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Canoe Tripping Stateside with Explore the Backcountry

June 2nd, 2017 by

Brad and Wayne Jennings of "Explore the Backcountry" in the canyons of the Rio Grande, 2015.

Nova Craft ambassador Brad Jennings has had quite the “off-season”. He recently returned to his home in northern Ontario after completing major trips in Florida and in Texas, back to back.

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rowing up paddling and camping in Ontario myself, I’ve been spoiled for choice. With millions of lakes, rivers and 72 designated provincial parks, there’s a lifetime worth of trips right here in my home province, let alone in Canada generally. With so much to do and see here, travelling in other countries for the purpose of backcountry paddling hasn’t been a priority for me. But I was intrigued to hear more about Brad’s trips and to learn a few things about what it’s like tripping in the states. I arranged to speak with Brad and his father, Wayne Jennings, who together form the duo behind the outdoors blog Explore the Backcountry. Below are excerpts from our conversation and some of the insights they shared with me.

Where in the US have you traveled to for the purposes of backcountry paddling and camping?

Wayne – Together we’ve done trips in the Adirondacks (New York), the Everglades (Florida), and the Rio Grande (Texas). Brad did the Rio Grande for a second time this year. We’ve also done some paddling in the Florida Keys, although mostly just day trip stuff.

Brad – I’ve also competed in adventure racing throughout several US states but when you’re racing you’re paddling 120 km in 12 hours, which is a totally different experience. So I’ve paddled in multiple states but have only really experienced the backcountry in the three mentioned.

What interested you about tripping in the US generally – why did you initially decide that you wanted to plan a trip in the US?

Wayne – The original inspiration is just the fact that it’s cold in Canada in the winter and we want to paddle all the time.  Planning trips in the southern states give you an opportunity to extend your paddling season.

Brad – I think most paddlers can agree they get cabin fever during the winter months and winter camping can only quell that so much. So we started seeking areas that were feasible in terms of driving distance that we could paddle without worrying about snow. We got the idea for the Everglades trip after a family vacation to the Keys. Then the inspiration for the Rio Grande trip was that Wayne and his father, 36 years ago, paddled the Rio Grande and I grew up hearing tons of stories about that.

So this is the second iteration of the father/son Rio Grande trip.

Brad – Exactly. I grew up hearing about it and there’s this one photo framed in my dad’s basement of him and my grandfather on the Rio Grande with this huge canyon wall behind them and I used to think it just looked so cool. It’s such a unique environment. In Ontario we’re generally a fairly flat province without a lot of topographical relief so the concept of paddling in the canyons of Mexico and Texas was quite enticing.

Can you tell me a bit about your most recent excursions in the US? Let’s start with Florida. How long was the trip? Where did you start & where did you finish?

Brad – On our first trip to Florida, a couple years back, we had paddled the northern part of Everglades National Park, which is called the Ten Thousand Islands. That area is really gorgeous because it’s littered with these big white sandy beaches and a bunch of little islands. We were really into the idea of paddling from beach to beach for days on end. So we spent about a week of paddling through a mixture of Oceanside beaches and interior rivers, looping around the coast and back to Everglades City.  In March, on our second trip to the Everglades, we did the southern section, starting and finishing at the port town of Flamingo.
We had a bit of a late start the first day and got stuck with really high winds and low tides. They were gale force winds so they were coming off the water at like 60-70 kms/hr. There was a small craft wind advisory in effect but the park rangers looked at us and said “Ah yeah you guys’ll probably be alright. You look like you know what you’re doing” cause we had all of our nautical charts, tidal charts, gear and whatnot. Anyway the winds were so bad that we had to turn back and we ended up staying at that main campground for the first night. Then we started over: we got up bright and early the next day and there’s a main navigation channel that takes you out to deeper water so we kind of huffed it out. Thankfully we had a fast boat (Nova Craft Cronje) and bent shaft paddles. We did a big 30km day to get around the cape. Tailwinds were just hammering us, whipping up like three foot waves.

That doesn’t really sound like a relaxing beach vacation.

Brad – Not to begin with at least.

One of the Jennings’ beach sites in Everglades National Park

Wayne – At the ranger’s station they provide you with a tide chart which shows you when its low tide and when its high tide based on your location. So you plan your route on that as well as on the wind and on the weathershore. And you don’t have to worry about any of that on Georgian Bay so it’s really a totally different mindset.
Paddling inland in the Everglades is quite like paddling the rivers and lakes up here: it’s fairly calm and fairly sheltered although open areas can get windy. But you’ve really got to be cautious on the ocean. Before you head out, you plan your route with the rangers and they’ll advise you if there are any issues or bad weather coming in. The thing about the ocean is, you’ve got to leave early every day. You’ve got to leave by 7 because around noon things start whipping up. You need to plan your route so that you’re paddling all morning and then have your afternoon at your site. Not only can the waves whip up but you’ve got tides to contend with. Near the beach sites, the water’s actually quiet shallow so even if you do tip, you can get yourself back in pretty easily because the waters usually only a few meters deep just off shore. But because it’s shallow when the tide goes out you can have real issues getting to the campsite and leaving your campsite. When the tide goes out the sand is real mushy – you’ve got to drag your boat and all your gear way inland to set up camp, which is a challenge because your sinking the whole time into this oozy stuff. So basically we figured out quickly we had to do it in several trips: take everything out of the boat and come back and lift the boat out because otherwise you get bogged down.

Hmm, sort of like a tropical portage?

Wayne – Exactly.

Wayne catches a breeze on a “chickee”

Brad – After a couple of days on the coast we turned inland. There’s a couple different types of sites in Everglades National Park: there’s beach sites on the coast, ground sites which are usually on old native shell mounds where there’s a couple of hardwood trees and that’s  really the only place you can pitch a tent in all the mangrove swamps. The mangrove swamps are just a maze of roots and that’s literally what lines the shores all throughout the interior is just these huge mazes of mangroves. It’s a sea of green. So where there are no ground sites the park has installed these things called “chickees” which are elevated platforms with a bit of a roof and a toilet out in the middle of the river. We stayed at those a couple of nights.

Wayne: Not a bad place to catch a breeze and a nice fishing platform too.

Brad: The whole loop was about 160km. We spent about a week doing it. So basically that was Florida: just a nice time in the hot sun. Lot of bugs though. It’s pretty different than here in Ontario because the season for paddling in the Everglades is winter months. By the time parks are icing out up here the park down there’s shutting down because they’re getting hurricane season and the bugs are getting waaay too bad. The backcountry is inhospitable essentially. Because we were there near the end of season the bugs were pretty bad.

So, then, you guys drove back to the London (Ontario) area, and how long were you here for before you left for Texas, Brad?

Brad – Only about two days. So, Wayne went back to work, he could only get so much time off work. My girlfriend Leah flew down from Thunder Bay. David and Anita Lee of The Passionate Paddler arrived at our place with their boat and vehicle and then we basically caravanned all the way down to Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park, Texas.
It was a two day drive for us but we had a pretty aggressive timeline. One day was a 16 hour day and the other was like a 14/15 hour day and that’s just driving, not including any stops for food, gas etc.
We started out in Rio Grande Village which is where Wayne and I finished our Rio Grande trip in 2015. The 2015 trip was a route from Lajitas through Santa Elena Canyon and the Great Unknown through Mariscal  Canyon, finishing up at Rio Grande village campground. After that trip I totally fell in love with the area and did more research. I discovered there was a place called the Lower Canyons. As the river continues to flow outside of the park it goes through what the national park service administers as a “wild and scenic river” and that keeps flowing for another 200km through basically pure wild lands. It’s all canyons and mountains. Very desolate and remote which I thought sounded great. There was supposed to be a lot of whitewater but unfortunately for us they were going through a massive drought. Locals we talked to said it was about 10 degrees celsius warmer than usual. Totally unseasonably warm. We were getting temperatures in the desert up to 55 degrees Celsius at times. It was hot. And unfortunately for us the gauge was dropping on the river even as we were driving down. So were like driving for two days wondering if there’s even going to be water for us to put in to when we get there. It was a little nuts. But there was water!

Leah and Brad in a Moisie on the Rio Grande. By David Lee.

Brad – We launched down the Rio Grande and water levels were low for the first stretch. We left civilization behind fairly quickly and entered the magnificent canyons of Boquillas Canyon. We spent our first night and our next 4 nights nestled beneath these 1,500 feet high walls– absolutely spectacular camping out there with nothing around. While you’re paddling you’re just craning your neck the whole time looking up at these canyons.
Along the way there was quite a bit of rapids but because the water levels were so low the rapids were very very bony. The guidebook told us that at the rate of river flow we were paddling we were better off just going home but of course, after all the time it took us to get there, there was no way we were going home.  Even with loaded boats we didn’t have to walk. And by loaded boats I mean really loaded boats because we had to take many items that you wouldn’t normally need to account for in Canada. Because the river was low flow and there were so many technical rapids there were a lot of wall and cane shots. As the river bends around the corner, there’s only a small channel that you can take to run the rapid because the rest of the river is just gravel bar. So there’s this narrow channel pushing hard into the wall. Sometimes the best channel is to go right through the cane. As you know, traditional whitewater knowledge will tell you that you shouldn’t go through a sweeper but often on this trip they were the only flushing lines. Thankfully it’s fairly soft but you did sort of have to fight your way through it.
Also in those flows where the canyons takes an abrupt 90 degree turn, the water’s flushing into the wall and hurling back at you so your pretty much playing bumper canoes with the wall. I was really impressed with the stability and control of the boat (Nova Craft Moisie) in situations like that. I think other boats would have tipped that don’t have as much freeboard.
We finished the route at Johnson’s Ranch near Dryden, Texas. There’s a highway about 50km off the river to the north. Our shuttle driver picked us up there and we travelled down a dusty desert road towards the highway back to our vehicles.

And at times during the trip you were actually in Mexico right?

Brad – Yeah, the really interesting thing about the Rio Grande river is that it forms the border between the US and Mexico so essentially it’s a fluid border and at some points you’re in Mexico, at some points you’re in Texas. We probably split our time pretty evenly between the two countries.  Mexico seemed to always be nice and shady just based on the direction of the river and the sun at the time by the time lunch was. So we would always have lunch in Mexico in the shade which was really nice.
Some of the nicer campsites midway through the trip had these gorgeous hot springs, like a private oasis in the canyons. The water’s not super hot but like warm bathwater at about 36 d Celsius. On the Mexican side, there’s a gorgeous crystal clear pool and people have built up a nice rock ring around in. So we sat in there for a few hours and just relaxed.
Technically you’re not supposed to camp in Mexico but there wasn’t really any suitable place to camp on the American side so just went for it. We did see the border patrol once during our trip however – three guys carrying heavy M16s and bulletproof vests. We just kept paddling and they let us go.
Now there are ranchers along some stretches on the Mexican side who let their cattle roam free, so a couple of times you might see ranchers which are like real cowboys. We definitely saw cows. If a cow crosses the river in the states it becomes property of the US government.

What’s different in terms of logistics for tripping across the border? Was there anything in your normal tripping gear you couldn’t bring across or thought twice about bringing?

Brad – Definitely the border is an issue because you can’t bring over any fresh food. That means we had to do a lot of pre-packaging of stuff and a lot of planning ahead, compiling a list of groceries to buy in the states. Otherwise most of the stuff you’d bring on a trip up here you can bring there too. If you have a firearm you can’t bring that obviously. Expect to spend a bit of time talking at the border though. You’ll get strange looks from the agents when you have two canoes on your roof in the dead of winter.
In terms of unique items that you wouldn’t normally trip with in Ontario, it’s really dependent on where you’re going. For example, when we went to the Adirondacks we didn’t need to bring these things because it’s very similar to what we’re used to. But we went to the Florida Everglades and the desert. They’re harsh environments where the resources we take for granted here, namely fresh water, is not available. In the Everglades it’s either saltwater in the ocean or brackish water inland. In Texas, the water in the river’s too silty and there are actually contaminants and e-coli from runoff a thousand miles upstream where the border towns are and all those cows roam. There are also traces of uranium naturally occurring in the bedrock there. So you have to bring your own water in if you want to paddle in either of those places. And it’s quite a bit that you need to bring, because you’re using it for drinking as well as cooking.  Leah and I brought 5 or 6 jugs, big jugs which are 5 or 6 gallons each, and we were near the end of that supply by the end of the 9 day Rio Grande trip.

Wayne – Literally you’re taking as much water in weight as a third person, so you’ve got to account for that. It takes up a ton of space in the boat, I don’t know how you’d do it in a kayak. In a canoe you just got to get creative with your packing. We had four fair sized jugs and as you consume them you need to sort of shuffle the weight around so that its spread out evenly.
Another thing that comes to mind is a bug net. They have really tiny bugs in Florida called no-see-ums and sand fleas. We brought head nets that normally work great against mosquitoes and stuff up here but I found that they weren’t much protection against the no see ums. Next time I’d get that special extra fine mesh for bug protection. We didn’t have that and it was an issue for us.
The tide charts are also essential. And for the Rio Grande you need to bring a toilet system and a fire pan.

What kinds of wildlife did you encounter down there?

Brad – We were warned about poisonous snakes, spiders, panther, bears – but in terms of the most dangerous animal we saw out in Texas it was actually a bull. A male bull overseeing a herd of females is fairly aggressive. We came around a blind turn on a Class I rapid and there was a bull standing right in the middle of the river and we just started kind of hollering at it to scare it and get it to move out of the way. It didn’t move until the very last second, it was pretty nuts.

Campfire beneath the canyon walls.

Anywhere you travel in the backcountry there will be predators. Here of course there are bears, mountain lions, wolves, venomous snakes. In Florida there are venomous snakes too, but there are also lots of things lurking in the water. We take it for granted in Ontario that you can jump into a clear lake and nothing’s going to gnaw on your leg like a shark or an alligator would. The Everglades has three species of crocodilians: caymans (which are smaller), alligators (predominantly found in the brackish waters – interior lakes, and rivers) and crocodiles (which are really rare: there are only 2000 in Florida and they’re all found along the southern coast in saltwater only). But typically like any species in Ontario if you give them a wide berth then they’ll give you a wide berth. We never had any close encounters with them but apparently the alligators can be just as curious as a black bear stumbling into your site in Algonquin. You can do the same things to deter them, like making a lot of noise and banging your paddles. Always keep your distance and give the animal respect. Typically they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them so you can approach them with the same mentality that you would when backcountry camping in Ontario.

Major national and provincial parks can get kind of crowded during paddling season here in Canada…Did you encounter many other paddlers in the state and national parks you visited in the US? 

Wayne – As far as the crowds go, obviously if you’ve done any camping up here you know that in order to get the choice sites you have to book months in advance. If you want the prime spots in Killarney and Algonquin you’ve really got to plan ahead. The way it works in the parks I’ve been to in Texas and Florida: you cannot pre-book. You can only book it the day of or the day prior which prevents people from booking all the sites up ahead of time. So when you get there, at the ranger station, you tell them the route you want to take and they basically plot it out for you where you’re not going to be on a lake or a campsite with a lot of other people, or, if there are others, they’ll tell you: “okay on this designated beach site, six people are allowed to camp there, right now there’s two others there or no others there what have you”.

The thought of driving all the way to Florida not knowing what sites will be available when you get there stresses me out a little bit.

Wayne – Yeah, but crowds have never been an issue. We asked the park rangers down there about it, and I think the only time you would run into an issue is a holiday weekend. People don’t paddle the parks the way we do here in Canada. They do, but it’s not the same level of intensity. Only once we ended up at a campsite with another group. That was at a double chickee so we had to share a platform with them which wasn’t a big deal. In fact it was kind of neat: you get to meet new people and these guys were Florida natives so it was nice to talk to some locals.

Anything else you want to add?

Wayne – It’s dirt cheap compared to Canada. Backcountry camping here nowadays I think its 12 or 13 dollars per person per night, which isn’t a ton but over a week it adds up. In the US it’s $15 for your permit fee which covers you the whole week and then its $2 per person per night, which is a lot cheaper, even in US dollars.

Brad – In terms of cost: Sure, our dollar sucks but gas is tremendously cheap. Even with the dollar conversion we were paying like 50c / liter. The most we ever paid was 80c / litre and at that time gas was 1.24 up here. The lower canyon of the Rio Grande was $14 per party for up to two weeks. There are also a couple of other fees they’ll tack on like a 10$ parking fee or whatnot but all in all it was cheap compared to our provincial and national park systems. The only issue is if you’re doing a shuttle, those can get expensive.  We paid $900 for our shuttle service in Texas.

What’s left on your US tripping wish list?

Brad – The Green River in Utah; The Devil’s River and the Pecos River in Texas.

Wayne – I’ll go anywhere that Brad wants to go.  I’d also like to paddle the Dry Tortuga National Park in the Gulf of Mexico; Suwannee River in Florida or some of the river systems where the manatees congregate; the Colorado river; Grand Canyon.

Brad and Wayne in the Everglades, 2017.

 

 

How to Repair Composite Hulls

December 16th, 2016 by

Check out the video below to see how it's done.

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Despite your best efforts to avoid accidents, errors in loading, carrying or paddling your composite canoe can incur damage to the hull of the boat. Being in the canoe business for over 45 years, we’ve pretty much seen it all: from people who have lost canoes off of the roof of their vehicle, to paddlers who have made bad judgement calls in whitewater, forklift nightmares in shipping, etc.

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ost of the time, the damage incurred to composite boats is repairable – and easily repairable at that. This is one of their greatest advantages over their plastic counterparts.

If you do crack your canoe, the repair method we recommend is to apply a layered patch to the interior of the hull first, and perform a gelcoat repair to the exterior afterwards.

In the video below, we show you how to patch repair composite hull cracks. You can purchase a Composite Hull Repair Kit through your local Nova Craft dealer or by calling us at 866 88 CANOE.

 

Gunwale 101

October 31st, 2016 by

Ash vs. aluminum - Find out what's best for you.

Shopping for a canoe often involves more than people expect. Between choosing a model, material, trim and colour, the experience can feel overwhelming to some. Because most people want to invest in one canoe that will last them a lifetime, they want to be sure that they’re getting it right the first time. This blog entry is dedicated to simplifying one area of choice: gunwales.

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et’s start with the basics. What are gunwales? Gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”, sometimes referred to as “rails”) are the part of the canoe that run along the top edge of the hull. Canoe manufacturers often offer gunwales in different materials, each with different advantages and disadvantages. Read on for the run down on our gunwale options.

 

 

STANDARD TRIM SYSTEMS

Nova Craft offers a different standard gunwale material and trim package (seats, yoke etc.) according to the canoe’s hull material. Standard trim systems are included in the price of the boat.

 

VINYL

Nova Craft SP3 hulls on our Outfitters Series boats are always trimmed with vinyl gunwales. Vinyl gunwales are the most flexible option and are therefore less likely to be kinked or damaged by hard impacts. Our Outfitter Series canoes are designed for maximum durability as they need to stand up to heavy use and abuse in rental outfits and summer camps. Vinyl gunwales are also less expensive and help keep the cost of these boats low. The downside? Weight. Vinyl is heavy, and so is the SP3 material we use in the hulls. Overall, these are the heaviest boats we produce.

 

ALUMINUM

On our composite hulls (Fiberglass, TuffStuff, TuffStuff Expedition, Aramid Lite, Blue Steel), aircraft grade black anodized aluminum gunwales come standard. The anodized aluminum gunwales are the lightest option we offer. If you enjoy canoe tripping off of the beaten path, you’re likely no stranger to portaging. Shaving pounds off the total weight of the boat is usually very important to portagers, and aluminum gunwales help keep this number as low as possible. An additional benefit of the aluminum gunwales is that they are virtually maintenance free and can last forever.

 

Available Upgrades

In addition to the standard aluminum gunwales on our composite hulls, we also offer an upgrade to white ash gunwales. “Why upgrade?” is one of the more frequently asked questions we receive.

 

WHITE ASH

There are many benefits to upgrading to our ash gunwales. The most obvious reason is aesthetic. Wood gunwales have a classic and traditional look that is tough to beat. But there are also some practical reasons why one may opt for ash over aluminum. Wood trim is quieter on the water. If you are interested in hunting, nature photography, or simply observing wild animals in their natural habitat, travelling very quietly is important. Animals are less likely to be scared away when paddles knock against wooden gunwales. Ash is also very comfortable to handle and carry because it is a non-conductive material. Aluminum, on the other hand, will heat up in the sun and get quite cold in low temperatures.

Our ash gunwales are oiled but not varnished. There is some upkeep required in order to keep oiled wood healthy and beautiful looking. Properly maintaining ash gunwales requires sanding and oiling them a couple of times a year. Also, canoes with wooden gunwales should be stored indoors over the off-season in order to prevent rotting.

We put a lot of time and careful effort into installing ash trim on our canoes. Because of the extra time and craftsmanship required by this process, there is a considerable upgrade fee which reflects the extra labour costs.

 

Seeking inspiration in the Canadian wild

October 5th, 2016 by

A still from the video for Carly Dow's song "Something Lost", filmed on the Yukon River during her
time with the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency. Watch the full video below.

The Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency, started in 2015, invites artists to experience the magic of extended wilderness tripping in the hopes of inspiring works and dialog surrounding the themes of nature and national identity.

F. H. Varley’s “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay”, 1921

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he story of the artist travelling remote regions of the Canadian wilderness in order to create works inspired by their experiences is not a new one. After all, it is the story behind some of Canada’s most recognized art and its most famous artists, the Group of Seven. In the early twentieth century, the project of the Group of Seven was to document the Canadian landscape in order to establish a unique parochial aesthetic, distinct from the European tradition.

The artworks produced have served to cement the Canadian national identity as inextricable from the natural environment. In part, the goal of the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency is for their artist residents to investigate this relationship. Through the residency program they “aim to broaden an understanding of the Canadian identity through art, community engagement, and reflection on the roles that nature and diversity play in our national narrative.”

Now in the early twenty first century, 100 years after the Group of Seven was formed, as we struggle to negotiate the balance between environmental health and human progress, the project of the CWAR has a renewed sense of vitality and urgency.

I spoke with Carly Dow, a recent participant, who articulated the importance of spending time in the outdoors in order to better understand our place in the world:

“It’s so important for people to realize that we are just a small part of a bigger picture. It’s easy to lose sight of that. Even as such emotionally intelligent beings we forget that we’re just a very small component of a larger system…it takes a bit of spending time in nature to regain that perspective and to appreciate how we fit into things and how we affect things. Hopefully all of that would result in recognizing the natural world’s intrinsic value and caring about it enough to protect it.”

Photo taken during the Yukon River trip with CWAR by Dow, August 2016

Carly is a musician based near Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba and is no stranger to spending time in the bush. She describes her music as a “wildcrafted soul folk” with elemental rhythms and lyrics based in natural imagery. While the CWAR is open to artists who work in all mediums, this summer Carly was the only musician in the group of ten artists-in-residence who spent 25 days in the Yukon, travelling the Yukon River by canoe from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

While the group rafted their canoes and enjoyed lunch floating down the river Carly often entertained them with her banjo. CWAR organizer Calder Cheverie captured this in his stunning video for Carly’s song “Something Lost”, filmed during the residency in August. “Something Lost” and its accompanying video offer a sense of what stands to be gained by encouraging creative engagement with wild spaces.

Since the Yukon River trip Carly has been paddling frequently and is fine-tuning a couple of the songs she penned during the residency. We can’t wait to hear them.

Watch the video for “Something Lost” below and learn more about the Canadian Wilderness Artist Residency here.

Welcoming Refugees Canadian Style

August 19th, 2016 by

A Syrian family enjoying their day on the water

Nova Craft Canoe is and always has been proud to be Canadian. To me, being a proud Canadian fundamentally means, at least, these two things: first, a respect for the land and natural environment of our country and, second, a dedication to the values of our nation as a cultural mosaic, namely inclusion and tolerance. In the spirit of living up to the title “proudly Canadian”, we recently organized a paddling event for new Canadians – a group of newcomers from Syria who were forced to flee from their home country to escape conflict.

Under Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada has pledged to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria. Since November of 2015, our community in London, Ontario has admitted nearly 1,000 government assisted refugees. We wanted to do our part to welcome them by sharing our favourite national pastime because, in our minds, there’s no better way to get acquainted with Canadian summers than by paddling a canoe. We partnered with the London Cross Cultural Learning Centre to organize a day of paddling and a BBQ lunch for a group of 40 Syrian newcomers. The event took place on a hot day in mid July at a conservation area south of the city. For many of the participants, this was their first time out of London and their first encounter with the local natural landscape, not to mention their first time in a canoe.

Kevin Callan & Andy Baxter paddling with a volunteer translator from the LCCLC

Following a brief session of paddling instruction on land, everyone was eager to get on the water, excited and a bit apprehensive. We paired younger participants with paddling volunteers and grouped families who wanted to stick together in their own boats. After some chaotic frenzy at the launch area we had everyone on the water. Our staff and volunteer team were blown away by how quickly the Syrian participants took to paddling. They started from shore slowly and cautiously, picking up speed once they got into rhythm. Standing on the shore, I could still hear their cheering and laughing as they disappeared around the bend. When they returned for lunch about an hour later many were singing as they paddled in, spurred on by our friend and brand ambassador Kevin Callan. We were pleasantly surprised to find that everyone wanted another go at it after lunch. It seemed that they were relishing the opportunity – so were we.

It was amazing for us to share the experience with them and they were incredibly grateful for it, eager to give back to us by portaging canoes back to the trailer at the end of the day. One woman even passed around homemade Middle Eastern cookies to our team of volunteers as a gesture of thanks. But it was their eagerness to participate and openness to learning new skills that impressed me most. In spite of the language barrier and cultural differences, it seemed obvious to me that the group of Syrians we spent time with were keen to learn about their new home and hopeful about integrating, becoming proud Canadians themselves in time. Hopefully they will continue to seek out opportunities to leave the city and spend time in the outdoors, developing the respect for nature that has become central to the narrative of our national identity.

Watch the videos below to get a taste of their reactions to paddling for the first time and to hear their stories.

 

5(ish) Questions with Kevin Callan

April 4th, 2016 by

Kevin Callan, host of the “The Happy Camper” radio show on CBC

Kevin Callan, AKA “The Happy Camper”, is a beloved ambassador for wilderness adventure in Canada. He has authored thirteen books on subjects related to camping and canoeing, contributes regularly to a number of outdoors periodicals, hosts “The Happy Camper” radio show on CBC and is a frequent guest on the morning show circuit. He is a renowned public speaker, an educator at Fleming College and has been named a Patron Paddler for Paddle Canada. He’s also a Nova Craft brand ambassador. In addition to the fact that he offers great advice is clearly a wealth of knowledge on all things canoe-camping related, Kevin’s appeal is based in his genuine and infectious love for being outdoors and his wicked sense of humour. Last week we chatted over the phone and I asked him 5(ish) questions related to canoe tripping.

Nova Craft : Which is your favourite park in Ontario?

Kevin Callan: Wow.

NC: Yeah, I know. Tough question. Maybe instead of a favourite you have a Top 3?

KC: Well, there’s two ways to answer this one. I can answer what my favourite is but it’s not really the truth, and, I mean, it’s a lame answer: I usually say that my favourite is the next one I’m going to. A lame answer, like I said, but the reason is that it’s not really about the destination it’s the fact that I’m going on the trip. So, scenery wise? Killarney is the best. I don’t think there’s any other place in Ontario or even in Canada that has that distinct landscape. For canoe tripping, I think Quetico really has it all because it’s got amazing canoe routes, landscape and short portages. It’s really made for the canoe. But for memory sake, Algonquin would be the third. Algonquin is really a silly place to paddle because the average portage is a thousand metres. But it’s that retrospective thing of going back there every year to go to all those places that I went to as a kid. So those would probably be the three. Although… Algoma’s one of my favourites too because I paddled there a lot in my pre-teens and adolescence… I could go on forever. It’s endless.

NC: What’s the best camp meal in your repertoire? What would you make to really impress someone you were taking out on a trip?

KC: Not only to impress them but also myself, one of the best that I’ve ever done was in Quetico. I’ll catch a lake trout and catch a walleye; I’ll open up the lake trout, put the walleye fillets inside the lake trout, put apples, onions, lemons and seasoning inside, sew it all up, put it in tinfoil and bake it on the fire…It’s great. And it’s one of those things that you can only get when you’re out there and everything goes just right. You might not get the fish but when you do it’s amazing.

NC: You’re always up on the latest trends in gear. Is there anything new that you’re feeling particularly excited about?

KC: There’s two trends that are going on right now and one I’m really interested in: they’re called stick stoves and they’re stoves that don’t run on fuel but on small  sticks and pinecones. It’s a bushcraft or survival thing but I’ve been using one for the past couple of years now and they make sense to me. I’ll bring a [traditional?] stove to use as a back up but if you use a stove that just runs on sticks you can really reduce the amount of gear that you’re bringing out with you and it’s a mini campfire so that’s kind of cool. I’m really with that trend. I have a collection of about six stoves.

The other thing is hammock camping. So the idea is that you hang a hammock and sleep in that instead of a tent. I’ve tried it and jokingly said that hammock camping is like your first kiss: the first time you try it you think “I’m not sure if this makes a lot of sense” but then you really want to try it again. The bonus of the hammock camping thing to me is that you can really go anywhere you want. If you really want to get away from everybody and from a normal campsite then you can just put up your hammock between a couple of trees anywhere. And that’s really why I prefer canoeing over kayaking or backpacking or whatever else. It’s really only the canoe that gets you into those small getaway places because you can use the canoe to portage. When you portage you really start to lose the crowd and get away; that’s why I prefer the canoe over any other mode of travel out there.

NC: Having good company on a trip is obviously really important. You seem to have a pretty kooky cast of characters that you trip with. What qualities do you look for in a trip partner?

KC: Well, the main thing is that we all know why it is we’re going out there. So before we leave we say “Ok, this is what I want out of the trip.” So there are no surprises.

Frequent trip companion Andy Baxter

If you want to do a fishing trip, everybody must know that this is a fishing trip. Or if it’s a destination type trip, or a recreational or a family trip, it’s important that we all know that.

The other thing, that my buddy Andy has always taught me, is that we really don’t complain out there and we don’t try to survive out there; we go out there to live and to rejoice in being there. So, there’s no homesickness, no “Oh I wish I was at home now” or “I think we should end the trip early”, there’s none of that because it’s our choice to be out there. Yeah, the portage might be bad, and you might grumble a bit, but there’s no complaining because you chose to be there. And that makes the whole trip completely different. Instead of surviving, it’s living and that’s a huge difference out there.

NC: Which celebrity would you choose to take on a week-long trip in the interior?

KC: Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. Huge conservationist but also a really unique individual that I really don’t know anything about and I’d love to just sit around the campfire and talk to him.

NC: Yeah and maybe he’d play you some songs.

KC: Sure, that’d be nice but you know I don’t even care if he plays the songs I think it would just be cool to hang out.

NC: Bonus round – a quick game of “Would you rather…?” 

Tripping solo or with a large group?  Solo.

Flat water or white water? Flat.

Beaver tail or otter tail paddle? Beaver tail.

S’mores or hot dogs? S’mores!

Camp stove or cooking over the fire? Stove.

 

 

5 Questions with Explorer Adam Shoalts

March 17th, 2016 by

At age 29, Adam Shoalts has a fairly extensive and impressive resume: he’s been named among the top 100 explorers by National Geographic, he’s a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, a member of the illustrious Explorer’s Club, a PhD student and a bestselling author.

Adam was recently in town to give a presentation in support of his book Alone Against the North, published by Penguin in October of last year. Alone Against the North tells the true story of Adam’s 2012 Royal Canadian Geographic Society sponsored expedition to the Hudson Bay Lowlands, an area Adam refers to as the Canadian Amazon, where he and his paddling partner Brent set out to explore and map the remote Again River. But Brent didn’t last long, abandoning Adam, alone, in the kingdom of polar bear with a long ways to go before reaching the Again. Needless to say Adam returned to civilization with quite a tale to tell. We had a chance to sit down with him prior to his presentation and pick his brain over dinner.

What do you remember about your first canoe trip?

I can’t remember much of anything about my first canoe trip. One of my first memories of boating, I was pretty young maybe 7 or 8, was working on a raft like Huckleberry Finn style. I was always wanting to build rafts and take them out on the swamp. And I remember one time we built this raft out of birch logs and construction debris and whatnot (it probably wouldn’t have passed your [TuffStuff] tests) and I remember carrying it down to the river with my brother. This thing wasn’t built very well; it had nails sticking out from the birch logs all over the place. Anyways, when we were carrying it down, I dropped it and it cut my shin all the way down. I had to get stitches on my shin. But, I loved doing that kind of thing. I have a quote in my book – I try to start every chapter off with a quote from some of my favourite old books and things – and I have this one from Wind in the Willows: “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” And I take that to heart. As a kid I loved building boats and taking them out on the water. My father is really big into building these kinds of things, making things. He carves all of my paddles. The first canoe we built together was when I was 14. We built a cedar strip canoe and paddled it that summer together. Those are probably some of my best and earliest memories in boats.

What’s your favourite camp meal to prepare after a long day of paddling?

My favourite camp meal? Well, if I’m up in the subarctic it’s always nice if you have some fresh trout that you’ve caught. I travel as light as possible because I spend more time portaging and dragging my canoe than paddling it if I’m in muskeg swamp which means I don’t carry pans and I just cook my trout on green sticks over the fire. Up near Hudson’s Bay you can catch a lot of nice brook trout so that’s probably my favourite meal: catch a couple brook trout as I’m travelling and just cook them over the fire. As far as something that I pack, like rations? My favourite meal would be Backpacker’s Pantry Sweet and Sour Chicken. Just add boiling water, seal it up and it cooks for 13 minutes. I’ve never really been one for variety, I only pack two meals on expeditions: Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry and Sweet and Sour Chicken. That’s it. They’re both good and they both have a lot of calories. I always eat the whole pouch myself. I’m pretty hungry on those trips and I’ll eat just about anything.

What are the best and worst parts of solo tripping and what kind of advice do you have for somebody embarking on their first trip alone?

There’s a real simplicity to solo tripping. You don’t have to worry about interpersonal dynamics or group morale. All of those kinds of questions go out the window. Also, if you’re by yourself in the wilderness for weeks or months at a time you’ll see a lot more wildlife. I see a ton of wild animals when I’m by myself because I’m not talking to someone else, making noise and scaring away the caribou crossing the lake or the fox on the riverbank. Another thing that probably doesn’t occur to a lot of people is that most of my expeditions (at least half of them) I do in the Hudson Bay lowlands, far from any of the well travelled routes, where it’s mostly all muskeg and there’s more water than land. The landscape is like a giant sponge that sucks up water, it’s all marsh. So finding a big enough patch of dry ground to put a tent on can be a real challenge. An unexpected bonus of doing solo trips is that with more people, inevitably somebody will end up sleeping on the swamp. Dry land is at a premium and when you’re by yourself you get the pick of the best spot.

The worst thing about being alone is that its inherently risky: if you slip and hit your head on a rock or something goes wrong, there’s no one there to help you. There’s no margin for error. It’s more dangerous and you have to be more cautious, and really think about everything you do: every time you put your foot down as you’re wading through a river, every time you swing the axe, or what have you. You can’t take the same risks.

The first rule of any canoe trip is just to have fun – I mean, that’s the point of it all, right? Even now, as I’m planning an arctic five month expedition, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it would be fun. So, I’d tell them just to have fun, enjoy the experience and bask in the solitude. The first days of the first trip will be hard but it gets easier as you go on.

When you’re not out on an expedition, you’re a PhD student in the History department at McMaster University, can you tell us a bit about your dissertation research?

My academic research involves archaeology, geography and history. The research I do for my dissertation is pretty much the air I breathe. It’s about northern Canada, the historical geography of those lands and the interactions between aboriginal people and early explorers; sort of the untold history of a lot of those rivers. I do a lot of research before and after trips, not so much during them but I would say my research is pretty connected to the type of expeditions I choose to do and I can always find an interesting tidbit in an old explorer’s journal to use in my dissertation.

Where are you heading next? You mentioned earlier that you’re planning for a major expedition in the Arctic Circle…

Yeah, I might do a couple of weekend or week long trips beforehand but I’m going back up to the Arctic this summer and am going to be paddling up in the Northwest Territories, north of Great Bear lake. That’s this summer, yeah. It will be like a training/scouting trip for the big one [five months in the Arctic Circle]. I want to see what the water levels will be like on the East river in July, because that’s maybe around the time I’m going to hit it. I also want to meet with some of the pilots and maybe lodge owners since I’m relying on these people not to forget about me and my canoe drop. I’ve had pilots forget about me before.

 

Learn more about Adam and his exploits at adamshoalts.com

Spirit on the Water

January 27th, 2016 by

"Coming for the bride" by Edward S. Curtis, depicts a Guauaenok war canoe used in the marriage rites of the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island

Nova Craft Canoe was founded in 1970 by Ken Fisher in Glanworth, Ontario. When Ken retired the company was purchased by its current owners in the fall of 1986. Along with Ken’s moulds, the new owners inherited the Nova Craft name and the thunderbird logo.

Ken Fisher’s original logo

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he thunderbird features cross-culturally in the lore, legend, and artworks of many North American indigenous tribes. It is especially significant in the cultural history of tribes in the Pacific Northwest including the Haida, Nootka and the Coast Salish, although it also appears in oral histories of the southwest American Indian, tribes of the Great Lakes and of the Great Plains.

While descriptions of the thunderbird vary according to each tribe, it is universally said to be a being of supernatural size and power. Capable of causing great storms, the thunderbird produces thunder claps by flapping its wings and, in some legends, shoots lightning by blinking its eyes. The thunderbird also appears in myths which explain the occurrence of natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis.

“Thunderbird” by renowned Haida artist Don Yeomans, 1980

As a potent force of natural activity the thunderbird is revered in Native American cultures. Amongst tribes of the Pacific Northwest it is considered the most powerful of all spirits, earning top spot of the totem pole which symbolizes its great power and dominion in the natural order. Additionally, thunderbird effigies can be found on the cedar war canoes of coastal tribes (shown above).

In 2009 the Nova Craft logo was updated for a more contemporary look. Inspired by indigenous art of the region, the current logo better reflects the reverence for the thunderbird amongst tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

Gelcoat Repair

October 21st, 2015 by

A TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 17 with some bony rapids in the background. Photo by Jim Baird

As this paddling season comes to a close we’re taking stock of the feedback we have received about our new materials, TuffStuff and TuffStuff Expedition. We are happy to say that consumer reviews have been very positive and these new canoes have proven themselves as excellent options for flatwater and whitewater use.

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ut it has become apparent that some paddlers who are used to plastic canoes will need to become more familiar with gelcoat. Gelcoat is the “paint” we use on our composite canoes. It is a resin that provides a smooth hard finish to a canoe. It protects the underlying cloth and acts as an abrasion layer. But in cases of hard impacts, pins or situations where the canoe is wrapped, gelcoat can chip and crack. The good news is that gelcoat can be repaired quite easily and if properly maintained your composite canoe will give you decades of use. Here’s our video showing how to complete a typical gelcoat repair.


While there may be more maintenance work involved with a gelcoated canoe, in the long-term composite hulls tend to outlast plastic ones. Properly maintained composite canoes last for decades because you can keep repairing them. In addition to gelcoat repairs you can easily add material patches to the inside of a composite canoe to stiffen or reinforce the hull where necessary. Eventually plastic canoes wear thin and repairs become unfeasible or cost prohibitive. As Royalex becomes increasingly scarce and TuffStuff/TuffStuff Expedition canoes become increasingly popular, we are confident that the paddling community will easily adjust to the simple requirements of maintaining the gelcoat finish of their canoes.

Gelcoat repair kits can be ordered from any authorized Nova Craft Canoe dealer. As mentioned in the video you may need to source one component (MEKP hardener) locally as it is considered a “dangerous good” and we can not mail it.

Back to the Thames River

May 15th, 2015 by

London's Mayor Matt Brown at the launch event of Back to the River’s design competition.

At Nova Craft Canoe we love our local waterways. We are fortunate to have some great places to paddle right here in our own backyard, including the historic Thames River. “Back to the River” is a new initiative being launched by the London Community Foundation in partnership with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. The Back to the River project aims to revitalize a five kilometre stretch of London’s riverfront in the downtown area, namely at the forks of the Thames.

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he Forks, located at the very centre of the city, is an area of considerable historical and cultural significance. Literally the birthplace of the city, the forks of the Thames inspired London’s consideration as the capital of Upper Canada in 1793. During London’s colonial settlement in the early nineteenth century the river served as an axis for the city’s urban planning with the forks established as the hub of the city, host to the marketplace, courthouse and small manufacturers. Owing to its rich history the Thames River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2000.

In London’s more recent past, however, the downtown stretch of the Thames has fallen into disrepair, mostly thanks to neglect by local and federal government as well as the citizens of London. Since its designation as a Heritage river several clean-up initiatives have been introduced and public concern for the health of the river has risen.

The Back to the River project hopes to capitalize on the momentum of this concern and ultimately re-establish the once strong connection between Londoners and the Thames. It envisions the forks as a site for development opportunity and a catalyst for the downtown economy. Plans for the project include making the river more accessible for paddlers at the forks, as well as building waterfront cafes and restaurants.

Mayor Matt Brown, pictured above, has publically supported this mandate, most recently at the launch event of Back to the River’s design competition on May 5th 2015. The competition invites landscape design submissions from across North America. We can only hope that the city’s renewed interest in the Thames as a downtown attraction will also mean an increased respect for its water quality and ecosystem, preserving the river for many future generations of Londoners to enjoy.

Sara
Nova Craft Canoe

The Evolution of TuffStuff for Canoes Part 1

March 1st, 2015 by

It is trade show time in the Paddlesport business and because the buzz is all about our new TuffStuff material, I thought our first blog topic should focus on what people are talking about! Here are my own personal impressions on the development of this new and amazing canoe material.

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ack in early 2014, we sent samples of TuffStuff to a material-testing lab in order to get some ideas of its characteristics. The results that came back to us were encouraging and because it was obvious that we were on to something good, we decided to build some prototypes. The first boats came off the production line during the summer and Nova Craft’s President Tim Miller was the first person to test one – first, on our local Thames River and then on the Grand River in Southern Ontario. While paddling, he made sure to hit as many rocks as possible and in the end, he was satisfied that we should continue with the development of this new product. In late September, Nova Craft employees paddled TuffStuff canoes during the annual staff paddle day. Everyone was very happy with how the new canoes performed – notably, the stiffness of the hulls and how well they glided through the water.

Knowing that we had a material that was suitable to paddle in both flatwater and easy moving water material was great, but we also needed to know if it would be appropriate for whitewater paddling. To that end, we decided to conduct a few in-house strength tests. You can view videos of these tests on YouTube – the first version, shot on a smart phone and a more professional, polished version here:

My eureka moment, when I really became convinced and excited about the quality of TuffStuff, was when Tim and I stood on the bottom of a TuffStuff Expedition Canoe and it gave absolutely no sign of being under stress. Neither the hull material, nor the gelcoat showed any signs of failing. Most remarkable to me was the fact that the hull didn’t even make a sound as 460 pounds of big-boned fat blokes bounced up and down on the boat. The other tests involving bending samples in a vice and pounding the bottom of a canoe with a sledgehammer only convinced me further of its quality.

Since the material passed these tests with flying colours, we decided that something more extreme was required. A lot more extreme. See The Evolution of TuffStuff Part 2.

The Evolution of TuffStuff for Canoes Part 2

February 28th, 2015 by

In early October, we decided to drop a Tuff Stuff Expedition Canoe off the roof of our 100-foot high warehouse. For me, this is where the wow-factor really kicked in.

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y vantage point for this shoot was about 100 meters away, monitoring one of several video cameras and taking photos. I had an awesome view of the canoe falling, but I couldn’t see the moment of impact. I had fully expected to find the canoe in pieces but was totally stunned to see that it had survived – intact. We were all blown away. That’s when our Production Manager, Jeff Bear, suggested that we take it for a paddle to prove the hull was still sound and able. Once again, we were all very pleased to find that the canoe paddled just fine after taking such a massive amount of abuse. It took on a little water, but there was no doubt that a simple field repair was all you would need to get out of the woods. See the video below:

After this, our confidence in this new material skyrocketed. All that was required were some extreme, real-world tests of a TuffStuff canoe being put through its paces on whitewater. We decided to send a canoe out to MEC Calgary, so that their staff could determine whether or not it was suitable whitewater material. You can view their video here. The canoe is subjected to tons of abuse, the most extreme of which is a wrap around a big rock in the middle of the Bow River. The TuffStuff Expedition canoe survives the wrap and they continue to paddle for the rest of the day. Any concerns about real-world durability were quickly being put to rest.

For more results from the field, we provided Brad and Wayne Jennings of explorethebackcountry.com a TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 16 for their trip down the Rio Grande, which they embarked on just this past January. Upon their return, I asked Wayne what his impressions of the new canoe material were and he replied with one word – phenomenal. He said the canoe endured many impacts in rapids and against canyon walls, all without showing any signs of problems. You can view images of this trip on their website and Facebook page.

It has been fascinating to watch the progression of this new material – from concept to real world use and abuse. My confidence in TuffStuff is as high as it has ever been for any Nova Craft product. It’s obvious that many other people in the industry feel the same way, as orders are flowing in at good pace. Like I said, it was the talk of the Paddlesport trade show circuit this weekend and I’m sure the conversations will only increase as time goes on and more paddlers experience the benefits of a TuffStuff canoe.

John
Nova Craft

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