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Buying a Boat

The Perfect Boat and the "If Only…" Trap

By Farwell Forrest
farwell@paddling.net

"If only…." How often are those two words the graveyard of hope and the death of ambition? And who among us hasn't uttered them? "If only I were younger…or older…or better-looking…or richer…why then I'd be able to do whatever it is that I want to do." It's a trap, of course. Once you've said these words you've already placed one of your dreams out of bounds. "If only…." But you're not are you? Neither am I. None of us is. We're none of us younger or older or better-looking or richer than we are. Case closed. Another dream bites the dust.

Canoeists and kayakers are no exception. Whether we own just one boat, or a fleet of twenty, there's always another boat we don't yet have that we want. And sooner or later we'll look at a map or a river or a choppy bay and sigh, "If only I had that boat…. You know, the one I said I wanted."

It doesn't have to be this way. Yes, there's a boat purpose-built for every use, and, yes, having the perfect boat for each purpose certainly doesn't hurt, but that doesn't mean you have to have a boat for every purpose. It doesn't even mean you can't use the "wrong" boat and still have a wonderful time. Consider a few examples:

At an age when most of us would regard wrestling with the TV remote to be a pretty good work-out, Audrey Sutherland was paddling her 9½-foot Tahiti Sport inflatable kayak along the west coast of Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska. Off hand, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a less-suitable craft for such a venture, but that didn't bother Audrey. It was the boat she had. Moreover, she'd already used it to explore the northern coast of Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. It had just worked fine there, thanks, and it was working just fine in Alaska. End of story.

Let's travel east now—to the Hudson River's Spruce Mountain Rapid, sometimes known as the "Silver Staircase." It's a long Class III drop. At levels over six feet it's a wild ride even in a covered boat. At lower levels it's bony and technical. At any level, it's certainly no place for a canvas-covered, wood-frame, tandem kayak. Yet Tamia and I used to paddle it regularly with a couple in an ancient Folbot. The Folbot's cover sagged and its keel was hogged from car-topping (it was a non-folding Folbot!), but that didn't stop our friends. It was their boat. They liked it. They were enjoying themselves. Why fix what ain't broken?

Still not convinced? Then let's go north to the little hamlet of Wanakena, New York, deep in the Adirondacks. It's mid-May, and two guys are setting out to explore the headwaters of the Oswegatchie River. Hold on a minute! What's that boat they've got? An Old Town Pack canoe? Good boat. But where's the other one? Don't they know the Pack's a solo canoe? Answer: They do. It just happens to be the only boat they've got. No problem. Three days later they take out at a road not far from Streeter Lake. They've had a few adventures along the way—one guy's never again going to forget to bring a spare pair of glasses, for one thing—but it's mission accomplished nonetheless. And nobody's sorry he came.

OK. You, too, can have an almost-perfect trip in a less-than-perfect boat. And if a less-than-perfect boat is all you have—or want—go for it! It sure beats falling into the "If only" trap. On the other hand, if you're inclined (and able) to be a little bit choosier, that's great, too. Shopping for a boat is fun. In the weeks ahead, therefore, I'll be looking at lots of boat-types, searching for one perfect boat. Every boat is perfect for something, of course, and each time out I'll do my best to find out just what that "something" is. Why not stop by from time to time and see if you agree? 'Nuff said.

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