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Buying a Boat

One Perfect Boat—the All-Rounder

Photo by Dan Thomsen

By Farwell Forrest

You like to paddle. And you're not fussy where you do it. You like beaver ponds and big lakes and swamps, tiny mountain streams and wide-open rivers. You like wilderness parks and urban waterfronts. Quick water and slow. You like the sea-coast, too.

And there's more. You don't just want to go with the flow. You have as much fun going upstream as down. You like to start the day by poling upriver, break for lunch around noon, and then spend a couple of hours trying to match the hatch in a pool—or maybe seeing if you can't add a bird to your life-list. Later, you drift back downriver to your car, playing the rapids as you go. That's your idea of a perfect day.

But this isn't the whole story. There's someone whose company means even more to you than paddling. So if she (or he) can't come along, you won't go paddling half as often as you do now, and you probably won't enjoy yourself half as much when you do go.

Is that all? Not quite. When the rivers slow down to a trickle in mid-summer, you'd like to try sailing. You know it was mighty popular a century ago, and you don't imagine it's gotten any harder. It looks like fun, and you think it's time you learned how.

OK. You're well and truly hooked. There's just one problem. You can only afford to buy one boat. Or maybe that's not it at all. Maybe you can afford an entire boat shop, but you've only got room for one boat in your tiny garage, and you don't want to build an addition to your house to accommodate a flotilla. Or maybe that's not it, either. Maybe you just don't want the hassle of looking after a shed full of boats and gear. Whatever your reasons, you need one boat that does everything. You need an "all-rounder." What should you be looking for?

I can think of two good choices. The first is an open canoe (some Brits still call them "Canadian" canoes) between 16 and 18 feet long, with a beam at the gunwales between 35 and 37 inches, and a maximum depth that's no less than 13 inches and no more than 15. This won't limit the field much. You'll find lots of models to choose from. Each one will be different, of course. Some will have V-bottoms. Some will have flat-bottoms. Some will have a little more rocker. And some will have a little less. Each will have its particular strengths (and weaknesses), too. But all of them will do almost anything, and each one will do everything well enough for anybody who's willing to take a little time to get acquainted. That's what "all-rounder" means.

The other choice? A tandem kayak in the 16- to 17-foot range—one of the ones with a single big cockpit. It won't be quite as versatile as the open canoe, but it will be versatile enough, and it will do some things even better. Best of all, if it's a folding kayak you'll be able to store it in a closet. Try that with a Tripper or Prospector!

Why don't you see more folding kayaks on the water, then? Cost, for one thing. They're not cheap. And they've gotten a bum rap on this side of the Atlantic. Remember John McPhee's cracks about "Snake Eyes" in Coming into the Country? Well forget McPhee—this time anyway. Forget "Snake Eyes," too. If you overload any boat, it won't perform well, and a tandem kayak isn't a freight canoe. Load it right, though, and "Snake Eyes" will become "Lucky Seven." If you live in a walk-up apartment and you need an all-rounder, you can't do better than a folding tandem kayak. (You don't like kayaks? No problem. There are folding canoes, too.)

One boat for everything? Why not? Just as long as it's the right boat. 'Nuff said.

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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