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
shortthough 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 byand
if you like wilderness ponds, you probably won'tconsider 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