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Boat Review: Liquidlogic’s Skip&Pop

Photo: Rapid Staff
Boat Review: Liquidlogic's Skip&Pop

It’s funny how time changes perspective. When we reviewed the Session Plus, Liquidlogic’s shiny hulls and Lego colours were new and different, simple and seemingly at the time, unfinished. We felt like we were paddling a prototype. A year later with familiarity comes acceptance and with the amount of yellow and blue on the river it seems paddlers are embracing the Liquidlogic Skip and Pop with open arms.

The Hull Story

They started with the same spin surface used in the slicier Session and Session Plus but the basic premise behind the hull design of the Skip and the Pop was to get air. Once they had a boat they figured would hop, they added back in cartwheelability and comfort.

Designer Shane Benedict separates air into three different types. Hole air is used for moves like loops or space Godzillas. These moves happen by trapping volume underwater quickly, forcing the boat to explode back to the sur- face and catch air. Wavewheel air is more just keeping the boat on the surface paddling downstream over waves and drops and then being able to easily throw it around. Finally, wave air is for moves like ollies (hops) or blunts—air you can achieve from the surface of a wave. Emphasis was put on making the boat perform best on faster waves. Liquidlogic feels this was achieved by paying close attention to the rocker geometry of the boat. Shane explains: “Rocker allows the boat to rock from the bow to the flat surface easily. If you wanted a good analogy you could say that having a slightly curving rocker through the ends of the boat is like having small skate ramps attached to the front and back of your boat. If the skate ramp is just straight from flat ground to 45 degrees it is very rough and hard to control, but if the ramp has a smooth curving transition from flat to 45 degrees it is much easier to control and carry speed into the move or jump.”


It’s as if Liquidlogic focused on the performance of the hull and left the outfitting for paddlers to tweak and play with. There is plenty of room in the Skip and Pop for your butt and feet but not quite enough room for our testers’ knees. The back band is ratcheted into the thighbraces and the front pillar pulls out to insert the one-piece foam foot block. There is little shape to the thigh braces, potentially creating pressure points and bruising. The seat and thigh braces do move forward and back but require separate tools to make the adjustment. The Skip and Pop come with a bare bones outfitting rig by today’s multi-adjust standards; designer Shane Benedict’s con- firms, “We added the normal outfit kit and foam foot blocks because we found that most people still did their own custom outfitting. We weren’t going to rush into an outfitting system that everyone is just going to tear out and re- build with normal foam anyway.”

Down the River

Designers can do many things with plastic but length of waterline equals speed. Short boats like the Skip and Pop, with their extreme rocker, are slow. But what does it mean to the average river runner? You have to paddle like mad everywhere you go. Beginner and inter- mediate paddlers were frustrated with the lack of river running performance. River paddlers said the Skip and Pop paddled like a Kleenex box. We’d never heard that one before but apparently a Kleenex box doesn’t hold a line, slides sideways, and its square side-walls catch every little current. The high sidewalls made it difficult to roll and paddlers kept smashing their elbows on them. Luckily for these paddlers Kleenex boxes are full of tis- sues… There are tough choices to be made when designing and buying boats. Liquidlogic didn’t design the Skip and Pop to be river running boats, they were made to play.

Park and Play

With most spud boats you trade sliceability for wave bounce. Not so with the Skip and Pop; they are one of the most vertically slicey and stable short boat designs. The volume drops away from the cockpit like in traditional hole boats allowing the ends to slice cleanly underneath. Flatwater initiation and stalls are a breeze and put these boats in a small pour- over and you’re in for piles of fun. However, it took some of our intermediate testers a few tries to get used to being further down in the trough when initiating the bow. And because the ends are so short and slicey, you have to be lightening fast to stay ahead of it. As the holes got bigger true cartwheels became more just tumbling forward toward the trough. Difficult to score but balls of fun.

If surfing and spinning is more your cup of tea, there are definitely fewer waves in the world if you are paddling the Skip or Pop. Slower, green waves are just not accessible in these boats. Get them on something a little steeper or with a bit of a foam pile and they wake up into carving machines.

The Skip and Pop want to be surfed off the front edge just behind the rocker break, so get forward in an aggressive paddling position. One tester said it surfs like a watermelon seed–a quick lift of your knee and you are sharply squirting (like a seed not a squirt boat) across the wave setting up for spectacular blunts. They are so short and the rocker so extreme you effortlessly roll up on the bow or stern and come around so quickly it is difficult to judge if you’re vertical. You quickly learn to use the edges and put less effort into every move.

Our reviewers were not seasoned pilots on the aerial frontier. We can’t tell you if they bounce better than other spud boats, and we’re not entirely sure if the pros have figured it out yet either. We can tell you that in a couple weeks in the Skip and Pop we figured out loops, bouncing, aerial blunts and are playing around with the rest. These boats are super light and learning the moves is as easy as bobbing your hips for some bounce and then just huck’n your body in the direction you want to go–we’re still working on the timing.

Last Word

To say the Skip and Pop are boats for advanced paddlers isn’t really true; what is true is that they are boats designed for paddlers wanting to play. And they are one of the few designs that excel in a hole, on a wave and in the air.

Our moaning about Liquidlogic’s outfitting hasn’t seemed to bother owners of either a Skip or Pop. They’ve simply padded their knees and built themselves a solid fit out of foam.

With so few paddlers taking advantage of the aerial capabilities of these new boats we can’t help but wonder if Liquidlogic will let the Skip and Pop ride for another year while skills catch up to the boats.

Specs (Skip / Pop)

Length: 6’4” / 6’6”
Width: 23.5” / 24.25”
Volume: 39gal / 50gal
Weight: 29lbs / 32 lbs
Rocker: 7” / 8”
Paddler weight range (lbs): 100-160 / 160-120
Standard features: adjustable seat & thigh braces, full outfitting kit, stainless security bars, stiff hull system, cinch tight system
MSRP: $1,500 CAD

Screen_Shot_2015-07-15_at_9.35.42_AM.pngThis article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Pakesso by Boreal Design

Photo: Boreal Design
Boat Review: The Pakesso by Boreal Design

In a time when more and more women are entering the world of kayak touring it is nice to see companies like boreal Design stepping up and producing smaller and still fully capable touring boats. At 14’6” long and 22.5” wide the Pakesso is a smaller and lighter kayak that women and small paddlers can actually control and carry, increasing both confidence and their overall kayaking experience. And with front and rear storage compartments having the volume exceeding that of many full-sized touring boats the Pakesso is not limited to weekend trips.

Boreal has put plenty of thought into the finishing touches of the Pakesso. The hatch covers fit flush with the deck and are sealed tightly with rubber gaskets and the new boreal Hatch closure system. Simply loop the rope to the tab and the buckle cams and snaps shut over the hatch cover, the excess webbing fastens with Velcro to keep it out of the way and acts as a backup. The buckle cams are easy on cold fingers and complete free the hatch opening from criss-cross webbing and straps for easy access. We also liked the moulded depression in front of the cockpit rim allowing you to get your skirt on more easily and offering a place to rest your paddle when taking a break.

The flat back deck and upswept style of the Pakesso is most often available with a skeg. The fact of the matter is, an internal drop down skeg takes up valuable space in the stern hatch. Instead of incorporating the alternative standard style top mounted rudder, Boreal created a new low profile rudder also found on their plastic Ookpik. The rudder is mounted at the rear of the boat just above the water line. The in-water surface area of the new rudder I comparable to other touring boats but because it is mounted so low and without a large pulley mechanism there is less surface area exposed to wind. Its easily deployed and the pedals operate with a silky smooth feeling. The pedals are easily adjusted with sliders on straps of webbing that are accessible at the knee so you can adjust on the fly and not have to extricate yourself from the boat to move the foot pegs.

The Pakesso has a semi-hard chine and a long waterline for such a small boat. This combination creates a boat that zips along with nimble primary stability and reasonable tracking when paddling flat and straight. We’ve come to realize that no matter a paddler’s skill level, confidence is directly related to how much they feel they are one with the boat. The Pakesso is a nice narrow fit for smaller paddlers making it easy for them to tilt it on edge where it can be held with confidence. Tilted on edge the Pakesso is a turning machine, and carves an outside tilt turn radius of just over its length. Add the Pakesso’s comfortable seat and thigh braces parked in the right spot for shorter legs and you have a fun and functional touring boat for smaller paddlers; paddlers who are used to having to work much harder to get full-sized boats to perform.


Length: 14 ft 6 in
Width: 22.5 in
Weight: 45 lbs without rudder
Cockpit: 16×30 in
Front hatch: 10.5×10.5 in, 71 litres
Rear hatch: 15×10.7 in, 110 litres
Total volume: 391 litres
SRP: $2200 CAD w/o rudder, $2475 CAD w/rudder

This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Pamlico by Wilderness Systems

Photo: Wilderness Systems
Boat Review: The Pamlico by Wilderness Systems

The more we play around in recreational kayaks the more we realize why they have such appeal and are leading the industry in sales. The Pamlico from Wilderness Systems is a classic example of a boat that is easy to paddle and offers the versatility necessary to fit the needs of many different paddlers. We put a number of people in the boat and answered no questions. They just sat down and paddled away. When they realized the wind was picking up they engaged the rudder – it’s no wonder we humans invented the wheel.

The Pamlico is not a new boat in Wilderness Systems recreational kayak lineup but this year the addition of their Phase-3 outfitting greatly increases its appeal. If you haven’t had a chance to see this seat, its worth a trip to your local dealer to check it out. With drawstrings, toggles and ladder lock buckles Wilderness Systems has created a seat that is truly multi-adjustable. The seatback tilt forward and back and can be raised and lowered. You can also raise the front of the seat under your thighs to support your legs. There is really nothing like it on the market, and we were pleased, and a little surprised, that it found its way into the Pamlico.

Like previous version the Pamlico converts from a tandem to a solo kayak. The conversion process takes less than a minute after a few tries (we timed it). With the stern seat in the rear most position the bow seat slides back on the centre tube into the centre of the cockpit. Remove the rudder pedals from the rear position and slide them into the empty rails now ahead of the bow seat and connect them to the rudder with the included extension straps. This is really a nice feature, just imagine the possibilities.

Rigged as a tandem the Pamlico leaves very little legroom for taller paddlers in the stern and the two paddlers need to be in tune with one another because they are seated rather closely. With two average sized adult paddlers we were still within the recommended capacity but felt heavy and low in the water in the Pamlico. As a solo boat with gear for the day it rides just fine. So, for more solo and some tandem paddling go with the Pamlico, and if you are more often paddling with two people consider the Pamlico Exel offering the same features in a boat that is longer, wider, has a larger cockpit and twenty-five percent more carrying capacity.

With two paddlers on board there is still room in the stern and bow for some gear storage and the bungee straps on the deck are great for odds and ends. In the Pamlico you won’t get left behind on paddling club weekend day trips. It measures in at 14’6” and is surprisingly fast, tracks decently, and like most recreational kayaks is very stable making paddling accessible to everyone.


Length: 14 ft 6 in
Width: 29.25 in
Weight: 70 lbs
Cockpit: 6’10” x 19.75”
SRP: Polyethylene w/rudder $1425 CAD

This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist

Photo: Chris Chapman's Quetico
Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist

Few people have had the influence that Bill Mason has had in shaping the Canadian identity. His films, produced at the National Film Board of Canada, have been mainstays in Canadian schools for the last forty years. Educators used his films— Paddle to the Sea, Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes, Wolf Pack, Death of a Legend, Path of the Paddle, Face of the Earth, and many others—to introduce two generations of students to Canada’s wilderness and the concept of environmental stewardship. Bill’s vision of the wilderness as benign, beautiful and precious effectively offered an alternative to the predominant cultural perception of wilderness as something to be feared, to be conquered and to be exploited.


Few know the whole story behind the famous filmmaker and environmentalist. In his youth, as Bill became more and more attuned to environmental responsibility, he used his art to encourage environmental responsibility in his audience. He took every opportunity in his commercial art and his photography to show Canadian wilderness to Canadians. He would have preferred to do beautiful high art oil paintings to celebrate God’s creation, but he knew that such a medium had a very small audience compared to photography and, especially film.

Bill started his professional career in the early 1950s as a commercial artist—designing newspaper ads to sell tires and billboard campaigns to sell bread. Bill always knew he was going to be an artist even when he was in grade one. As a student, Bill impressed his teachers with his ability to draw. Bill thrived in courses where he could draw his answers, like in science. He knew he could communicate by cre- ating images and set out to become a commercial artist. After graduating from the University of Manitoba and starting his commercial art career, Bill was also able to go on extended canoe trips. He’d slip away for six months at a time. He often canoed solo over the well- intentioned objections of just about everybody. It was these extended solo trips that gave Bill plenty of time to contemplate man’s place in nature.

His sense of environmental responsibility and cultural awareness of the history of the nation evolved over the years. For example, in his early years he idolized les coureur de bois, and in his own mind romanticized their exploits. Later, after he read more history and realized the exploits of the fur traders were more like exploitation, he saw the age of the fur trade and les coureur de bois through more realistic eyes.

One incident during this time crystallized Bill’s understanding of man’s responsibility to the land, and set the underpinnings for his environmental ethics for the rest of his life. He heard a sermon one Sunday in Church. The minister’s point was simple. The word dominion as it is used in the King James version of the Bible, Genesis I Verse 26,“…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…over the fowl, …over the cattle, …over all the earth…”, was misinterpreted and misunderstood, and that the original Hebrew word, radah, was closer in meaning to responsibility for when translated in context.This simple revelation was an epiphany for Bill. All his musings about the environment and man’s role in consuming and preserving it became crystal clear. The point made in the sermon was equally valid as a point of religion, as a point of economics, and also as a point of common sense: we should take care of the land, not abuse it.

The willingness of a modern civilized Christian culture to interpret radah and dominion over as a license to exploit natural resources for profit became painfully clear to Bill. Forever after that, Bill never took cultural assumptions for granted. He challenged conventional wisdom.

Bill knew that the way he could best serve the cause of environmental responsibility was through his art. But, as a commercial artist he could make a living only if he advocated products and activities which he thought were detrimental to the environment and to human health. As a commercial artist, he had to take contracts whereever they came from, or he would starve. He did work for tire companies, trucking companies, and logging companies. His very career was a contradiction of all the environmental ideals he stood for.

So Bill became subversive. If his clients only knew! When you go back and look at his commercial art from those days you can see he is probably the only commercial artist who could sell a product, and at the same time teach a lesson in Canadian history and environmental ethics. Many of his ads sold the product by associating it with facts from Canadian history, or with the value of pristine wilderness. His clients had provided Bill with a platform from which he could advocate his vision. Like the best teachers, the main point of his lesson was in the unspoken analysis and reflection. If you look at all his films, this multi-layered agenda of entertaining and teaching is used in every one. And often, the most important part of the lesson is the part remaining unexpressed yet perfectly clear.

At the same time, Bill’s clients loved the work he did for them. He became a respected and sought after artistic director for advertising firms. His advertising sold product as well as environmental ethics.

Before Bill went on his extended canoe trips, he would quit his job. To be more accurate, every year he asked for six months off without pay—which was always refused. Then he quit his job. When he came back at freeze-up, they always hired him back. During these trips, Bill shot photographs of his beloved wilderness. He used a simple Rolleif lex camera and he shot 2 1/4” x 2 1/4” slides. He became well known in his native Winnipeg because of his slide shows. He was invited all over the city to show them. It was his way, as an artist, to advocate environmental responsibility on the premise that, if you show people how beautiful the wilderness is, they will inevitably become responsible environmentalists.


The slide show, The Timeless Wilderness, was what connected Bill to his first film job. In 1956 Chris Chapman (A Place to Stand, Ontario pavilion, Expo 67, Academy Award winner for Best Short Film 1968) had a contract to make a film about Quetico Provincial Park. He needed an assistant who knew how to live in the wilderness and who could also play the part of the canoeist. He heard about Bill from someone who had seen The Timeless Wilderness. He hired Bill, and one great Canadian documentary filmmaker launched the career of another.

Bill’s rise to success as a filmmaker was meteoric. One success followed another.The very first film he made for the National Film Board of Canada, Paddle to the Sea, won eleven national and international awards and was nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Film) in 1968. One of life’s little ironies: he lost to his mentor, Chris Chapman, A Place to Stand. By the mid-seventies, he had become one of Canada’s most successful documentary filmmakers.

Love of the land, so well expressed in his films, became a part of the Canadian psyche. Better his vision than that of Disney or Nintendo.


Bill’s influence was not confined to Canada. Several of his films have been translated into several languages. Queen Elizabeth showed Paddle to the Sea at one of Princess Anne’s birthday parties and wrote Bill to express her pleasure at how well the film was received by the children.

Every Canadian who is a canoeist or an environmentalist is familiar with his name. Bill’s favourite red Prospector canoe shares a display area in the Canadian Bill’s films were so well made, and were so appealing, they were used again and again from kindergarten to university for many courses.

Bill retired from film making in 1986 to pursue his first love—painting. With his very high profile success as a filmmaker, it was easy for people to forget his first love was painting. He had been experimenting with a new technique—oil applied to paper with a palette knife—and he was ready to strike out on a new career as a full time professional painter. He divided his time between writing and painting for a few short years. But Bill’s career as a painter was cut short by his untimely death in 1988 at the age of fifty-nine.

Many words have been published about Bill’s life and art, but an artist’s story is not complete until it is told through his art.The legend of Bill Mason is best illustrated and understood through seeing all his work. His commercial art, his photography, his films, his books and his paintings have become cultural touchstones for all Canadians. His art explained to Canadians why they should be environmentalists. His canoe films invited a whole generation to get in touch with its national roots by travelling and living in the wilderness. Seldom has any single Canadian artist had the hearts and minds of so many admirers; and seldom has any single Canadian been so influential in creating a sense of responsibility for our environment.

Ken Buck started teaching English in Ottawa in 1968. He resigned from teaching in 1974 to work full time with Bill Mason as his cinematographer and general assistant. This is an excerpt from his book in progress Bill Mason: Wilderness Artist.

This article on Bill Mason was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Listening for Creative Silence

Photo: Don Standfield
Listening for Creative Silence

Creative Silence [refers to] the impact of solitude on the mind, the wakening of ideas and thoughts normally hidden…[and] the emergence of concepts often lost owing to interruptions and responsibilities. During such times one drinks from the deep wells of the past. – Sigurd Olson 

Solo canoeing is as much about exploring ourselevs as it is about paddling technique and hull designs. The amount of skill and concentration required to handle a solo canoe is significant and, by providing a focus for the mind and emotions, it can leave us with a sense of solace and inner peace. Though often associated with remote wilderness sojourns, this sense of solitude, and what Sigurd Olson aptly called creative silence, can be found almost anywhere in a solo canoe.

Using language to describe the solitude of solo canoeing is a bit like trying to portray ice cream through dance;only those who have experienced it before will understand. The same difficulty arises when trying to show people what solitude is by taking them there, as so much of it comes from within.


Much like the notion of wilderness, solitude is something projected onto the natural world that originates on the internal landscape of the mind. For example, it was through this process that the early European explorers and settlers labeled much of Canada as wilderness, when, to the First Nations living there at the time, it was clearly their home. Solo paddling allows us to locate solitude within ourselves, as it enables us to plot a route back to it time and again, each time with greater ease and precision. As a result, the path to creative silence, with practice, can become so familiar that one is capable of finding the way there even when surrounded by a group of other paddlers.

In the Zen tradition, there is a meditative ritual known as Sessin, where a group of people congregate together, but meditate individually. This is also true of the solo paddler’s search for solitude. It is rooted in the belief that one can find a quiet meditative state while continuing to embrace the company of others. By finding that famil- iar route toward the internal landscape of the mind, the canoe can act as a vehicle for going inside toward the realm of creative silence, regardless of external distractions and circumstances.

This inward journey seems to foster a sense of focus, and can free the mind from extraneous thoughts so as to contemplate one’s surrounding and to concentrate on the task at hand. This is important when manoeuvring a solo canoe, as it demands a synergy between paddler and canoe that is unmatched anywhere else. In its most refined form, the solo experience is a dance between paddler and the natural world mediated only by the canoe, to a point where the three become one, and the distinction between subject and object is erased. Pauline Johnson, who grew up in the late 1800s near Ontario’s Grand River captures the sentiment in her poem, The Song My Paddle Sings

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while my paddle, canoe and I
Drift, drift
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
Dip, dip
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And up on the hills against the sky
A fir tree rocking its lullaby
Swings, swings
It’s emerald wings
Swelling the song that my paddle sings. 

On both lake and river, the manifestation of such poetry can be seen in the movements of experienced solo canoeists. From the grace and precision of each paddle stroke to the fluid efficiency of their body language, they make the relationship with the canoe seem somehow enchanted, or even spiritual.


Through these graceful movements, practiced skills, unwavering focus, and quiet introspection, the rejuvenating energy of solitude can seem to wash over us, but only if we let it. Creative silence, too, can only be heard by carefully listening. It can all be quite illusive, as often our thoughts and senses are dammed with distractions, daily rituals and responsibilities. To listen effectively requires the attention of both body and being, constantly delving deeper into a contemplative state, all the while honing our paddling skills through consistent practice.

Regardless of the level of our solo paddling skills, the important thing is to practice regularly, and always listen for that creative silence. The creative silence is the call that connects us to our natural and cultural heritage. In so doing, we not only become more closely linked with the world around us—thereby becoming its stewards—but we also gain a new depth of appreciation and under- standing of ourselves, and of other people.

When he’s not out paddling with friends, Bryan Poirier coordinates education programs at the Canadian Canoe Museum and teaches solo canoeing as an ORCA canoeing instructor.

This article on solo canoeing was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

A Canoe Season

Photo: Toni Harting
A Canoe Season

Not having raced that hull for years, I wondered about the choice. The Jensen is a tad slower than the new Killing design I usually paddled. But it was also virtually identical to the hull used by the competitor next to me on the line, the year’s rookie in our master’s class. He was a lot younger, probably stronger … but maybe not faster. I wanted to race him on even terms.

I like Jensens. It is satisfying to paddle a classic modern hull, designed by the man who invented the category. Years ago, I moved the thwart back on mine to mount a seat amidships. I riv- eted in some aluminum angle for foot braces and, voila, my first solo canoe.

There were twelve hulls at the start. I aligned my bow with the first turning marker about one kilometre out. Good paddlers on either side, we kept our distance, feathering and bracing to hold our positions in the seconds counting down to the start.


I paddle in two of the most beautiful places in the world … in the waters beneath the mountains up Indian Arm just east of Vancouver, British Columbia and, once summer comes, in the islands on the east shore of Georgian Bay, Ontario.

I also paddle in the afterglow of huge technical advances in canoeing. Long, skinny, low profile canoes with straight keel lines to track like arrows and made of tough, light materials …. with adjustable seats and foot braces mounted amidships for soloing as well as in the stern and bow… vastly more efficient bent shaft paddles …. and the sit and switch technique, much more speed with much less effort.


Early each season, it feels like I have lead in my arms and sedative in my veins. I fight the paddle. I have to fool with my seat and foot brace to get the hull properly trimmed again. I have to move my torso around until it settles into the angle that will be comfortable for the rest of the season. 

My stroke was laboured, … come on stroke, where are you? Just because I have spent a winter skiing doesn’t mean I have abandoned you forever. Repeat. Persevere through clumsiness until muscle memory kicks in and suddenly it is back.

As the season builds, I move constantly between the nature around me and an interior dialogue, watching my own technique, observing what works, what is getting better and what is not. Every hour or so, I pause and drink some water, eat something, look up at the mountains to the snow which stays well into the season. Later, when I am east, I float deep in the lees of the Georgian Bay archi- pelago, watching the charcoal, white necklaced loons who live in this bay as they raise the next generation just like I am doing with my children.

Eugene Jensen spends his life trying to build the perfect canoe. I spend a lot of mine trying to find the perfect stroke.

The perfect stroke—that elusive moment when you are in the perfect trim in the perfect canoe, when your hours of meditative paddling now allow you to divide a 1.2 second stroke into a hun- dred intervals and know exactly what you have to do in each one to be able to deliver maximum power in the instant when physics and geometry can deliver maximum efficiency—and you are suddenly in that moment, turning on the afterburner in a final shot of accelerating effort. You have made the canoe go as fast as it can. And then the canoe takes over, holding onto the speed you have given it in a long glide, a victory of inertia over friction thanks to the great designer who thought out your hull—and it waits for you to do it again. 

The search is the reward. I have paddled the same routes all my life and they continue to give me something fresh each time out. A still, early summer rain shining the rocks and bringing out their colour as the lichen swells and softens, later, the first cardinal flow- ers telling me the summer is ending, crimson strokes painted along the ends of tough, thin green stalks late in the season. The search reintroduces me to my rhythms and gives the partnership of two good paddlers, the quiet pieces of shore on which you rest, the perfect union of form and function in those quick and beautiful hulls.


If I had lost the race, the winner would have paddled well. I didn’t lose. I was ahead from the start and increased my lead the whole race. Two kilometres later, I finished fifty yards in front. The new guy is second. Two hours later, my brother and I won the doubles race in the same hull. He is all strength, I am all technique. We had the canoe humming early and we left good wake the whole race.

The new guy beat me in the sprints a week later. I was quicker off the line but he gained speed and I couldn’t hold mine. He beat me by almost a length. He and his partner did it again in the pairs. His sprint technique was better. Next year mine will be too … and I look forward to it.

Ted Cape is a 51 year old paddler for whom the sport was reborn when he discovered the modern canoes designed by pioneers such as Eugene Jensen and their successors. Over the years, he has accumulated 6 of these canoes. For him paddling has become athletic as well as aesthetic and for this he thanks the designers whose creativity, thoughtfulness and willingness to depart from tradition have produced these beautiful hulls. 

This article on canoeing was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Travelling the Bloodvein River

Photo: Rick Matthews
Travelling the Bloodvein River

When our four canoes carved into a Bloodvien eddy we were met by a wall of mirrors. Ten days into a three-week river trip, the eddy shore was alive with young women in well-beaten canoes. All sixteen of them stared at us, silently for a moment, as if we were creatures from Mars. And we stared back at their ancient gear, their wooden wanigan box nearly a metre high, battered wooden paddles that had pushed off a thousand rocks and clothes that seemed to have tripped several summers since their last ride in a washing machine. Then one of them softly said,“Oh, oh, oh, look at their canoes!” To them, spacecraft had landed. That was the moment that we saw ourselves mirrored so clearly in their eyes.

Our boats and our gear were as new as theirs were old. Our yellow and red canoes were packed tightly with food barrels and vinyl dry bags, hard cased camera boxes and bright lining ropes. We were strapped into whitewater outfitting, carried composite paddles and we all wore helmets. Our women were hard edged and tough and had lines even when they weren’t smiling.


The idea was to paddle up and out of one watershed and down into another, as I recall. The Bloodvien River seemed perfect, rising in the open mossy parkland of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and whitewater pool and dropping its way to Lake Winnipeg. Enticing six whitewater playboaters into this adventure was child’s play. No one even blinked at the mother of all car shuttles.The 725 kilometres, required chartering a Beaver on floats to bring the drivers back to the group, and demanded about three weeks of pulling a canoe past a paddle. 

Upstream is a dirty word to most river paddlers. Tracking, wading, pulling and bug swatting up airless narrow creeks has a very narrow following and you never meet strangers. So our happy crew left Red Lake, crawled its way up Chinkuni Creek and in three days, crossed the height of land into the Arctic watershed. Not being in the least superstitious, we paused here for a tobacco ceremony for a moment and begged for the good graces of the spirit guardians of the land, the rocks and the rivers. No one scoffed as the tobacco fell to the water, it was so quiet you could hear your heart beat.

Usually downstream is better, but for us, the next few days felt just the same—wading, pulling, swatting, sweating and never a sign of another human being. The country felt untouched, except by fire. Large areas had been burned in various recent times, but the land regenerated with a ferocious intensity.The new forest grew back like a solid stockade of green along the bank.

Gradually, hour by hour, the river grew under us, often opening into lakes, then closing in again. Just before the Manitoba border, the river opened into Artery Lake, the site of perhaps the most famous pictographs in Ontario. Painted on an outward sloping rock face, a red ocher bison with a throbbing heart ran at eye level, fish swam, men and animals lived, and canoes with a dozen paddlers froze time and lowered our voices to whispers. It was cool in the shadows, like entering a church on a summer’s day. The drawings commanded our reverence.


Woodland Caribou Park is joined by Manitoba’s Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Area at the border, and it is here that the river begins its serious whitewater, narrowing again and again to little more than the width of a canoe and always running in an ancient granite channel dressed and stained with lichen. For these are the oldest rocks in the world; they were here long before the river and have watched time go by for 2.6 billion Januarys. Following the faults and fissures of the Canadian Shield, the river makes countless right angle turns, widening and constricting, always changing and full of surprises.

We ran throw bag safety for each other, carefully scouting each set as individual teams. This was a low water July trip, with careful technical paddling and bow paddlers who were always wet from being the first over the sharp drops, and into the pools below.

The Bloodvien, with its more than eighty sets of rapids, imposed the need for constant judgement. Our days were filled with the concerns of canoe performance and water reading, the endless search for the perfect line and whether to run, line or portage.The knowledge, opinion and wisdom of companions built a team and formed a bond.

It seemed to be a river of eagles, for we were rarely out of sight of a bald eagle at any time, and they were there for the fish. After setting camp, we would paddle the designated fisherman out to the boiling eddy line. There he would make a cast, hook a fish generally a bit too big for eight, and then be paddled back to shore, the fishing complete for the evening. Simmered, not boiled, for three minutes in a vegetable stew, the fish was always served with a glass of Merlot from a bottomless box, making a day on this wild and generous river complete.

It is unusual to meet other paddlers on remote rivers; all of us move in the same linear experience at close to the same speed. But the sixteen bright-eyed girls were travelling against the current, a day ahead of their instructors, so they said. This was their forth and last year together as a group of camp kids, now near grown to adults, almost on their own and fired with their sense of freedom and independence. After they had completely devoured our gear with their eyes and filled the canyon with laughter, they paddled away with their sixteen year old map reader sitting high on her wanigan, her blond pony-tail waving as she talked. Would they, we wondered, carry away with them into their grown-up lives our pressing need to travel rivers, to take the path less traveled, to live outside where the water moves and dances? Did they look far, far ahead, and see themselves in us? 

Brian Shields is currently pursuing a career in retirement. When not resurrecting battered boats, he can be found playing on any whitewater river that will have him. 

This article on the Bloodvien River was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Algonquin Park: Where it All Began

Photo: Don Standfield
Algonquin Park: Where it All Began

Algonquin Park. Just teh name conjures up images and emotions that resonate deep within the soul of many thousands, maybe millions, of Canadians. The impact may be most apparent in our response to the howl of a timber wolf on a moonlit night. But not everyone understands the language this landscape speaks, only because they haven’t been there, and it’s not obvious from afar. Algonquin is not a place of spectacular scenery, with towering mountains or cascading waterfalls, forbidding coastlines or endless vistas— “What is it about Algonquin?” asks an outsider. The question very nearly defies response. 

On a bright, crisp autumn day, with my vintage 1928 Peterborough cedar-canvas 15-footer on my shoulders—the old way, with two paddles lashed down to the centre thwart to bear the weight—I wend my way along the forest path, stepping blithely on fallen leaves that have laid out a thick carpet of crimson, gold, orange, scarlet, damson and butter yellow on what was once an Aboriginal portage. The sun’s rays penetrate through the upper canopy and down to the forest floor for the first time in months, and a thick, rich aroma of the deep woods rises to my nostrils. I move slowly, all my senses overactive. For me, the portage here is part of the pleasure; it’s not like trips on some of the far north’s wild rivers, where a carry around an unshootable set of rapids seems a nuisance and a chore, often a heavy toil, little more than a delay before getting back into the current. Walking through these woods is a vital part of understanding Algonquin.


Canoeing Algonquin takes me back to my roots. As a young lad growing up in Toronto in the 1950s and 1960s, we went north in the summer. I think my parents took me to Algonquin for the first time when I was only two.Though I don’t actu- ally remember it, I went for my first ride in a canoe on one of Algonquin’s lakes. My mother knew them well; she had paddled here as a young girl in the 1930s. As did my grandfather—the original owner of my treasured old Peterborough—before her. It’s like that for a lot of my generation in Ontario. So when we began to take canoe trips of our own, it was only natural to go to The Park as we called it, for in our minds there was none equal. Algonquin, for us, was the beginning of an important part of our lives.

In the decades since, I have been to Algonquin countless times, not unlike most Ontario paddlers. It is our collective favourite, though for each of us it offers something different. The Petawawa River has its devotees, including George Drought, who knows it well enough to have written a guidebook. His praise is unequivocal: “For beauty and quality of rapids, the Petawawa outshines everything else in Ontario.” For others, it is the traditional routes that loop north from the Highway 60 corridor: Canoe Lake, Big Trout, the Otterslides, Opeongo, all the oh-so-familiar names. There are 2,500 lakes in all, with 1,600 kilometres of canoe routes and 3,000 prepared campsites.

You don’t have to work hard or travel far in order for Algonquin to bestow its gifts. It was Pierre Trudeau who wrote: “Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” In Algonquin, you don’t even need to go that far.That’s why it remains the smaller, less-travelled lakes that draw me back. That’s where I find peace. That’s where I see an old-growth white pine so large it takes four of us to link hands around its girth. That’s where I feel the bond to wild places that stirs deep within us all.


For those who know it, the park provides that primeval connection. It is a steady, reliable friend—a place that is always there waiting for your next visit, a place that never disappoints. Ralph Bice, in his nineties, the last of the park’s old-time guides and trappers, summed it up nicely: “Anyone who knows Algonquin Park will be disappointed when they get to heaven.”

With thoughts like that in mind I reach the end of the portage through the autumnal forest, swing the canoe gently down from my shoulders to straddle the border between water and land, and stand there in the refreshingly cool air coming off the lake, taking in the view. It is a tiny, picturesque lake—like a painting by Lawren Harris—with only one campsite, on a rocky point, and it looks empty. I’ll be alone, as I’d hoped. An unseen loon’s tremulous call adds his welcome from across the way. I feel at home…in Algonquin…where it all began.

This is an excerpt from a longer story by David Pelly in Paddle Quest, published by Boston Mills Press. Pelly is also the author of Thelon: A River Sanctuary, a biography of a northern wilderness, and most recently Sacred Hunt: A Portrait of the Relationship between Seals and Inuit, published by Douglas & McIntyre/Greystone. 

This article on Algonquin Park was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

The Secrets of Crab Lake

Photo: Scott MacGregor
The Secrets of Crab Lake

Noel’s requests were quite demanding for his son’s first canoe trip. He wanted a quick and easy route only a couple of hours drive from his home near Toronto; maybe a short portage so five-year-old Walker could experience, for a brief moment, what it felt to shoulder all your belongings on your back; and a choice campsite set on a remote lake that happens to be populated by monster-sized bass. Noel has been on a number of trips with me before and I knew he wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that such a perfect trip didn’t exist. But it did. A place called Crab Lake. And it’s a gem I couldn’t wait to share with him and Walker.

Crab Lake is reached by Wolf Lake a left turn off Highway 28, north of Peterborough but just south of Apsley, Ontario. Wolf Lake is a perfect destination on its own. Only a few cottages crowd the lake, mostly along the south shore, and a strip of Crown land along the north shore, as well as a number of small islands to the west, provide some excellent campsite possibilities. 

Crab Lake is much more isolated and is easily reached by way of a short 107 meter portage located at the far end of Wolf Lake’s southwest bay. Getting to Crab Lake seemed like a relatively easy process, but with the last road not being marked we found ourselves lost. Our group missed the turn for Wolf Lake twice and even somehow managed to begin paddling across a totally different lake for half-an-hour before we resorted to asking a local cottager to steer us in the right direction.


Crab Lake has five main bays that head off in all directions and is much larger than it first appears. Each inlet also has one or two prime campsites, complete with an exposed chunk of granite to catch a breeze and escape the bugs and a snug canopy of pine, maple and birch to pitch a tent under. Our group chose an out-of-the way spot directly below where a rough trail heads up to the top of Blueberry Mountain—an exposed hill that’s literally covered in thick blueberry bushes. On any other trip the blueberries could have been the highlight but this trip was all about the fishing. After quickly setting up camp, we headed out in the canoe again in search of the lake’s monster bass.

We cast our lines out the moment we entered the first weedy bay; Noel and I with our fancy plugs and spinners, and Walker with his half-dead worm stuck on a bear hook. It was my idea to give Walker the defunct bait, thinking the lake’s healthy population of sunfish would keep him occupied for at least long enough for Noel and me to catch some decent-sized bass for supper. Of course in no time at all Walker had caught three bass, averaging around four pounds each. Noel and I hadn’t received a single bite. Quickly we switched to the decomposing worms and, in exchange, allowed Walker full rein on our lure boxes. Ten minutes later Walker had caught two more trophy bass—one on my scent-impregnated rubber frog and the other on Noel’s pink-coloured Holla-Popper. Noel and I remained fishless.

I doubt Crab Lake has ever given up so many fish. In fact, Noel and I were quite mystified by Walker’s success and had to blame it on beginners’ luck to settle our egos. Walker, on the other hand, had a different reason for catching so many lunkers. Each time he lowered his line into the water the intrepid angler would whisper the secret code, “Here fishy, fishy, fishy.” Walker insisted that without saying this magical phrase, no fish would ever bite a hook. So, whether we agreed to play along for the fun of it, or that we just became completely desperate to catch fish, both Noel and I tossed out our lines and repeated the expression,“Here fishy, fishy, fishy.”

Thinking back, the trip to Crab Lake wasn’t a complete success according to Noel’s set criteria. The route was actually a two-and-a- half hour drive from his home near Toronto;Walker only carried his personal pack halfway along the portage before handing it over to his father; and Noel and I never did catch a trophy bass. Crab Lake did manage to fulfill his main objective though—Walker can’t wait until next years trip. And according to Noel, a father can’t ask for anything more perfect than that.

Kevin Callan is the author of numerous guidebooks for canoeists, including the bestseller Cottage Country Canoe Routes. The Crab Lake route, along with a number of other great weekend getaways in the Kawarthas, is included in his latest book Gone Canoeing: Weekend Wilderness Adventures in Southern Ontario. Callan’s newest book project Ontario’s Lost Canoe Routes is scheduled to be released this Spring. 

This article on Crab Lake was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Guides and Outfitters: Trip Planning Made Easy

Photo: Don Standfield
Guides and Outfitters: Trip Planning Made Easy

The easiest way to plan a canoe trip is to not plan the trip at all. It’s much easier if you can get someone else to plan it for you. In other words, employ the services of an outfitter or guiding company. You can gain a little convenience by hiring someone to help with some trip-planning aspects; or, you can pay to have a company run the entire trip and gain a lot of convenience. Believe it or not, there are times when even the most die-hard independent canoeist with all the gear can use the services of a guide or outfitter. Most paddlers would probably agree a trip taken is better than one postponed until next year.


There are numerous factors that can hinder your efforts to run your own canoe trip—if you let them.

If you’re new to canoe tripping, an outfitter is always a great way to go. It’s like on-the-job learning; you experience the joys of a trip and avoid problems novice trippers often encounter. At the same time, you can pick your guides’ brains about gear, paddling tech- niques and canoe camping.

We’ve all experienced incredibly busy summers when you meant to sit down and plan a trip, but somehow the time just disappears. 

Outfitters offer pre-scheduled trips that you can jump right into. The options are endless, as the packages range from interpretive afternoon excursions to thirty-day expeditions. Pick one that fits your schedule; or, if you have a group large enough, most outfitters will guide a trip specifically tailored for your group and date.

Maybe you just moved across the country and you’re new to the area. Complicating matters is the fact you can’t determine which boxes contain your equipment. However, you have to get in at least a five-day trip to feed your paddling fix or risk serious soul deprivation. Hiring an outfitter is a great way to learn about a new region and meet new people.

Perhaps your paddling or tripping skills are rusty. Maybe you want to go to a wild, remote place, but want the security of an expe- rienced and qualified guide. Perhaps your palate revolts at the prospect of eating more freeze-dried food. Or maybe you and your significant other recently split up, and he/she got canoe-custody.

The list is almost endless. Regardless of the reason, if you cannot plan a trip because of any of the above situations, or a myriad of others, but you need to get out and paddle, that’s the time to call an outfitter or guiding company. 


There are different levels of outfitting services, ranging from simply picking up a canoe for the weekend to all-inclusive adventure vacations. Most outfitters offer several options. It is up to you to select the most convenient arrangement based on your needs.

The simplest way outfitters can help is by offering equipment rentals. Perhaps you don’t own some of the necessary equipment; or perhaps you own it, but it’s too difficult to transport. Rent a canoe, paddles, a car topper, perhaps a tent and you’re ready for adventure.This still involves planning on your part, but the convenience of not having to purchase, store and maintain a boat keeps cash and storage-strapped canoeists active and happy.

It is common to use your own equipment, prepare and pack your own food and stop by the outfitter for last-minute weather details and a shuttle. Letting someone else worry about negotiating the shuttle roads of the Canadian wilderness can save more than your vehicle.The time it takes to run a shuttle to reach even some of our most accessible routes can whittle away at your precious trip time. Hiring a company to run shuttle for you also expands your options so you don’t have to restrict yourself to another looping trip. Of greater importance, you can still go on your desired trip without having to find another driver with a car.

The all-inclusive packages are by far the most hassle-free type of outfitted trips.You pick your trip, pay your money and let the guiding company handle all the logistics, route-planning, equipment and food concerns. Bring your personal effects, pack a few extra rolls of film, and maybe a harmonica, if you’re musically inclined. And whatever you do, don’t forget to fill in your meal preferences and whether you would like to sleep in a solo or dou- ble tent.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to take a trip where all you have to do is paddle, leaving plenty of time to paint, write, explore or simply socialize with new and interesting people.

You may even become addicted to hiring an outfitter, and wonder why you ever spent the time and effort to plan your own trips in the first place. 

This article on outfitters was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.