Paddling and cartopping an outrigger canoe

Glenn MacGrady

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A single person outrigger (va'a) takes the same amount of time to get on and off my van (the "magic bus") as any canoe or kayak. You do need a good distance between bars, as a va'a is 20'-22' long.

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The "iakos" are the black aluminum bars that connect the main hull to the "ama" (the outrigger). In this picture you can also see my GPS mounted on the footwell wall in front of the seat, the spare paddle clips on the rear iako, and the 6" Beckson screw hatch in front of the footwell. There is another 6" hatch on the rear hull behind the foam seat.

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In this picture you can see the GPS mount and front hatch better. You can stuff narrow things (ultralight hiker gear) into the entire front hull. So also the back hull, except there is a foam pillar there.

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To car top, you disassemble the iakos, via simple push button clips, and substitute "stubby iakos" to bring the hulls close together. This takes 5 minutes. You can see stubby iakos in this picture from the Huki site. Huki also has an ingenious way of locking the hull on the rack via cable lock holes in the stubby iakos.

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The Hawaiian OC1 takes up very little horizontal room when on the car top. Notice the massive rocker for ocean surfing, which I'll come back to later when discussing rudderless paddling.

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You can see the stubby iako and ama better from this angle. You can also see that I have the main hull resting on those inexpensive foam cradles that you snap over the rack bars, which are commonly available. I don't think I even had to shape them. I've driven more than 20,000 miles with this boat on this rack system, including some very scary winds in Montana, and the boat has never shifted more than a few inches. Two straps; no bow or stern tie downs.

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For straight ahead paddling in any wind or wave condition the va'a is unbeatable. You can paddle on either side with no correction needed. You can switch sides or stay on the same side the whole time. The foam seat slides fore and aft to accommodate different size legs. The water drains out of the footwells via venturi drains, though I usually plug them up.

The ama can be adjusted vertically via screws on the iakos -- meaning you can put more or less permanent "heel" toward the ama for stability. When you get really good and go fast, you can bring the hull level and "fly the ama" out of the water, risking capsize ("huli") to the non-ama side. You typically do this when surfing at 20 mph down the face of 15' ocean swells, but you can also do it with a little speed on flatwater.

Huki Jude, the owner of Huki, said I was the only paddler he had ever see fly the ama in his first five minutes on a va'a, when he took me for my initiation paddle on the American River in Sacramento. (Huki Jude didn't know that that then 59 year old guy used to surf class 4 waves in the Hudson gorge and Cheat canyon in skinny whitewater boats.)

Rudders come in different sizes. The one in these pictures is a 4" weedless flatwater rudder. I also have a 9" ocean surfing rudder. You can remove a rudder in 20 seconds. You can also paddle without a rudder. My Huki V1-B has massive rocker, and can actually turn not so horribly when the rudder is removed. I have done that to go up down twisty rivers with beaver dams and such.

This is a very good beaver dam boat. You just paddle up on the dam, stand up on the wood, and slide the va'a forward underneath your legs.

I have had it up to 8 mph on a lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but that was a 59 year old guy at 7600 foot altitude. A young, fit person could get over 10 mph easily on a sprint. The 11.8" water line beam and great speed makes a va'a a great boat for going upstream in current. The rudder allows you to ferry and change angles of attack easily without any paddle control needed.

I portaged it in the Boundary Waters and Adirondacks without even disassembling the iakos. I just put the main hull on my padded shoulder and walked with the the ama dangling by my knees.

My va'a was made with thicker carbon cloth and an extra layer of S glass on the bottom, so it's several pounds heavier than a racing model. The batik cloth inlays and the Beckson hatches also add a couple of pounds. So so my Tahoe Batiki weighs probably about 30-32 pounds assembled. Racing models can be 10 pounds lighter.

According to the Yellowstone park ranger who shot these pictures, I was the first outrigger paddler ever on the Lewis River in Yellowstone. I also hold the outrigger altitude record of 10,050 feet at Saddlebag Lake, California.

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That looks like a really neat boat, Glenn. I'd love to try one sometime. I've paddled single bladed in fast kayaks (WSBS Thunderbolt and Epic V8) quite a bit but you loose a lot of leverage with the low seats so I've always wondered how much different it felt in an OC1. It sure is nice having that rudder down there and being able to paddle on either side indefinitely with no correction strokes. Not to mention the fun of paddling a hull that always has more speed to give as long as you can provide a bit more power. It looks like you're enjoying it!

Alan
 
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I'd love to paddle it too.. Surf skis have too steep a learning curve for me! Would be great fun at Popham Beach Maine which is a surfing area.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Originally posted by Glenn MacGrady View Post

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Glenn, I’ve never paddled one. Looks like it would be fun to try. But maybe not for wending my way through a thick cypress swamp.



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Haha. So says the man as I post a picture of the va'a about to launch into, and successfully conquer, the greatest cypress/tupelo swamp in North America--the Sparkleberry Swamp in South Carolina.

If you mean that a double hull va'a can't get through as narrow a space as a canoe, that's self-evident. And a fat canoe can't through as narrow a place as a skinny canoe. Different paddlecraft have different design strengths and limitations.

The va'a is designed to race in the open ocean and to surf down the face of 15 foot swells. That's not my milieu. I bought a va'a to explore it's use as a tripping and versatile day play craft on inland lakes, rivers and swamps--and I had the hatches custom designed and installed to carry tripping gear. I believe I have succeeded, at least to my own satisfaction and as much as anyone I know, in demonstrating that inland versatility.

The va'a is the best single blade craft I know for paddling up-current on rivers and Florida spring runs. I would also argue that it is superior to a marathon racing canoe on inland waters for single blade aerobic exercising and flat out speed. You can a get a far more vertical stroke on a 13"-14" BOA hull than you can with any CanAm open hull. Plus, the rudder allows you to hold angle effortlessly in any current, wind or wave situation.

Self-rescue is a snap in the lightweight, stable and self-draining hull. You just flip the boat over, get between the ama and main hull, put one hand on the iako and and the other on the main hull, and lift yourself onto the seat as you would from a pool onto a pool deck. No shakeouts, heel hooks, T-rescues, 32 varieties of Eskimo rolls, or any other impossible contortion for old and out of shape homo sapiens. Anyone who can lift their behind onto the side of a swimming pool can get back on a va'a.

Back to paddling swamps with woody occlusions (a McCrea-ism): It is rewarding measure of precise boat positioning and paddle control to glide a va'a over a stump with the main hull on one side of the stump and the ama on the other. It is also quite jarring if you misjudge the height of the stump.

My OP was originally posted on the defunct Solotripping.com site many years ago, and I thought my pictorial essay had been lost forever. But I just found yesterday that Greg Spencer copied the entire thing in 2012 onto the British Song of the Paddle site. So I edited it a bit and re-posted it there. Thanks to Greg for unwittingly archiving one of my otherwise lost work products.

Two more pix. I'll try to find the Canadian and Boundary Waters ones.

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Haha. So says the man as I post a picture of the va'a about to launch into, and successfully conquer, the greatest cypress/tupelo swamp in North America--the Sparkleberry Swamp in South Carolina.
Glenn, Sparkleberry is on my burgeoning bucket list. The one time we tried, based out of Cooper Santee SP, everything was iced over and frozen, including the edges of Lake Marion.

A visit with the only known va’a conquerer of Sparkleberry would be special, provided I could trust such a speedster guide not to leave me lost and bewildered deep in the swamp.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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A visit with the only known va’a conquerer of Sparkleberry would be special, provided I could trust such a speedster guide not to leave me lost and bewildered deep in the swamp.

I am also one of the few people who have the only hand-drawn map of Sparkleberry by an amateur cartographer many years ago. I also have satellite photos of Sparkleberry loaded into my GPS along with (fairly useless) Garmin topo maps.

While one could slalom oneself into a megasoma coma for weeks in Sparkleberry, I actually would not recommend a highly turnable boat if it's slow. Any boat is turnable enough to have some slalom fun, even a va'a. My recommendations are:

1. A boat you will be comfortable in for many hours without the ability to get out of it. This is because there is almost no land to land on in the swamp at high water, unless you know where the few high spots (and secret stilted fishing shacks) are.

2. A fast hull. So you can see as much of the swamp's mysteries as possible in one day.
 
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