Interesting People

Since I began writing articles on canoeing late last Spring I have had the pleasure of talking with many interesting people about a variety of topics related to the sport. The one item that seemed to come up the most was "keels" and their effect on the performance of the hull. This probably should have been addressed when I discussed hull designs last summer. I purposely left it out of the discussion to see what kind of response I would get.

A keel is a small strip of wood, aluminum, or fiberglass extending down approximately 7/8" and running in the center along the length of the canoe bottom. There are many theories as to why they are used. One is that they add strength to the hull structure. Another is that a keel protects the bottom from abrasion when beaching it. This would be the reason some older canvas designs have several shorter keels on either side of the center one. I had one gentleman tell me about an old canoe he and a friend had that was so unstable they couldn't keep it upright until they added a keel. Others believe a keel prevents a canoe from slipping sideways in a strong wind. The main reason a manufacturer installs a keel is to help the canoe go in a straight line.

I personally feel that a keel on a canoe serves no purpose. Of the above mentioned reasons the only one with some credence would be for protection from abrasion and with todays materials this should not be a concern. As for keeping the canoe going in a straight line, nice try. The design of the hull and the skill of the paddler determine how straight the canoe will travel. A keel will not help a poorly designed canoe to track in a straight line. Have you ever seen a keel on a birch bark canoe??? If you have any comments on this lets hear from you. It will give us something to discuss over the winter.

Many of the people I talked with this season just wanted to reminisce about their past canoeing experiences. Two in particular come to mind. Eva, a very nice lady from Boston who lost her husband last winter has some very fond memories of their times shared canoeing. She has a beautiful camp tucked away many miles out on a dirt road in Wentworth, NH. She and her husband would spend their summers there and explore many of the area lakes, streams and rivers in their canoe. A 1942 "Kennebec" built in Waterville, ME, which she still owns.

Another interesting lady I met named Norma also used to spend a great deal of time canoeing with her husband. They paddled a 16' Chestnut, a very classic old canoe. It was given to them as a gift by a guide on one of their trips to the Canadian wilderness. The canoe has seen better days having been re-canvassed and patched several times but Norma insists its still very functional. In fact she still paddles it every summer on the Connecticut river. She told me very seriously that she can no longer paddle all day long like she used to. Instead she and her friends paddle to a nice spot, play bridge for the afternoon and then paddle home. Happy Paddling!!

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