Crazy John in the Spectrum kayak and Unka Dave in the 12ft Old Town Pack
- January '95 on the Wisconsin River, Northern Wisconsin -
I like paddling boats. That's it. I don't much care what it is
I'm paddling, just as long as I can get out and do a little knocking around
in the rivers, lakes, and marshes. My boat of choice these days is a canoe.
That's mostly because my knees and back just aren't happy anymore when locked
down inside a kayak. But I do miss the ease and grace of paddling the long
In the past I paddled aluminum canoes and fiberglass canoes. These days I paddle Royalex canoes just about exclusively. My personal boats are Old Town and Dagger. Mad River canoes are delightful and they make the best paddles on the market, but the boats are a might pricey for me. It's a difficult decision to make - all things are a trade-off, but none nearly so much as the purchase of a canoe. If you go for the bargain basement models you'll be hauling around a lot more weight than is necessary and you won't have the maneuverability, balance, and long term value that you will if you spend a few more dollars. Aesthetics count, too.
While I lived in the northwoods of Wisconsin, I met Spencer, a burly guy who lives to paddle. He's arranged his work schedule around his paddling. Early on, he taught me that the mystique of paddling is more important than most of the other facets, then went on to teach me the best way to paddle; how to read rivers and rapids; how to make sure there was enough beer to get us to the put-in. We were much younger, then. He was high on the Royalex boats, though he has, to this day, a livery of boats that make us lesser men pant with envy.
On Spencer's advice, alone, I bought my first Royalex boat, the Old Town Pack that I still paddle today. He then proceeded to drag me down the nearby rivers, teaching the whole way. After weeks of paddling, portaging, and lifting boats on and off a plethora of old river vehicles, we graduated to rivers of current. Spencer had explained to me, early on, that aluminum boats grab rocks in the river; if you scrape across a rock (unavoidable - you will scrape rocks) the metal boats will clunk loudly and pull into the rock. Fiberglass boats may well crack or puncture and will, at best, scar their gel coats. If you're going to just paddle lakes, he said, glass boats are fine. Not on rivers. Royalex, on the other hand, slides over rocks that you meet. They move away from the rock rather than into them. That's slick.
It sounded good in theory... I probably didn't really believe it until we paddled past the hulks of boats that didn't make it through sets of rapids. Aluminum boats bent in half, glass boats in pieces. Never saw a Royalex boat left at the foot of a set of rapids. Hmmmm.
What could be better than pushing off on an uninhabited northern lake?
- Mountain Lake, Sylvania Wilderness Area, Michigan -
Kevlar boats, now, just may be the answer to all of our problems. Lightweight,
strong, nicely shaped for moving the water aside... unfortunately, I just
plain can't afford 'em. I've paddled a few, they are nice. Just plain out
of my price range. If speed is what you're looking for, if it's your priority,
I suspect that Kevlar is the route to take. Try a few out. Any good canoe
shop will have a few for you to paddle before you buy. Take advantage of
Okay. Royalex survives the rigors of fast rivers. It's substantially less expensive than Kevlar. It's esthetically pleasing. It's quiet when you move around in the boat. It's lightweight, too! What more can you ask? There's lots of good boats out there - check 'em all out. In the Old Town line, there's also the Discovery line of boats. They are good, too, put a tad heavier than the Royalex models. If you can put up with the extra weight as a trade for the lesser dollars, have at it.
When I paddle alone, with pack and grub and necessary toys (including my fishing gear), I have all the room I need in my 12 foot Pack, and it's a miserly 33 pounds when I sling it over my shoulder to portage. It isn't a whitewater boat, by any stretch of the imagination, but I've paddled a fair amount of class II waters without any trouble, have been on Lake Michigan with 3 foot waves, and, bagged up with flotation bags, it'll take just about anything you care to throw it into (including surfing the waves on Superior!). There are those rare times when I'd like to have an extra couple inches of freeboard, though. All in all, I rate Old Town's Pack as a must buy!
Of course... now that I'm back from Canoecopia in Madison with the new Dagger Sojourn, the Pack looks just a wee bit beat-up in comparison. Dagger has introduced a material called R-Light, a variety of Royalex that varies in thickness according to where it's needed for strength in the hull. They say that using R-Light properly can shave 10# off the weight of a canoe. I can't prove that one way or the other... but I can say that the Sojourn paddles like a dream, weighs in at a still miserly 44# for a 15 foot boat, and has the sweetest little hull I've ever seen in a solo canoe. Take a look at this one, folks... more on the Sojourn as the weather warms up!
CJ paddles his glass Blackhawk just north of Presque Isle
- Gaylord Lake, Michigan -
Have you checked the Newsgroup rec.boats.paddle ? Well worth it. More
information than you can shake two sticks at. Remember that for every bit
of solid information you get you may well get a couple of bogus pieces of
advice. Use a bit of caution, but enjoy!
Paddles - My personal favorite is a straight shaft Mad River paddle. Thin bladed, it cuts the water clean and has enough surface to provide lots of push. I've also carried a McCann paddle for years as my backup (always carry a spare paddle in your boat, within reach). I traded for a Black Bart carbon/graphite layup bent-shaft paddle that weights about 12 ounces and is a dream on those occassions where I've got a lot of straight ahead paddling. Next time you're sitting on the bridge in Paulding, MI, watching the level of the flume that comes out of Bond Falls, ask around for directions to the place where the Black Barts are made. Bud Moll is a craftsman of extraordinary ability.
My personal paddling style includes a half turn of the paddle on each stroke, so I prefer the straight shaft paddles. Old Town makes a fine spruce beaver-tail paddle, too. I recommend against the cheapo paddles that are usually found at the local hardware store - they break easily and, if you paddle in the colder months, they may well lead to an unexpected swim.
Great Wisconsin Canoeing Rivers
Canoe tips, links, and narrative descriptions of many Wisconsin and other rivers. Excellent descriptions of the major canoeing rivers in and around the midwest. Don't miss this one! Kurt has also put together a challenge match of sorts - called Flotsam Flippin' or Jetsam Jerking, it's a fine way to spend time out there both doing a bunch of paddling AND helping clean up our rivers - complete with Offical Point Values for items found on the river!
Milwaukee River Rampage
Unka Dave just barely "brings em' back alive" from the flooding Milwaukee River
The Adventures of Scooter and Hal
"Scooter and Hal spurn all that is commercial about canoeing and kayaking. We make a lot of our own gear, and we'd like to pass some of our tricks on. If you find a product endorsement here, it's because we really like it and use it."
Dagger's Paddling Information Pages
Dagger has put together a great series of pages on how to go about doing just about anything you need to know to get out on the water and have a blast. Don't miss it!
Dave`s Home | Backpacking | Books | Boats | Printing | Diet | Rural Life | Quotes | Waterfalls