Saturday, January 10, 2015

Solo Canoe Comfort And Quiet Waters

Duvall005The year after I bought my Hornbeck Canoe in 1991, my friend, Linda, rented a camp on Third Lake, near Old Forge. One weekend I loaded my new canoe on top of my car and drove to her camp, excited that I could spend the weekend in the Adirondacks.

I thought, Oh, Great. This is my opportunity to test out my solo canoe on the Adirondack waters. I wanted to learn as much as I could about my new canoe and how it handled in different situations.

In a solo canoe like mine, the paddler sits on a seat in the bottom of the canoe, much as in a kayak, using a double-bladed kayak paddle. Peter Hornbeck said that because your body weight is below the water level the canoe is fairly stable, and, once you are comfortably seated in calm water, only quick movements will cause the boat to capsize. And it’s impossible to stand up. I wanted to know if that was true.

I thought of how, in my the Red Cross Water Safety Courses years before, they had us do all sorts of crazy moves to help us gain experience in handling our boats in case of an emergency. As a kid I’d spent many a summer day paddling tandem canoes, often tipping them over and playing in them. Now was my chance to assess the limits of my new toy. On Third Lake I was prepared to capsize my canoe. And I was with friends sitting on a nearby dock, ready to help if I ran into trouble.

I paddled out about ten feet from the dock to begin my test. I first put my hands on either side of the boat, rocking it from side to side with all my strength. It did not capsize. I gained confidence in Peter’s statement about the handling capability of his canoes.

Duvall004I further tested the stability of the canoe by trying to stand up in the middle of the boat. To steady myself, I tightened my leg and core muscles similar to how I kept from falling down in the middle of a swaying Manhattan subway. But I did capsize even before I was able to stand up straight.

I went for a swim. This was good as it gave me an opportunity to experience how the canoe handled filled with water. The canoe stayed on the level of the lake as the foam seat acted as a floatation device to keep it upright. I climbed into the boat with ease, carefully keeping my body parallel to the surface of the lake water. I found I was able to paddle with my hands while sitting in the middle of the boat, although keeping the canoe from tilting from side-to-side was difficult.

Confident in my ability to withstand the limitations of a solo canoe, I sought out other waters in the Adirondacks. Sixth Lake looked like a good possibility because I’d feel safe being within close proximity of the hamlet of Inlet, close to civilization. The Lake looked small enough so I would not get lost and large enough to paddle a distance.

I found easy access to Sixth Lake and paddled up the shore pleased with myself to have ventured out alone on an Adirondack lake. Then my innocent world was shattered. The roar of an engine startled me. As I looked to my left, I saw a seaplane landing in the middle of the Lake, a good distance from my canoe. I was glad I had chosen to paddle near the shore, remembering an experience a few years before on Blue Mountain Lake.

Early one morning I ventured out on Blue Mountain Lake from the Minnowbrook Conference Center while attending a workshop there, using one of the boats available to guests. I paddled a small guideboat toward the open waters between the dock and a nearby island. I heard a noise and, turning my heard behind me, saw a low flying seaplane heading towards the boat. I quickly pondered whether or not I should slip into the water, diving deeply, assuming that if the plane landed on the surface it would miss me. Then the roar of the engine became louder as the plane soared over my head. It soon landed a few hundred yards in front of my boat. I’ll never know if the pilot saw me.

I wasn’t fearful for my life on Sixth Lake, just annoyed. Before I was able to get back to my put-in place other planes landed and took off. The din of motorboats only added to my aggravation.

As I drove my car toward Route 28, I saw the signs for Paynes Seaplanes. I’d have to be more careful in my selection of waters to paddle in the future.

The lakes around the Village of Saranac Lake had possibilities. And I knew the owners of the Adirondack Motel, Chic and Judy, friends of my sister and brother-in-law. Looking at maps of the area, I found Kiwassa Lake, an area that looked appealing as the Lake had a campsite on a peninsula in forest preserve land. I wanted to test out my independence in the wilds by canoe camping alone.

I made arrangements to stay one night at the Motel, planning to paddle the six miles the next day with my camping gear.

Once at the Motel, however, I began questioning my desire to paddle and camp alone, sharing my reticence with Chic. He offered to ferry my canoe, and gear, to the campsite. I took him up on his offer. The next day Chic and some of his friends ferried my canoe with their motorboat from Lake Flower through Oseeteh Lake and the narrows to a campsite on a peninsula on Kiwassa Lake. They held on to the side of my solo canoe as I sat in the motorboat with them, thankful for all the help but chastising myself for not being brave enough to forge ahead alone.

I cooked dinner and camped that night without incident. The only sounds that caused me to question this solo adventure were some small critters (chipmunks?) making noise as they scurried outside the tent in the leaves. I wasn’t too worried, as I had left the food in the canoe in secure containers.

I woke the next morning to traffic noise from automobiles. Looking at the map I saw that my remote site was actually less than a mile through the woods from Route 3, the main route from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake. During a breakfast of cold cereal and milk, one by one motorboats sped by, further confirming the realization that I was surrounded by civilization. I spent the rest of the morning paddling back to the Adirondack Motel, proud of myself for venturing out of my comfort zone, even though the waters became more crowded as I approached Lake Flower.

I vowed to do a better job of scouting out future canoe trips that would provide me with the solitude of paddling on the quiet waters of the Adirondacks.

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Award winning author Lorraine Duvall writes of her paddling adventures in the book, In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks. Some experiences from her memoir, And I Know Too Much to Pretend, led her to research a woman’s commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, Finding A Woman’s Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks. Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.




7 Responses

  1. Susan Gaffney says:

    My first canoe, bought around the same time as Lorraine’s, with earnings from my bookstore job, was a Wenonah Sundowner (Kevlar, two person), which I named “Bookstore / Paddle-Your-Own-Canoe.”

    Then I discovered the delights of a solo canoe, a Hornbeck, which I called “Reepicheep.” After that, it was a Placid Boatworks Spitfire (again, solo and lightweight), called “Reepicheep II.”

    It’s all good. I still marvel that I can own a canoe.

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      I named my Hornbeck “Shanti Shanti Shanti” and my Placid Boatworks Spitfire “One With The Water”, plagiarized from Dan Berggren’s song.

  2. Michael Ludovici says:

    My first solo canoe is a Bell Magic.
    My first camping trip with it was on Lake Lila.
    It was surreal.

  3. Bruce says:

    Ladies, let’s hear about some of the things you see while paddling, that would be difficult to see from a noisy motorboat. How many times have you seen or heard the call of a Bittern? I saw one hiding in marsh grass once, but haven’t heard their distinctive “hunk-a-chunk” call.

  4. Dave says:

    Nice to hear someone testing out their canoe and tipping over, made me feel better about myself. On my first venture in my Slipstream, 10 ft., 14 pound canoe was on Round Lake near Albany. Of course I had to test its stability by going from sitting into kneeling position. Well, I tested it alright and it cost me a (new) cell phone and a $600 camera. But my dry bag and special bag for a phone came out fine. I will now use my dry bag and special bag for my cell phone going forward.

  5. Marco says:

    Hornbecks are great little canoes. I build my solos to about the same specs with cedar strips. The old NimbleWeed has better than 2000 miles on it, including the NFCT, and many paddling trips along the Fulton Chain to the St. Regis Area. Good camping, and good quiet water mostly.

    Ha, ha….yup, you CANNOT stand up in them though. Nor get in off a dock, easily. The only time I got wet was off a dock. Even Brown Tract was no fun because it was so difficult to get in. Drybags, water proof bags for camera’s and phones are essential.

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