What’s up with canoe paddlers and boat designers? There’s so much talk online about “How to pick a canoe” “how to paddle a canoe”, “How to heave your 60lb. canoe onto the backs of your slaves” etc… These all look to me like ways to deal with horrific imbalances of manufacturing and design. Do people really buy books and videos on paddling technique? Here’s a hint on paddles: If its hard to use, expensive, injurious, fragile, or doesn’t make the boat go; you have the wrong tool. If you have to give a lot of thought to how your feet propel your body forward, there’s probably something wrong with your legs. The problem with boats is pretty similar. The complexities of hull design are thought about by paddlers because most boat designers don’t think about them. If it’s hard to use, sinks, or doesn’t go, you have the wrong boat.
First of all, boats you can paddle come in 3 weight classes: Class 1 are the boats that weigh about the same as a bicycle. Some are like high tech carbon fiber racing bikes, and some are like 1950’s beachcruisers. Boats in this class that weigh over 30 lbs. should displace at least 500lbs., or be completely indestructable ice-breakers. Class 3 boats are big enough to live on and only come out of the water when you have to scrape the hull and don’t want to hire a diver. Weight class 2 is everything in between. A few are trailer boats, most are yard boats. They are high and dry for most of their lives.
Prevalent attitude toward hull design is another big mystery to me. Are akward, slow, heavy boats really that much easier to sell? Canoes currently on the market are mostly designed for 2 large, strong people with no balance and 200lbs. of gear to live on in constant whitecaps and no wid or current. These hypothetical paddlers don’t mind getting wet and don’t need to go anywhere in a hurry. The mass produced canoes are heavy boxes with pointy ends. They barely paddle better than rafts. Most of these boats come in hull shapes that present weird behaviors in a current, too; so they can turn fast on flat water, but they are hard to take down a river. I have never seen these hypothetical paddlers on any lake or river. Why do all the companies market to them exclusively?
Mostly, I see inexperienced paddlers with their kids fighting to make their expensive, heavy canoes go where they want them to. Should inexperienced paddlers who don’t read paddling magazine and train their stroke each weekend be penalized in this manner? Sometimes I see avid paddlers in sea kayaks, with lots of expensive, unnecessary gear. What about these paddlers? Should they really have to spend over 2000$ to go play in the water?
The two groups mentioned above are the paddlers I see most often. In Spokane, there are also two other markets worth mention: Fishermen in needlessly heavy motorboats with no motors, and youngsters in inflatable rafts. The rafters are people who love playing around in the water, but cannot or will not spend over 150$ to do it. They save money by dispensing entirely with the idea of tracking, paddling well, or staying dry. The cheap inflatables, innertubes, and airmattresses they use are bouyant, cheap, light, and mobile. All other design criteria for watercraft must be thrown out to meet their needs. The fishermen will also get out on the water any way they can. They like visibility and mobility. They carry lots of stuff in all kinds of weather and don’t want to get wet.
In the perfect world I envision, Those inexperienced paddlers who want to muck about in flat water with kids and dogs are able to do so. Their boats should be light, stable, fast, and easy to paddle. The fat Dad should take it off the roof and sling it over his shoulder. The kids carry the paddles and some beverages. They take a leisurely stroll down to the water. Dad throws the boat in with one hand, everyone jumps in, and they take off without difficulty. This awesome canoe should cost under 1300$. If they only have 800$ to spend, they get the same hull shape made of heavier materials. A good hull shape costs the same as a bad hull shape to manufacture.
Those people in paddling outfits should have it better too. The paddling enthusiasts shouldn’t be robbed, even the snarky rich ones. They use sea kayaks because they like a fast hull, but how often are they peircing waves, rolling, or surfing in freezing conditions? A sea kayak does those things. That’s the design advantage of a kayak. The design sacrifices are that you can’t throw stuff in it thoughtlessly, can’t turn around, lie down, take dogs or friends, and they are really hard to have sex in. So why make all these sacrifices if your just playing around on sweetwaters with no skirt?
I wanna make boats for all these people. The fishermen should have big rowboats that will go anywhere in any weather. The superpaddlers should have long racing canoes that perform like sea kayaks, at a fraction of the weight and cost. The rafters should have little fun boats that are super cheap and can take rapids. Most importantly, I wanna make a boat for those families that just want to play on the water. It should be easy for them.
I’ve studied Aleut building techniques, modern skin-on-frame building, wooden boat building, stitch-and-glue boats, and hull dynamics. I’m really into paddling, building, and engineering. I’m gonna make those boats that should be on the market but aren’t. If your’e out in Spokane waterways in a plastic kayak and a guy in a skin on frame boat flys by you with a goose, a labrador, kids, and a pit bull, without spilling his drink… that’s probably me. I hope to build you a perfect boat soon.