how the packs were arranged, the bow was always far out of the water while the stern was buried deep.
We found it much more practical to use a traditionally shaped canoe and paddle it backwards. We'd use the narrower stern section as the bow seat for the child while the adult would sit in the bow seat, but facing the back of the canoe. This made it much easier to adjust the canoes trim. Our kids liked it a lot better because they found it much easier to paddle. The bow seats on most canoes are just too far away from the side of the canoe for really small children to reach the water with their paddle. They always found it much cozier when they got to sit in the small (stern) seat when it was at the front of the canoe.
Picking the right canoe
Your own skill level will affect the comfort you will feel with various canoe designs. Selecting the right canoe can take away some of the stress if you've got young, squirming children in the boat. The characteristics of canoes change as they are loaded with packs and equipment, it's important to try out canoes when they are both empty and loaded. Borrow or rent several different kinds and use them on trips to find out what canoe designs suit your needs best. If you go out on a trip with a group, ask to try out some of the other boats and ask their owners what they like and don't like about them.
Another thing that you need to decide before buying a canoe is to determine which type of construction materials best suited your needs and your pocketbook.
There are six common manufacturing processes that use different materials which produce canoes in a variety of price ranges and characteristics from which to choose the type that is best suited to your needs. These are: traditional cedar and canvas, cedar stripper, aluminum, fiberglass, Kevlar/specialty cloth, ABS/plastic. Many canoe models are available in several different construction materials. Choosing the type of material that's right for you is a matter of finding a balance between what appeals to your eyes, how much use or abuse you put your equipment through, how much weight you can carry and how well padded your pocketbook is.
Traditional Canoes -Cedar and Canvas
The cedar and canvas canoe evolved as a European adaptation of the aboriginal birch bark canoe. The exact origins of the design are lost to history, but it appears that ship builders and guides in the Bangor area of Maine played a key role in the development of this construction. Using techniques similar to those employed in shipbuilding, planks of cedar were fastened to ribs that were steamed then bent over a form. The completed hull was then covered by stretching and fastening a single piece of canvas over the canoe. The canvas was then made waterproof by the application of filler to seal the cloth. Then the canoe was painted.
Cedar and canvas canoes have been commercially available in North America for more than a hundred years. In Canada, two companies emerged as the largest suppliers of this type of craft, the Chestnut Company in New Brunswick and the Peterborough Company in Ontario.
Early in their history, the Chestnut Company experienced communication problems because canoes had to be ordered by telegraph. To avoid the mistakes that sometimes happened when people tried to provide the specifications for their canoes by width and length, they developed a naming scheme for every canoe model that was made. This tradition was continued even after the telegraph was replaced with more effective methods of passing along orders. Even in the last catalogs the company published in the 1960s, they still had a name for every model. A 16-foot Prospector model was called a Fort when it was pointed at both ends, but it was a Fawn when it had a Vee motor mount at the stern. The 17-foot Prospector pointed at both ends was a Garry. The 16-foot Pleasure Canoe would be a Pal if it had canned seats and high gloss finish, but would be a Deer if it had slat seats and ordinary enamel paint. Many of the models were named after Hudson's Bay trading posts in honour of the long relationship that the two companies had.
The Chestnut Prospector model was the workhorse of the backwoods throughout the Canadian North. It gained a new popularity in recent years when the Canadian filmmaker Bill Mason noted that it was his favourite canoe in his Path of the Paddle series.
Over the years there has been countless discussion around the campfire about the virtues of the Chestnut versus the Peterborough canoe. In reality, there really wasn't that much difference between them. With little public notice, the Chestnut and Peterborough Canoe companies quietly merged into one entity, the Canadian Canoe Company. However, each kept their individual identities intact. Following this merger, each was filling the other company's orders depending on their supplies in stock and the demand. It was not uncommon for Peterborough models to be shipped from New Brunswick or for Chestnut models to be shipped from Peterborough.
The era of mass production of cedar and canvas canoes began to wane in the 1960s, mostly because of the introduction of fiberglass as a building material for canoe construction. By 1980, the large manufacturers of wooden canoes had closed their doors forever. Today, there are many small shops with builders who still produce limited numbers of these beautiful and durable boats. Cedar and canvas canoes aren't for everyone, but for the connoisseur who appreciates quality, there is no finer feeling than paddling a cedar and canvas canoe through the morning mist on a calm lake.
Good cedar and canvas canoes evolved rather than being designed. Refining and improving the finer points of each successive watercraft, the craftsmen gradually modified and improved the hull shapes over the years. Today the successful molds that were an accumulation of these evolutionary designs are still being produced by small shops.
Building cedar and canvas canoes is a highly skilled trade which requires some specialized tools. Its possible for a keen hobbyist to build one, but it would be a major undertaking. Cedar and canvas canoes require a little more care in handling and more maintenance than other construction materials, but with proper care and storage, these canoes will last a lifetime.
Canoes that are made from long, narrow strips of wood that run the entire length of the hull are known as Cedar Strip canoes. Originally, they were made with oak ribs and relied on the tight fit of the wood strips to keep the water out.
Now they are more commonly made from long strips glued to each other on a form, then sanded smooth and covered with a transparent layer of fiberglass inside and out. This produces a strong and durable canoe that is sometimes referred to as a cedar-glass canoe. These beautiful watercraft are made either in limited production by builders in small shops or by hobbyists who want to build their own canoe. This type of construction requires a minimal amount of tools and expertise. Anyone with good woodworking skills should be able to build their own cedar glass canoe.
There are a several books available to guide one through the process of strip construction. Plans are readily available and kits can be purchased that supply most of the raw materials. With all these resources, building your own becomes a manageable but time consuming project.
The hull designs used for many of the strip canoe models are based on the traditional cedar and canvas canoe models, so they are similar in shape to many canoes that are already available. However, even though the designs and the basic hull shape should be similar, a cedar strip canoe will feel different on the water. It would be a good idea to find someone that has already built a "stripper" canoe with the hull shape you would like and try the canoe before investing the time required to build one. It usually takes a month or two before most hobbyists can complete one of these canoes and that would be a lot of effort to invest in something you didn't like when its finished.
Even though cedar strip canoes appear very fragile, they are actually much sturdier than they look. The boats are very serviceable. It's worth keeping in mind that exposure to the sun breaks down fiberglass, so the canoe should be stored under a cover when it is not in use. This is good advice for any canoe, except for those made from aluminum which don't need protection from the sun.
The hardest part of owning a stripper canoe is the dread of getting the first scratch. Once that's out of the way, paddlers seem to be much more comfortable about using their boat for everyday use. Scratches on the hull are usually fairly easy to fix, so there really isn't any need to be worried.
Aluminum canoes are a post-war product that evolved from the aircraft industry. These boats were once the most common livery or rental canoe and can still be found by the score on the racks of most rental facilities, though they are becoming less popular in recent years. While they require almost no maintenance, they are noisy to paddle and get very hot in the sun or very cold when the water is cold.
In their heyday, they were often used for white water paddling because they would bend instead of break when they hit rocks. Some of the new plastic materials are much more suitable for this type of paddling. Aluminum tends to stick to rocks instead of sliding over them. This results in a sudden, abrupt halt of forward movement. From personal experience, this can be quite painful because when the canoe stops, there's a tendency for the person who's paddling it to continue in the direction of travel. Unfortunately, many of the aluminum canoes had cross ribs along the bottom of the canoe for strength and it wouldn't be uncommon for a paddlers knees to go skidding across a few of these before their hips came to a resounding thump against a thwart.
The tools used to make aluminum canoes create some restrictions that make it hard to manufacture a good hull shape. There is not a lot of variety to choose from and the number of models being produced has declined over the years.
The introduction of fiberglass in canoe construction had a major impact on the popularization of the sport because it brought the price of canoes down to the point where they were affordable by almost anyone. Currently there are probably more fiberglass canoes in production than all the other types of construction combined. For this reason, new paddlers often chose fiberglass as the material for their first canoe. They are often not sure whether they're going to enjoy the activity or not and the fiberglass ones are among the least expensive to own so it doesn't require a large investment to get started. Though there's no reason why a good fiberglass canoe can't provide the family good service for many years, most people who continue with paddling will usually exchange their fiberglass canoes for ones made from one of the other materials as their needs evolve.
There are a lot of good canoes designs made in fiberglass. Unlike some of the other techniques and materials, it's just as easy to make a bad design as a good one. Before buying a fiberglass canoe it is especially important to paddle ones of several different shapes and styles to be certain that the one you select suits your needs. Fiberglass canoes are among the easiest to repair and require very little maintenance.
If weight is a consideration, Kevlar or some of the new specialty-cloth constructions are very attractive to consider. The techniques used to build canoes with these materials are similar to the process used for making good quality fiberglass construction, but the materials are a lot more expensive. Generally, because they do cost more to make and sell, manufacturers tend to research their hull shapes more carefully. That means that its less likely that poorly shaped canoes will make their way into full-scale production.
While the super lightweight canoes are a joy to carry on a portage, their lightweight makes them hypersensitive on the water. When children are in the canoe, this may be a disadvantage as heavier canoes will certainly be a bit more stable. A 17 foot Kevlar tripping canoe may weigh as little as 50 pounds while a similar canoe in ABS may weigh 80. That means there's an extra 30 pounds of ballast in the canoe, most of it in the bottom where it will help to stabilize the craft. As well, manufacturers will often favour making their lightweight canoes in "fast" hull shapes. The faster, sleeker designs usually sacrifice a little stability to achieve the speed, which can make the hull feel even less stable than one from just the reduced weight alone.
Kevlar and the other lightweight materials are becoming very popular with people who do a lot of wilderness tripping. They are strong and durable and so light, they can almost make portages fun.
The introduction of plastics revolutionized the plumbing industry by providing pipe material that was strong, flexible and easy to form into unusual shapes. It wasn't long before people began to recognize that this material was incredibly strong and it began showing up in all sorts of places, including canoes. To make a canoe from ABS, (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) a large sheet composed of a five-layer laminate is heated until its soft enough to be forced into a mold. Once this cools down and the seats, thwarts and gunwales are added, it becomes a very durable craft that is very low in maintenance and is almost indestructible.
The first ABS canoes were all made at the Uniroyal factory in Warsaw Indiana. The company had been experimenting with possible uses for a new product they had been developing which they called Royalex. They had a canoe shaped mold and would make small batches of hulls as they got orders. Original ABS canoes got the nickname Warsaw Rockets because of their origins. Canoe manufacturers would take delivery of the empty canoe shells and then outfit the canoes with gunwales, decks, seats and thwarts. As ABS began to prove itself as a sturdy, reliable and maintenance-free material to build canoes from, manufacturers began to produce their own molds and a greater variety of shapes began to appear on the market. Today canoes made from ABS are the ones preferred by people who are looking for a tough, long lasting canoe to paddle in white water or take with them on long wilderness trips.
ABS isn't the only plastic material that canoes are made from. There are a few canoes designs made from Polyethylene, which is the same material that kitchen freezer to microwave food containers are made from. Polyethylene canoes tend to be a little heavier and don't keep their shape as well as the ABS canoes do, but they are less expensive and more abrasion resistant.
In the showroom of a manufacturer we once visited, we were leafing through a binder filled with letters submitted by satisfied customers. Among the accolades was a letter from the owner of a hunt camp in northern Quebec. It seems that while transporting one of their plastic canoes to a remote lake, the rope holding it onto the planes pontoons came undone and the canoe fell many thousands of feet to land somewhere in the rugged wilderness below. The pilot circled and landed on a nearby lake and made an effort to recover the pieces. When the canoe was finally located, much to everyone's surprise, the canoe was intact and there was very little damage to it. With a minimal amount of repair work, the airmail canoe was put back into service.
We've been on several trips where we have seen ABS canoes folded entirely in half around a rock in a strong current. After the canoes had been pulled off the rock, they would pop back to their original shape with only few wrinkles in the hull to show where the folds once were. Usually the greatest damage occurs to the trim on the boat and after replacing or repairing the gunwales, seats or thwarts, the canoe is almost as good as new.
Today, we generally use our ABS canoes more often than any of the others. They are a bit on the heavy side to carry, but for our purposes we find them most suitable. We've found a few hull shapes that we like to paddle and their rugged durability makes them an excellent choice for the kinds of canoeing that we like do. Not all ABS canoes are heavy. Our boys have their own 12-foot ABS canoe that only weighs 32 pounds.
In the last few years, there has been an interesting innovation in canoe design showing up in North America. Folding canoes made from the same type of tough material used on white water rafts have been used in Europe for quite some time, but they're starting to be more common here. The advantage to these canoes is that they take so little space for storage. When they're folded up, they are not much larger than big sack full of laundry. A folded canoe qualifies as one piece of checked luggage on commercial airlines which means they can solve some of the more difficult logistical problems in accessing some of the more remote wilderness routes.
Another problem when trying to arrange trips into the wild is getting the canoes to the river on bush planes. Some pilots don't like to fly with more than one canoe attached to their floats even on planes that might be able to carry the load. That may mean several shuttle trips would be needed to get all the canoes to the start point of the trip. This would add a lot to the cost of the trip. Folding canoes can go inside the plane which can make it possible to get all the people and canoes to the start point together in one trip.
We used folding Pakboat canoes on our most recent arctic trip and were very pleased that we had. The canoes took a bit to get used to as they handled a little differently than we were accustomed to, but they were certainly rugged enough and there were no problems with them being able to handle the heavy loads. We brought the canoes with us on commercial flights to Inuvik as baggage and all of our gear and "canoes" fit inside the bush plane on the trip to the river.
When we began canoe tripping, we used our old cedar and canvas canoe for everything from a quiet day paddle in the nearby swamp to a wilderness trip that spanned several weeks and included a lot of white water. Today, we have two canoes that we use for most trips, but there's a collection of six other more specialized designs on racks in the back yard that we use regularly. We could still use a cedar and canvas canoe for all our paddling excursions, but the specialty canoes cut down on the worry we feel on some outings. That allows us to focus more on the trip.
The "paddle in sider" report
Choosing a paddle in solid wood
Here is a cross section view of a typical tree from which planks are sawn for a paddle in the process of being shaped. The number of boards will depend on the diameter of the tree. Generally, large diameter trees will yield better quality paddles.
You can can tell what section of a tree the paddle has come from by looking at the circular patter of the grain visible on the end of the paddle grip. Study this with the paddle in your hand and compare it against the illustration below.
From the saw cuts illustrated above, Plank C would result in the most desirable paddle in this log. There would be another plank virutally identical to this one on the other side of Plank D.
Plank A would also be a good choice, but would have a little more flex and also be a little more prone to warping if not handled properly.
Plank B could be very prone to warping and is more likely to break under stress.
Plank D is wood that is usually not very strong. Most saw mills will avoid cutting a plank from this section.
Plank E will produce a good paddle with uniform flex and good strength, but the blade will be more prone to warping into a cup shape - especially if its not well cared for.
From these illustrations, you can see how grain can affect construction when shaping a paddle in wood milled from a slightly bent tree (illustrations on right), compared to shaping a paddle in wood sawn from a straight tree (illustration at left).
The tree at left would produce a well shaped paddle in terms of grain while the tree at right would produce a paddle in grain that might easily result in warping.
Yet another consideration
Often cutting a paddle in the plank results in a bit of surplus material too small to fit a second paddle inside.
It's possible to cheat a bit and angle the template, fitting a padde in the top part and fitting another paddle in the bottom part. This may produce warping with the paddle in the shaft area and cause the shaft to break when the using the paddle in situations requiring a lot of force.
Getting the most out of your paddle in the water
Paddle in various hand positions for leverage
Holding the paddle near the bottom of the shaft makes paddling a bit easier. You're using leverage to gain mechanical advantage. Note the distance the load (the green box) moves when the top of the lever is pushed down. Compare this to the illustration below to see what happens when you slide the bottom hand up the shaft a bit.
By holding the paddle in a "choked up" position higher up the shaft, you can move a lot more water for the same amount of movement with your arms. This means more work, but your ability to move water is often critical when paddling rapids. By holding the paddle in this position, its possible to make one effective stroke compared to two or three less effective ones in the illustration above. This is the best grip to use when you paddle in white water, but it's also very effective for most conditions you might paddle in.
See the chart for comparison
LHS Illustrion A
RHS Illustration B
What's the most effective position for your paddling style?
The Purple bar represents the distance that the hands move on the paddle. The Green bar represnts the distance moved by the paddle in the water.
In Ilustration A, the paddle movement isn't as much as in Illustration B
Hand position A is easier on the arms, but not as effective in the water as hand position B
Illustration A Illustration B
Store your paddle in optimum conditions
To keep your paddle in top notch condition, proper storage is essential. Ideally, keep the paddle in a cool dry environment when it's not in use. The temperature shouldn't vary a lot and there should be no direct sunshine on the paddle. It's also a good idea to suspend the paddle in a vertical position by tying a string on the grip and hanging it in a position that doesn't contact anything.
Keep water from penetrating the wood by touching up any bare spots with linseed oil. Before storing the paddle for the winter, sand and varnish it if required.
Be careful about leaving your paddle laying on the ground. A paddle in direct sunlight on cool, damp ground can easily warp because of the difference in temperature between the top and the bottom.
Wooden paddles should last a lifetime when cared for properly.
St. Croix River
Forming 185 km of the Canada-United States border between southwestern New Brunswick and northeastern Maine, the St. Croix River is a beautiful example of an eastern Canadian maritime river. Easily accessible from major urban centres in the Maritime provinces as well as the U.S. northeastern seaboard, the St. Croix offers visitors a fascinating variety of historical and natural points of interest, and a range of river touring experiences appealing to canoeists from novice to expert.
Beginner Canoe Trips Canoe / Kayak New Brunswick
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