Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Building the fleet
This weekend we will be skiing a race known as the Book Across the Bay (BATB). The race is 6.2 miles (10k) and crosses Chequamagon Bay from Ashland to Washburn, WI on the 34" (almost a meter) of ice that covers the bays of Lake Superior this time of year. This same area, just south of the Apostle Islands, was also the scene of my first Lake Superior paddle of the season last spring. Not far from there was where I first dipped a kayak paddle in Lake Superior and shortly after that purchased my first boat ten years ago.
Like most people my first boat was plastic. I bought a used CD Storm that had been used as a rental by one of the outfitters and was happy as a clam with that boat. Happy that is, until I traded boats with a guy who had a Solstice GTS high volume. Narrower, lighter, faster, and it tracked like a railroad train. I soon reached a deal with Dale Hedke, a former master builder with the Minnesota Canoe Association and owner of a great little shop called The Boat House. He had a blemished yet lovely blue Solstice GTS HV which soon found its way to my garage. About this time No2 son decided he needed a boat. Not until after I had traded the Storm away of course, but that is very characteristic of the high schooler's (non) thought process. Enter Dale once again. He is a superb boat builder and had the local Chesapeake Light Craft franchise and offered classes in their construction. Being a crafty father, I figured this was a great way to come up with an affordable boat and sneak 60 or so hours of quality time with No2 son. It worked to perfection and the boat performed very well including several Apostles trips and a trip to Isle Royale. If you look at it on the roof rack, driving down the street at 25mph, it is perfect and without blemish. I think my boat lust was satiated for a couple of years and then I discovered and paddled the British style boats with day hatch and skeg, courtesy of BjornDahlieOfM. I followed his lead and wound up buying the Derek Hutchinson designed Gulfstream from Ken Ketter, his demo, after the Two Harbors Kayak festival. The fleet was now at three. That winter at a pool session a guy had a Scirocco, the rotomolded version of the Gulfstream, and wanted to sell at a rock bottom price. Seems his wife had decided the boat was too big and didn't fit her. I came home that day with both the Gulfstream and Scirocco on the roof. Oh, I almost forgot. I travel a fair amount for work and a Feathercraft Big Kahuna had insinuated itself into the fleet and also into my checked baggage. Five boats now, guess I'd better downsize. GurneyGranny wanted a single and so did the PodMan. Good bye to the Gulfstream and the Solstice GTS HV, both to good homes where I get to visit and paddle them from time to time. Now I have the space to get a real British boat. Enter the Valley Aquanaut HV and good bye to the Scirocco which went down to Northern Iowa. The VOR picks up a Valley Avocet, we acquire an old Valley Skerry for GalwayGuy and the fleet is very quickly back at five boats. How the hell did that happen so quick?
And thats the sordid tale of my decade long boat addiction. Like fine rifles, when it comes to kayaks you always have more than you need but not as many as you want. I'd love to have a skin boat or a good low volume rolling boat where I could learn all those stick and hand rolls. There are also times where a good plastic boat is the only way to fly, especially on the rocky North Shore of Lake Superior or on some of those wide, rocky, and shallow rivers that defy logic and flow north into the lake. When I'm racing across the Chequamagon Bay on my skis Saturday night I'll be concentrating on my ski technique but in the back of my mind skin boats and low volume plastic kayaks will be dancing around in my brain. I'll be thinking of the giant candy store that is Canoecopia and how it will feel in about 10 weeks when my kayak is gliding across the same path that my skis are.