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Thoughts on using a canoe

Many of us that do this crazy reenacting thing like doing things for the historic experience. ¬†One of these experiences is spending time in canoe. ¬†A lot can be learned and experienced in a canoe; but like many things, there are differences between a bark canoe and a modern one. ¬†A friend recently commented that I should post on this topic… ask and ye shall receive.

Following are a few things to consider as differences when using a bark canoe:

1.) You sit differently in a bark canoe, generally, unless you are sitting on cargo, you are sitting or kneeling on the bottom of the canoe.  This positions our body, your weight distribution (lower than higher), and the way you paddle are different than sitting on a typical canoe seat.   The paddling thing is one of the biggest differences here.

2.) You can not just shove off from shore or ram into shore when embarking or coming into shore. ¬†Bark canoes are not the fragile craft that some authors make them seem, but there are some things that are just careless to do. ¬†For embarking, I like to soak the canoe up for awhile first. ¬†Bark gets more supple with moisture and soaking the canoe will make it more durable for use. ¬†The more the canoe is in the water, the better for the bark. ¬†Worst thing for a bark canoe is to not use it and leave it hanging up in the dry (okay, maybe not the WORST thing for the canoe, but you get my drift). ¬†I always walk the canoe out into water that is deep enough to get in without the canoe dragging on bottom. I do not like putting a lot of weight in the canoe without it being supported well by water. ¬†If the water is deep enough right off shore (or if at a dock) this is not as important. ¬†When coming into shore… I hop out before scraping bottom (hard on the bark and pitch) and pull/carry the canoe out (unloading the heaviest weight of the cargo first).

3.) More maintainence is necessary for a bark canoe.  You will need repairing items for longer trips.  Having extra watap (spruce roots) is GREAT to have.  You never know when you will need to restitch, patch, or relash something.  Extra bark is nice, especially of patches, but is used rarely compared to other items (I have not needed to in over 10 years of canoeing my old barkie).  Pitch is a must!!!  Most bark canoes being built today are made with artificial pitches.  This makes repitching not needed as often, but this is still needed occasionally.  The problem with most of these fake pitches is that they dry slowly and are not as good on the trail as the real deal.  If using real pitch, this MAY be a nightly chore, but is relatively quick and it will dry quick.

Beyond this, canoeing is canoeing… mostly. ¬†I am sure I have overlooked stuff. ¬†There is still ice on most of the water and a good amount of snow on the ground. ¬†I am still thinking of raquettes, not canoes. ¬†If anything else pops up, or you have any questions, post a comment and I will do my best.

7 Responses to “Thoughts on using a canoe”

  1. Chris depot says:

    Is there a difference in weight capacity? My 16 ft modern canoe can carry about 800lbs. Does bark hold more? Less?

  2. Isaac says:

    Generally they will carry more. Unlike an aluminum canoe, all the materials that make it are also buoyant. This allows for more weight to be carried. I used to fill my canoe to the gunwhales with water and sit in, still paddling in 12 feet of water. It would float, even when filled with water.

    • Randy says:

      An object is boyant by the weight of the volume of water it displaces. Simply put, if it displaces 50 lbs of water, it’s boyant by 50 lbs. Therefore, if the bark canoe and the aluminum canoe have the same hull shape and weigh the same amount, they’r boyant by the same amount. It doesn’t matter if the materials are boyant by themselves. Surprisingly, because the bark canoe absorbs water and becomes heavier, this could work against you. It would be interesting to know the dry and wet weights of the aluminum and bark canoes.

      • Isaac says:

        I am not going to argue with you Randy, as I am no physics guy, but I do know that if you fill an aluminum canoe with water, it sinks. If you fill my bark canoe with water, it still floats just at or below the surface. A log floats and a concrete “log” the same size and shape sinks. No physics, just my experience.

      • Isaac says:

        After rereading, I should probably correct a few things that may be more of a semmantics issue. I should probably not have said that the bark canoe was more “Buoyant” as that may not be true. Birch bark and cedar are, however, less dense. This is what is affecting the canoe. ANYWAY, as to soaking up water, unlike wooden boats, birch bark does not soak up a ton of water and is relatively water resistant. If not sealed (pitched) well on the seams, it does soak up a bit more (mainly just letting water seep into the canoe) as opposed to the bark soaking up the water.

  3. Isaac says:

    WOW! I was in a conversation with a friend on this and just realized that although I wrote the last 10 years of paddling my bark canoe, I have now had it for actually 12 years. 12 years ago I would never have believed it would have lasted this long or paddled this many miles!

  4. Travis says:

    Excellent post & fantastic site Isaac. Your vast knowledge, experience, and passion is spread throughout. Thank you for the great insight and motivation to get out there!

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