New England in March is a fickle tease. And this year February seems to have joined in the terrible game. It’s been warm enough for enough time that I couldn’t help pulling out the boats in anticipation of ice-out. The local rivers are free, so local paddling definitely is in the cards. But expeditions on the rivers of Main would be premature.
So I’m using the time to fabricate a canoe trailer for biking to put-ins after staging my vehicle. I’m making it of aluminum square bar and parts from an old jogging stroller.
And this weekend J was on spring break, so of course we wanted to find some snow. I suggested a hike, so off we went to the Whites for an afternoon stroll up Little Haystack in the Pemigewassett Wilderness. It’s the highest J has done, at 4700 ft.
I know what you are thinking: my wife is both gorgeous and a badass. And you absolutely are right. Shout out to you, bae.
I took the weekend to paddle on the Saco river in New Hampshire and Maine in my Cape Falcon 66 SoF canoe. Two nights and 22 miles from the outfitter’s to the take-out at Lovewell pond. I left work early Friday and arrived around 4:00. The outfitter helped me stage the car, and by 5:00 I was on the water.
The nice thing about this river is that apart from a few fee spots, and a stretch where everything is private and posted, you can camp on any accessible flat of land along the bank. So the first night I got just past the River St. bridge and around a bend when I found a perfect spot for the night. It was a long, broad stretch of sand with a view to local hills in the distance.
The next day I continued to Swan’s Falls, past Walker’s Bridge, past a bit of fast water, and on to my final camping spot within a few minutes’ paddle of Lovewell pond. The “fast water” was pointed out to me by the outfitter on his map. It really was just a brief spot of turbulence, barely a class one. I say this so that anybody reading this who knows the stretch and wants to take issue with my characterization of it can have the proper context and excuse me from ridicule for calling it “fast water”.
I’ll also briefly document some of my gear successes and failures:
I didn’t bring enough socks, or the proper footwear. For the future, I want a pair of shoes that I can wade out in and easily slip off while getting into the boat in order to avoid having to sit in mud. Tevas aren’t it.
I didn’t take care to waterproof my feet in the boat, which didn’t work out well in the cold rain. Until I can afford a proper dry suit, I’d like to try some knee high waterproof socks. That won’t take me into serious conditions, but I expect it’ll do for a lazy weekend paddle like this was.
The hammock really is a three season affair. The night got uncomfortable, even with my down bag and lots of layers. To make the hammock four season I’d need to invest in an underquilt, which is half the price of bottom dollar four season tent, and half as satisfactory. Best not to try to push the hammock into duty it isn’t meant for.
Next time I’ll bring heat pads for the feet. I don’t know what it is about me and cold feet. Circulation?
My new 750ml Toaks pot is amazeballs. It’s just right for a Knorr meal and a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. And I’m really digging the penny alcohol stove I made this spring, though I have yet to dial in exactly how much fuel I need to use at a time.
I’ve been toying with putting together cheesecloth bags to slip over the open top of my pot so I can catch food bits when flinging my dirty water out. They’d be reusable, and easy to slip away into a plastic baggy to pack out. My pot is a little less than 12.5” in circumference, so I’d need about a 6.2” – 6.5” bag to fit snugly around the lip. I figure I’ll make these since what I make specifically for my pot, maybe with a shock chord sewn in, will work tons better than what I could buy.
Oh, and I should mention how much I still love this canoe. I made a new yoke, which I still have mixed feelings about since it isn’t super comfy, either on my back when in the backrest configuration, or on my shoulders in the yoke configuration. I can add padding to address both issues, but before I do that I think I’m going to try making a new one, which I think I need to do anyway for the following reason.
Brian Schulz suggests a single pin at either end to lock the yoke in place when using as a back rest. In this configuration the pin sits outboard, locking the yoke against the butt end of the rest (I know, a diagram would help here). When placing the rest amidships as a yoke, the pins sit inside the gun’ls, pushing them slightly outward. What I’m finding is that where I need a positive lock is in the yoke configuration, not the backrest one. What’s happening now is that as my boat spreads out over time, the yoke has a tendency to slip inside, especially when I’m pushing and pulling on the boat to flip it, lift it, or adjust it on the car. So clearly I have some work to do to get the yoke and backrest to work as I’d like them to.
Another thing I’m finding is that I despise getting dripped on while using a double bladed paddle. I’m considering putting a skirt over the forward portion of the boat, using leftover nylon from the skinning, and perhaps this also would help protect my cold-prone feet from the weather. Not sure how this would work, but it’s rattling around in my brain.
We arrived at the Telos checkpoint some time between 11 AM and noon, and continued from there to the put-in. We were extremely well organized, imho, but set-up still took longer than I’d have liked because we needed to set up the noodles, and then we had to herd all the people and gear into the boats. If we did this again I know we’d do it in half the time.
It needs to be said that these boats are head turners. Pretty much everyone checks them out, and lots of people comment: “Did you make those??” “They are so beautiful!!!”. I actually dislike the attention. I know they are beautiful, and I like people to notice. But I would rather not have to actually talk to people about them.
The first day we wanted to make good time down the lake, because we still thought it might be possible to see the tramway where the now defunct logging operations left a couple of steam engines which sit there rusting to this day. But that would have been a fourteen mile trip, and by day two that clearly was too much for The Reluctant Son. Nevertheless, we pushed through heavy afternoon winds to our first campsite, where The Devoted Son took a swim and fished. – Christopher
The first day had been exhilarating, but also intense as the afternoon wind kept getting stronger. The waves on the lake were whitecapping, and our boats slapped over them with a splash. I had more fun than i thought i would, but we also quickly realized that this was a lot for Marlowe and hooked him up to a tow rope pretty much for the entire trip. By the time we had gotten to our campsite, we were exhausted from the last bit of paddling against the wind. Our original plan had been to paddle to the top of Lake Chamberlain, but we decided to circle back around and make our way more gradually to the launch point. This whole waterway had been used for logging way back. And at different places you can see wreckage of abandoned equipment. On the morning of the second day, we crossed the lake (about a mile) to an abandoned farm, which had been used to support the loggers. After a fun exploratory stop, we set out again into wind that was becoming stronger as the day progressed. We crossed the lake again and made our way to a campsite where we had lunched the previous day and had some time there to chill out and swim. – Jeannette
It had rained in the night, and the weather was cloudy, quiet, and calm. We didn’t have far to go, so enjoyed a more relaxing paddle complete with tracking a loon. And then we came back through Chamberlain Bridge where we had begun. We figured that we covered around 17 miles total over the three days. – Jeannette
As promised, the boats got finished in time for the family trip to the Allagash in the North Maine woods. In another post I’ll share some about the trip, but here I want to talk about how the boats performed, and what I want to do to them going forward.
Weather and Waves
Telos lake was a good first test to understand how these boats deal with wind and chop. Six to seven mile per hour (avg) winds and white caps in the afternoon are pretty typical, making the mile-long crossing from one side to the other a ton of fun. The sheer was just about right to keep us dry without getting blown around, and the bows were full enough that I never worried about taking a dive into a wave. Further, they felt stable. At no point did any of us fear a capsize, as we learned to time our paddle strokes to brace against the swell and keep the bow pointed upwind.
In calmer moments in the early mornings or toward sunset, we ghosted along at a good clip without much effort at all, our paddles barely making a splash. I found that I could keep course pretty well. But when I switched to using a single bladed paddle in my own boat I found that kneeling to one side to paddle while heeled was hopeless. First, it didn’t feel super stable, and with so little boat in the water I basically was a spinning top. But since the boats are narrow, I had no problem shifting back to the center line. With the bow back in the water, I tracked again.
EDIT (21 Aug 2019): The single bladed paddle is just fine. I got used to it, refined my paddling style, and now I really enjoy switching position and paddling style. My otter tail is a bit long, but I make do, and maybe that’s motivation to make a new one.
Using a Single Bladed Paddle
Single blades are slower than double blades, of course, but it was nice to have the option to change my position. I even tried the double bladed paddle while kneeling. And the back rest made a comfortable platform for it, though the dry bags got in the way of my legs that far back, and I think the boat performed better with my center of gravity farther forward.
For flotation I doubled up on standard 2+” X 5′ noodles (4 / boat) to exceed Brian’s specs. I just found that buying more of the smaller noodles was less expensive than buying fewer of the 4” noodles. This was more of a psychological measure on this trip though, since we didn’t really have time to practice rescues and the conditions weren’t such that I was worried about it.
I missed trying out sails and outriggers, which I wanted to do on this trip but just didn’t have time to build and test. The back rests were a gesture at the final product as I had to throw them together the night before we left, and still was modifying them at the put-in (my wife was amused that I’d brought a circular saw, drill, driver, and sander).
One thing I wish I’d had is a platform on which to mount things like our action camera, and probably loads of other stuff that I’ll think of later. So a board running under the forward rescue loops would have been nice.
In the pictures you’ll notice that the boys had rods mounted in the boat with them. That was just a section of PVC pipe secured with ball bungies. The system worked well for them, and they experimented with different positions.
I’m not super convinced of the outriggers that Brian builds (all respect to the great master, I’m probably wrong). I think I talked before about how I think I can build outriggers that aren’t tuned specifically to two particular boats. But one of the reasons I decided to skip the outriggers on this trip is that they do, as Brian admits, tend to clutter the boat. Further, even if I can build outriggers that are fully boat agnostic, they still won’t be easy to rig on the water. Here’s my summary of requirements, then:
Installable and removable while paddling
Do not require removing existing accessories (e.g., back rest / yoke)
Fully boat agnostic (the same outriggers can be put on any two boats)
Minimize clutter in the boat
I’ve go some ideas about how this would be possible. First, to be truly boat agnostic the outriggers would have to attach at the center line of the boat. Perhaps the back rest / yoke could be set up to allow this, while still providing a platform for sitting. This will require some experimentation. If there’s a removable thwart running under the forward rescue loops, then perhaps this could serve the same function for the forward outrigger. Again, this will require further thought and experimentation.
Another thought regards the noodles. I can’t leave these in as some might, since the interference with stacking, multiplied by four boats, would make car-topping unwieldy. What I need is a quick way to install and uninstall them. I’m thinking that 1/8” shock cord, with clips like a cargo net, would do the trick. Also, I like the idea of a toggle rather than a clip or a ball. I found some HDPE rod to try this out, but right now it’s a lower priority.
Tuesday came. The goop having cured for the obligatory forty eight hours, I rushed home from work, stopping at the local hardware for screws. The Devoted Son had stayed back while the family went on to the lake, so he could help me with the final task: rub rails. These were a throw-on. I plan to varnish them with the full seven coats, along with the gun’ls. But that will have to be later, since I don’t think there’ll be time between excursions for any coat of varnish to dry.
Upon mounting the final canoe onto the car, I headed off with the boy and another friend who had stopped by to help. The rest of the story shall be told less my usual thousand words.
Gooping is a straightforward process as long as you stay organized. This time, the family wanted to get involved. The 11 yo was upset because he missed the chance to dye his own boat, so I made sure he was involved in the gooping process. And my oldest also wanted to be involved, because he’s a devoted son. Together, we got all four boats fully gooped in just about four hours. Of course, I had them watch Brian’s course on gooping before letting them help. See, Brian? Your course is so clear and understandable that a child can do it.
Today I dyed the boats. I chose a range of colors in consultation with Brian and asked everyone to choose their color. My youngest went back and forth. What he really wanted was a blue. So I showed him the course videos that discuss color so he could understand the constraints and get behind the process in general. After hearing Brian’s explanations about color fastness, etc., he jumped on the gold. Glad I ordered some.
In general, the process went well. At any rate, it went much better than it did the first time I dyed a canoe (the one I built last year, before watching Brian’s course, which wasn’t out at the time). For my own boats, I boiled the water in a paint can. It has a coating inside, which I thought would prevent potential interactions between the dye and the metal. Also, I set it on a hot plate when I was doing the actualy dying, to keep it hot through the whole process. Probably unnecessary, but there you go.
And now that they’ve been baking in the sun all day and are pretty dry, we should be all set for goop tomorrow.
I probably overthink most things, but since we’re in a heat wave and both Brian (Cape Falcon Brian) and Corey (Skinboat Store Corey) mention that skin should go on cold, I (1) put the skins in the fridge for a few days and (2) set up for skinning in the dining room with air conditioners pointed at the boat.
The process here is pretty much as prescribed: Drape the fabric, pin the ends, cut with a hot knife (I use a soldering iron), and whip stitch the ends.
I don’t usually use so many pins. Usually I use a third of this. But this skin was, for some reason, being unruly.
Once I finished a boat I shifted it out through the window to get wetted and stapled.
All the frames are lashed and finished. There may be a few details left, like rounding over the leading edge of the stem, removing bits of glue, and maybe another round of oiling just to catch any spots I missed.
In terms of finishing, I have an opinion. I varnished the smaller boat completely. The other boats I oiled, and I plan to varnish just the gun’ls. The problem I’m trying to solve is that the gun’ls will get super dirty and dinged up, and if left in the weather the rub strip will turn an ugly gray. I base this on the fact that it’s what happened to the first canoe I built, about a year ago. That canoe is stored outside, under a tarp to mitigate weathering, because it’s too big to go inside anywhere. These canoes hopefully will go under the big one, or in the garage, or in the basement. Still, I’d like more protection for these parts beyond oil. What I’m worried about is that I also know how varnish starts to peel away, and the thought of doing “bright work” on these ribs and stringers from the inside, with the skin on, seems a dodgy proposition. The gun’ls at least will be easy to sand down. So we’ll see what hold up best.
In the mean time, I’ve got everything I need to start skinning, and almost exactly two weeks until our vacation. Let’s see what I can pull out of my hat.