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Starting Out

Moving the Stone—Carrying and Launching Your Canoe

By Tamia Nelson

OK. There's a world of difference between a 20-pound pack canoe and a 105-pound freighter. Whatever your boat weighs, though, one thing's for sure: there will be times when you wish it were lighter.

Begin by making things as easy for yourself as possible. Buy the lightest boat that's strong enough to do what you want it to do, and that you can still afford. Then, whenever you move or launch your canoe, follow a few common-sense rules. Shifting any heavy object involves paying attention to balance and leverage. Whenever possible, it makes sense to get help. Yes, the voyageurs portaged heroic loads. Then again, a lot them died before they were thirty, of things like strangulated hernias and strokes. That's not anyone's idea of a good time.

Let's say there are two of you, and that you want to move your tandem canoe from your car to the put-in. If the path to the water is wide and clear, and if you don't have far to go, just get on either side of your canoe, right at the mid-point, and pick it up by the gunwales. The person standing on the right uses her left hand. The person standing on the left, his right. Now walk forward with your canoe suspended between you, using your free hands to check any tendency of the boat to rock. When you reach the put-in, lower your boat gently to the ground. That's it.

If, on the other hand, the path is narrow, or if it snakes around trees, just go to the opposite ends of your boat. Stand on opposite sides, too. Face forward. The person in the lead picks up the boat by the gunwale—or, in some cases, by the lip of the deck—while her partner does the same. Then the two of you just walk on down the trail. If you're the one in the rear, try to match your partner's stride and pace. You'll both find the going easier.

Should the trail to the put-in be long, narrow, or uneven, however, you're probably better off doing a solo carry—provided that you or your partner is up to the job. You'll need a portage yoke, of course, but it needn't be high-tech. It's possible to improvise one from two paddles and a painter. If you decide to do this, though, be sure that both paddles are securely lashed, and be certain that you've left enough space between the blades! You don't want to wrench your neck if you slip, do you? Commercial portage yokes make the whole business much simpler—and safer, as well.

The Yoke's on You!

Whichever yoke you use, it's best not to begin by attempting to lift the boat up on your shoulders by yourself. Instead, turn your canoe over, resting the stern deck on the ground—improvise a pad with a scrap of foam, if necessary—and let your companion raise the bow. Now just walk under the boat and allow the yoke to settle on your shoulders. Once you're ready, ask your partner to step back, and then begin walking down the trail.

When doing a solo carry, keep your boat in balance. You want it to ride just a little bit "down at the stern." This makes it easier to see ahead. If you find that you're dragging your tail, though, stop and adjust the position of the yoke. If all else fails, something as light as a sponge wedged under a deck will sometimes bring things into balance. There's no hurry, so take your time. And be sure to watch where you step!

Once you get to the water, don't just throw the canoe down on the ground. There's no better way to damage your boat—or yourself. Instead, let your partner catch up with you, and then reverse the drill you used when you started out.

Ready to launch? When possible, load your canoe while it floats in the shallows. When that can't be done, load it on the beach as near to the water as you can get. If you load your boat in the water—wear wellies or other water-tolerant footgear!—tie a painter to a tree along the shore. On the other hand, if you load your boat on the beach, don't over-pack. You want to be able to carry the loaded canoe the last few feet to the water. Modern materials are certainly strong, but dragging a loaded boat over sharp rocks and broken glass doesn't do it any good. Treat your canoe as if your life depended upon it. It does. 'Nuff said.

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.




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More Articles

 • How to Partner-Carry a Canoe
 • How to Carry A Canoe Solo
 • Lifting & Carrying a Canoe
 • How to Car-Top a Canoe
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View Carts, Portaging & Launching in Buyers' Guide
 

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