For a while I thought the day would never come. It seems as though the weather was personally conspiring against me! In January there were days and days of colder than normal temperatures that slowed the epoxy curing rate down to a crawl – forcing me to wait weeks before I could sand. Then in February the weather attacked in other ways – major tornadoes and heavy rains wreaked havoc across the state – meaning I was out working long hours in the affected counties doing my real job instead of my play job in the shop. And then after a short break – the weather attacked again with brutal vengeance in March when mighty floods completely inundated my beloved White and Buffalo Rivers – burying the very places where my brother and I fished and camped under 40 feet of raging muddy water!
But I persevered – through the tornadoes and floods and all the other trials and tribulations we all face in our daily lives to finally arrive at the day when I find out if my new creation is a boat or firewood. Or I should say, boats! I intended to build one quickie, try it, make mods, and then build two nice versions for a long awaited float trip on the Buffalo River. But I soon realized the slow start on #1 meant there would be no time for prototypes, trials, ERRORS. I had to build both at the same time and if my assumptions were wrong – there would be two boats for the burn pile and a severe adjustment to what I thought I knew! I call them Muga (bear) and Tonka (buffalo) in honor of Native Americans.
My pulse raced with excitement as I squeezed the two 14’ boats into the back of my pickup and waited on sunrise to make the 30-minute drive to Lake Barnett. Robert Ginder, a boat loving friend, volunteered to meet me there. I don’t have a lot of experience in kayak and canoe type boats – so there was a real concern there might be a need for cold water rescue!
Robert arrived at the launch while I was still untying and easily picked up the 70-pound boats and set them on the water’s edge. They looked large in the truck, but very small sitting on the shore.
We quickly unloaded life jackets, canoe paddles, kayak paddles, fishing poles and tackle boxes (just in case) and before I was ready, it was time to fish or cut bait!
The flat bottom lets you step right in off the beach - no jiggling and wobbling like a canoe. I timidly stepped in and eased to the back with more that a little fear that I might soon be sloshing around in cold waters (again!). I turned around and kneeled down – grasping the gunnels as Robert pushed me to my fate.
Once the boat was free floating I rocked back a forth a little and knew in an instant the boat had loads of initial stability - I didn't have to get used to any tippy feeling I always feel the first minutes in a canoe. It felt like a good old Jon boat! In fact I was in the boat less than a minute when I stood up!
With shouts of encouragement from me Robert was quickly in the other boat and as soon as it cleared the shore he remarked it felt nothing at all like a canoe (he canoes a lot). He is 6’7” and 300 something pounds – I held my breath when he stood – and then relaxed when he grinned at me.
We headed out, experimenting with single and double paddles. The boat is so light it is easy to over power it with a hard stroke. I quickly learned you can make excellent speed with a low effort input with the double paddle. More like dipping the paddle from a horizontal position than a vertical power stroke. In fact, using my more "gentle" technique I was able to outrun and out distance Robert's young guy power stroke (much to his dismay!). You really get a lot of forward movement with a little input. Old guys and gals and folks with worn out shoulders like mine will love paddling these boats - young guys will not like them as much until they learn to relax and back off their power strokes. We put in about four miles – I needed to know if my shoulders could handle the strain – yes they can! My goal was a canoe with training wheels for old guys – Muga and Tonka are dead on target!
When we got back to the launch we took everything we didn’t want wet out of Tonka and BOTH of us got in. At first I thought we were dragging an anchor - I went about 50 yards but it was not at all easy like before - then I looked back and saw Robert was enjoying the ride! Together Robert and I weigh right at 550 pounds. You could see the bottom bowing in a little – clearly the boat was overloaded but nobody got wet.
Test results: Very high initial stability - you will no longer be in the boat by the time it does tip over. Less effort to paddle than any canoe either Robert or I have been in. Moves pretty fast with little input. Turns on a dime - easy to spin around within its own length. High seats - good position for guys with some miles on them! Because the sides come in so far it is easy to brace against them freeing arms for paddling and fishing. The only thing I wish was different would be a foot longer double paddle - that is because you only have to dip it - not power it (have two 96” paddles on order). Rating - this new canoe design is a keeper. It is fast and nimble on the water for those that can paddle with easy short strokes but not a boat for power strokers. I can’t wait to get them on the Buffalo for a 35 mile down river trek!