Friday, August 24, 2012

Et tu, Basswood?

Wednesday evening found me on Spring Lake, a lake I had never paddled on but a lake that I had pulled many a spawning bluegill out of with my flyrod before I was distracted by this long skinny boat thing. I had told Christopher Crowhurst of Qajaq Rolls that I would head down and play with forward finishing rolls.  We had a half dozen folks armed with Greenland paddles, avataqs (fake inflatable seal-like bladders used for rolling practice), and the desire to finish on their front decks.  Christopher, fresh from Training Camp, went through a nice progression with the avataqs and then we went to the paddles.  A paddle float on the end of the stick helps with the motion and muscle memory needed to complete the roll.  Since I already have a half assed forward roll I went straight to the paddle as we played around. The paddle I used was my trusty hand carved Greenland blade, as strong and as  durable of a wooden paddle as I've ever owned.  Up until last night that is.

I've broken paddles in the past, pretty much all of us have.  The main paddle victims have been made of Sitka spruce and Redwood.  Both are very light and strong for their weight but the fact is, like some of the new light kayak layups, they just trade off too much strength for the light weight.  While Basswood might not be any tougher pound for pound, its heavier weight and grain structure makes is naturally stronger.  I've carved a couple Basswood blades under the auspices of the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN and Basswood is the only wood that they use. Ron Steinwell of Novorca made me a very nice Aleut paddle out of a piece of clear Basswood that JeremiahJohnstone procured for me from north of Mora, MN.  In my mind the strength and 'workability' of Basswood that make is a favorite of wood carvers, offset the weight, especially when I'm just out for the afternoon rolling.

Last night I leaned back on the deck and capsized with my paddle in the chest scull position.  I began to turn the boat and sweep, and the damn thing snapped off at my right hand.  I looked at it, mentally swore (vocal swearing would occur when I was upright), grabbed the longest piece, and did a layback to come up.  The poor old piece of Basswood must have just had enough.  The sweep felt good and effortless like when you swing through through a baseball perfectly or hit a slapshot right on the sweet spot of the stick.  I didn't feel that extra torque on the paddle that is experienced during a screwup so I guess it was just that paddles time and it broke. 

Christopher wound up giving me a quick tow back to his dock using a sweet little short tow rig whose design he readily admitted heisting from Gordon Brown.  It was elegant in its simplicity, so much so that I ran down to Midwest yesterday to pick up the components.  He then loaned me a very nice Novorca carbon fiber paddle from his arsenal to use for the rest of the session.  It was a very nice paddle but just does not have the warm feel of wood.  It is also very, very smooth.  My hand slipped off a couple times on various maneuvers but the thing is admittedly feather light.  Very, very light. 

I do have one more piece of paddle worthy Basswood in the garage.  I also have a lovely and spacious man cave complete with workbench at the Washburn place.  I suspect that after a few grouse are in the skillet and a couple bucks are on the pole this fall, that a new paddle will begin to emerge from this hunk of Basswood. A nice fire in the stove, a couple cold beers in the cooler and a plane, spoke shave, and a Mora knife.  Sounds like a pretty good afternoon already.

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