One Canoe, Four Configurations: Customizing a Redbird for a Paddling Family
One of the hardest parts of choosing a canoe model is deciding what will best suit your paddling style. Choosing a canoe that tracks well in big water might mean sacrifices when it comes to navigating a narrow river, while choosing a large-capacity model to accommodate your gear might mean riding high in the water on light daytrips.
Scott Price was turning over questions like these when it came to the possible paddling arrangements for him and his family. He wanted his Redbird to be able to provide several possible seating configurations for his wife and three young children, and we thought the solution he came up with was elegant enough to share on the blog. This is how he plans to make sure his canoe gets plenty of time on the water in the years to come.
I just returned from a three-day trip to Algonquin Park with my new canoe, which included christening my canoe on Canoe Lake (with Canadian whisky - hopefully Ted approves), paddling, fishing and even a capsize drill with my three sons (ages 10, 8 and 5).
Overall, I’m really happy with the performance of my Redbird. Having previously only paddled flat-bottomed canoes, I was a little worried about stability, but that turned out to be a non-issue for us. It rocks, but doesn’t roll (unless you do something absolutely ridiculous). I never felt like the boys' movements put us at risk of flipping over (even while fishing), and it heals over so predictably that the capsize drill was anti-climactic. I was also impressed with its speed. I don’t have a great point of reference or GPS data, but my sense is that it glides through the water beautifully. Once the boys nail down their paddling technique, I’ll need to do a time trial as well.
As for the middle seat, I solved the seat insertion issue by sliding the yoke about eight to twelve inches toward the front of the canoe, which spread the gunwales an extra couple inches, giving me the wiggle room I needed to get the seat to clear. The middle seat can be installed either side of the yoke, giving me four configurations to distribute the weight of my family members as my kids grow.
I sit in the bow seat, facing rearward. The middle seat is installed to the rear of the yoke and seats my youngest two kids (it’s 26 inches wide, which is roughly the width of two car booster seats), and my oldest sits in the stern seat facing rearward. The net result is a very level ride in the water with no additional ballast required in the bow. The only downside to this configuration is that the loon on the side of my canoe looks like it’s doing the moonwalk because it’s going backward in the water.
When my wife decides to try canoeing or in a few years
As the boys grow, I’ll move to the stern seat, flip the middle seat in front of the yoke to seat my youngest two kids, and my oldest will sit in the bow seat. I’m also convinced that if my wife sits in the front seat, two of my sons can sit in the middle and paddle, with the third being a passenger on/in front of the rear thwart.
When the kids have grown up
It was important to me that the canoe always be capable of seating my sons. So, when they’re fully-grown, they can either continue with option 2 above, or they can move the seat to the rear of the yoke, remove the yoke, and still have a reasonable amount of paddling space to work with.
The kid-free zone
Of course, I can also pull the middle seat completely when we’re empty nesters, or to carry cargo for a back-country canoe trip.
My canoe’s final weight (according to my bathroom scale) is 52 pounds, which I think is fairly respectable for a 17.5 foot canoe and a first build. This includes the middle seat and a rear thwart, as well as several wood choices where I prioritized strength or appearance over weight-savings. I built this canoe because I loved the character/look of the wood, not because I wanted to compete with carbon-composite hulls.
I’m also happy with the way the loons on the sides of the canoe turned out. They sit just about perfectly on the waterline.
I’ll put together a video submission when I get a chance. So far, I’ve been too focused on enjoying the ride. In the meantime, here are a few quick photos: