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Buying a Boat

One Perfect Boat for Beaver Pond and Mountain Tarn

By Farwell Forrest

Havelock Ellis, the son of a Victorian sea captain whose seven-volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex is one of the landmarks of clinical literature, once pointed out that the Promised Land always lies on the other side of a wilderness. He wasn't writing about paddlesport at the time, but his observation is of interest to back-country canoeists and kayakers nonetheless. More often than we'd like, the place where we want to paddle is a long, long walk from where we're starting out. It doesn't matter if our destination is the beaver-pond home of some legendary trout or just a place on the map we've never seen before. We're over here. It's over there. And there's a wilderness in between.

This is no problem for the young, the fit, and the eager. At least it's no problem until the portage trail leads straight up over a mountain ridge and the mid-summer sun heats the air trapped under the canoe to something not far from the melting-point of lead. When this happens, even the young, fit, and eager will wish their boats were lighter.

Suppose that you, too, want to heed the call of the wild, and dip your paddle in mountain tarns known only to a corporal's guard of like-minded explorers. What sort of boat do you need?

Three choices come to mind immediately.

First, the aptly-named pack canoe. These solo boats are short—though usually no more than 12 feet long, many are even shorter. And they're light. The heaviest weigh no more than 35 pounds, while the lightest are under 20. They're also direct descendents of nineteenth-century canoe writer Nessmuk's little Wood Drake. "She's all my fancy painted her," Nessmuk exclaimed on first seeing his new boat, "she's lovely, she is light." She was, too: she weighed in it at less than 18 pounds. Since Nessmuk weighed only 110 pounds himself, 18 pounds was just about all the boat he could handle.

Pack canoes made a lot of sense in Nessmuk's day, and they make a lot of sense now. The long Adirondack portages are still there, and they haven't gotten any easier. In fact, they've gotten harder. Nessmuk could hitch a ride from time to time with friendly guides hauling in wagon-loads of boats for rustic hotels. We can't. The hotels and the wagons are both long gone. A pack canoe is a good companion anytime pounds weigh paddlers down as they trudge from pond to pond.

And what if you favor a decked boat instead of an open canoe? No problem. Look at the growing number of "shorties," or small recreational kayaks. A typical shorty is nine and one-half feet long and weighs around 40 pounds. There's even a twelve-foot folding kayak that tips the scales at only 39 pounds. Not quite as light as a pack canoe, to be sure, but still light enough for most.

Lastly, if you don't mind taking the road less travelled by—and if you like wilderness ponds, you probably won't—consider an inflatable kayak. Though long derided by some kayakers as "rubber duckies," inflatables nevertheless appeal to folks who put function before fashion, and to back-country anglers who see nothing strange about venturing out on the water supported by a few lungfuls of air. What's an inflatable kayak but a float-tube on steroids, after all?

More importantly, both price and weight are right. One widely-advertised boat costs just $300 and weighs only 25 pounds. So it rides lightly on both back and wallet. Better yet, on long carries you can strap your deflated inflatable to your pack frame and walk down the trail with a spring in your step. You'll want a patch kit for peace of mind, of course, but that's a burden lightly borne. I'll bet Nessmuk would be jealous. 'Nuff said.

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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