When I buy something I research the heck out of it — the last thing I want is a piece of gear that isn’t great. So, back in the mid-80′s when I decided to step up from a homemade wood and canvas canoe to something a little tougher, I looked for a canoe that was special. It took me a long time to find one.
Most canoes and kayaks today are made for rivers and creeks, with the emphasis on white water travel and built for the maneuverability and fast response you need for that. I wanted something else, something made for lake travel. A lake canoe has a deeper keel, higher gunwales and payload, and it both holds a course in windy conditions and slices efficiently through waves. My old canoe was none of that, slow and stable and turned like a leaf until I put keel strips on it and tamed it down a little. In whitecaps it came to nearly a dead stop every time the bow hit a wave, so there were days when you just pulled into a quiet cove and waited for the breeze to subside. If you were twenty four hours late getting back to the car, that’s just the way it was.
I was getting the sailing itch again, and the canoe I had in my head was good enough to serve as a small sailboat. The sailing rig was easy enough to find, but the right boat for it wasn’t. Spring Creek’s sail rig fits nearly any open canoe, but not every one work well with it.
Having looked at nearly every canoe available I found that the ones which would suit me were generally far out of my price range — special orders that added thousands to the cost. Sea kayaks were also expensive, and though I like that idea it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. An open canoe for camping and fishing and sailing seemed unattainable in my price range until I came across Bear Creek Canoes. I had remembered a book I read on wood and canvas canoes back in the 70′s, the inspiration for my other boat, and a section in it that mention the Maine Guide style. Built with a displacement hull and a shallow keel, the Maine Guide had a three point hull that was stable in three different positions. So I did a long search for one and came up with Bear Creek Canoe Company of Sebago, Maine.
The Bear Creek Canoe Company had just gone into business a few years before and was at that time working with some older molds discontinued by another manufacturer. One of them, the Mirage, looked like it would fit my needs, so I decided to gamble and buy it. I actually had a bit of trouble convincing the owner of the company I was serious, because shipping from Maine to Arkansas was going to add several hundred bucks to the price. I still wanted the boat, and after a long odyssey by semi and some arguments with a shipping company that thought getting the canoe within twenty miles was good enough, the Mirage was dropped off in my driveway.
I’ll have more to say on this boat. It’s the focus of a piece I’m building for my main page, Jimmy’s Backpacking Page, and in combination with the Spring Creek Sailing Rig it has been everything I wanted and more. There’s a lot of open water in the lakes of the United States, and with a sail and a good canoe you can claim that space quietly. More people should do this.
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