Starting Out: A Canoe for All Reasons

So many canoes. So little time. What’s a first-time buyer to do? Well, back in 1999, Farwell had some advice, and with a few tweaks and tucks—a lot can change in 19 years, after all—it’s still good today. Which is why we’re republishing the column.
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by Farwell Forrest | March 2, 2018
Originally published in different form on July 5, 1999

Once upon a time, many years ago, New York state paid me to canoe the length of a little river. I started out just a few miles below its source and paddled all the way to its mouth. It was a pleasant way to earn a day’s pay, but it wasn’t really a taxpayer-subsidized holiday. I’d been hired to survey the river’s streambed and map concentrations of blackfly larvae, in preparation for a trial of a then-experimental biological larvicide.* This was the last time anyone paid me to paddle a canoe. That will come as no surprise, I’m sure. Few people today earn their living as canoeists. Not so very long ago, though, the canoe was a working watercraft. Well into the 20th century, it was still the “packhorse of the North.” In the era before Twin Otters and satellite phones, an army of backcountry professionals did their jobs from the seat of a canoe. Prospectors and timber cruisers, forest rangers and wardens, trappers and traders, even nurses and accountants—all went about their daily rounds afloat through half the year.

That’s changed now, of course. Today, the overwhelming majority of canoeists paddle for the fun of it. This is no reason to ignore the lessons learned by past generations of working canoeists, however, and if you’re just starting out in canoeing, you’d do well to follow Tamia’s recommendations and postpone buying your first canoe until you’ve put a few miles under your keel. Don’t worry. You won’t have to wait long. The miles add up fast, and before you know it, you’ll be in the market for a boat of your own.

That’s when you’ll have to answer the Big Question: Which one should you buy? … Continue reading this article…