Friday, September 19, 2008

Kayaking is the New Canoeing

I was driving to Desolation Wilderness for a day hike yesterday when I heard a new show on NPR, a series, called What's the New What?, and the show was Kayaking is the New Canoeing (listen to it by clicking on the link). That reminded me of a story.

Once I was staying at a friends house in Guerneville and I woke up early in the morning and was eyeing my friend's rowboat. Everyone was still asleep, and I was contemplating a little joy ride. Then my friend, Roger, told me he was about to take the canoe, Tippy, out to check his crayfish trap. So I proposed a race. I would get in the rowboat, and he would take the canoe, and we would see who got across the river to the buoy first. Now I was 23 at the time, and my friend was 55, so I assumed that I would win by a mile. He accepted the challenge, and we put in. I rowed with both oars with all my might, but Roger, with only one paddle, and without seaming to exert any particular effort at all literally paddled rings around me. And he was serenely smirking. I etched a fundamental rule of seamanship onto my brain, "The canoe is faster than the rowboat." Now this reminds me of another story (hang on, last one).

Fast forward eleven years, it is now 2001, and I'm 34. I'm on a paddle with my friend Marc, and my partner, Kevin. Marc and I are in a canoe, and Kevin is downstream a few hundred feet in a kayak. He is too far out of range to hear Marc and I plotting against him. The scheme that came into my brain was this. Marc and I would paddle the canoe as fast as we could, and we would come up behind the unwitting kayaker, and speed by him as such a rate that it would knock his socks off, and wow him to his core. Kevin was not paddling for speed. He was gently paddling along. On the other hand, Marc and I were pouring on the coal, driving as fast as two very fit men could push that canoe. But, we could barely catch up! Let alone speed by Kevin. So, with all our effort, we couldn't blow by the kayak, and the kayaker wasn't even racing. Aha! I etched another rule, "The kayak is faster than the canoe."

Kayak vs. Canoe

Speed - The kayak wins because it has the lower to the water closed in deck and creates less wind resistance. Canoes are usually heavier, often made out of alumnium and a lot heavier.

Tippiness - Not sure here. But the kayaker can roll with a spray skirt on and never get any (or much) water in the cockpit. The kayak has bulkheads protecting compartments that won't fill with water very easily, so tipping over is less of a problem than with a canoe that is swamped.

Cargo - You can load a lot into a canoe, but I'm going to call this one a tie. The right kayak can hold a lot in it's compartments.

Socialability - It is true that you can ship your paddles and meet your canoeing buddy in the middle for lunch. Just be careful turning around in the canoe or your sandwiches may get wet. But the canoe's edge over the kayak is only slight. When I have lunch with my kayaking companions, we usually raft up, passing bags of chips down the line. They can be very social. Also the tandem kayak is just as social as the canoe.

Transport and Storage - It is easier for one person to carry and load a kayak. Though there are fiberglass canoes that are quite light, they are still bulkier than the sleek kayak.

Cost - (based on REI's selection) The price ranges are roughly as follows. Canoe $700 - 2,700. Kayak $320 - 3,250. Per person, that's about the same. Buying a kayak is more complicated, because you have to fit the kayak to your person and your intended use much more than you would a canoe.

Conclusion: I much prefer the kayak, but both are a lot of fun. I sure wouldn't pass up a canoe to get out on the water and see some nature. The canoe can simplify getting a novice out on the water, as long as the person in the back isn't a novice, and knows the J-stroke. Always wear your life vest, and have fun!


JanuaryPhotography said...

Ha, interesting comparisons! I prefer to look at it as different steeds for different needs (which somehow seems to fit this comparison better than horses for courses, as much of the courses are the same). Honestly, I've never been in a kayak (though I'd like to give it a try someday), but I can't imagine ever giving up my canoe.

It's fun cruising around occasionally at top speed, but for the most part it's the tranquil gliding through the water that gets me. Something about silently dipping the paddle and working it through the water, both powering and steering in one fluid motion. In our tandem we can cruise pretty effortlessly at about a couple miles an hour provided there's not a stiff head-wind. That seems fast enough for my needs.

As far as cargo, that's one point the canoe has to take. Not only can I load up gear for myself for a night or two, but I can bring my wife and two young kids as well. Might not be so important for others, but in this point of my life it's crucial. Also, as a photographer, I love being able to have all my camera gear right in front of me (some of it quite large), easily accessible at a moments notice.

I can't fault anyone for loving to kayak though, as I imagine the feeling is very similar to what I feel for canoeing :-)

- Randy

Shamus Thornton said...

Hi Randy, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I checked out your blog too. Great pictures there! I learned how to paddle in canoes, and there will always be a special place in my heart for those big banged-up aluminum Boy Scout canoes we used to take down the Colorado River.

Take care,