Monday, September 21, 2009

Adirondack Guide Boats

We spent the weekend at a most fantastic wedding at the Adirondack League Club, a 60,000 acre private forest preserve developed soon after the railroads opened the Adirondacks in the 1890's. Some 450 families own carefully sited camps on the various lakes within the preserve. These camps, although old, are hardly the cramped, spider-infested camps I have seen elsewhere, but rather are large, comfortable and even luxurious, and very well cared for.

The camps have boathouses. Many families own Adirondack Guide Boats, very lightly built ceder and spruce pulling boats 12 to 16 or so feet overall, narrow, low freeboard, and, I believe, among the lightest traditionally built wooden boats in the world. I understand a light 12 foot solo canoe type, built a hundred years old without any veneers or glues, may weigh as little as 45 pounds. I estimated the weight of the 15 foot model I rowed, capacity three persons, at 85 pounds. The boats were meant to be packed into trout ponds, of course.

 This first photo is of a glass boat, to show the form.

Rushton was the great builder, and his surviving boats sell for a lot of money.

The oars are pinned, so a fisherman could drop the looms without the oars floating off. This means, of course, that the oars cannot be feathered, which must be a problem in a long pull against a strong wind. It also means the oars can't be stroked with a nice recovery "flip" at the end of a stroke (merging into the feather), which is where a fair amount of the power comes from in a rotating oar. Also, the boats are so narrow that the rower's hands cross over on each stroke and recovery.

One quickly gets used to these details and the boats have such an easy pull, they are an absolute pleasure. There is something pretty cool, too, about rowing a boat that is over a century old.

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