The buyer's guide

A couple of years ago The American Canoe Association and Canoe Kayak Canada, formerly the Canadian Canoe Society, got together and merged all of their publications. Instead of separate magazines for sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, kayak fishing, canoeing, canoe hermitage and standup paddleboarding, there is now a large journal with sections devoted to each aspect of the sport. The journal retains The ACA commitment to training and safety, which I appreciate and, from the letters to the editor, I think that it is generally appreciated by those of use who used to get more than one of the magazines. The new journal has two super issues each year, one devoted to a buyers guide for equipment and the other a destination guide for trips and outfitters. In general, I like the destination guide a bit better than the buyer’s guide. I’ve never been limited in my on the water activities by a lack of equipment. Even before I owned a canoe, I had access to boats through the church camp where I volunteered. It seems that there is always someone who is willing to loan you a boat for an afternoon’s paddle.

So I don’t need more equipment, not that that has kept me from buying equipment in the past. I have both canoes and kayaks that I have built and others that I have purchased, mostly used, over the years. I have only purchased two new boats in my life and that is probably enough, because the best boats are the ones I build myself. There are some qualities of plastics and advanced composites, however, that aren’t quite do-it-yourself items. While wood and wood composite construction is wonderful for touring boats, intense whitewater paddling goes a bit better with boats made of materials that can withstand hard impacts with rocks.

The basic formula for the number of boats a person should own, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned in this journal before is n+1. The number of boats that any boater needs is the number of boats currently owned (represented by the letter n) plus one. You always need one more boat. This applies to purists who only paddle one kind of boat as well as to generalists.

“If I could only have one boat,” I sometimes speculate, “It would be a 16’ Chestnut Prospector. Now I don’t have a real Chestnut Prospector. Mine is a wood strip boat built to the shape copied from a Chestnut Prospector. It is a wonderful boat. I paddle it bow first when paddling tandem and the other way around when paddling solo. The boat is symmetrical, so the only difference between the two ends is the arrangement of seats in the boat. Since I prefer to paddle solo kneeling on the bottom of the boat with a stuff sack filled with foam or perhaps a sleeping bag to sit back on, I don’t really need a seat, but once in a while on calm water, I’ll slide back onto the seat and paddle with one knee bent just to sit in a different position. The Prospector has sufficient rocker to handle well in short turns, but sufficient length to paddle well on flat water. I could sing the praises of the design for an entire journal entry.

My prospector, however, wasn’t the first boat I obtained. I already had two boats when I built it. One is a slightly longer tandem canoe, originally designed as a tripping boat, but modified to be a sailing canoe. The other is a very small, short, and lightweight little boat for shallow water and just playing around. It was that small boat that got me into kayaks. When our children were teens and we had an exchange student we took off on a vacation from Rapid City to the Pacific Northwest. We had five of us all adult-sized in a five-passenger car with a tent trailer in tow. It was pretty crowded, so I only put one canoe on the roof rack. I had to take a cargo pod to have room for paddle, life jacket and other items. My brother was living on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound at the time, so, of course the two of us both got in the little solo boat and went paddling on the sound. It was a fairly calm day, but there was little freeboard with both of us in the boat and the waves were a bit intimidating to the brother from South Dakota. We got pretty wet. I decided to make a kayak. It looked like kayak paddlers stayed dryer.

Of course, the joke in the community is that canoeists never really enjoy kayaks. They just take up paddling them for an excuse to buy more boats.

That first kayak that I built has been a wonderful boat. I’ve paddled it in the Pacific and Atlantic, in the Puget Sound and the Bay of Fundy, in three of the Great Lakes and down a lot of rivers including the Yellowstone and the Missouri. It needs a little work these days, but I plan to get it into the shop for a new cockpit coaming and a general refinishing as soon as I complete the project that is currently occupying half of my garage.

Both canoeing and kayaking have three general categories of boats: flatwater, whitewater and racing or marathon. Then there are boats designed specifically for fishing and especially when it comes to kayaks, fishing boats are a category unto themselves. I love to eat fish and I like to fish on occasion, but I’ve never needed a specialty boat for that activity. That makes a whole section of the magazine that I read very lightly. And I’ve never gotten into stand up paddle boarding. I did some wind surfing for a few years, and helped a camp that I directed obtain a half dozen boards for teaching basic sailing, but I like to be able to sit in my boats and I appreciate being closer to the water. That gives me another section of the magazine to read lightly.

Still, there is a lot of canoe and kayak gear in the rest of the buyer’s guide. Too much. The formula is n+1 not n+4 for a very good reason. In fact, it might be a good practice to place the buyer’s guide directly into the recycle bin before I read it.

It’s too late for this year’s issue, however.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!