Good grief! Have you priced canoeing gear lately? A thousand bucks is the starting point for performance canoes; seventy-five buys a low end “efficient” touring paddle; and fifty is minimum for a trim life jacket you can stand to wear.
Don’t put away your calculator yet: you’ll need a carrying rack that will fit the gutterless, airplane style doors of your new car ($150); nylon straps for car-topping your canoe ($20); two or three waterproof packs at $150 each, a carrying yoke ($75) and knee pads ($20).
Whew! That’s enough for now. Extras like thwart bags and splash covers can come later when you have some extra bucks to spare.
Remember your partner: double the prices on PFD’s and paddles before you total the numbers.
Shocking, isn’t it? Two grand will get you started. Double that if you want the best of everything. Divide by two if you have the patience to wait for a good deal and do some simple fix up work.
WHERE TO BEGIN
With the canoe, of course! Canoes depreciate about ten percent when they leave the store, another ten percent when they get their first scratch. The downward spiral continues as dings pile up. Age of the craft means nothing. Condition is everything!
In time, even the best kept, most carefully paddled canoe will incur some nicks that will drive its value down. As a result, you’ll save big money if you buy a good used canoe and let someone else take the initial hits. The downside is that you will have to repair the minor dings and scratches.
Be aware that there’s an inverse relationship between high performance (paddling pleasure!) and durability. Lightweight, fine-lined Kevlar composite canoes—like those preferred in the Boundary Waters—are more easily damaged than Royalex or polyethelene craft. But they are easier to repair. Indeed, a badly damaged composite canoe can—in a few hours--usually be repaired to look like new. Royalex and aluminum canoes mend solid but the patch is a glaring reminder of the rock you hit. A badly damaged polyethylene canoe is best destroyed. (You’ll find detailed repair procedures for all types of canoes in my book, CANOEING WILD RIVERS.
HOW TO FIND YOUR DREAM BOAT
Say you prefer to paddle gentle streams and lakes--the kind that Minnesota is famous for. Any canoe will do, but a quick, lightweight Kevlar composite or wood-strip craft is the one for you. Wood gunnels are prettier, pricier and lighter than plastic or aluminum ones, and they don’t distort the curve of the hull. That’s why every competitive high performance canoe in the world is trimmed in wood!
MAYBE YOU SHOULD WRITE AN AD
The best canoes are not advertised in newspapers. They’re sold by word-of-mouth or are listed in the classifieds of canoe and kayak magazines and canoe club publications. However, a “wanted ad” in a specialty magazine or big city newspaper might pay off big, if you write it right. For example:
Don't: “Wanted, inexpensive, good used family canoe.” This says you can’t tell a Hyundai from a Mercedes Benz and value price more than performance. If there’s a good Benz for sale just around the bend, the owner won’t call you!
Do: “Wanted, Lightweight Kevlar composite or Royalex cruising canoe.” Lightweight suggests you prefer performance to durability. Composite says you know there are different Kevlar lay-ups and that some cost more than others; cruising defines the breed (an efficient paddling hull). Royalex is stated with the knowledge that you know there are high performance Royalex hulls--and you’ll consider one if the price is right.
Admittedly, you may not be able to write an effective ad unless you know canoes and canoeing, or someone who does. Any serious canoeist will be glad to help. You’ll get gracious free advice at any paddling shop.
Is it safe to buy a used canoe on the strength of a magazine ad? Usually, yes. Selling a good canoe is like parting with a vintage Porsche that you’ve driven for years. Accomplished paddlers love their boats, even the ones they are about to part with. With rare exceptions, they’ll tell you nothing but the truth.
Suppose you buy a canoe in Minnesota, and live in Pennsylvania. Isn’t it frightfully expensive to ship a canoe from Viking land to the Keystone state?
Yes and no. Some small transfer companies will carry canoes on a “space available” basis. But to keep the cost down, you must be willing to accept delivery at a place that’s convenient to the trucker--and it probably won’t be your home. I’ve had two canoes shipped to me by truck: in each case the charge was under 150 dollars. I once bought a canoe that came by rail. Transit time was 27 days and the shipping cost was 75 dollars.
Option #2 : Contact your nearest canoe dealer and ask if any of his suppliers also deliver canoes to Minnesota (the location of your used canoe). Companies that have their own delivery trucks may drop ten canoes in Harrisburg, PA, fifteen in Chicago, twelve in Madison, Wisconsin, then finish out in Minneapolis. It’s unprofitable to dead-head back to the factory so they sometimes haul a competitor’s boats to retailers which are en-route to their point of origin. If there’s space on their trailer--and they’re going your way--you may be able to work a deal.
Option #3: Buy a canoe from a Boundary Waters canoe outfitter. Then sit tight and let the outfitter handle the delivery. For example, Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, Minnesota regularly posts “canoe destinations” on their bulletin board. Someone wants a canoe delivered to Hudson, Wisconsin. You’ve finished a Boundary Waters trip and are headed to Milwaukee on highway 94 and will pass right through Hudson, Wisconsin. You can earn some money if you will deliver the canoe to its new owner.
The bottom line is that a good, used canoe is the way to go if you’re on a budget. $1,200 will buy an exquisite Kevlar cruiser that will turn heads. $650 is a fair price for state-of-the-art wood-railed Royalex. Figure $200 less if the boat has plastic or aluminum trim. $350 is reasonable for well-maintained polyethylene. If these prices seem high, consider that someone else has absorbed all the depreciation. Do a little fix up work (coming up next) and five years down the road you may be able to sell your canoe for more than you paid for it! Here are two examples from my own files:
Mad River 16 foot Royalex Explorer: purchased in 1976 for $495. Sold in 1979 for the same price. I installed knee pads, a wood carrying yoke and a thwart between the yoke and stern seat. The carefully maintained oiled woodwork gleamed like fine furniture. I applied 303 Protectant™ to the Royalex hull to make it shine.
Sawyer Charger--18-1/2 foot Kevlar canoe with aluminum trim. Purchased in 1976 for $895. Sold in 1981 for $1,000. I repaired the gel-coat damage on the bows so the ends looked like new (a two hour job). Then I polished the hull with “boat wax” (it contains pumice) to partially mask the scratches on the well used snow white hull. The Sawyer also had a fitted wood yoke and knee pads.
YOU CAN FIX ANY CANOE YOU BUY!
Replace broken seats, thwarts and yokes with new ones which you can buy at any canoe shop. Machine caned seats are tough to repair. Most canoeists strip out the old cane and staple on attractive lawn chair webbing. The webbing is as comfortable as cane; it looks nice and it’s very inexpensive. Anyone can “web” a seat in ten minutes--but don’t tell this to the seller.
Deep gouges in the gel-coat of a fiberglass or Kevlar canoe look awful, so be sure to show your displeasure when you haggle over price. Be aware that gel-coat is very easy to repair--a knowledgeable seller would have done it if he or she knew how! My books, Canoeing & Camping, Beyond The Basics and Canoeing Wild Rivers details the procedure.
Wood-trim should be oiled, not varnished. Remove old varnish with an orbital sander then wet down the wood with water, which will raise the grain. When the wood has dried, sand it smooth, then wet it again and repeat the procedure until the surface feels silky smooth. Polish with 400 grit wet sand paper and 000 steel wool. Apply a thick coat of marine finishing oil (I prefer Watco oil) to the wood with a cotton rag. Allow the oil to set for twenty minutes then wipe it dry with a rag. A thin oily film--that will eventually dry “resin hard”--will remain on the surface.
Lightly “steel wool and oil” the wood-work in this manner once a month during the canoeing season. It’s a ten minute job. Come November and you’ll have a work of art. This is all the regular maintenance that wood needs.
PADDLES ARE PRICEY
Quick! Name the one thing that will most improve the handling and safety of your automobile. If you said “tires” you’re dead right. Good tires are expensive, and worth it. So are quality paddles. Don’t skimp here.
Granted, it takes a certain amount of attitude adjustment to rationalize spending one hundred dollars or more for a canoe paddle. But once in hand, you'll feel the difference. The best cruising and racing paddles are made from a careful blend of carbon-fiber, epoxy and other proprietary materials. They weigh eight to fourteen ounces (the lightest wood paddles weigh 20 ounces or more!) and are as attractive as bituminous coal. Some people call these carbon-black paddles “ugly sticks”. In your hands, they are beautiful!
If you want to cut through the myth of paddle selection, call a canoe shop and ask (specifically) what the racers use; then buy a lower priced version of their favorite blade.
For example, many pro-racers favor ultralight carbon-fiber paddles, which weigh about 7 ounces and cost upwards of 200 dollars. But you won’t be disappointed with a 14 ounce carbon/fiber glass composite version that costs much less.
A PFD YOU CAN LIVE WITH
Ever notice that canoeists always wear their life jackets, even when they paddle quiet ponds? “Canoers” don’t wear them at all, even when the lake stands on edge. The reason is mostly stubbornness and the belief that swimming ability will conquer all. Tight-fitting, poorly ventilated styles that are designed for extreme whitewater and kayaking are out of place for touring the Boundary Waters in the heat of July. You want a trim, light vest that allows good air circulation. I prefer the old fashioned tubular styles (vertical ribbed)” like those made by Seda® and Extrasport®. Seventy-five dollars is reasonable for a PFD that you will wear all the time. Upsetting experiences are part of the learning curve: push the limits of your skills and you will tip over!
You’ll save big bucks if your car has rain gutters. Simply buy four load brackets, bolt on a pair of two by fours and you’re set for the road.
If your vehicle has airplane style doors you’ll need an expensive rig. You can save money if you choose a set-up that accepts inexpensive tubular steel conduit that you can buy at hardware stores. Purchase the appropriate load brackets for your car and get the conduit elsewhere. Tie scrap carpeting around the conduit so the rails of your canoe won’t be grooved. Or, slip on rubber heater hose (tip: the hose goes on easier if you lubricate it with brake fluid). Nylon ropes are cheaper, more convenient and as reliable as tie-down straps--that is, if you learn to tie a trucker’s hitch. Any modern canoeing text will show you how.
ANY SOFT PACK WILL DO
You don’t need expensive waterproof packs. Any soft pack or duffel bag will do, if you use the “sandwich” method to waterproof your gear.
Procedure: place the item in a fabric bag which need not be waterproof. Then, put the bag inside a strong plastic bag. Exhaust the air inside the plastic bag (give the bag a hug), then twist the mouth, fold it over and secure it with a loop of shock-cord. Now, put the sealed “double bag” inside another fabric bag. Note that the delicate plastic liner--the watertight barrier--is sandwiched between two layers of abrasion-resistant material. This method works with any pack or bag.
LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT
Little things, like a carrying yoke, knee pads and thwart bags add to your comfort and the value of your canoe. You can make all these items in half a day.
Portage Yoke Carry your canoe alone from the garage to your car and you’ll want a good portage yoke. The most comfortable way to go is to buy a curved ash wood yoke bar (about $20) at a canoe shop. Cut two 4” x 8” pine blocks and pile polyurethane foam on each block (I use “pillow padding”). Compress each pad to about three inches and staple plastic upholstery material on top. Bolt the pads (drill bolt holes before you cover the pads) to the yoke bar a shoulder’s width apart. You’ll find yoke making specifics in my book, Canoeing & Camping Beyond the Basics.
Knee Pads If you occasionally kneel, you’ll want glued-in knee pads. Commercial knee pads cost about five dollars apiece. You’ll need four plus a half pint of waterproof adhesive (I prefer Weldwood® contact cement) to glue them in your canoe. A less expensive option is to purchase a closed cell foam pad from a camping store. Cut the pad into knee-pad size squares and glue the squares to the floor of your canoe. Laminate two or three pads if you need thicker squares.
Thwart Bags Thwart bags are like saddle bags. They tie to your horse and hold small items you use a lot--like sun-screen, bug dope and water bottle. You can buy commercial thwart bags or make your own. A small nylon brief case or fanny pack works fine. Sew straps on the case or fanny pack so you can secure it to a thwart.
Let’s review the concepts of “buying smart”:
You’ll save hundreds of dollars if you buy a good used canoe. Check the classifieds of canoe and kayak magazines and canoe club publications. Canoe country outfitters often sell good used canoes at the end of the season. Write your own “want ad” if you can’t find what you want. Expect to pay about $1200 for an exquisite used Kevlar composite canoe; $650 for well-maintained Royalex; and $350 for good looking polyethylene battle wagons and boomaluminums. $300 is the going price for a seaworthy beater. Buying a canoe in one state and shipping it to another may be less difficult than you think.
Wood trim and caned seats are to a canoe like leather upholstery and power windows are to a car. Wood trim is usually lighter than plastic; it doesn’t distort the shape of the hull, and it’s pretty. Pretty canoes sell fast--which is something to consider if you ever want to part with your new baby.
Paddles are the wheels of your canoe. Good rubber and mags are worth the price if you’re serious about performance. Figure on paying $100 or more for a canoe paddle that makes you smile.
Seventy-five dollars is reasonable for a comfortable life jacket.
If your car has rain gutters, keep it forever! Otherwise buy an expensive set of car-top carriers that will last as long as you. You may save money if you get just the load brackets and use electrical conduit for cross bars. You don’t need expensive tie-down straps and gunnel brackets. Ropes and carpeting work as well.
Build your own canoe yoke.
Cut knee pads from a closed cell foam sleeping mat and glue them in the canoe with contact cement.
Waterproof canoe packs and thwart bags are nice but not essential. Any soft pack or duffel will work for canoeing if you learn the “sandwich method” of waterproofing. Sew some thwart straps to a fanny pack or nylon brief case and you’ll have an efficient thwart bag.
Most important, don’t rush into anything! Patience pays off when searching for the right equipment. The canoe is your most important purchase; next are PFDs and paddles. Serious canoeists often trade canoes every few years. But they keep their PFDs and paddles forever--or until something “better” comes along.