Monday, July 25, 2011

Not For The Faint Of Heart - Today's Voyageurs - The Canoeguys



James and Chris - The Canoeguys
In late November 2010, I had a message pop up on Twitter from @Canoeguys (aka Chris Petrie) wanting to know if I ever made canoe paddles.

I told Chris, yes I did. Fact is, I made custom canoe paddles long before I ever made Greenland kayak paddles.

Through Twitter, emails, txt messages and phone calls, I was able to get a grasp on just what kind of an Expedition, Chris and James where about to embark on, come May 24, 2011.

This was no journey for sissies, nor the faint of heart, this was not a short jaunt across a narrow lake, nor was it going to be a leisurely afternoon paddle. This was going to be the genuine thing.

These lads would be out in the REAL wilderness for 35 days or more, mapping the old Voyageur route from Jasper, Alberta  to Forth Smith, Northwest, Territories. Approx. 1507km.

There would be no civilization for days on end. Bears, wolves, class 3 & 4 rapids and forest fires, with which to contend. Did we mention the bugs? Hoards and hoards of blood thirsty mosquitoes, etc. Hacking through brush a whole day, to only reach the beginning of a portage a kilometer away. To go through areas no man has gone, since the early Voyageurs themselves used these routes. Where having dependable equipment, could mean the difference between life or death. Equipment failure was not an option!

Having all this knowledge at my fingertips, I set out to design a modern day Voyageur paddle. I used straight grained hard maple for the paddle itself, and purple heart for the tip and a bit on the grip. Being of hardwoods, the paddles would be a bit heavier than the recreational paddles used today. Being perfectly balanced, compensated for the weight difference. 

The straight grain allowed the paddles to slightly flex, absorbing any punishment that the Canoeguys could throw at them. The paddles needed for this expedition, due to all the different terrains, would have to be an all around paddle, capable of taking anything the Canoeguys could throw at them.

Shaping the blade using a spokeshave.
In early May I sent two proto-type paddles for the Canoeguys to test.....and test they did. They beat them, bashed them and downright abused them. Here is their story.

The Henri La Pointe Voyageur Paddle
by Adanac Paddles

Written By
Chris Petrie of CanoeGuys.ca

The Henri La Pointe by Adanac Paddles was aptly named after my great-great uncle who was a voyageur over a century ago in the great Canadian West.  Hand-crafted out of maple, the paddle was uniquely designed based on traditional paddles used by fur trade voyageurs.  After months of historical dialogue, research and analysis, Jill Ellis was able to custom design and create a modern day voyageur paddle; thus, the Henri La Pointe was born.

At first glance and handling of the paddle, one jumps to the quick conclusion that you may have to switch paddles at some point during your expedition due to the weight and size difference.  Jill makes each paddle custom and specific to each individual paddler.  The paddles, although longer and heavier, are balanced in such a way that the upstroke is nicely complimented by the easier down stroke.  The 30 inch blade, much narrower, allows for a perfect stroke reaching far in front and allowing for the handle to rise over the head naturally like it should when properly paddling.  Just to give an idea of the size difference, my regular paddle is 58 inches long, while my custom-made Henri is 63 inches.   For one who wants to embrace history like us and up for the challenge of a more skill-driven paddle then take a chance on the Henri La Pointe.

The "Henri La Pointe"
On many portions of our journey, we faced strong head winds that otherwise could have made us wind-bound had we not had the Henri La Pointe paddles to aid our voyageur-like skills and determination.   As we progressed through Jasper National Park we came across two lakes that were both shallow and combined with strong head and cross winds.  This would be the first big test for the paddles: would they make it through the shallow lakes?  Although we couldn’t paddle through the shallow areas, the paddles held up with no problems as they consistently bumped, scraped and smacked into rocks for hours on end being used as spears and poles.

Our second section had no rapids and no shallow water and these paddles certainly proved that they are truly a deep water paddle as nothing kept us from our speedy progress. These paddles are meant to pull water and that is something they certainly do quite well.

As we entered Grand Rapids Provincial Park we had grown noticeably stronger from the use of the Henri and were unable to use our smaller paddles more ideal for white water.  We were afraid that we would over-compensate with the much smaller and lighter paddles that began to feel like children’s toys in comparison.  Although we made it through the rapids, we do not recommend voyageur paddles in white water scenarios as the blades are too narrow and not designed for such situations thus being potentially dangerous.

All in all, these paddles are perfect for deep water canoe trips. I recommend it for those looking for a good challenge in their canoe skills and strength. Not only was it built for durability and speed, but it is also offers a nice taste of historical authenticity. Something that all Canoe enthusiasts can appreciate!

Perfectly balanced...is yours?
Adanac Paddles has donated one 'Henri La Pointe' custom built paddle, to help raise funds for the Not-For-Profit Water-Matters.org. You can bid on it at Canoeguys.ca

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