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Starting Out

Canoe or Kayak? A Boat for the Two of You

By Tamia Nelson

Canoe or a kayak? Which is the boat for you? That depends. I wish I could be more more specific, but I can't. It's your call. What's best for me may simply not work for you. What do you want? More to the point—what do you want a boat for?

Photo by Dave Spence

Stumped? Perhaps you just need some help getting your thoughts together. Here goes.

Most of us are really two people. One half of each of us is practical, pragmatic, and down-to-earth. Call this our Brenna half. Brenna drives a pickup truck. Wears baggy K-Mart jeans. Drinks jug wine and Mountain Dew. Brenna loves her canoe. Canoes are versatile. Canoes are just plain folks. Canoes are pretty good boats for everything where pretty good is good enough. Plus they're comfortable. Brenna finds getting in and out of her canoe easy, and—if her boat's like most canoes, anyway—Brenna can sit or kneel, whichever takes her fancy. In some canoes, in some water, Brenna can even stand up and stretch. She likes that.

There's more. Brenna thinks her pickup is a snap to load, but her canoe is even easier. She just hauls her gear over. Lifts it up. Drops it in. Ties it down. Done! And if she has one more bag than she planned? No sweat. She can always find a place for it somewhere. Of course, if she's on a trip, chances are she'll have to carry all her stuff sooner or later—and this includes her canoe. That won't be much fun. Still, she can always use a cart.

But suppose Brenna's looking for a boat to hold the whole family? No problem. Some canoes are BIG! Even solo canoes can carry two in a pinch. A couple of guys paddled the Oswegatchie headwaters not too long ago in a 33-lb, 12-foot Old Town Pack canoe. They had a little trouble in the rapids, I admit, but they more than made up for it on the portages.

Of course there's a downside. When Brenna has a bad day, she'll find that the big hole in the top of most canoes lets in a lot of water. And canoes catch the wind, too, especially if they're riding high and light. On windy lakes, Brenna may find that paddling a big, unloaded canoe is an awful lot like work.

That's where Brenna hands over to Ed, everybody's Other Self. Ed drives a Mazda Miata, at least in his dreams. His jeans all have designer labels. And he never drinks anything but bottled spring water or Beaujolais Nouveau. Ed's happiest in a kayak. Kayaks are sleek. Kayaks are sexy. And kayaks keep Ed dry. Well, they mostly do. He always seems to find a little water in the bilge. On some trips he finds himself sitting in a puddle from start to finish. Wet or dry, though, Ed doesn't mind sitting. Good thing, too. There's no other choice in a kayak. But at least he doesn't worry that every big wave will fill his boat.

That makes Ed very happy. Because one thing's for sure—once Ed got his kayak he wanted to go where the waves were really big. Kayaks are a blast to paddle in almost every kind of water. Ed thinks it's like driving his Miata down a deserted country lane in June, without a cop in sight. A thrill a minute, with his double paddle giving him split-second control. He needs that control. With his butt planted a couple of inches below the waterline, he can't see very far ahead. And other folks can't see him very well, either. But this doesn't worry him. When he plays where jet-skis and water-ski tow-boats play, he just stays extra alert.

Of course Ed has to get into his kayak before he can play. Ed's not as young as he used to be, so he had to practice this awhile before before it felt easy. And he always needs to pack light. Ed's learned that kayaks are sports cars, not pickup trucks. No surprise there. But that doesn't bother him. He's having too much fun.

You see? It doesn't matter whether Ed or Brenna calls the shots in your Self. Just decide what you want your boat to do, and then choose a boat that does it. And what if neither Ed nor Brenna is willing to give way? Then you'll probably end up with both a kayak and a canoe. That's not so hard a fate to bear, is it? Not at all.'Nuff said.

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