​Canoe Designers

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I have greater confidence in a canoe from a known and proven designer, especially where the history of a canoes heritage, iterations, intentions and improvements are known. A willingness to put your name on a product design says something, and a design that appears to be an orphan says something else.

Practiced designers do make mistakes (or suffer in manufacturing interpretation), but the best of them have long learned skills and years of tweaking and improving what they have conceived.

Apologies for a long-winded semi-rant. The number of open-boat designers was never large, the canoe enthusiast market is smaller every day and the guys with proven design chops all have AARP cards.

Given where the paddlesport market has long been headed, are there any young open-canoe designers coming of age? Or are they all playing with paddle boards and molded rec kayaks?

I have had the opportunity to meet a number of well respected canoe designers over the years and have always enjoyed hearing them speak of their design concepts and evolution.

But to a man (and they were all men) they were all at least in their 50s or 60s with a 30 year history of designing canoes and improving on those designs.

Aside from garage builders making one-offs are there any younger folk working on canoe design?
 
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Having spent time with, and spoke at length with Dave Yost and Dave Curtiss I am richer for the experience. Their designs are my favorite solos. I am impressed with their humility and reluctance to criticize other designs/builders. I was 99% sure I would like the Keewayden 14 designed by Yost,and wouldn't have feared buying it without paddling it-which only confirmed my approval. Conversely, I know a couple of strip builders who built designs by obscure designers without paddling one,who were disappointed. I, rambling.
 
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Hi Mike, I'm minded of that line from "Oklahoma" ......"They've gone about as fur as they can go!". Without having a speck of knowledge about designing things, when I look at any reasonable canoe nowadays the relationship to canoes from days of yore can't be missed. True, the materials used have changed but the real fundamentals are still there: the water is still water and the power plant is still human muscle.

All these wood canvas canoes we see here being restored and used have lines that have been in use for what? Maybe a hundred years? And probably those lines were taken off indian canoes in the way back when.

I'll make you a little bet: If Robin should discover a genuine Chestnut "Pal" in peachy keen condition, there's not one of us who wouldn't absolutely lust after it, however out of our reach it was. And who ever the lucky dog was who got to paddle it, wouldn't feel that he'd made a serious compromise in paddling quality.

So....designers? Or maybe closer to the mark would be fiddling tweakers.

Oh, I'm not really against anyone playing around with the design of canoes, but I sincerely doubt that at the end of the day any changes will out last the test of time.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
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Carl Yost; David's son. I don't know how successful the son will be or what his design philosophy. Harold Deal looks younger than he probably is. Not sure of John Winter's age.

I don't know how lucrative canoe designing is now compared to the heyday of canoes some thirty years ago. Not that anyone got rich.
 
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Hi Mike, I'm minded of that line from "Oklahoma" ......"They've gone about as fur as they can go!". Without having a speck of knowledge about designing things, when I look at any reasonable canoe nowadays the relationship to canoes from days of yore can't be missed. True, the materials used have changed but the real fundamentals are still there: the water is still water and the power plant is still human muscle.

All these wood canvas canoes we see here being restored and used have lines that have been in use for what? Maybe a hundred years? And probably those lines were taken off indian canoes in the way back when.

I'll make you a little bet: If Robin should discover a genuine Chestnut "Pal" in peachy keen condition, there's not one of us who wouldn't absolutely lust after it, however out of our reach it was. And who ever the lucky dog was who got to paddle it, wouldn't feel that he'd made a serious compromise in paddling quality.

So....designers? Or maybe closer to the mark would be fiddling tweakers.

Oh, I'm not really against anyone playing around with the design of canoes, but I sincerely doubt that at the end of the day any changes will out last the test of time.

Best Wishes, Rob

I was thinking recently how the shape of my Swift Mattawa isn't far off the 40 year old Tremblay's we have. Other than stems being recurved on the w/c the shape is quite similiar... no tumblehome being the most distinct and a low sheer line. Might have to put them side by side and see.
 
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Having spent time with, and spoke at length with Dave Yost and Dave Curtiss I am richer for the experience. Their designs are my favorite solos. I am impressed with their humility and reluctance to criticize other designs/builders.

Absolutely. Having the opportunity to hear them discuss their design philosophy, evolution and and improvements is something I treasure, and the history of that evolution, changes, influences and etc is fascinating to me.

Hi Mike, I'm minded of that line from "Oklahoma" ......"They've gone about as fur as they can go!". Without having a speck of knowledge about designing things, when I look at any reasonable canoe nowadays the relationship to canoes from days of yore can't be missed. True, the materials used have changed but the real fundamentals are still there: the water is still water and the power plant is still human muscle.

Well, a canoe is a canoe is a canoe. But the deliberate design variations, shouldered tumblehome and differential rocker, Swede form, bottom and chine shape, cab forward, all those little design variances come together to make a boat. And how everything ties together, seat hanger design, gunwales, thwarts, yoke and deck plates to make a canoe that performs as the designer intended.

Certainly the material changes are important as well, glass, kevlar, carbon, composite infused rails and thwarts. Not just the material advancements but the composite lay-up schedule as well, fulls and partials, where and of what and in what order.

I would be lost in the wilderness even thinking about how to bring all of that together.
 
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I was thinking recently how the shape of my Swift Mattawa isn't far off the 40 year old Tremblay's we have. Other than stems being recurved on the w/c the shape is quite similiar... no tumblehome being the most distinct and a low sheer line. Might have to put them side by side and see.



No.. You have to get under the boats side by side in the water. Bring a snorkel.. Its the underwater shape that is way different. A hint for examining boats.. don't see.
Put in the dark and feel. Your eyes do deceive you.

WC canoes are symmetrical. The Mattawa is not. And by symmetry we are talking the below waterline shape.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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A new generation of canoe designers is perhaps slightly more likely than a new generation of stage coach designers.

Beginning around 1950 fiberglass and other composites made some design subtleties possible that were not easily manufacturable with skin, wood or aluminum. However, I don't think the designers or manufacturers since then have developed anything significantly different from the native peoples of the world. I agree that they all fall into the category of fiddling tweakers.

Line up all the post-1950 flat water and whitewater canoes of the best known designers and manufacturers. You won't see much of a difference, if any, between adjacent models. In fact, one could cynically but accurately define a "new model" canoe as the least necessary trivial tweak that can pass the giggle test.

I like canoes that appeal to my functional, proprioceptive and visual aesthetics, not because they have the name of some designer painted on or associated with them. So also clothing and women.
 
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I think too, that during the "hey day" of the production canoe, designs were settled on based on historical information gathered directly from people out in the field. Weren't most taken from original builders of the birch bark and dug out canoes and then "tweaked" for modern methods?

I'm sure there is room for improvement on todays designs, but for most, it is not a life line to survival. It truly was out of necessity that the original designs came to us. Paddling effeciency, weight, and capacity were of course considered but this was passed from family member to family member.

Maybe we don't see younger designers because this isn't as vital for our survival, and certainly not as glamorous as a vehicle or airplane designer?
 
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Maybe it's because that's what I prefer and am most familiar with but solo canoes seem to have made the biggest advances. I've never seen any "classic" canoes that resemble anything like the DY Special, Shockwave, Advantage, Magic, Merlin II, Osprey, or Wildfire.

Alan
 
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I like canoes that appeal to my functional, proprioceptive and visual aesthetics, not because they have the name of some designer painted on or associated with them. So also clothing and women.

Glenn, I coincidentally just brought a new project canoe into the shop and the first thing I did, before detail washing the hull inside and out, was to strip off all of the manufacturer’s lettering and decals. It is a deep burgundy canoe and the lines are much more pleasing to my eye without the giant letters and emblems.

I do not care a whit for clothing labels. I settled into a few clothing guises early in life. Black shoes, black socks, black pants, white shirt and lab coat for 35 years of work life. At home, overalls and a long sleeve shirt when cool or cold, shorts and a tee shirt when hot.

The fanciest clothing I own is my tripping apparel, Gore-Tex, fleece and quick-dry or UV stuff and that is well worn, patched and soiled and unlikely to make the next catalog photo shoot.

I do like to know the designers in women. Meet the parents before you find you’ve married the mother with a touch of the father.
 
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Glenn, I coincidentally just brought a new project canoe into the shop and the first thing I did, before detail washing the hull inside and out, was to strip off all of the manufacturer’s lettering and decals. It is a deep burgundy canoe and the lines are much more pleasing to my eye without the giant letters and emblems.

I'm often tempted to do the same but I also realize that my boat fleet is a revolving door and that resale would take quite a hit.

BTW, this is the second time I've heard you mention your knew ride but I've yet to see a mention of what exactly it is.

Alan
 

Glenn MacGrady

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I've never seen any "classic" canoes that resemble anything like the DY Special, Shockwave, Advantage, Magic, Merlin II, Osprey, or Wildfire.

Canoes have been around North America since the end of the last ice age, and surely longer than that in the tropics. How many of them has anyone seen? Not many . . . because they've all rotted away.

Harold Deal got his idea for shouldered tumblehome from the partially decked solo canoes of Rushton, such as this one, which probably was pretty fast.

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One can see tumblehome, rocker and various asymmetries in native solo canoes, both of bark and dugout design.

Model+of+crooked+canoe,+Great+Whale+river,+pre+1921.jpg


malawi15.jpg
 
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BTW, this is the second time I've heard you mention your knew ride but I've yet to see a mention of what exactly it is.

Alan, nothing special, and not even what I was looking for *. A 2008 Nova Craft Cronje in Royalex with aluminum gunwales.

*My interest in tandem canoes is all but nil. I was hoping to find a 14-15 foot lightweight composite solo that was beat to hell cheap. I’d like to have an inexpensive day paddling boat to leave on the truck racks while I’m off tripping during long road trips.

Or another “decked European-style tandem touring canoe” to soloize and give to a friend. But the current and future state of RX being what it is I couldn’t take a pass.

I was hoping to start on the Cronje repairs and outfitting this weekend, but my stone guy delivered a dump truck of crusher run for the driveway, so my life has become shovel and rake centric.
 
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Very true. I guess I was comparing them to the designs that are still available that seem to be from the late 19th/early 20th century. I still think credit should be due however. They're carrying on a long standing tradition of thinking it could be done slightly better and tweaking the designs to reflect current usage.

Alan
 
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This is a fascintating topic. I have built sailboats before, but have never talked with any designers. All I know is that there are certain designs that "feel right" and several that don't. My first boats was a Sawyer Cruiser which was a wonderful flat water boat. The one I really miss is the Sawyer Charger. At 18 1/2 feet it was long, fast, dry and buoyant all at the same time. People mention the 222, but it seems more lake a big lake boat like the one you would want for salt water or Lake Superior.
 
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I'm often tempted to do the same but I also realize that my boat fleet is a revolving door and that resale would take quite a hit.

De-lettering and removing the decals has never been a resale issue. It helps that most of the boats I’ve sold have gone to friends at below market values and they knew what the canoe was. I have sold a couple of de—lettered canoes to folks I didn’t know, but they were distinctive hulls that needed no ID badge.

I don’t strip every canoe, but some just look better without a mid-ships billboard. I usually remove the giant block letter MAD RIVER CANOE, but left it on my white kev Malecite. Those black letters somehow don’t look as fugly on that hull.

Of course if you strip the letters off a 20 year old canoe you end up with an unfaded ghost image where the vinyl used to be.
 
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There are certainly some less than ancient to younger guys pushing the envelope of whitewater canoe design. Craig Smerda was principal designer of the Esquif L'Edge which has been a runaway best seller. Jeremy Laucks has single-handedly created Blackfly Canoe and come up with one great design after another, in the space of only a few years. And my friend Mike Bolton designed his "Stinkeye" now being laid up in composite by John Kazimierczyk of Millbrook Boats and rechristened the "Blink".
 

Glenn MacGrady

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I would agree that solo canoes specialized for class 4+ whitewater are probably the most likely area where there are modern advances beyond native canoes. However, I don't consider boats like the Blackfly or even the decked version of the L'Edge to be real "open" canoes. That said, the massive rocker and fine ends of Cree crooked canoe would seem to have been designed to run whitewater. It looks like it would be a bear or pig on lakes.

Crooked+Canoe+3.png


In any event, the designers of these whitewater canoes weren't "name designers" before their initial successful designs. Some canoe designers/companies who have a few initial successes end up being Oldy Moldie's "fiddling tweakers" after that. I suppose racers can tell all those Jensens apart, but I can't. Other creative designers like Mike Galt and John Winters seem to have stopped after eight or nine different canoes rather than endless tweaking.
 
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