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Canoes And Canoeing

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Cruise the world around, and there is not a place or port you can visit without encountering some form or type of canoe. Go back in history beyond the memory or records of man, and you will still find canoes. The early naval engagements, whether by State against State, or by individuals or clans or syndicates against any body or any State they could come across, were fought in canoes, or in craft of canoe type; indeed, we can hasten down to modern, up-to-date war, and find that one of the most destructive craft afloat at the present day is distinctly of canoe form--the torpedo boat.

There are those who will define a canoe as a craft that is propelled by paddles wielded by man or men; but there are many types of canoes, belonging to countries thousands of miles apart, in which the paddle, except for steering, is an unknown implement. In these craft, sail is the furnisher of motive power by agency of the wind, or vice versa. Then, for civilised modern times, why not steam or electric propulsion ?

If the craft is in type, form, and utility a canoe, and is propelled by a man wielding a paddle, she does not change her nature when the man ceases to paddle and hoists a sail, or when he, by suitable machinery, waggles a differently formed paddle, such as a screw propeller. I think there may legitimately be paddling-canoes, sailing-canoes, and motor-canoes ; and, further, that the mode of propulsion should not deter-mine the classification of a craft ; but that model and capability to do work commonly assigned to canoes and canoeing is the true guide. No matter where you make your choice of investigation on the millions of miles of sea shore of this world, you will find the " canoe " of that place is formed " sharp at each end "; she is a light draught craft, capable of being navigated in very shoal, and also in very rough water; of as easy propulsion astern as in going ahead ; except in a few rare cases she is always transportable by manual power from water to water overland; she is long, narrow, and of light construction.

As to the canoes of savage peoples, any well fitted museum will furnish quite a bewildering assortment of models thereof, if historical research be the aim. We want, however, to get to canoeing as a sport at the present day; and in order somewhat to classify the type of craft which can legitimately claim to be a canoe, we may as well suggest "what is not a canoe."

You may have a canoe, and they exist in many parts of the world, of one hundred feet or more in length ; you may have a canoe which carries fifty men ; or you may have a canoe which will sail under five hundred square feet of sail, or down to fifty feet on small craft. But each of such craft can be paddled by her crew at or over her sides, by hand-worked paddles, without fixed boat-fulcrum ; or she can be sailed under easily removable sails and spars ; and she will be able to navigate into waters barely ankle deep, and she will be sharp at each end.

Therefore it is obvious that a small yacht, even though her hull be long and shallow and pointed at each end, if she be of deep fixed draught, with heavy spars and gear not immediately removable, and herself so weighted as tobe too heavy for manual transportation, cannot rightly claim to be a canoe.

Coming now to modern times, we may take it as settled that the sport of canoeing, that is, river canoeing under paddle, and travelling abroad chiefly under paddle, but with a small sail for use in fair winds, was brought in and popularised by John MacGregor in his Rob Roy cruises and books thereon between 1866 and 1869. And canoe sailing in small canoes was similarly introduced by the writer's voyages in the Nautilus in Sweden and the Baltic during 187o and 1871. Here it may be said that possibly there were other canoes more or less rigged; but with the exception of Mr. Tredwen's Pearl, which came into public notice immediately afterwards, there were none in evidence.

Clubs were constituted and held regattas, and the effect of the racing competition, which was extremely keen, soon showed itself in the improvement of model, rig, and fitment, which progressed by leaps and bounds and brought the sailing canoe up to such perfection that, though comparatively a tiny craft, there were several sailing clubs which then barred canoes from competing in their races, because they were too successful.

Canoeing, both paddling, sailing, and cruising, quickly became an acknowledged branch of sport, and it rapidly spread to the Continent and to America; and one soon heard of Englishmen, stationed away in far distant parts of the world, building and using canoes. Canoe Travelling, a book published by the writer of this article in 1871, was the first book on canoe design, rigging, and fitting, and it gave drawings thereon ; and thereby the sailing canoe of those early days was known as of Nautilus type. The Pearl above mentioned, which came out shortly afterwards, was of somewhat different lines, or shape, but only so in detail, and of the Nautilus and Pearl new specimens of improved model and rig were steadily produced year by year, and led the fashion in building. They continued so to do, and to race, up to 189o, and since that year up to this date, 1897, Nautilus designs have been from time to time published. Of course there are many men who have produced designs and built canoes which, in their opinion, are of original design ; but distinct type they can hardly fairly claim, and it matters not here, nor indeed at all, to seek in them family likeness to Pearl or Nautilus. I will merely, in regard to the history of the sport, say that when these two sailing canoes were produced there were no existing sailing canoes of any practically valuable nature to copy, and the only book dealing with such craft at that time was Canoe Travelling; but since then canoeing, in technical articles and books, has been constantly before the public here and in America. The well-known technical book, Yacht and Boat Sailing (Horace Cox), has, in each of its eight editions, contained a complete up-to-date "Canoeing Section," with designs, and drawings, and articles from the pens of " Nautilus," " Pearl," " Cassey," and many other canoe men. (The 6th and 7th editions give the fullest amount of designs and details, the advent of small yachts' designs having rather crowded the canoeing in the eighth edition.)

At all times in the life of the sport of canoeing there has been a marked line between sailing and paddling ; there have always been in each of the clubs, both in England and in America and Canada, paddling men who never sailed a canoe, and men who owned canoes built entirely for pleasure paddling, or for racing only. In like manner, there has always been a division of men in each club who never used a paddle in their canoes except when a dead calm overtook them out sailing. But naturally also there have been a few instances of canoeists who have raced successfully both in the sailing classes and in paddling; and on the two 5o challenge cups of the Royal Canoe Club, the sailing and the paddling, may be found three or four double championship holders in the twenty years' existence of the cups.

The racing paddling canoe is very like the hull of the sculling wager-boat, but without the rowing fittings and seat ; the racer is built of two streaks only, one on each side, of cedar less than one-eighth of an inch thick. As to size, they of course vary according to the size and weight of the men they are built to carry, but probably an average size would be 20 ft. long by 22 in. wide at top-side. They are decked fore and aft, retaining a bulkheaded " well " or open section of about 4 ft. in length, guarded by a narrow side deck and shallow coaming. In this "well" the man sits on the floor, and has at his back a suitable back-board to press back upon, and an adjustable foot-board or stretcher forward. The paddles used in England are very short, 7 ft. 6 in. to 8 ft. long, with broad spoon blades ; the stroke is made close along the side of the canoe, with the body kept sitting erect. In America, the racing paddlers sit on comparatively high seats, some kneel, some even stand up ; they use very long paddles and usually have the blades set up at right angles to one another, so that the one passing through the air is doing so edgewise while the other is square in the water. Moreover, the American canoes used in paddling races are much larger, i.e. wider and deeper, though shorter than the English "single-streak"; indeed, the single-streak could not be "sat" if a raised seat were used, and it is only by careful practice that one can sit her for effective work-that is, in the extreme, models.

The open Canadian model, in which single blades, or half-paddles, are used, is decidedly the favourite river canoe of the present day. Though a considerable number of Rob Roytype, or quasi-Rob Roys, may be seen on any of our large rivers, they are dropping out. For real travelling, the Canadian type, with its open body, lends itself so easily to ample stowage of camp gear, to quick stowage or discharge, and to easy transportation, that it is only the inexperienced who will, for river or small lake travelling, take the small " decked" canoe of Rob Roy type or the later modifications thereof.

Where, however, the tour is to extend to crossing large lakes or to cover some open estuary work, the decked canoe is almost a necessity; but then it is advisable, for such work, to go to the sailing canoe type for safety and comfort. I have had experience on large lakes, in a small decked canoe of semi-Rob Roy type, of being wind-bound on an island with food supply growing short and seas running too heavy to allow even a hope of crossing to main land ; luckily, the wind gave in before the man had to. A fine summer evening is apt to tempt one to make camp on an island, so as to he free from inquisitive visitors, both of man and of animal nature ; but morning may break with a summer gale blowing, and then is the time to appreciate the value of every detail of the complete sailing cruising-canoe. In the first place, her reserve of stores will, or may be, ample, but even if the rough water has to be faced, she will do it, if properly handled, in anything less than a real hurricane.

With regard to travelling in canoes on inland waters, it is well to point out that such work is of two distinct kinds, and that to accomplish each in perfection needs a totally distinct canoe type for each. For the quick-running, shallow, rocky river, with vicious rapids and dangerous falls, with forest portages and the necessity of camping out each night, there can be no question that the open or partly decked Canadian type is the best. The Rob Roy type is well enough on easy rivers, canals, ditches, and such like; but in a really bad rapid, and for rough portaging, she is a poor craft. The camp kit, clothes and stores that can be stowed in canoes of the Rob Roy type are about fit for a doll, certainly not reasonable for a man, unless an hotel is more or less a certainty every night ; even then, in addition to the time wasted in minute packing and unpacking there is the frequent experience of getting all the cargo soaking wet, and stores spoiled after a wet passage through a rapid, or by the leakage common after a few days of bumping on rocky shallows.

In the Canadian type all the perishable stores, clothes, bed-clothes, charts, &c., can be stowed in waterproof "kit-bags," i.e. long, cylindrical bags with an internally flounced mouth, which can be fastened so as to be quite watertight. The tent, preferably furled on or around its poles, so as to be ready for immediate setting up, can be stowed lengthwise in an open canoe, whereas it must be disjointed and packed away with the weak hares he took his share in the deaths. The courses, and especially his, seemed to be very short, so he was very fresh for his fifth course. Herschel, on the contrary, was lamed in his very first course ; and on the second day, for his fourth course, he ran a hare single-handed from the Withins to Gore House Wood, and in coming back he got on two fresh hares, and ran them till he lay down exhausted. As a natural consequence, the next day he started very stiff from the slips, and Fullerton led him by three lengths, and put in three or four wrenches. Herschel then exchanged, and put Fullerton in possession, and then by a magnificent effort forced himself past, fairly took the hare away from him, wrenched two or three times strongly, seeming to leave Fullerton, and unfortunately killed.

The excitement of seeing the old dog, stiff and lame, fairly take the hare from the young and fresh puppy was intense, and many thought it was the finest performance of a brilliant career.

The other course was one which roused the feelings of the onlookers to a still greater extent. It was the deciding course for the Cup in 1869, fought out between Master M'Grath and Bab at the Bowster. The course was run on the farthest of the Hill House meadows, which is bounded by the road leading to the Withins. The crowd was standing on the embankment, the hare coming straight to them. A little knot of spectators was placed broadside on, near the road. The hare was driven from the other side of the main road, a beat which usually affords good hares. The slip was a perfect one, worthy of Tom Raper, that prince of slippers. Master M'Grath began as usual to draw out, but in a long straight run, parallel with the ditch, Bab at the Bowster gradually collared him, and as they neared the bridge a cry from that little band on the road arose, "The bitch leads " and leading she was by half a length when the hare took the bridge. This was fatal to her; she had to go round, while Master M'Grath, with his wonderful quickness, was across the ditch on the inside like a flash. The hare doubled right back, and then there followed a long series of the quickest of exchanges, a treat indeed to see, when Master M'Grath, nearly at the place they had started from, drew out and made one of his dashing kills. Every one felt convinced that they had then seen the finest pair contest the final for the Cup in the finest style which it was ever likely for them to behold. The winners in these two courses undeniably stand out as the most successful in the contests for the Cup, and yet they both have turned out worthless at the stud, while the losers have distinctly conferred on the whole race of greyhounds those qualities which we all desire to see and strive after ; the qualities whose praises have been sung in the foregoing pages with, it is to be feared, wearisomeiteration, but certainly with heartfelt appreciation. No doubt not only pace but special quickness with the hare are called for at Altcar more than anywhere else. Master M'Grath and, we may add, Fullerton were dogs of this character, a shade above the dog-racing of the enclosures. But any one who has had the pleasure of seeing the coursing at Altcar at club meetings of late years will feel that stoutness and true running are absolutely necessary for success, and as the hare leads them a far from merry dance, the owners of the cracks must sigh in vain for the deadly jaws of the Canaradzo tribe.

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