OMG! (Is that too tween a thing to say when you get to experience something so exceptional and exciting, it feels like you’re falling in love?)
Okay, some background. Thirty years ago, I bought a red Old Town canoe. It’s still in my yard. A 17-foot Tripper, from Maine, made of Royalex. Unbreakable. Unbeatable for rivers with lots of rocks. You could ram that thing into the biggest whitewater river boulder and it would bounce right off with nary a scratch. It was the only brand-new boat I ever had.
Twenty years ago, I decided to learn how to row. Really row, like the serious rowers. So, I bought something called a RoWing from a guy named Gary Piantedosi in Massachusetts. An Olympic champion, he invented the RoWing to allow people like me to transform their canoes into lean, mean rowing machines. It’s a genius invention, really. You pop the rig into whatever boat you have and start rowing. That is, after you buy nice oars, which I promptly did. Here’s a picture of the rig in another boat:
So now I had this genius invention and my great canoe. I pushed the boat into the Willamette River and commenced my rowing career. The trouble is, there’s an essential caveat in rowing: You must go straight. If you don’t go straight, you zigzag. If you zigzag, it takes you twice as long to get where you’re going and makes you dizzy. Why was I not going straight? Well, my wonderful canoe was great in fast rivers, with lots of rocker to twist and turn, but wasn’t made to be a good “tracker”. A good tracker has a nice keel line and its main mission in life is to go straight. I worked like a dog trying to get my canoe to behave, but no amount of determination, gear adding, or even swearing, would make that boat track. Exhausted, I hung the rig up in the garage and mounted the lovely maple oars above it.
I stared at that rig for twenty years, always sure I would buy or build a good tracking boat for it, like this:
Last summer, I picked up a second-hand wooden canoe (the one in the picture above) and jerry-rigged the RoWing with something just short of duct tape to get it to work. The boat tracked straight alright, but the beautiful narrow canoe couldn’t stabilize with the weight of the rowing rig in it. My determination was wearing thin. The rig went back in storage and I went back to paddling my kayak.
But, living on the river, I was being tortured daily by the sight of sleek rowing shells gliding smoothly past my deck, the rowers smiling zen-like as they moved quickly across the water in their eco-machines. All you hear is the rhythmic ka-chunk as their sliding seats push back after their carbon-fiber oars catch the water. Then, swoosh! The long, narrow boat jumps forward and glides for — how many yards? Ten? Fifteen? So effortless and beautiful.
The last rower gliding past before winter set in must have been the tipping point. I set about researching rowing boats with a vengeance. If I could have the perfect pulling boat, what would it be? It would be stable — no skinny sculling shell for me! It would be roomy — for camera gear, for a picnic basket, for my family as company. It would be quiet — for sneaking up on herons and getting a good photo before they can fly away. It would be light — enough so I could pull it up onto the houseboat deck without help. It would be, of course, a GREAT tracker — so I could row easily up and down the river, no zigging, no zagging. And lastly, it would be beautiful. I’m a big believer in the adage, “Life’s too short to have an ugly boat.”
Truth be told, I was finally and unduly swayed by a video of Willem Lange, the prolific, folksy outdoor writer and host of the New Hampshire PBS show “Windows to the Wild.” His story reminded me just a bit of my own journey and, in the end, his advice — to do something you dream of before it’s too late, because “You’ll be a long time gone” — hit me right in the heart, surely the story’s intended target. You can watch his shamelessly romantic video here: http://www.adirondack-guide-boat.com/category/our videos.
And thus, my friends, was born my Adirondack Guideboat “Vermont Dory”. I followed Willem Lange’s advice and decided not to mess around anymore with duct tape and making-do. For the first time in my lifetime of boats, I had a new one made just for me. Having sold a small travel trailer and squirreled the money away, I called Adirondack Guideboats in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont (http://www.adirondack-guide-boat.com) and spoke with Justin Martin who, with brother Ian, now owns the guideboat business they worked for under founders Steve Kaulback and David Rosen. Justin was enormously helpful, answering all my questions and helping me choose which guideboat would fit my needs. Over the next several months, as they built my Dory, Justin kept in touch with progress reports. He even sent me pictures of the boat and building crew as it neared the finish line:
The day the Dory was due to arrive from Vermont, I thought I would burst with anticipation. It arrived on a huge truck safe and sound, whereupon we quickly removed its seventy pounds of Kevlar and cherry trim from the crate and appropriately adored it in the driveway.
Fast forward to today. For its maiden voyage, we carefully slipped the Dory in the water at the boat ramp, pushed off into the river, grabbed those gorgeous cherry oars and… pulled. And… waited. And… there it was. The Dory floated over the water like a duck, glided effortlessly for yards (miles!), and tracked like a dream. It’s both stable and fast, a combination hard to achieve in a pulling boat. And, because the Dory is built of light-but-strong Kevlar, I can lift it up the two feet from water to deck with ease.
One of the most unexpected delights in this boat is the cane seat backs. I thought at first they would be simply aesthetic but, after rowing up the river, I leaned back into that seat and a big “Ahhhhhhh” emerged from my throat. There are lots of pulling boats, but none with a seat like that.
And let’s not forget the oars. They’re so light and perfectly balanced, you barely notice the weight each time you lift and dip, lift and dip. And, oh yes, beautiful. Made of oiled cherry, they will darken with sunlight over time.
Now the Dory, hoisted up onto the deck, sits and waits for another morning, a clear day, a slack tide. Then we’ll slide it into the river, sit down on the lovely cane seats, lean forward, dip the oars, pull, and glide, smiling zen-like as the Dory silently floats across the glass-like surface of the water.
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