Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Penobscot Paddle Test Run

Got a chance to take the c1900 Penobscot replica out for a test run on the cottage lake....

Original Paddles; Replica; Grip Closeup

Very likely that the original paddle was carved for ceremonial purposes or the tourist souvenir trade. The unique grip pattern with its slender curved and sharpened tip really isn't that practical for serious paddling and not intended to be held in the usual way. 

Grip in "action"

It was reasonably comfortable held with the middle & ring fingers resting in the carved grooves at the top, but any other positions and the nubby tip would dig into the palm (as expected)...

Much more comfortable to hold it on its side near the bottom of the grip...

Despite the ornamental appearance of the grip, I really enjoyed this paddle. The Sassafras is so flexible and light and the blade design has just enough surface area to be an acceptable solo blade for my needs. This paddle has a twin blank that was cut from the same thick Sassafras stock so I'll be carving another one, albeit with a more comfortable grip design.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Indigenous Paddling Techniques

Got a few emails about the BigEast River video I posted on YouTube asking about my paddling method. The few reverse camera shots  showed how I leisurely paddle when in "cruising mode". Don't claim to be an expert on this method and it's just really what works for me...sort of a combination of different things.

I've been very curious about paddling techniques that indigenous peoples would've used to propel their craft. Obviously for them, paddling wasn't for leisure or style but for practical functionality. Bark canoes had no seats so kneeling low in the boat resting on the heels was the known position. This of course puts you much lower in the canoe than resting on a seat and automatically changes the paddling dynamics. Here's a great photo of the "Indian's Position" found in  Robert E. Pinkerton's The Canoe: Its Selection, Care and Use (published 1914). 

Being closer to the waterline forces you to reach lower on the grip for comfort, otherwise your top hand stretches up too high and can quickly cause fatigue. Documentation of this is very scarce but here are some photos I've been able to find which show a little of the grip method. Usually, the paddlers are very low in the canoe, either kneeling or completely seated on the bottom of the hull. This places them much lower than modern canoes equipped with seats. The paddle tends to be held out a but laterally and the grip hand resting more naturally in line with the lower.

This previous post shows some Ojibwe women in their bark canoe. The bow paddler is resting her grip hand along the base in this relaxed position....

Three Women and Infant in Cradleboard in Canoe
Zimmerman, Charles A. of St. Paul, Minnesota
SPC BAE 4605 01601913, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

The October 1990 cover of Wooden Boat Magazine features famous cedar-canvas canoe builder, Jerry Stelmock paddling this style as well...

Additional historical photos documenting this paddling method can be found in PART 2 of this topic.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fort Severn Cree Paddles

Doug Ingram is a master wood working artisan who operates Red River Canoe out of Lorette, Manitoba. His wonderful blog, Wood Be Creative showcases some of the amazing work he does (much more than just canoes). He is part of the Fort Severn Canoe Restoration project and recently returned with some great photos of the local paddles. His blog posts from August 16 & Aug 19th showcase these traditional designs adapted for use with motorized freighter canoes... 

Doug also posted pics of a unique looking paddle with a distinctively nubby tip, which he  decorated with traditional Cree markings...  

Here's the description from Doug's post giving more details.
A traditional paddle, since the arrival of motorized freighter canoes, is the pole paddle. Stan Thomas called it a "Hunter's Paddle". These are about 88" long, and the shaft and blade are each about 44" long. The shaped tip is for purchase in the shallow gravel river beds. When it wears done it is just re-shaped a little shorter. The blade is flat on one face and shaped on the other.

Many thanks to Doug  for his efforts in documenting this unique paddle design and to Mike O for posting about this earlier last week.

( Photos courtesy of Doug Ingram, Red River Canoe )

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

World's Oldest Birchbark Canoe now at the CCM

Fellow blogger Mike O noted some great news a few days ago for birchbark canoe fans here in Canada. The World's Oldest Birchbark Canoe found in England is now back here at its new home at the Canadian Canoe Museum (CCM). After being on display for a year in Europe, the canoe will be part of the CCM's permanent collection. The new arrival is going to be unveiled on August 29th (4pm) in "a welcoming-back-to-Canada event".   

The canoe has gotten some publicity recently. Here's the link to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press. For a much more detailed report, check out the article in Wooden Boat Magazine (Sept/Oct 2011) written by legendary bark canoe builder, Henri Vaillancourt. His article includes some wonderful photos and description of some of the unique build features of this particular canoe

2016 update: The Canoe Museum has posted some wonderfully detailed photos and diagrams regarding the construction method of this historic craft. See that post on their site HERE.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Met Museum Canoe Model

New York's Metropolitan Museum of the Arts has a Maliseet bark canoe model with decorated paddles in their collection dated to pre-1845. The paddles look to have a basic decoration with half the blade coloured in pigment creating a yin/yang sort of effect.

Canoe Model with Accoutrements
Ralph T. Coe Collection, Gift of Ralph T. Coe Foundation for the Arts, 2011
Accession Number: 2011.154.6a–p

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oliver Kemp Paddle Illustration

Here's an illustration by artist Oliver Kemp. It's from a piece of fiction called "Tragedy on the Upper Snake River" that appeared in Scribner's Magazine (Volume 70, Sept 1921) online courtesy of Nice clear view of the paddle blade and roll top grip... 

Monday, August 13, 2012

More Cree Paddles from Fort Severn...courtesy of Mike O & Doug I

Working on some technical issues with the blog. The original clickable sliding gallery that appeared on the top right disappeared and stopped functioning entirely. It's been replaced with a non-clickable slideshow. Links to all the completed paddles are now found on the separate Paddle Image Archives page

In the meantime, paddling friend Mike O of the ever-insightful Reflections on the Outdoors Naturally blog has put up some pics of Cree paddles from Fort Severn. They include some standard looking blades painted in utilitarian green but also a decorated blade with an interesting tip. For anyone interested is seeing the pics, the direct link to Mike's post is HERE.

Also, for those who might of missed it last time, Mike's canoe restoration work with Fort Severn First Nation (along with Doug Ingram, Pam Wedd, & John Hupfield) was documented in Canada's national news network. Here's that post from earlier this year

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Temagami Style Carrying Bar

One item on my endless to do list of projects was to carve a new centre yoke for the 15footer cedar canvas canoe since the the current, no-frills centre thwart is quite uncomfortable for portaging. Some old-school authors and builders believe that a single centre thwart bolted onto the gunnels is a potential weak point in the construction arguing that the role of the thwart is to simply spread out the hull to the desired width and not meant to bear the weight of the canoe when portaging. 

Close inspection of the attachment points of the thwart in my canoe show some stress related splits that have occurred. You can just make out a split in the inwale around the 2 attachment points. 

Installing a new yoke will also likely also mean having to do a time consuming inwale restoration or splice might be in order but I want to start using this no-name, amateur built canoe for some upriver tripping ASAP. 

Writings about native methods of portaging birchbark canoes mention a "carrying bar" - basically a piece of wood that fits over the mortised centre yoke and stretches over the gunnels thereby providing support when the canoe is flipped over. In the Temagami region of central Ontario where camps still use heavy cedar canvas canoes, the carrying bar is still used to prevent potential weakening of the gunnel structure.

Here's a photo of one such carrying bar rigged up with cord and a tumpline from the wonderfully illustrated Canoeing Wilderness Waters by Heb Evans

Normally, the bar is made with a scrap piece of spruce or pine and notched to fit over the gunnels. It is securely lashed to the center thwart with cord is a series of Marline Hitches so that paddle blades can be slipped under and used as a temporary yoke. A tumpline is also secured around the whole apparatus

Found an online article in Boys Life (July 1951) that shows describes this classic method of portaging. Hopefully this embedded article will appear in your browsers below.

Instead of using pine or spruce, I had some very lightweight 8/4 Sassafras pieces left over from some paddles. A nice chunk with one straight edge was almost a perfect width for this project. The ends were cut to fit nice and snuggly over the thwart.

Scrap piece of Sassafras

Ends notched to fit over gunnels

Came up with this idea to combine the carrying bar with the Stewart River portage pads picked up last season. Basically some additional notches were cut to accomodate the pads and once they were secured with their bolts and wing-nuts, the whole apparatus was secure. The tumpline was lashed in using the methods described by Heb Evan in his book. This way I can still lashed the paddles in reverse style with the grips on the thwart and the blades resting on the seat while comfortably (relatively) supporting the canoe on the shoulders.

Aug 10 Update: Received a most informative email from Brian Back, Keewaydin Camp Historian, with some corrective details about traditional carrying bars used by the Temagami camp. Here's his info...
"The traditional carrying bar was not lashed with marline hitches, though it appears so in the photos. Nor are there any overhand knots on it. The lashing actually doubles back to form a double lash. The single lash wears out quickly where it meets the edge of the paddle. For some reason Heb’s photo is not of the double-back lashing. The carrying bar in that photo has been hand routed (also can’t be seen) in the traditional way to prevent the lashing from slipping from the left and right anchor points."

Apparently there is plenty of info about tumplines and other traditional wilderness canoeing methods in Back's book entitled, The Keewaydin Way  for anyone else who may be interested.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Paddle Break around Pen Lake

 Been away for a while with the family up north. Unfortunately some issues prevented me from getting out in the canoe for more than a few hours so I took the opportunity to explore the cottage lake. At the extreme other end of the lake (about 6km away) is a large vertical cliff face named "Wolf Mountain". This end of the lake has been left fully undeveloped by the owners and features a a steep trail climb to a granite overhang where you can dangle your legs over. The view is quite stunning and it's a popular spot for locals to visit and sometimes camp overnight. 

Approaching the "mountain"

Pull up onto a sloping rock

The view of the calm lake waters

Pair of loons lounging about during the return trip

Full moon rising on return - "Wolf Mountain" is the peak in the distance

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