Water Ways: Kayaks and Canoes

June 1, 2004
Filed under Camping Gear, Water & Hydration

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Growing up on the southern Oregon coast afforded seemingly endless opportunities for new adventures. During the summer months, those adventures always took my friends and family to the water. More often than not, those memorable outings focused on the numerous coastal lakes and rivers shrouded by thick forests of Douglas fir, alder and maple. It’s there where we found a secluded campsite to settle in for a weekend or a week of hiking, fishing and exploring the wonders of nature.

To us kids, camp was the door to freedom — and the blue 16-foot plywood canoe, built by my brother-in-law from a kit he found in a magazine, was key. And a very heavy key at that — I remember all too well that it took all the muscle a couple of 14-year-olds could muster to move it from the rack on the pickup to the water. But once “feet-wet,” it glided with ease when our maple paddles dipped into the water.

Most of the time, there were three of us kids fishing for bass, trout and perch from the Blue Beast, but its full-length keel and wide beam made it very stable. (Still, our parents always made sure we wore life jackets.) That boat endured two decades of hard use before it succumbed to the elements. Today’s boats, both canoes and kayaks, will last several lifetimes.

Today, most canoes and kayaks are made from much lighter products such as Kevlar, graphite, thermoformed composites, plastics and polymers. The use and blending of such materials make the new boats not only faster and lighter, but also virtually indestructible.

New boats are also designed for a variety of uses to fit different needs and lifestyles, be it shooting whitewater on a river, exploring the backwaters of a still bayou, taking a weeklong family expedition, or tackling the challenges of the open ocean.

Such variety allows outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to buy a boat that fits both budget and purpose.

For example, if you’re looking for a collector’s classic handcrafted wooden model that takes one back to the days of the earliest explorers, the 80-pound Octa 17 ($4099) from Old Town (207/827-5513; oldtowncanoe.com) is a great choice. It’s the classic cedar rib-and-wood canoe with a heritage that goes back more than 100 years.

If a more affordable, general purpose, lightweight, family recreation canoe is to your tastes, you might consider the Old Town Camper ($1099). This 16-footer, made from a multilayer polyethylene (plastic) called Oltonar/Royalex, weighs just 59 pounds, yet can carry 900 pounds.

Looking for an even more modern style with neat seating and storage features? Then check out the new Old Town Ojibway ($649). This 15-foot, 8-inch boat, which weighs 80 pounds, is built from a new three-layer unitized plastic called Polylink3 that only requires a hosing off with water to maintain. It’s unsinkable and can carry 980 pounds.

Another model that harkens back to the 1800s is the Adventure 16 ($499) from Mad River Canoe (336/434-7470; madrivercanoe.com). The Adventure 16 is built using a “roto-molding” process that uses computerized equipment to shape Gen2 polyethylene into a 16-foot boat that appeals to the entry-level paddler, as well as those looking for a second family canoe.

The Adventure 16 is sleek, has a unique multichine hull design that provides stability, rigidity and excellent tracking and has form-molded seats that are easy on the back. It also features built-in cup holders. It seats three, carries 900 pounds and weighs 79 pounds.

Searching for something even larger so the whole family can go paddling? Take a close look at the Minnesota 4 ($2595) from Wenonah Canoe (507/454-5430; wenonah.com). This new 23-foot expedition-style boat can easily accommodate four adults, yet its ultra-strong Kevlar construction keeps the weight down to just 64 pounds. Smaller children can sit two abreast in the center seats, while the adults sit in the molded seat at bow and stern. This canoe was originally designed for outfitters, but is a great boat for a large family, too.

On the opposite end of the Wenonah line is the new Escapade ($1199 to $2399), an unconventional 16-foot, 6-inch tandem model that is also very solo-use friendly. Although light on capacity, the new model is fast, and the special three-seat design allows a single paddler to easily maneuver it in most situations. Another nice aspect is it’s available in four different materials, from the least expensive fiberglass composite called Tuf-Weave (60 pounds) to the exotic Graphite hull material (37 pounds).

Feeling a bit like an explorer? Check out Wenonah’s Prospector Lewis & Clark Special Edition ($949 to $2099) models. The classic design of this commemorative model has great appeal. But it’s the high-rocker hull and stability in rough lake waters — even when heavily loaded — that make it an excellent choice for modern explorers. It also tracks and glides well on flat water. Prospectors are available in 15-, 16-, and 17-foot lengths, with Tuf-Weave and Kevlar material. The two longer models are also available in a plastic version called Royalex.

Kayaks have grown in popularity much like SUVs.
Big players in this padd-ling market are Dagger (800/433-1969; dagger.com)
and its sister company Perception (800/595-2925; kayaker.com).

Of the nine new 2004 models from Dagger, the 53-pound Specter 15.5 Airalite ($1500) is a good choice for a day trip or a multiday adventure. Airalite, an acrylic-over ABS plastic composite, makes the boat 20-percent lighter than a comparable poly model, while greatly improving stiffness and durability. It also features wide, flush-mounted watertight hatches for gear storage.

Another good choice is the Exodus 16.8 ($1450). This boat is designed for long trips and expedition touring. The hatches are big, and it can carry up to 400 pounds so you can bring a lot of gear and supplies. It also features dry fore and aft storage compartments, an ergonomic seat and back support for optimum paddling comfort.

In the Perception line, the new Carolina Airalite 14.5 ($1450) makes the perfect day boat for exploring or sightseeing. The 49-pound boat is easy to paddle regardless of skill level, and the Comfort Fit seating makes it easy for occupants to stay comfortable in the boat regardless of their stature. Dry storage in both bow and stern are strong features.

A cool model for the beginning paddler is the equally new America 11.0, which weighs just 46 pounds. The oversized molded seat, high backrest, large cockpit and wide beam make it both fun and stable for the young or young-at-heart. Its compact size also makes it easy to transport.

Recreational kayakers will find the new 12-foot Kestrel 120HV from Current Designs (507/454-5430; cdkayak.com) formidable water transportation. At 27 inches wide and 16 inches deep, the Kestrel provides a remarkably stable platform for even the largest paddler. It comes with fishing rod holders, recessed paddle parks and complete fore/aft rigging. This sleek boat also comes in two versions — roto-molded plastic ($599/48 pounds) or Thermoplastic Composite Construction ($1200/41 pounds).

A new boat with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest is the Elaho HV ($1450 to $3200) from Necky Kayaks (866/632-5987; necky.com). The Elaho is a 17-footer designed for a variety of water conditions on big rivers and lakes. The low-profile design, multichine diamond hull (plastic or carbon composite), and moderate rocker create a very playful and maneuverable craft. The bow and stern hatches feature flush, watertight neoprene covers, and its high bow effectively eliminates kick up or spray across the deck.

(800/852-8257; oceankayak.com) new 13-foot, sit-on-top Mailbu Two XL ($670) is a neat boat for two paddlers who want to enjoy the kayaking experience together. The 60-pound, molded polyethylene hull has built-in seats, overlapping foot wells, and the option of fore/aft/center hatches with watertight covers. The bow and stern seat wells are positioned far enough apart so tall paddlers can ride with ease. The center seat location can be used, too, making this kayak also ideal for solo paddling.

($650) from Wilderness Systems (336/434-7470; confluencewatersports.com) takes a similar approach. Although specifically designed for two, it features a center seat so a single person can paddle with ease. The molded tandem also has 6-inch-diameter hatches in the bow and stern so paddlers can keep their personal gear safe and dry. The 70-pound, roto-molded polyethylene hull has multiple chines for stability, and the molded foot pegs provide greater paddler comfort and support.

If your family outings include jaunts to the surf, a new kayak from Wave Sport (336/434-7470; wavesport.com) takes the thrill of wave surfing to a new height. The Flyer ($1600) is a tiny 7-foot, 1-inch, 30-pound surf kayak designed for speed and maneuverability. And with a depth of only 13 inches and a 24-inch beam, it’ll fit like a glove.

How about a hands-free paddling kayak so you can fish? Among the Hobie (800/462-4349; hobiefishing.com) line of paddle boats is the Mirage Outback Fisherman.

It features the MirageDrive system that uses foot pedals to drive penguin-like flippers underneath the polyethylene hull. Sounds odd, but they work well, moving the unique boat a clip faster than traditional pedal boats. The 62-pound Hank Parker Edition ($1455) even has rod holders, built-in tackle trays, tacklebox and lots of storage.

Here’s a short refresher on terminology when it comes to classifications and categories.
Recreational Canoes: Maneuverable, stable and easy to control. Designed for those who use their canoe primarily for day trips.

Expedition Canoes: Big displacement canoes that draw little water with big loads. Long, wide hulls built for safety and, literally, for the long haul.

Touring Canoes: The SUVs of canoes. Moderate in size and versatile in design. They do everything reasonably well, but aren’t specialized for anything.

Whitewater Canoes: Buoyant, extremely maneuverable and dry. Deep hulls, moderate length, with a lot of rocker to handle long stretches of fast water where drops and obstacles are a concern.

Performance Canoes: Fast, efficient canoes. These longer, slimmer, shallower hulls are very easy to paddle and deliver long glides. They work best in experienced hands, and can carry a lot of gear when necessary.

The bottom of any canoe or kayak dictates how it performs. Dave Kruger, a renowned canoe designer who has been working for Wenonah Canoes for two decades, shares these pointers in bottom design.
Flat-bottom hulls are typically found in lower-end canoes. The high wetted area makes them poor in glide performance, but very stable on flat water. However, such hulls are unpredictable when leaned or in waves.

Shallow-arch hulls provide excellent paddling performance and all-around stability. They are very predictable when encountering waves or being leaned, but are not as stable as a flat-bottom when the water is calm. Stability increases as load increases. These boats rock much less than a flat-bottom in waves.

Models with a shallow-Vee design are similar in stability to the shallow-arch, but are less efficient moving through the water due to an increased wetted area. The design also has a slightly deeper draft, so it’s more likely to touch bottom in very low water situations.

Round-bottom designs are rare today in recreational-type canoes and for good reason — they are very tricky to balance. Their best use is in canoes built for racing on calm waters, because the design keeps wetted surfaces to an absolute minimum.

With so many of the new vehicles, finding functional factory roof racks to carry items like canoes and kayaks is becoming more difficult. About all that remains on many of today’s new SUVs are siderails running front to back without crossbars. Such “Euro Rails” require optional crossbars to carry a load.

“First, the [automobile] industry eliminated rain gutters on almost all vehicles, and now many manufacturers are making their factory-installed roof rack an optional accessory,” says Steve Doviak, marketing manager of Thule (800/238-2388; thuleracks.com), one of the world’s two major producers of racks.

“Rack systems have become a lifestyle accessory,” says Doviak. “But now many drivers are going to need to either order a rack system as an option when they purchase a new vehicle or they will need an aftermarket rack system in order to carry their gear on the roof of their vehicle.”

Those in the latter group will find Thule and rival Yakima (888/925-4621; yakima.com) have just the ticket for transporting canoes and kayaks. Each has racks and accessories to fit almost all cars, SUVs and pickups. For instance, the Thule 450 Crossroad ($125/pair) allows you to mount crossbars to SUVs that have Euro Rails. If your vehicle’s roof is bare, the 400XT Aero Foot ($125/pair) quickly and easily solves that dilemma.

Pickup owners will find the Thule Xsporter ($440) rack system for the bed an invaluable and versatile work/play accessory. The two heavy-duty aluminum load bars, each mounted to height-adjustable legs, clamp to the bed sides, so no drilling is required. The rack system can carry 450 pounds.

Yakima’s hitch-mounted Dry Dock ($150) provides the same end result: a safe, secure way to transport boats from home to the water. Utilizing the Bow/Stern Tie Downs ($30/pair) that replace rope and bungee cords, you can turn any pickup into the perfect transporter for canoes/kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Yakima Boat Loader ($55) is an accessory that can be pulled out from the Yakima rack crossbar. It takes the strain out of lifting boats onto the roof of SUVs, while Thule’s new Glide and Set ($140) for kayaks and Canoe Carrier ($70) make it easy to secure a boat to the Thule rack system’s crossbars.

Some good Internet shopping sources for both Thule and Yakima rack systems are: Rack Attack (rackattack.com); Mountain Man Outdoor Company (mountainmanoutdoors.com); Rack Smith (racksmith.com); Sports Rack Vehicle Outfitters (sportsrack.com); Action Sports (autoracksdirect.com) and ORS Racks Direct (orsracksdirect.com).

Let’s not forget personal safety. Some of the coolest personal flotation devices (PFDs) for those in paddlesports are the Sospenders (800/858-5876; sospenders.com) inflatables. They don’t look or feel like bulky life jackets, yet they are just as effective. There are several models, but the most popular among the paddling crowd is the Sport ($95 children/$110 adult), which can be found at most sporting goods outlets.

Another unique PFD is the Aqua Force (aquaforce.com) — a Coast Guard-approved children’s combination swimsuit/life jacket ($75) designed for continuous wear. The swimwear flotation device, available in both girls and boys styles, has strategically placed foam blocks securely sewn into the swimsuit to maintain buoyancy and balance in the water. For more information, contact: 888/766-5725; mypoolpal.com.

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