What canoes do we use? (by Uncle Dan)

Over the years our family has used many different canoes.  Early on, when our family was rapidly growing, our canoe needs changed from year to year and so we opted to rent canoes to meet the specific needs that came up each year.  This gave us a chance to test different canoes from several manufacturers including Swift Canoe and Kayak and Mad River Canoe.   By far, our favorite models of canoes were the Swift designs.    Initially, we were able to fit our family and all of our gear into a single canoe.  This was good because when our children were small, only Shelley and I were available to stern a canoe and Shelley always had to tend to the youngest child (baby or toddler), which left only me at the stern.  We needed a relatively large boat that could fit everyone (and everything) and one that could move relatively quickly and efficiently over flat water (since most of our trips involve flat water paddling).  We found that the Swift Winisk best met our needs.  The Winisk was designed by boat designer John Winters and falls in Swift's 'Canadian Touring Canoes' class.  This boat boasts a length of 17 feet and 6 inches with a maximum width of 36 inches and a 14 inch bow height.  It has an asymmetrical design and is built for speed and stable tracking on the flat water. The photograph below shows us packed in the Winisk with only inches of freeboard (the distance between the water and the gunwale of the canoe). 

Two adults and four children and all of their gear in a single canoe (the Swift Winisk).  Photo by Dave Smilek

While it's probably not a good idea to load a boat to this level, we had to make do since we were not yet able to take multiple canoes.  The Winisk served us extremely well and we recommend it enthusiastically.  If you need a large touring boat you might also check out the Swift Tamagami, which has the same length as the Winisk but a slightly greater maximum width and a larger load range.

In 2011, our children were older and this allowed us to start using two canoes, with Shelley at the stern of one canoe and with me at the stern of the other.  At this point, we decided that it was time to purchase rather than rent canoes because rental costs were getting quite high and we knew that we would use the boats we purchased for the foreseeable future. We purchased one of the canoes at a Swift sale in Guelph, ON.  Fortunately, at this sale we were able to procure a lightly used Swift Algonquin 17" fiberglass canoe at a great price.  Our decision to go with the Algonquin was based on the fact that it is known to be a great performing yet very stable canoe, which are useful features if the canoe has to efficiently transport fidgeting kids across large wavy lakes. 

Anna sitting beside the Swift Algonquin.

For our second canoe, I decided to take the plunge and actually build one!  So, in the summer of 2011, with some help from Shelley, the children, my brother Dave and a good friend named Mike, I (we) built a cedar strip canoe.  I decided to go with the Kipawa designed by John Winters (and also sold by Swift).  The Kipawa is 16 feet and 6 inches long and has a maximum width of 36 inches.  It is an asymmetrical canoe designed for speed and tracking at the expense of a little stability.    I bought the plans and the materials at Noah's Marine in Toronto ON.  The good folks at Noah's also gave me lots of useful tips.  My main sources of guidance for building the canoe, however, were the following two books:

Below is an image of Shelley paddling the cedar Kipawa. 

Shelley paddling the cedar strip Kipawa on a misty morning in Algonquin Park.

Together the Algonquin and the Kipawa were our primary work horses until this year, when our family, now with five growing kids, finally needed a third canoe.  For our third canoe, we fixed and resurrected an old Voyageur Prospector canoe that my brother Dave and I used when we were teenagers (the canoe is now roughly 26 years old).  Below is a photo of my daughter Anna soloing the old Prospector.

Anna soloing the refurbished Voyageur Prospector.

Going forward, we hope to replace the old Prospector with another canoe from Swift -- maybe the 16 foot Keewaydin or the tough Dumoine!  We'll keep you posted.