How My New Canoe Came to Be

Warning: I’m going to sound like I’m overly-gushing about Swift Canoe & Kayak, to the point where you might think I get paid by them. I don’t. I just they’ve been very nice to me and I really like their canoes. It also helps that they’re a Canadian company, built in a factory in one of my favourite little towns, South River, ON, where I spent much of my youth. Also, as I’ve come to learn during my long search for a new canoe last year, they employ some really great, helpful people. 

So your local pond or river is frozen. You’re stuck inside or have a bunch of white stuff to step through. You’re overly clothed, probably sporting one of those Christmas-present-sweaters to appease a loved one. You’re dreaming about being out on the water. You may even be pathetically sitting by a window, staring out like they do in the movies when the protagonist is conveying melancholic longing (in some kind of fuzzy, 3-D reindeer sweater). You flip through outdoor gear catalogs, and visit canoeing websites and skim through to pictures of warm sunny days. It’s all you can do to wait for the water to thaw so you can get back out there. What are you to do until spring?

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Outdoor Shows!

Yeah, this time of year is hard on paddlers, for the most part. But, did you know this is the best time of year for gear shopping and outdoor shows? Yep. Coming up this weekend is the Toronto Boat show (Jan 12-20). I normally don’t attend that one as it mainly deals with non-man-powered watercraft, but there are some canoe and kayak companies there. Up next is the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show (Feb 22-24), which I’ll probably hang out at all weekend to meet up with outdoor friends and catch all the presentations.

Speaking of presentations, Canoecopia comes next in March, which is quickly becoming my favourite outdoor show. It’s in Wisconsin, but it’s a great chance to see all the different exhibitors that I normally don’t have access to, up hear north of the border. What  really makes it worth the travel to get down there is seeing all the great speakers and presentations. Incidentally, I’m organizing a bus trip there, so if you’ve ever wanted to go but the expense of traveling is holding you back, checkout http://portageur.ca/canoecopia/ for the details. Tell your friends too, because the more people go, the cheaper the trip becomes for everyone.

Canoecopia 2013 Road Trip

But if you can’t make it, there’s still the Outdoor + Adventure Travel Show in Ottawa (Mar 16-17), then the Spring Cottage Life Show (April 5-7).

Wait… I thought this was going to be about your canoe?

The other great reason to do the outdoor show circuit is that this is actually the best time for boat shopping. You get to see all the new models, talk to the manufacturers and even see some demos. Immersing yourself in canoes can do wonders to keep the Frozen Offseason Blues as bay. It was last year that I did exactly that, and took advantage of all the access to canoe building companies to find out what options were available to me.

The following pictures were sent to me by the good folks at Swift Canoe & Kayak, and I’ve been dying to find an excuse to share them. Turns out they are so nice over there that they sent me photos of my new canoe during the building process. As you go through these pictures, imagine for a moment, a little egg with something special inside about to emerge, while humming the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey. (Go with me on this; it’ll be better that way. You don’t want my lame attempt at typing the song out.)

The beginning: My canoe gets formed.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

It took a while for me to finally get my canoe, because I was picky. I wanted what I wanted. I suppose I could have saved some money and bought a canoe that was already made or taking advantage of the off-season deals at outdoor shows. When I’d see the sales guys and chat with them at a show or demo, they would constantly want to save me a little money reminding me of this. The Swift people even searched around for an available Osprey model (when I was finally settled on the model). But they were never  exactly what I wanted, and as tempted as I was to have my new canoe immediately, I continued to be particular (read: difficult), because as I mentioned, I wanted what I wanted.

The Osprey ready to come out of it’s shell
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The whole Swift team was very accommodating. They were both patient with my demands, and of course listening to me prattle on about what I wanted in my new canoe, especially when I was torn between different options. Those poor guys – and they never once made me feel as if I was boring them. I’m sure I did. I’m sure Jon and Mike saw me coming up to the booth at one of the outdoor shows thinking “Uh-oh, this guy.” But as a testament to how great they are, they never once let me know it. (I kid. Who wouldn’t want to talk about canoes all day?)

The first crack out of the shell reveals the integrated Carbon Kevlar trim
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I must have babbled on to at least 3 or 4 sales guys about the material alone. I could save a couple of pounds here or there, or get a little bit more durability. Then there was the Flax Fusion Dilemma, a more ecologically responsible material, but that only came in the one colour. (I was told later that you can of course add a paint coat, but that would add weight.) Then again, this problem might actually help me decide on material. Do I like the yellowish brown of the Flax? Actually I do. But was I set on the very sleek looking blue over white (Kevlar Fusion)? Yeah… I don’t know. I even put it up for debate on Facebook at some point. (If I ever do buy a kayak – and I’m not saying this is something I’m even thinking of doing – but if I was in the market for a kayak, I would get it in the Flax Fusion. This is a seriously good looking kayak.)

The Osprey emerges…
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The best advice I got from my impromptu Facebook market research, was that my logo would look best set against the dark blue, and the white bottom would not show scratches as much. Sold! Blue and white it is. As you can see from the pictures above and below, I made the right choice. I haven’t put a Portageur decal on the canoe just yet, but I can embarrassingly say that the scratches I put on the boat in mere hours after picking it up, do not, in fact, show (on the bottom).

There it is, all new and fresh. Next, they’ll put on thwarts, seats and all.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

Just look at that fresh and clean canoe shell (above). What they needed to do at this point is to install some of the neatest features I opted for. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the reasons for deciding on the Osprey was that you could get what they call a “Combi Seat”. As you can see the the pictures below, this is a kayak seat that can be switched back and forth with the standard canoe seat. This gives you the ability to use the canoe traditionally, but also as a Pack Canoe when you so desired. I even made sure to have them add foot braces for that reason.  To switch the seats, you simply unscrew the wing-nuts on the bottom of the seat frame, slide one of the seats out and the other back in. Even for me, a guy who likes to make things more complicated for some reason, and was all crazy excited to get the canoe in the water, this was pretty easy to do.

Thwarts and seat installed, now for the foot braces.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I like this idea because it gives me a little more freedom to have the speed using a kayak paddle to keep up with kayaking friends or tandem canoes, but still have the storage space and the portagability (totally a real word) of a canoe. I also made sure to get a molded removable yoke. Swift has great ones, by the way, and it’s important to get a good one. (Solo canoes require a yoke that is removable, because of where the seat is located.) Others I’ve used are flat, sitting on your shoulders painfully awkward, and often don’t attach to the canoe smoothly. I don’t know how many times I’ve given up on these things. Ironically, while it’s supposed to be helpful on the portage, it’s a hindrance, then becomes dead weight that you have to carry around with you. The last few times I’ve had the option, I’ve just left those thin, flat yokes at the outfitters.

There it is, pretty much done.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

When I took the canoe for it inaugural trip, I was confronted by a new delimma. Which seat should I put in for it’s first trip? It made sense to put in the kayak seat, as I found myself at Opeongo Lake – a big, open, potentially windy lake – on a quick overnight trip with no portages. This seemed perfectly appropriate for kayak-style canoeing. But in the end, I needed to canoe this boat, and I had waited all that time. I paddled out to a great camping spot (single bladed).

One last shot before they send it out.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I’m not saying you should go out and buy a boat right now, or even ever if it suits your needs more to simply rent. But if you’re going to buy, this is the time to start looking. Talk to someone at the outdoor shows, get all the information you can, and definitely take a test paddle. If it all works out, this time of year is when you’ll get the best discounts. And when you’re at the upcoming outdoor shows, stop by the Swift Canoe & Kayak booth. Tell them I sent you, but most importantly, that you won’t be as difficult as I was.

The Swift Factory Crew – Big thanks for making such a great canoe.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

(No Seriously,) My New Canoe

I suppose I should stop teasing everyone about my new canoe and get on with the big reveal. The Portageur’s New Ride contest has been a blast, with the winner contacted yesterday. So with no more excuses and out of funny ideas, may I present to you, my new canoe:

Proud owner of a new Swift Osprey

 

First off, congrats to Eric J from Eden Mills who has won the contest. His name was drawn from several others who guessed two elements correctly. What I chose was a Superior Blue/Champagne Swift Osprey, made in Kevlar Fusion. Needless to say, and as you can see by the grinning Portageur above, I’m very happy with my choices.

The Blue/Champagne colour looks great.

 

But that’s not all. I’ll post a bit more about some of the other features of this canoe a bit later, but I also wanted to make sure to include the Carbon Fiber gunnels. (Quite a few people included this as part of their guess. Each received bonus points. A million in fact, but sadly the draw wasn’t based on these points.) I love this feature. It makes the boat lighter, but at the same time they’re very strong and durable. The best thing about this feature though, is that they are integrated in the canoe’s construction, without the tiny little gap above the hull that you’d get with wood or aluminum. I don’t know why, but every now and then I’ll catch a little piece of my finger on the gunnels, or a nail. Ouch. If you’ve heard a swear word carry over a lake, that might have been me doing this. It happens rarely, and I’m sure if I had strict paddling form – always – this wouldn’t be an issue, but it still surprises me that they don’t put this selling feature in the brochure.

Nancy looks great and fits quite comfortably in the Osprey

 

So why Kevlar instead of Carbon Fiber? Well, while the carbon is pretty tough, knowing how well I treat my gear, and the places I’m hoping to take this canoe, I figured the smarter idea was to go with a little extra protection. I really, really thought about the new Flax Fusion, as I really like the idea of it being a little more environmentally responsible, but ultimately decided against it, again, for the extra durability. If I had more space and money to have multiple canoes, the other would be in Flax Fusion.

Nancy, my hood ornament, is an optional feature of the Osprey

 

Why the Osprey? I know what you’re thinking, it was the coolest named model. Yes, I do like that. However, I decided that for my purchase to be the best fit, I wanted to get a solo canoe. I’m often the odd man out when canoeing in pairs, and often travel alone. When that’s not the case, and it’s convenient, I’ll just rent a tandem for other trips. A pack canoe seemed like a neat idea, especially when using two blades. I’d be able to keep up to tandems without too much trouble. But I feel more comfortable in a (real) canoe, with the control of using a nice long (single-bladed) paddle. That said, I originally was going to get a Shearwater. I’ve rented them often and love how they track, and of course the extra space would have been nice. What moved me away though was when Scott from Swift had mentioned that with the Osprey, you had the option of a “Combi” seat, which allows you to switch your traditional seat with a kayak seat, in essence giving you the advantages of a pseudo-kayak, with the storage space and portagability of a canoe. You can also do this with the new Keewaydin model. Lots of people like that model, but after testing both, I just felt better with the Osprey. (Not exactly scientific, but ultimately the most important factor in choosing a canoe.)

The Osprey at rest after a windy paddle on Opeongo

Why Blue? Haven’t you seen the pictures? It’s gorgeous. It has to be the slickest look on a canoe I’ve ever seen. It also makes it go faster, and move over the water much better. (Again, no science behind that, but it does.) Sadly, I knew I was going to scratch the paint and ruin that “brand new” look eventually, but I really didn’t think it would happen so soon. Not being able to wait, I picked up the canoe in Gravenhurst and went straight to Opeongo Lake. It was windy, and taking-out was a little rough on a rocky shore (where I stayed over night, staring at the sun setting over my pretty new canoe). So I got a few little, tiny, imperceptible-to-anyone-but-its-owner sized scratches. I thought about it very little though, laughing it off. Best to get that out of the way I thought. But then, when I was putting the canoe back on the car at the end of my little weekend test drive, on a windy day, I found out just how light the canoe is. A brink wind came up suddenly and blew the canoe off the roof, hitting a pole on the way down. No damage done though. Just a nice big scratch to remind me to be more careful.

Super light, the Osprey got scratched a bit, but the Blue colour still looks great.

 

I hope you guys had fun, and I apologize for all the teasing here and on facebook. I also apologize at gloating over my super-fancy, pretty, awesome handling, best canoe in the world. For the next post, I’ll show you some of the fancy features of the canoe, and I have a little surprise sent to me by the Swift Canoe & Kayak staff.

Oh also, I’m not really sorry, at all. I do apologize for that, though.

 

I Got My New Canoe

Warning, some material and information has been redacted to ensure the fairness of the Portageur’s New Ride Contest.

Proud owner of a new Swift [REDACTED]

So now that the canoe has been picked up, the Portageur’s New Ride contest will be officially over today when I draw the winner’s name. I still have to hide some of the specific details of the new canoe until I contact the winner, but I was just too excited not to share a little something. It’s been a fun contest and I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with everyone. No one has guessed all three elements – model, colour(s) or material – completely, but some came very, very close. What’s been the most fun is how many people didn’t necessarily guess what I bought, so much as told me what I should have chosen. I guess they like me, they were dreaming a little, looking through the available canoes, colours and materials and other options to find the perfect dream canoe of their own. What was also a lot of fun was teasing Fiona from Badger Paddles about not being eligible for the contest – she could have unfairly, and quite easily have found out what I bought. (Of course, if the winning name turns out to be “Jane Doe of Huntville, Ontario”, I’m going to have to cross check the shipping address “Jane” gives me.)

The [REDACTED] colour looks great.

Yesterday I came home with my new canoe. I was looking forward to it for so long, agonizing over the choice of materials and colour and even the model that I wanted to buy. When I finally decided, I could wait to place my order and get it built for me. Almost cruelly, it was ready for me to pick up a few weeks ago, but my trip to Holland forced me to wait a few more weeks to pick it up. Obviously I was distracted by all the fun I had over there, but I have to tell you, as soon as my feet were planted back on Canadian soil, all I could think about was going up to Gravenhurst and picking up my canoe.

Nancy looks great and fits quite comfortably in the [REDACTED]

I decided that I wouldn’t wait any longer to test it out, and that I would turn picking up the canoe into a quick weekend getaway. I’d grab the new boat, strap it on the car and keep heading north, into Algonquin for it’s first ride, its first trip, its christening, really.

Nancy, my hood ornament, is an optional feature of the [REDACTED]

With Nancy unable to come to Holland with me, it was also a good chance to make it up to her by getting her out there – as you can imagine, something that she’s been absolutely dying to do. She of course took to the canoe right away, at her usual bow position.

The [REACTED] at rest after a windy paddle on Opeongo

Since it was just an overnight, I decided to just put into Lake Opeongo, paddle as long as we could and grab a campsite for the night, then paddle back the next morning. It would be a great chance to see how the new canoe handles, and admittedly, show it off a little. Now that I think about it, perhaps I chose a popular entry point into the park so I could make the most people jealous. As you can see from the pictures, it’s really a very slick looking canoe. EVEN AFTER I PUT THE FIRST SCRATCH ON THE NEW CANOE – but that’s another story. Still looks great though, no worries. Anyone who knows me know this was bound to happen.

Super light, the [REDACTED] got scratched a bit, but the [REDACTED] colour still looks great.

I’d like to also give a big thanks to Swift Canoe and Kayak, for their patience with me, the photos they sent – Just wait till I post those! – and building me the finest canoe that has ever been built. Maybe that last part might not be exactly true, but to me it certainly is.