Sunday 3 August 2014

Sanborn Paddle Review -- Custom Built Borealis

Back in the beginning of June Paul and I tried out two canoes at Alberni Outpost's Demo Days. Due to the sheer numbers of people at such events, the paddles included for trying are bullet proof. Literally. See them there below in the boats? The ones we used could have stopped bullets because they were made of metal!



We tried out the Escape and the Cascade. Both good solid canoes, and I was, as always, impressed with the build and finish of Clipper boats. I especially liked the Escape. I think it would be a great addition to my "fleet" if I had the room. A great recreation boat for taking people out who want a feeling of safety and stability, but also some fun.

The paddles were, well lets just say it, an abomination. They weighed a ton, felt cheap and uncomfortable and did not do the boats justice. Moral of the story, next year I will bring my own paddle.

But this got me thinking about paddles again. I think about paddles a lot. In a sense the paddle is like the bow to the violin. Overlooked by the casual observer, but every bit as important to the musician as the violin itself.
Playing with a Paddle on Harewood Lake
 I wrote an extensive piece about paddles back in 2009 in which I summarize the theoretical advantages of a long thin paddle over a short fat one. I also summarize my own experience with paddles at that time. Since then I have been experimenting with bent shaft carbon paddles after watching Paul use one expertly over the years. I have now partly changed my mind on the matter.

"What I have decided is that the relationship between a paddler's comfortable and natural pull force should be matched to a blade that will transfer that force to the water with the least slippage. For most moderately fit individual, a blade like that of the classic Zaveral will probably work best."

When a strong paddler pulls hard on a thin blade it creates cavitation behind the blade, and energy is lost as the turbulence increases. It takes much more force to do this with a wide blade.

So why the prevalence of otter and beaver tail paddles in the world? I like Doug Ingram's answer, that trial and error over time has arrived at this universal design, but that doesn't really tell WHY it is so.

Part of the answer is that otter and beaver tail paddles are more forgiving on a long paddle and more versatile than a racing blade when doing advanced paddling strokes such as the Indian, Canadian (Omering) or Northwoods Stroke.

Here is a video of me using a variety of the three as I negotiate between stumps on Westwood lake.

Also important to keep in mind is the goal of the paddler and the type of paddling being done. If the goal is to get somewhere fast, a large bent shaft racing paddle in the hands of a burly paddler, will win every time. If, however, you want to feel the grace and calming tranquility of the Indian stroke for miles along a remote shore, a thin long blade is required. The depth of water and the various aspects of the canoe being paddled (especially length) are also important.

So I took an hour or so on Harewood Lake at the end of June to decide on the new paddle I wanted to use while I re-finish my beloved Bower Blade.

My Beloved Bower Blade

I wondered if a combination of the best qualities of the Bowers Blade (long paddle with most of the blade at the tip) combined with the advantages of the classic bent shaft (larger blade) would work. I looked around at the various paddle manufacturers and sent inquiries to a few. Todd at Sanborn Canoe Company was able to provide what I was looking for. The paddle I ordered has a total length of 145 cm, a straight shaft, and the blade of their Borealis.

I ordered the paddle on June 30th and it arrived on August 1st. Pretty good for a custom order during the busy season.

Here are some photos of the paddle:

As you can see this is a lovely paddle to look at and it feels good in the hand. It is light, balanced, and carefully finished, with enough minor imperfections to show it is hand made. The durability is particularly evident and the comfort of the oiled grip was anticipated, but also nice to confirm in my own hand. I wondered if there was any way to extend that feel to both hands. My waterside hand slipped a number of times on the new varnish. Is it possible to oil the whole shat instead? I'm not sure this is possible as the glass fabric protecting the blade extends up the shaft a fair way. I may use the old tip a veteran paddler told me about -- a very gentle rub with an old pot scrubber, just enough to take that shiny gloss off. The transition from glass (on the blade) to no-glass (on the shaft) is very smooth and beautifully done.

So how did it perform? Well I brought along my two favorites to compare, the Bowers Blade and the Bent Shaft from Grey Owl.

I loved several things about the Sanborn paddle.
  1. The length is about right. The Bowers blade is longer and therefore allows for a prolonged up-pull at the end of the Indian stroke, but that advantage is offset by it being a bit unwieldy.
  2. The grip is about the right size to allow for good control and to prevent hand cramping. The Bowers Blade has a smaller bobble-style grip and after going back and forth between them, I confirmed that I do prefer the Sanborn style. Paul pointed out that this style of grip provides more control because of the added leverage.
  3. The blade size is about right. When switching between the Grey Owl and the Sanborn there was only a slightly more sustantial purchase with the larger blade, and that large blade is a big sail in the wind, and also just generally flaps around if you move it quickly. The balance and rigidity of the Sanborn felt sure, fast, and efficient.
  4. The durability is impressive in an environment like Westwood lake where colliding with underwater obstacles in inevitable!

I didn't like one aspect of the paddle. And that is the profile.

Like most hybrid "high production/hand made" paddles the transition between the shaft and the blade is more abrupt and the shaft in general is unrefined. This means that underwater recovery and the Indian stroke are not practical or quiet.

Here is a comparison of the Bowers and Sanborn profile.
You can see the long slow taper of the Bowers and the shorter transition of the Sanborn. This means that when you bring the blade forward underwater close to the boat the shaft puts up quite a spray. I found if I extended my arch on the return so that just the blade was slicing, it was not too bad. But it was also not as comfortable.


All and all I'm impressed with Sanborn. I got a beautiful, durable, efficient and unique paddle and would recommend the company for their service, quality, and price.

Imagine if every demo day paddler had one of these to try out a canoe with? Maybe more canoes would be sold? I'm just sayin. This is a very VERY durable paddle, but also a joy to use.

Harewood Lake

Latitude/Longitude: N 49° 5' 58.70"   W 123° 57' 9.76" (49.09964, -123.95271)

Trip Dates: June 28, 2014

In my post on Nanaimo Urban Lakes I mentioned that I had not found a good place to put in on Harewood Lake. Thanks to the comments of two helpful commentors, I was able to find the place. They were right, it is indeed off of Godfrey Road just across from Fernwillow.

It looks like this:
Harewood Lake Put In

And once your are out on the lake looking back, it looks like this:
Harewood Lake Put-in From the Water

 I have to say my expectations were not high for this little lake. The coal tailings and access under the power line belie a gem of unusual beauty. This is a classic Vancouver Island wetland lake, surrounded by a fringe of sedges, rushes, and willows.
Wenonah Solitude (Same boat is now made by Clipper) on Harewood Lake

Paul and I and Molly made our way slowly around the lake, enjoying the reed banks, but also the long meandering wall of rock that forms the North Western shore of the lake. Near the put-in on this shore is a sign that says, "Island Wildlife Sanctuary, private Property, KEEP OUT. I tried to Google this sanctuary without finding anything. Does anyone know anything about this? Can people make donations to help keep this gem looking beautiful?

Just to the right of that platform at the top of the stairs is a little path that leads to unobtrusive diving board.
We made our way along the long sandstone shore admiring the high outcroppings and other features.

At the far end of the lake we stopped so I could experiment with paddles. (I wanted to order a new one) and will write a review of what I ended up buying.

And eat our lunch among the lilly pads.

Then we lazily cruised around the lake for awhile enjoying the tranquility and beauty.