If I Could Own Just One Watercraft…

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If I Could Own Just One Watercraft…

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.

Shawn green canoe Mr Youngs cottage Georgian Bay 1987_Page_1

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.

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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.

Summer 2008 cruisers boat

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.

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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?

shwan in canoe on georgian bay

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.

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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?

 

wood canoe at dock

 

 

 

 

By |2017-01-10T20:55:58-05:00January 10th, 2017|Canoeing and Kayaking, Gear, Gear & Advice|3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Mitch June 19, 2016 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Good read Shawn, you gave me things to think about. I’m trying to unload my Novacraft Prospecter 16 and all its 67 pounds, thinking of picking up a solo 15. I do backcountry trips and at 53 years old, found the Novacraft canoe a royal pain on portages on my last trip this spring. Your Keewayden 14 really caught my eye. What drove you to this one over the Osprey? Swift also have a nice 15 Prospecter – were you considering that one as well? Saw on your article wish list that 34 inch centre, assume that was the reason you went with the solo one instead. I’m 6’2″ 200 so leaning more towards the 15 over 14 footer.

    Appreciate your website and YouTube channel, your living the dream!

    Thanks,
    Mike in Montreal

  2. Cole December 5, 2017 at 1:23 am - Reply

    Hi Shawn,

    The title of this article made me reflect back on my own journey of discovering the ideal watercraft for ones life.

    It took me over a decade to come round-circle to the answer that was so kindly portrayed by my parents since birth. I had basically grown up on the water, having my first canoe ride of many to come at only a couple weeks old. My parents would continue to raise my brother and I to be avid adventures and canoeists by heart. They took us across the province and occasionally a bit further on trips to Quetico, Lady Evelyn Smoothwater, Frontenac and of course Algonquin to name a few.

    However as we grew older and I began to develop an itch for paddling my own canoe and a realization developed that my independence on the water would not come as soon as I may have hoped. Without fear though, as the creative nine-year old brain was soon finding solutions.

    At the local library – where free time not spent paddling was used – I would pursue the ever fascinating non-fiction section, but near the interior camping section of course! How little did I know, that my true passion was about to take a hiatus when I stumbled upon boating. I quickly became enamored in the world of power boats: ones you could build your self, which ones camp from, which ones you could live on. I was totally consumed in this new book fantasy – but thankfully it would only be just a brief infatuation.

    Well, kinda. The bubble burst one day while I was boring my mother on how I found the new perfect boat, and how it is a stitch and glue home build and on and on. But she pointed out the fatal flaw (not that there wern’t numerous others), how was I going to afford all the gas this boat was going to burn? Naturally a nine year doesn’t understand this right away, but after a quick crash course on economics, the oil crisis and thermo-chemistry – thanks mom – the issue was now so obvious. So, back to the drawing board.

    A few weeks later after trying to find more ‘efficient’ power boats I happened upon designs for this bizarre looking boat. It was narrower than what I had seen before, had a bizarre protrusion below water and a massive antenna that sunshades could be hung from. Eventually I learned it was called a sail boat and the sunshades when on a boat where called ‘sails’. But I was even more amazed when I learned that they caught the wind – just like how my dads fishing rod caught perch – and that wind was basically like endless free gasoline. ‘Wow, money really does grow on trees’ I must have thought at the time.

    Again, just like before I instantly became enamored by the smooth lines and endless possibilities of one of human-kinds greatest inventions. I learned about dinghies and keelboats, that rope was called a sheet, I discovered catamarans and global circumnavigation. And then I started to learn sailing theory – what a wonderful place the public library is when you have endless carefree days. Oh, and of course I shared all of this with my mom, who must surely be part deaf now from all of the useless nine-year-old knowledge.

    At this point it must have been summer again and my best friend invited me to go sailing on his dad’s Laser. I had no idea what a Laser was but it sounded awesome; and it sure was! Even when his dad had to swim halfway across lake Ontario to help two shrimpy ten-year-olds right a fliped dinghy. I was addicted, endlessly fascinated by how a boat could move so quietly, quickly and effortlessly by the wind.

    Wouldn’t you know it I ended up in Sailing day camp the following summer on lake Ontario. Those two weeks couldn’t have gone by quicker, but I was also equally excited to go north to a cousins cottage on the boarder of Algonquin for several weeks after too. Once back home I learned I had won ‘Rookie of the bay’ for the whole camp all summer! I guess all the reading pays off.

    The following summer I would return for six weeks of sailing, I was really becoming addicted! However this would mean only one week at the cottage and no time for interior camping. Summer came and went and year by year went by as I began to gain levels. Canoeing was left behind – but most definitely not forgotten.

    In my final years of sailing I had saved paper route and shoveling money to buy my own Laser and I would spend several years racing.

    This is where I realized sailing for me was an enjoyable activity, but it didn’t run trough my blood like paddling does. I felt trapped. How could I tell my parents that they had spent all this precious time in the summer and money give me the opportunity to learn to sail, but I really just wanted to canoe. I was in high-school now, so I figured I only had to get through a few more summers, than as an adult I could do all the paddling I dreamed of.

    Then the best thing happened to me in grade-eleven. I took an Outdoor Ed. class! My mistake truly began to sink in, how could an intense lifelong passion for canoeing from birth lead me so astray? I had missed so much! All those interior camping trips, the connection to nature, my connection and voice of my-self. It felt so good to be back home in Outdoor Ed – and our cumulative five day trip from North Tea lake Algonquin would remind me of all I had missed and ground me once and for all.

    Well, nearly a decade latter and countless trips have passed since then but the canoe still remains the perfect watercraft for me. For its humble simplicity and balance of efficiency, quietness and closeness to nature.

    Reflecting back on all those summers, I learned a lot of valuable lessons but most importantly of all I learned that I needed the canoe.

    Funnily enough I’m still at that same Yacht Club, I work there now, but today I prioritize my time to get away and paddle. I get asked quite often why I don’t sail any more and now I know – ‘because it is not my first passion, canoeing is where I would rater be.’

  3. Leo Lantz December 31, 2017 at 12:54 am - Reply

    My one watercraft would be my Souris River 16′ Quetico canoe. It weighs about 28 # can be used solo paddling backwards from the front seat or kneeling in front of the back seat . It can easily hold 3 people ( one sitting on a canoe chair), and holds a lot of gear. It is very comfortable and is easy to paddle.

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