If I could own just one watercraft for the next 20 years, what would it be? Now that I’m in my mid 40s, I have several decades of boating experience to look back on, and there’s a clear winner in my mind. While I would be okay with owning just one boat, it’s only because renting a purpose-specific boat for a day, weekend or week is affordable and widely available.
Since my first homemade raft at 6 years old, I’ve possessed several canoes, 3 kayaks, 2 car-topper fishing boats, 2 aluminum bass boats, a 10’ inflatable and a 35’ cabin cruiser. I’ve used these various crafts for many different purposes, each suiting a particular time and place in my life. My on-water hobbies have included fishing, canoe tripping, hunting, retriever training, photography, water skiing, tubing, day-tripping, camping and cabin cruising.
I’ve vacationed on cruise ships in the Caribbean, travelled on ferries on the east and west coasts of Canada, spent time on tourist boats in Tofino, British Columbia, Greece and Russia, and paddled canoes and kayaks all over Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the canals of Florida. I love the water and I always find a way to make sure it stays a big part of my life, regardless of time and location.
Many watercraft are very specifically designed for a single-purpose, or at minimum are very good for one purpose, and so-so for others. My cabin cruiser, a 2008 Cruisers Yachts 330, was the least versatile but it did have some advantages. It was great for travelling on the big water of Georgian Bay and for overnighting in sections of the Bay that are just not practical to reach by smaller craft. The open waters of Tobermory, Wiarton, Parry Sound, Britt, the French River, Killarney, Manitoulin Island and the North Channel are incredibly beautiful areas. I’ve visited most of these areas in smaller craft and it’s often too nerve wracking to be enjoyable. Even with 35’ of bulk and stability and 750 HP engines to get off a rough lake quickly in inclement weather, it was sometimes dicey. But other than those advantages, the yacht was just too expensive to operate, too cumbersome for exploring shorelines and almost impossible to fish from. The 10’ dinghy, carried on the swim platform and launched for exploring while anchored, solved some of the problems, but it just added to the overall cost and inconvenience. The worst thing about this boat though was that during the years I owned the cabin cruiser, I felt disconnected from the water despite the fact that we were on the Bay at least 3 days a week from April to November. Sitting 4 feet above the water at the helm while the roaring engines and the generator drowned out all sounds of nature ruined it for me.
My aluminum fishing boats were more fun. The last one I owned, an 18’ 1999 StarCraft with a 90 HP Mercury on the back and an electric trolling motor on the bow, was more versatile in some regards than the cabin cruiser. When my daughters were toddlers and preteen, the boat was suitable for water skiing and tubing as well as fishing. We also took it camping – sometimes to island campsites in Massassauga Provincial Park, and sometimes we launched it from a front country campground, such as Killarney PP and Killbear PP. I would still have that boat if I hadn’t decided to change my lifestyle entirely in the past few years, prioritizing self reliance and early retirement over power toys. It too was sometimes inconvenient to launch and operate, particularly when I boated alone as I often do. As much as I enjoyed fishing from this boat (and still do enjoy on other boats like it occasionally), I don’t really miss it.
After all of this time on the water on a wide variety of boats, I can honestly say that the bigger boats and more exotic experiences do not beat out the smaller crafts on a local waterway in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction. In fact, if you factor in the financial cost of each, which may be a good way to look at it this day and age of shaky economic times, the contest is not even close. For the answer to the question, what one boat would I choose if I had to, my current boat line-up is a good indication of my reply, although the perfect ONE boat is not currently in my possession.
What do I own right now? In my garage sits 5 boats – 2 matching Current Designs Kestrel 14’ kayaks, 1 Riot 12’ kayak, 1 Swift Keewaydin 14’ solo canoe and 1 15’ Bob’s Special cedar and canvas canoe. My daughters, my wife and I get a lot of use out of these 5 boats, and I believe I’m getting far more pleasure out of these manually-operated crafts than I have from any of my power boats. Why? Mainly, versatility and ease of use. But, what if I was moving to a condo, or needed to downsize my fleet for economic reasons, what one boat would I keep or trade for?
If I could own just one watercraft for the next 20 years, what would it be?
The answer is a 15’ or 16’ Prospector canoe.
With this style of canoe, I can access remote lakes, rivers and streams I couldn’t dream of seeing with a fishing or cruising boat. I can fish untouched backcountry waters, yet still traverse big lakes and paddle wildlife-rich shorelines too shallow for larger craft. I can launch it on one lake in the backcountry and emerge a week later having paddled over 30 lakes and rivers. I can paddle it alone, or with a dog or paddling partner in the bow, maybe even a passenger in the middle. I can easily store it in my garage, backyard, or at a self-storage facility if necessary. I can carry it on my trailer, in the back of my truck or on the roof of a small car. I can launch it from any shoreline, even if I can’t get within a mile of it with a truck or trailer. But, perhaps the most important feature of them all – once on the water, I can see, smell, touch and taste the water just inches away while paddling or drifting, and am fully connected to the lake or river.
In my current fleet, the boat of choice would be the wood and canvas canoe. At 15-1/2 feet long by 36 inches wide at the centre, it’s a good compromise between ease of solo paddling and suitability for tandem canoeing, or for canoeing with a dog aboard. It’s stable, sturdy, and easy to repair. In fact, I’ve already re-canvassed it, replaced ribs and stems and some brass fasteners, and varnished the interior and gunnels. In the event of further damage, I can rebuild it entirely, one piece at a time, in my garage with basic woodworking tools.
There are only two reasons (maybe three) that would cause me to buy a more modern canoe – weight and durability. At 65 lbs dry, it’s a pig to portage. And, because its outer skin is just a thin covering of canvas and the bones – light cedar – it is susceptible to damage from rocks. Yes, I can repair it at home, but structural damage is still a hassle and very inconvenient in the backcountry. I would prefer a Kevlar skin in an expedition layup for the ideal compromise between weight and durability. The third thing is, for solo paddling, I would prefer a slightly narrower canoe, maybe 34” instead of 36” – still wide enough to carry a second or third person and some gear, but a little more maneuverable.
My Optimum Canoe Specifications
Length: 15-16 feet long
Capacity: 900-1100 lbs
Hull shape: Symmetrical
Maximum width: 34-35”
Center depth: 13-14”
Bow height: 21”
Stern height: 19-21”
Bow rocker: 1-3”
Stern rocker: 1-2”
Weight: 35-45 lbs
Hull material: Heavy duty Kevlar with carbon trim
If you could own just one watercraft, what would it be?