Sunday 17 July 2011

Waiting for My New Canoe

A few weeks ago I sold our old tandem canoe. It had been in the family since some time in the 70s. My brother bought it, my dad fixed it up, and I inherited it.  I paddled with my own children in it for many years.

Graham and me on Brewster Lake
It went to a family from Duncan. They moved from Northern Quebec to be closer to relatives here on the island. The fellow explained to me while strapping it to their van that he had a kayak, but wanted to teach his kids to paddle a canoe. I felt deep gratitude knowing more kids would enjoy that trusty old hull. She has always been around kids, starting off her life at a summer camp on Kootenay lake before joining our family. Who knows how many more kids will experience the joys of cruising a remote shore in the quintessential Canadian icon. Many more I hope.

So I saved money and researched a new hull to compliment my little pack canoe. On a recent paddle in the Cowichan Valley  I discovered a crack in the Spitfire's gel coat.

So I e-mailed Joe at Placid Boatworks and he gave me instructions on how to fix it. I chipped away the compromised gel, and then with Paul's supervision mixed up some new gel coat and filled it in. Lots of sanding and buffing followed and now it is repaired and ready to paddle again. While I was at it I varnished the gunwales and polished the entire hull, first with rubbing compound on the deeper scratches, then with wax. I can't believe how nicely it turned out. I'll post some photos when I get her back (I did the work in James' workshop -- Thanks James!)

A few weeks ago I ordered a new canoe after a marathon research project over the winter comparing a variety of boats and getting wonderful advice from the long suffering folks over at CCR -- see the exhaustive, and perhaps exhausting, thread on the subject here.

The canoe I ordered was a Bluewater Mist from Peter Harris at Pacifica Paddle Sports. In the end it came down to a decision between the Mist and the Clipper Packer. I had paddled the Packer with Paul in moderately windy conditions on Cameron Lake and was impressed with the performance of this understated canoe. Here is a video I took of the Packer, paddled ably by Paul:

The Packer handled the wind and waves well, and I think I would have been happy with one, but delays sorting out details with Clipper presented an opportunity to reconsider the Mist. 

It's funny how circumstances and timing effect a decision. We were driving back from Cameron Lake and Paul and I were talking about canoes, and he told me again about his favorite navel architect /philosopher, Phil Bolger,  who once alluded to the number of boats that sit unused in marinas and he said they were bought to fulfill fantasy uses. Paul finished the story by saying, "And then he added perceptively, something to the effect of, 'but fantasy is a real pleasure too'".

That quote stuck with me like a bur sticks to a dog. So much of paddling for me is participating in a way of life. A romantic ideal that sustains me and reminds me of beauty, solitude, freedom and quiet pleasure on the water. What's more, paddling is a compelling metaphor for the ideal way to navigate life's journey.

Here is an old flyer for the Sawyer Autumn Mist, which is a close sister to the Bluewater Mist:

I liked in particular this line:
"The hull is a vee/arch/vee of uncommonly refined shape, with hollow entry and exit lines for efficiency at touring speeds, a gentle transition curve from working hull to freeboard to slip waves easily, a radical step flare at the bow for dry running in waves, and a slightly rockered hull to both facilitate turning and provide a more efficient displacement line."

I decided that this beautiful and versatile hull was the best fit for both my romantic ideal and my practical need for a stable boat I can take out in wind and waves. A little longer than the Packer (10 inches) and a little wider at the gunwales (2 inches) with slightly less rocker and a higher bow. And of course that radical step flare at the bow. The main factors for me,  however, that shifted my preference from the Packer to the Mist, are a few small details of design that really please my eye: plumb stems, the classic David Yost tumblehome, a slightly more graceful shear line. Small things, but aesthetically significant ones.

I hope the Mist will live up to it's reputation. Here are a few choice quotes about the canoe from online reviews and comments:

"versatile and capable solo canoe for both open water and Class I streams."

"The Autumn Mist was my second solo boat and my favourite and most used of the various canoes I have owned."

"Tracks well, turns super, sheds waves, and has a surprisingly high load capacity for so short a boat...I take it out when it is so windy other canoeists stay ashore and it has never given me any cause for concern."

"If you've not paddled a solo in seas you won't believe the advantage you have. Have both a flat, bent and twin paddle for this boat depending on the circumstances and I have little problem keeping up on any paddle used. I've had the Autumn Mist on two BWCA trips....Of all the Sawyer canoes I think it was the best."

"Mist was an under-appreciated boat in its day. It was pretty quick, tracked and turned pretty well and hauled gobs of flesh and gear."

"Just a great all-around solo canoe if you want stability, speed and decent river capabilities..."

"I have been paddling the golden glass version of the Sawyer Autumn Mist for years. This is a very versatile and capable solo canoe for both open water and Class I streams. It paddles very easily with great glide so you can go for miles without getting tired."

Joco on CCR posted these photos:

 Ozark Paddler on the BWCA site posted these photos:

I ordered my Mist in Navy Blue, influenced by the stunning photo on the Bluewater website of the Splitrock in that colour.

Waiting is hard, but the unseasonably cool weather and rain is helping. Well, ok, not much. But soon I will be filling this blog with photos of my new Mist, and celebrating a fantasy I hope many others can enjoy too.


  1. It's hard to part with a boat that's been in the family for a while but getting a new beautiful boat like that one will be nice! Waiting for the photos of the boat and possibily a fish in the bottom.

  2. Can't wait for adventures in the new boat..

    Family boats do have a special place in memory, ours was a sears special called the 'GNU' that my parents got as a wedding present 38 years ago. It was wide, low, had keels on the bottom and sparked my interest in paddling. My parents just sold it recently, to a young couple who had just gotten married. It is probably off doing it's thing already..

    I have taken the buffer and wax to our prospector as well, even though the purists frown on it.. it sure does look good though.

    Paddling for me is an escape, I can have the boat loaded in 10 min, and another 20 gets me to a handful of lakes nearby. So in the time it takes one lousy show on the tube I can have a paddle in hand and a smile on my face. Just don't expect me to come back as fast.

  3. AYOTF,

    As a matter of fact, the stability of this canoe will lend itself nicely to fishing. Both of my (now adult) children have expressed a desire to go camping/fishing with their old dad, but it might be the fall before the fishing picks up now...that wont stop us of course from trying. :)


    You said that so well, a quick get away but a slow return. Got to be the optimal description of a paddling trip.

    Also, I hear you re: the waxing. This was the first waxing of my Spitfire since I bought it in 2007. I think it is probably true that wax is not the best for slipstream efficiency, but part of the reason I included it in this post is to indicate the importance of aesthetics to the paddling experience. As someone said, "A beautiful boat makes you want to paddle it." So true...

  4. Good job repairing that crack, so finally found the canoe of your fantasies, very pleasurable!!. Good to know your old canoe will be around kids again!!