The history of the canoe and kayak

Types of canoes and kayaks

Modern canoes still look like the ones the Indians made long ago. The Indians stretched brichbark or skins over light, strong cedar frames. Today's canoes are all made of wood, wood covered with canvas, or aluminum. The most popular size is about 18 feet long and 30 to 34 inches wide. Wood canoes weigh about 60 pounds. Aluminum canoes are much lighter.

A canoe will float in only a few incheas of water and can easily be carried from one body of water to another. This method of carrying is called portage.

On lakes and sheltered seacoasts, sailing canoes are used. Some have leeboards which serve as keels. For beginning canoeists, the sponson type of canoe is safest. It has air chambers along the side, or gunwales, which make it hard to overturn in the water. One should step into a canoe from the side, putting one foot near the middle and quickly following with the other. Because a canoe can be overturned easily, all canoeists should be good swimmers.

The canoe is propelled by a paddle about five feet long. The canoeist paddles from a kneeling position with his back against the rear crosspiece, or thwart. The cargo and occupants should be well distributed so that whatever position the canoeist takes, the craft will rest evenly on the water for practically its entire lenght.

Most primitive people use the dugout, a canoe made from a log-shaped roughly on the outside with axes, while the interior is burned out. The canoe is the common craft among the natives of the Sout Pacific islands. Canoes 100 feet in length are not uncommon. Sometimes two are joined by poles and carry 50 or more passengers.

The birchbark of the North American Indians has never been surpassed. Although light enough to be carried by one man, it is so bouyant that it can bear a heavy load. To make such a canoe, a light but strong wood framework is covered with sheets of birch bark sewed with fibers. The seams are closed with heavy resinous gums.

The kayak of the Eskimo, usually constructed for a single occupant, is used for fishing and sealing trips. A light framework of bone or wood is covered with skins and decked over except at the center. There a circular space, or cockpit, is left for the occupant, who laces himself in tightly with a skin apron to prevent water from entering.

Eskimos also use large undecked boat constructed of skins. It is an umiak (sometiems spelled oomiac), or "woman's boat." The umiak can carry many persons or large loads.

In 1865 John MacGregor, a Scot, invented the wooden Rob Roy, a canoe built like the Eskimo kayak. A Rob Roy is almost entirely decked over with a cockpit large enough for only one occupant, who uses a long paddle with a blade at each end.

Canoe racing has been directed by the American Canoe Association since 1880. Regattas, which are held each year, attract experts both in paddling and sailing. Sailing is becoming more popular. Canoes with sliding seats, outrigger keels, and one or two sails make remarkable speed. In 1909 the sail spread was limited to 90 feet.