Buying a Boat
Should You Go It Alone? Solo v. Tandem
The Big Day has come. You're ready to buy your first boat. You've
already decided on a canoeor maybe you prefer a kayak. Now you've
got another decision to make. Do you want to go it alone? Put another
way, should you buy a solo boat or a tandem?
For some folks, this is an easy question to answer. If there are four
of you, and if you can only afford one boat, you're going to need a
"tandem" canoeand a big tandem at that! On the other hand, if you
live alone in a backcountry cabin, and if you want a boat to run steep
mountain streams, you'll want a tiny creek boat. That means you'll be
Most of us, however, won't have such an easy time of it. For us, the
question will be harder to answer.
Let's start with the obvious. Tandem boats are bigger. That's good if
you've got a big family, or if you have a lot of gear to carry. It's bad
if you often paddle alone. A skilled paddler can paddle most tandem
canoes or kayaks soloyou can buy solo seats to put in many tandem
boats, in factbut there's always a price to pay. Tandem boats are
designed to be paddled by two (or more) paddlers. When paddled solo,
they can be sluggish and unresponsive. And when the wind rises, they can
be blown around a lot.
Still, tandem boats are more versatile. It's easier for one
person to paddle a tandem than it is to cram two adult paddlers into a
solo pack canoe. That can be done, of course, but solo boats are best
you guessed it
solo. So, if you aren't rich
enough to afford a barn full of boats, and if you've got a growing
family, tandem's the only way to go.
A well-to-do couple has other choices. They can choose the "alone,
together" option. Instead of one tandem boat, they can buy
two solos. This can sometimes be the best of both worldsif
both paddlers are equally skillful, that is. When one partner's still
learning, however, things may not work out so well. It's no fun to watch
your companion disappearing over the horizon, after all. And it's not
much more fun to have to stop repeatedly to let a less skilled paddler
Differences in skill and strength don't have to cause such problems,
though. Patience and understanding will work wonders. But not everyone
is patientor understanding. Such folks are better off in a tandem
boat. No one gets left behind in a tandem. There's also no better way to
learn to paddle than to share a boat with an expert. Spend a few months
in a tandem, and you'll be better able to go it alone with confidence.
Not all partnerships are made in heaven, of course. There's such a
thing as too much togetherness. Most folks who've been paddling for a
few years will remember at least one battling couple. If you find
yourself shouting at your bowman every time you go out on the water,
maybe its time to get a couple of solo boats. It's probably cheaper than
Solo boats are ideal for spur-of-the-moment trips, too. They're
lighter than tandem boats made of comparable materialseasier to
throw on the rack for a quick run down to the local park when a client
doesn't keep an appointment, or when a wholesaler calls to tell you this
week's delivery won't be coming until tomorrow. That's a good thing if
your work doesn't leave you much time for paddling. Just hang a "Gone
Fishing" sign on the door and head for the water. For many of us, such
opportunities are our only chances to get out.
Expedition paddlers, on the other hand will probably opt for tandems.
Paddling hour after hour in all weathers takes its toll. It's good to be
able to ease up and let your partner carry the load for a while. Just be
sure to return the favor. Anglers and hunters, too, often prefer to pair
up. On a river, you can take turns being "guide" and "sport." That way,
each person gets to concentrate on the rise (and his backcast), while
his partner handles the boat.
Paddlers who really plan to venture "off the map" have another reason
to go tandem, even in a kayak. Injuries happen to careful people.
Healthy folks get sick. If you're in a solo boat and you're suddenly
incapacitated, you're in a world of hurt. At best you'll have to be
towed. At worst, you'll have to lay up in camp and wait for help to come
to you. On the other hand, if you're in a tandem, you can go along for
the ride while your partner paddles.
Solo or tandem? It's not as simple a question as it seems. But it's
not impossible, either. Ask yourself what you want your boat to do. Then
make your choice. And rememberyou may need both. 'Nuff said.
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