Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

For centuries, man has been using the canoe as a transportation device throughout the world. The word "canoe" originated from the word "kenu" which means "dug out." The Carib Indians of the Caribbean Islands, made their canoes from large tree trunks that were shaped or hollowed out, to use as transportation between the region's islands. Needless to say, these early canoes were heavy and somewhat cumbersome to navigate, especially in shallow water or rapids.

The Indians of North America are responsible for making the lighter canoe that we are more with familiar today. They found that by using the bark from birch trees, they could craft a much lighter canoe, and a mode of transportation that was a whole lot more user-friendly then the hollowed-out log canoe. They also learned that by mixing different types of wood for the ribs of the canoe, they could develop stronger, more durable, canoes and still keep the weight down.

The first known canoe factory was founded in Canada around 1750. Located in Quebec, they manufactured a canoe that would transport twelve passengers plus 1100 lbs. of freight. Most of these canoes were used by trappers in the fur trading industry. These early canoes were made waterproof by a process of coating them with hot pine, or spruce, resin.

Today, we have all types of canoes to choose from. There are those made out of wood, to those fashioned out of aluminum and other plastic-type materials including Kevlar, polyethylene and fiberglass. Each has certain advantages over the other, with the fiberglass model being the least favorable simply because of the weight factor.

I have found the aluminum canoe to be the fastest canoe, but also the noisiest. More than one Swanson River rock has caused an ear-shattering screech when it scrapes the bottom of an aluminum canoe as it passes over it. Any creature within two miles had just been given warning of your presence.

Coleman brand canoes have been around for a long time, and are fairly durable. However I have discovered that rocks tend to wear on them fairly quickly, even though they are quiet when they move over them. Shallow water canoeing with a Coleman canoe will leave you with several deep grooves or scratches to repair before long. The best part of a Coleman canoe is that they offer a model called the "Skinoe", which is square at the rear end, and allows you to use a trolling motor or small gas engine on it. They are also fairly inexpensive and very durable for the casual user.

If I were going to buy a canoe that I was planning on using on a frequent basis, I would buy an Old Town brand canoe. These, in my opinion, are the Cadillac of the canoe world. Yes, they are expensive, but this is one case where you get what you pay for. Old Town canoes are probably about twice as expensive as the Coleman, but more than twice as durable as the Coleman canoe as well. You will find that in addition to being very well built, there seems to be more room in an Old Town canoe. The seats seem to sit up higher than in the Coleman, which helps to keep the circulation in your legs going on those long trips.

Old Town canoes are fairly light considering their heavier construction, but are very durable - especially here in Alaska where they will be tested by almost every element possible. This is my first choice as the best canoe that money can buy.

I have noticed that some of the newer canoes have a liner in the bottom of them that is not sealed off. This made me wonder how you are able to get fish slime and blood out from beneath it. The design flaw also leads me to believe that those odors might attract bears while you are sleeping on your camping trip. Imagine waking up to discover that a bear has chewed through the bottom of your canoe, while looking for whatever was leaving that foul odor in the air around your canoe!

Canoeing is fun, and a good source of exercise. However I would remind everyone to always wear your life jacket, as you never know when you could lose your balance or tip over. I experienced a wreck on one Swanson River trip where I leaped out to prevent our canoe from tipping over. There were mistakes made that day by my son Travis and myself, with the most obvious one being loaded way to heavy with our camp gear! We survived with very minimal water damage to our gear, and no injuries, so we were very lucky to say the least.

On the lighthearted side of things, there are several things you can do to trick your fellow canoeing partners, as long as you know that your tricks are not going to cause an accident or injury. If everyone is wearing their life jacket, and you might cruise up to them carefully, and quietly slip their rear anchor in as you are chatting. They might drag that anchor all day! Or match them up with canoe paddles that are not the same length, and watch them fight to try and keep the canoe straight all day long! Even one paddle that is as marginal as four inches narrower than the other can provide result in both going in circles, as well as fun and laughter.

I once watched a father and son team sitting in the middle of the Swanson River, hung up on a rock, and both of them were paddling in different directions! On another occasion, I had a couple of cousins back in Wisconsin borrow a canoe from relatives. When the canoe turned sideways in the rapids, they hit a rock and both ends of the canoe touched! Imagine returning that canoe with a little, "Well we put a couple of scratches in it, but it sure does corner nicely in those narrow curves"!

No matter what you do, or where you choose to go canoeing at, do it safely and work together as a team in your canoe. It is a two-man show, and you both need to work together at it. Make returning safely your number one priority, but if you can safely sneak in a little harmless prank go ahead! See you next week!

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