The Right Tools For The Job

Written by Skeathy

When I decided to circumnavigate Britain in an open canoe, I knew I had to make sure I had the right tools for the job. The first thing to do was to choose the right canoe. I already had a 17ft Old Town Penobscot which by that time I’d used on a number of trips including the circumnavigation of Anglesey, but for an expedition of this magnitude I wanted something with a bit more room for gear and that wasn’t going to take on quite as much water in rough conditions.

In June 2015, I met Ray Goodwin and I told him about my plan. We got talking about different boats and Ray let Katrina and I have a play in his We-No-Nah Rogue. This is a 16 foot Royalex boat that feels huge due to its massive volume. The depth at the bow is immense and it took on no water at all as we took it down Grade 2 rapids. A boat of this width and depth would be perfect; If only it were a foot or so longer.

After taking down the measurements of the Rogue, we began the hunt for the perfect boat. We must have looked at the websites for just about every boat manufacturer out there, and then at the specs for every boat they made.

We finally stopped looking when we found Swift Canoe’s Temagami. At 17’6” long with a Gunwale Width of 37” and a Bow Height of 22.5” it was the biggest boat we’d seen.

We spoke with our friend Greg Spencer who is the UK importer for Swift Canoes, and he contacted Swift in Canada on our behalf to place our order and discuss some slight customisation. The main thing was to ensure that the boat would be strong enough and stiff enough to handle this expedition, so instead of building it out of the standard 7oz Kevlar, they used 11oz Kevlar and a little bit more where the boat would come under extra strain when sailing. Six months later, Greg drove to Austria to pick up our boat from Wolfgang at Carinthian Canoe Base.

When we got it home and unwrapped it, we couldn’t be happier. We named her “Ruby.”

The next job was to get Ruby rigged out for sailing. And who better to do this than the two Daves at Solway Dory. We drove her over to their workshop in Cumbria where they did a fantastic job of getting her ready to be sailed. They added sailing thwarts in front of and behind the bow seat and another behind the stern seat to give us the option of sailing with a single main sail or as a ketch, and they swapped the centre carrying yolk for a leeboard thwart. They also attached a couple of side buoyancy air bags and a seating board along each side to make it more comfortable to sit on the Gunwales when hiking out under sail. ­Add to that a rudder, leeboard and a couple of sails and we’re good to go – well almost!

The expedition around Britain is not all going to be plain sailing (excuse the pun), there will be plenty of paddling going on. When there is no wind – we’ll be paddling. When there is too much wind to sail a canoe safely – we’ll be paddling. When there is just enough wind to sail but we want to go faster – we’ll be paddling. Of course the most important tool here is a strong bow paddler. Well, I already have that in the form of Davis, so the next thing was to decide on what paddles to use. Katrina and I both love our Dipper and Big Dipper paddles from Downcreek Paddles, but both Ray and Greg had suggested that we might want to consider using bent shaft paddles on this expedition, at least some of the time.

We started looking around for some good bent shaft paddles, but didn’t find anything that really took our fancy, so we sent a message to Jude, of Downcreek Paddles, asking if he had any plans to make any. As it turned out, Jude had a half-finished bent shaft prototype and we had just given him an excuse to get it finished! Once the prototype had been approved by Ray, we put in our order for two bespoke bent shaft paddles (Curlews) and another Big Dipper for Davis. What arrived through the post was pure craftsmanship!!

The final stages of boat prep were then underway. Firstly, we had to make her as comfortable as possible (we are going to be spending a long time in her!) so a bit of foam here and there covered with Duct tape should hopefully do the job (we’ll soon see). Then, we needed to decide on the best / easiest way of bailing – of course we’ll have buckets for when the big waves come, but I have also fitted a bilge pump (of the sea kayaking variety) to get the smaller amounts of water out while we’re on the go. Katrina has also made a small fabric cover to go over the front of the boat because there’s no air bag there to deflect the water as it comes over the bow. And lastly, but by no means the least, somewhere to store our drinks!

OK, so she doesn’t look quite as pretty as she did when she first arrived from Canada, but she’s got a job to do and we’re ready to go!

  1. David Stubbs

    Interesting write up Colin. You might like to consider if you have room for front and rear buoyancy bags as well.
    If water runs into the bow it will depress the bow and reduce the freeboard, making it much more likely to take on the next wave. The small end tanks fitted to the Temagami wont provide enough buoyancy.

    1. Hi Dave, thanks for the comment.
      Since writing the blog, I’ve had second thoughts about the air bags at the front and rear of the boat. The main reason for taking the front air bag out was for comfort. Obviously with spending many hours in the boat every day it would be nice for the bow paddler (probably Davis) to be able to stretch his legs out. However, we’ve decided that buoyancy is more important and the air bag will be going back in. As for the rear one, I was planning on storing our water carrier behind the stern seat in order to keep as much weight to the back of the boat as possible. Again, we’ve decided to put the air bag back in and will find somewhere else for the water, even if it has to sit on top of the air bag. We will also have three barrels containing our gear which will provide buoyancy – the more the better 🙂
      Good to hear from you, and hope to catch up with you soon after the trip.

  2. Pete Clark

    Hi gentlemen, good luck with your trip. A few years back me and Rob Egelstaff planned a canoe trip from Shetland to Norway. Our launch dates had strong winds and we didn’t end up going but we had made all the preparations and spent the time exploring Shetland.
    We had a modified Old Town Tripper XL which is 20 feet long. Agree with the comments above re end air bags, we had them plus the side tanks the rationale being enough stable bouyancy when swamped to get back in and then bale. Also agree with the bow spray deck / deflector. We had some plastic pipe sewn in to ours to give it some arch and help deflect water overboard rather than it then running into the boat. We also had an outrigger to give some stability when sailing. Looks like a great canoe you have there, and difficult to see too much from pics. However, those thwarts look close to the seats and may benefit from some padding. For our trip, we would have been committed to a few nights out and had made considerations for sleeping which included a sea anchor. I used to paddle canoe and kayak a lot when I lived in the UK and there may be stretches where you will end up doing nights out at sea rather than risk a landing. Hope this helps, and again, best of luck, have a great trip and savour every moment. All the best.

  3. I think it is absolutely brilliant the achievement you guys have gained.
    I made my own, woodstrip Abenaki, 16ft canoe. I have for years wanted to do something in the order of that which you have done. I envy your achievements, not for the nottority but for the adventure itself. Absolutely brilliant.
    I’m sure there were times you may have questioned you decision to take on this adventure, doubts and worries. But now, looking back, what an amazing thing to have done, experienced.
    My sincere congratulations to you both and to all those who made it possible.
    Danny Turner.