Paddle Power

by Susan Peterson Gately

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No boat gives more for the money invested than the small simple paddling boat. Sea kayaks designed for use in flat water are rapidly growing in popularity and come in dozens of styles. The "traditional" open canoe has also benefited from modern materials and is far stronger and lighter than in grandfather's day.

Paddling boats are a good way to get a little exercise as you access hard-to-reach fishing holes or backwaters filled with wildlife. It's easy to learn to paddle them and most can be lifted onto a car top even alone. If used sensibly, canoes and kayaks are safe and seaworthy.

Given the many choices, is it better to buy a canoe or kayak? For many, the best is the cheapest. The used boat at the neighbor's garage sale will do. But it might pay to consider first how you plan to use it before buying that deal next door. Open canoes work well if you usually go with company. Two people can work together to share the work of paddling and carrying the boat. It's more sociable, and a larger canoe, say a 17 footer, can accommodate two adults and two kids safely with room for cargo.

But these days many prefer the independence of paddling their own canoe, and choose smaller "solo" boats. Solo boats are lighter and easier to manage ashore, though you won't have any room to take the kid or dog along and you can't move around as you can in a canoe. Some people with lesser agility have a hard time getting in and out of one.

The larger "traditional" open canoe adapts to many uses. I row, paddle, and motor my square stern canoe and it has a homemade sailing rig. Don't get a solo boat that is too short. It won't paddle very well.

Thirty years ago, sea kayaks were far less common and mostly homebuilt. Today there are dozens of kayak builders, and designs now exist for all sorts of special uses. This means in coastal areas, at least, there is a growing supply of used kayaks available. One fairly new type has sealed storage and floatation compartments in each end and a raised area you sit on rather than in. They are easy to get in and out of and are quite stable, and if you do tip over, the boat won't fill with water so you can right it and climb back in unassisted.

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