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!