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A canoe or a kayak? Test paddle one of each and then decide

Your Yak or Mine

October 17, 2012
By MEL THE GUIDE - Special to The Eagle , Pine Island Eagle

Hi everyone, Mel the Guide here from Coast Kayak, in sunny Southwest Florida. Well, we just returned from a 48-day adventure on the road. We did a road trip from Florida to California, B.C,. Yellow Stone National Park, The Tetons and then across the Plains states to Florida again. We got in a lot of paddling, mountain biking and driving.

We have been home a few weeks and I had may Honda Gold Wing transformed in to a trike. A trike is a motorcycle that has three wheels. So far it seams a lot safer than riding with just two wheels. I get more luggage space and you don't have to put your feet down when stopping because it has three wheels.

There is a re-learning curve when it comes to riding a trike. I have been riding for over 55 years - scooters dirtbikes and motorcycles. Once you get the hang of it, it sure is fun and you say to yourself, "Why did I not do this before?"

Well, you are reading this and likely asking yourself, "I thought this was about paddling, not motorcycles?"

So here is were we are going with this. Get out and try it.

I have folks from around the world e-mail or ask when out on tour, which is better a canoe or a two-person kayak? My reply is, what have you tried? Some say canoe or some say kayak or they just have not got around to try ether one. My question is, "How can you know if you have not tried it?" I would like you to try both and then let you decide.

Some things to consider before you buy a vessel. What do I want to do with it? Small paddles on the canal? A weekend with camping gear? Paddle in the surf? Go fishing, transport it in my truck, or on the top of the car? Have room for the family? Or dog? How heavy is it? Will someone else be there to help me move it, or will I do it my self? All questions you should have answers to before you buy a vessel.

Lets look at canoes and paddles.

The first boats were probably Croacles, the kind of skin bowl boats one sees in the Mideast Africa and Europe where the boater uses a long pole to control the vessel.

As boats evolved so did the pole. A broadened side enabled the operator to gain more power. Add a shaped section on the other end and a section were your hand goes for better griping and control, and you have yourself ancestors of the modern paddle. Now we add another person and we have two who can paddle and make the load a little easier. Most times the person in the front paddles on the left and the person in the rear, or stern paddles on the right. You can switch, just as long as you are on opposite sides.

Tandem or two-person vessels are wider than the single ones and offer more stability. But then again, they are heavy. For the most part a canoe can hold more camping gear.

In a canoe you are six to eight inches off the bottom of the boat. You sit erect. Some have two seats, others have three. Most have no backrest, but you can add a stadium seat with back rest.

You get two paddles, one short for the person in the front, bow, and one longer for the person in the rear, stern. Then you dip the paddle in and pull the boat across the top of the water. You can also turn the boat using different kinds of strokes. To turn the boat around in a tight space, turn by paddling on opposite sides from your partner. The front paddler takes the forward sweep stroke on one side as the stern paddler makes a reverse or backward sweep on the opposite side, thus the boat will pivot when the strokes are made simultaneously. This also works well in a two-person kayak. One other way to paddle a canoe you see a lot lately is that you can use a kayak paddle, with two blades on it. Just make sure the paddle is a long one, so you have plenty of clearance on both sides of the canoe. If you wish to save your arms, try to use your torso to pull the paddle, rotating it with each stroke. Pull the paddle up just to your butt, not past it. Twist back and forth at the waist.

Then we have the two-person or tandem kayak. Both partners have a two blade paddle. The secret to paddle a canoe and a kayak is cadence, were both members of the team work together as one. (much easier said than done). If the bow and stern are pulling at the same time, the boats will run straight. In a kayak you sit on the bottom of the boat on a seat with a back rest. some have two holes, one for each person, and as of late most have a large opening for two to sit in. Or you could get a sit-on-top for two.

Know that there is only one captain of the ship. The person in the stern does the steering. This is why the person with the most experience sits in the rear. But the person in the front seat sets the cadence of the stroke and looks for things up stream that may tip the boat. Did I say tip the boat? Yep, it happens,but not as much if you practice. I have a canoe with outriggers on it, it works for me.

So, will you be getting a canoe, a tandem, maybe you want to just get a solo for each? Or one of each. You wont know if you don't try each. Look around the neighborhood and see if a friend will let you try theirs or come on down to Gulf Coast Kayak and give each a try (239-283-112). We also give classes on intro to kayaking. Just get out and give it a try have fun and we hope to see you on the water.

Thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide!



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