Canoes - Outdoor Skills
THE canoe is coming to the front, and canoeing is gaining rapidly in popular favor, in spite of the disparaging remark that "a canoe is the poor man's yacht." The canoe editor of Forest and Stream pertinently says, "we may as properly call a bicycle 'the poor man's express train.' " But, suppose it is the poor man's yacht? Are we to be debarred from aquatic sports because we are not rich? And are we such weak flunkies as to be ashamed of poverty? Or to attempt shams and subterfuges to hide it? For myself, I freely accept the imputation. In common with nine-tenths of my fellow citizens I am poor—and the canoe is my yacht, as it would be were I a millionaire. We are a nation of 50,000,000, and comparatively few of us are rich enough to support a yacht, let alone the fact that not one man in fifty lives near enough to yachting waters to make such an acquisition desirable—or feasible, even. It is different with the canoe. A man like myself may live in the backwoods, a hundred miles from a decent sized inland lake, and much further from the sea coast, and yet be an enthusiastic canoeist. For instance. Last July I made my preparations for a canoe cruise, and spun out with as little delay as possible. I had pitched on the Adirondacks as a cruising ground, and had more than 250 miles of railroads and buckboards to take, before launching the canoe on Moose River. She was carried thirteen miles over the Brown's Tract road on the head of her skipper, cruised from the western side of the Wilderness to the Lower St. Regis on the east side, cruised back again by a somewhat different route, was taken home to Pennsylvania on the cars, 250 miles, sent back to her builder, St. Lawrence county, N. Y., over 300 miles, thence by rail to New York City, where, the last I heard of her, she was on exhibition at the Forest and Stream office. She took her chances in the baggage car, with no special care, and is to-day, so far as I know, staunch and tight, with not a check in her frail siding.
Such cruising can only be made in a very light canoe, and with a very light outfit. It was sometimes necessary to make several carries in one day, aggregating as much as ten miles, besides from fifteen to twenty miles under paddle. No heavy, decked, paddling or sailing canoe would have been available for such a trip with a man of ordinary muscle.
The difference between a lone, independent cruise through an almost unbroken wilderness, and cruising along civilized routes, where the canoeist can interview farm houses and village groceries for supplies, getting gratuitous stonings from the small boy, and much reviling from ye ancient mariner of the towpath—I say, the difference is just immense. Whence it comes that I always prefer a very light, open canoe; one that I can carry almost as easily as my hat, and yet that will float me easily, buoyantly, and safely. And such a canoe was my last cruiser. She only weighed ten and one-half pounds when first launched, and after an all-summer rattling, by land and water had only gained half a pound. I do not therefore advise any one to buy a ten and a half pound canoe; although she would prove competent for a skillful light weight. She was built to order, as a test of lightness, and was the third experiment in that line.
I have nothing to say against the really fine canoes that are in highest favor to-day. Were I fond of sailing, and satisfied to cruise on routes where clearings are more plenty than carries, I dare say I .should run a Shadow, or Stella Maris, at a cost of considerably more than $100—though I should hardly call it a "poor man's yacht."
Much is being said and written at the present day as to the "perfect canoe." One writer decides in favor of a Pearl 15x31 inches. In the same column another says, "the perfect canoe does not exist." I should rather say there are several types of the modern canoe, each nearly perfect in its way and for the use to which it is best adapted. The perfect paddling canoe is by no means perfect under canvas, and vice versa. The best cruiser is not a perfect racer, while neither of them is at all perfect as a paddling cruiser where much carrying is to be done. And the most perfect canoe for fishing and gunning around shallow, marshy waters, would be a very imperfect canoe for a rough and ready cruise of one hundred miles through a strange wilderness, where a day's cruise will sometimes include a dozen miles of carrying.
Believing, as I do, that the light, single canoe with double-bladed paddle is bound to soon become a leading—if not the leading—feature in summer recreation, and having been a light canoeist for nearly fifty years, during the b,st twenty of which I experimented much with the view of reducing weight, perhaps I can give some hints that may help a younger man in the selection of a canoe which shall be safe, pleasant to ride, and not burdensome to carry.
Let me premise that, up to four years ago, I was never able to get a canoe that entirely satisfied me as to weight and model. I bought the smallest birches I could find; procured a tiny Chippewa dugout from North Michigan, and once owned a kayak. They were all too heavy, and they were cranky to a degree.
My last canoe of this style went down the Susquehanna with an ice jam in the spring of '79, and in the meantime canoeing began to loom up. The best paper in the country which makes out-door sport a specialty, devoted liberal space to canoeing, and skilled boat builders were advertising canoes of various models and widely different material. I commenced interviewing the builders by letter, and studying catalogues carefully. There was a wide margin of choice. You could have lap streak, smooth skin, paper, veneer, or canvas. What I wanted was light weight, and good model. I liked the Peterboro canoes; they were decidedly canoey. Also, the veneered Racines; but neither of them talked of a 20-pound canoe. The "Osgood folding canvas" did. But I had some knowledge of canvas boats. I knew they could make her down to 20 pounds. How much would she weigh after being in the water a week, and how would she behave when swamped in the middle of a lake, were questions to be asked, for I always get swamped. One builder of cedar canoes thought he could make me the boat I wanted, inside of 20 pounds, clinker-built, and £t my own risk, as he hardly believed in so light a boat. I sent him the order, and he turned out what is pretty well known in "Brown's Tract" as the "Nessmuk canoe." She weighed just 17 pounds 13^ ounces, and was thought to be the lightest working canoe in existence. Her builder gave me some advice about stiffening her with braces, etc., if I found her too frail, "and he never expected to build another like her."
"He builded better than he knew." She needed no bracing; and she was, and is, a staunch, seaworthy little model. I fell in love with her from the start. I had at last found the canoe that I could ride in rough water, sleep in afloat, and carry with ease for miles. I paddled her early and late, mainly on the Fulton Chain; but I also cruised her on Raquette Lake, Eagle, Utowana, Blue Mountain, and Forked lakes. I paddled her until there were black and blue streaks along the muscles from wrist to elbow. Thank Heaven, I had found something that made me a boy again. Her log shows a cruise for 1880 of over 550 miles.
As regards her capacity (she is now on Third Lake, Brown's Tract), James P. Fifield, a muscular young Forge House guide of 6 feet 2 inches and 185 pounds weight, took her through the Fulton Chain to Raquette Lake last summer; and, happening on his camp, Seventh Lake, last July, I asked him how she performed under his weight. He said, "I never made the trip to the Raquette so lightly and easily in my life." And as to the present opinion of her builder, Mr. Rushton, of Canton, N. Y. He writes me, under date of Nov. 18, '83: "I thought when I built the Nessmuk, no one else would ever want one. But I now build about a dozen of them a year. Great big men, ladies, and two, aye, three schoolboys ride in them. It is wonderful how few pounds of cedar, rightly modeled and properly put together, it takes to float a man." Just so, Mr. Rushton. That's what I said when I ordered her. But few seemed to see it then.
The Nessmuk was by no means the ultimatum of lightness, and I ordered another, six inches longer, two inches wider, and to weigh about 15 pounds. When she came to hand she was a beauty, finished in oil and shellac. But she weighed 16 pounds, ind would not only carry me and my duffle, but I could easily carry a passenger of my weight. I cruised her in the summer of '81 over the Fulton Chain, Raquette Lake, Forked Lake, down the Raquette River, and on Long Lake. But her log only showed a record of 206 miles. The cruise that had been mapped for 600 miles was cut short by sickness, and I went into quarantine at the hostelry of Mitchell Sabattis. Slowly and feebly I crept back to the Fulton Chain, hung up at the Forge House, and the cruise of the Susan Nipper was ended. Later in the season, I sent for her, and she was forwarded by express, coming out over the fearful Brown's Tract road to Boonville (25^3 miles) by buckboard. From Boonville home, she took her chances in the baggage car without protection, and reached her destination without a check or scratch. She hangs in her slings under the porch, a thing of beauty—and, like many beauties, a trifle frail—but staunch as the day I took her. Her proper lading is about 200 pounds. She can float 300 pounds.
Of my last and lightest venture, the Sairy Gamp, little more need be said. I will only add that a Mr. Button, of Philadelphia, got into her at the Forge House, and paddled her like an old canoeist, though it was his first experience with the double blade. He gave his age as sixty-four years, and weight, 140 pounds. Billy Cornell, a bright young guide, cruised her on Raquette Lake quite as well as her owner could do it, and I thought she trimmed better with him. He paddled at 141% pounds, which is just about her right lading. And she was only an experiment, anyhow. I wanted to find out how light a canoe it took to drown her skipper, and I do not yet know. I never shall. But, most of all, I desired to settle the question—approximately at least—of weight, as regards canoe and canoeist.
Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.
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