The quiet season in the Lakes Region has begun. It’s the perfect time to experience crafts that are propelled by energy, not engines.
There are many self-propelled boats to choose from, and using them can give you both a rigorous workout and an experience of the water that is very different from cruising in a motorboat of any type.
Crafts that range from canoes to kayaks and paddle boards sit low on the water. There are no rumbling engines, no fuel emissions wafting in the air (though I admit that is one of my very favorite smells.)
Instead of hearing the roar of an engine, you hear the water ripple and lap at the shore. You might see turtles sunbathing on logs, herons fishing or loons diving under the surface.
The following are crafts you might be compelled to try in these waning weeks of summer 2019, organized from those that have been around longer to those that are newer in concept. Many marinas in the area rent these crafts; call the marina closest to you for cost and availability.
When you go out, if the water you are on is busy with boats, it’s wise to stick close to shore. Also, take — or better yet, wear — a personal flotation device, and don’t go out before sunrise or after sunset; it’s illegal and also a safety hazard as larger boats will not be able to see you.
My mother, Evelyn Beetle of Laconia, has a great story in the Intro-to-Canoeing category.
She lived on Lake Winnisquam for much of her life. About three decades ago, two young women came to visit her camp. They noticed a canoe pulled up on the beach and asked if they could give it a try. Mom said sure. She watched from above and laughed heartily as the pair got in the canoe facing one another and each began to paddle. Working against one another, they got nowhere.
Mom yelled to the woman in front, “Turn around.”
She shifted, they continued to paddle, and then the two were off, heading down the shore.
Canoes have been around for as long as we can remember. You can operate one solo, but make sure you sit in the rear so you can control the steering as you also paddle. If you ride tandem, one paddler goes in front, facing forward, the other in the rear, also facing forward.
You propel yourself by paddling, shifting the oar from side to side, which also helps to keep you on a straight path. The paddler in the rear is in charge of the actual steering; when you need to turn, or correct your direction, place your paddle upright, into the water, behind the craft, making your paddle operate like a rudder.
Rob Bolduc, who owns Piche’s with his brother Pat and his father Bob, said canoes are not as popular as they once were, but his store — with shops in Laconia, Gilford and Belmont — still carries Old Town canoes.
You can buy a low-end canoe starting at roughly $550. Be aware that cheaper canoes will be less stable.
Rowboats are wider than a canoe, and seat more passengers. The oars are also longer, and they are held in position in oar locks.
The person in charge of propelling the boat sits in the middle, facing the stern, which is wider than the bow. You plant your feet on the bottom of the boat, holding one oar in each hand. The oarlocks keep your oars from flailing about as you draw them back, scoop them in and push the water forward to get yourself going.
Rowboats of yesteryear were solid wood construction — dories, prams, skiffs and yawls. Today, they are steel, polyethylene or carbon fiber, and they range in price from several hundred dollars up into the thousands.
Bolduc said Piche’s doesn’t carry traditional rowboats, but it stocks inflatable hybrids for about $200; these cannot be used to go any distance. “People use them to get to their boat moorings,” he said. “They are not very maneuverable.”
Pedal boats have also advanced into this era. Bolduc said they can seat four people now and are often equipped with a cooler and a canopy.
The construction and operation remain the same, though. Pedal boaters sit and pedal the boat much like you would pedal a bike. Don’t expect to get any speed going, though. Pedal boating is a labor. The pedals spin a wheel with a rudder; to go left, the person sitting in the right-hand seat pedals while the other rests, and vice versa. It’s not an exact science, though. There is little accuracy in steering a pedal boat.
Piche’s carries Pelican brand pedal boats, which start at about $550. Bolduc said Piche’s sold six this year.
Bolduc said the kayak is the new canoe. They are popular and versatile, with a cost range from $279 for a low-end model up into the thousands. He said the most popular models are between $500 and $800.
In a kayak, you propel by paddling. Your paddle is one long device, with blades on either end.
You sit with your feet positioned against foot pedals—under the deck, unless you are in a sea kayak, in which case, they are in full view as are your legs. The foot pedals don’t help you propel; they give you balance and stability and increase your capacity for power.
Hold the paddle so the blades are to your left and right. Alternate scooping right, and then left, dipping each blade into the water and scooping the water. The motion propels the craft forward.
Kayaks sit lower in the water than a canoe, rowboat or pedal boat, and they are also tippier.
In selecting the right kayak, Bolduc said to look for padding in the seat and back support. “If you don’t have support, and you’re out for more than an hour, it can get wearing,” he said.
Likewise, he said, there are a range of paddles available. Better materials make for a lighter paddle and an easier ride.
Kayaks can also now come equipped with a pedal system. Some have a pedal system like a bicycle — or a pedal boat — and others are propelled with an action that is more like a stair machine in a gym; you step on the pedals alternately, as opposed to rotating them.
Bolduc said Piche’s carries Pelican kayaks that can be operated with a pedal system; these start at about $1,200.
Piche’s also carries kayaks on which small electric motors can be mounted. He said these kayaks are more like $2,500. And, of course, then they are not self-propelled!
Stand up paddle board, or SUP
Another new innovation in watercraft is the stand up paddleboard, also known simply as a paddle board, or as an SUP.
These watercraft look like surfboards; they are flat and lie directly on the water’s surface. Instead of riding a wave, though, paddle boarders — well, they paddle.
Standing on a paddle board requires excellent balance and uses all the core muscles in the body, so it is also a great, low-impact workout. As you stand, you hold a long-handled, single-blade paddle in your hand, scooping alternately on one side and then the other.
Try paddle boarding for the first time on a warm day, if you are able. It’s likely you will topple into the water and have to climb back on a few times before you get the hang of it.
Bend your knees if a boat passes you, and its waves rock your board.
Bolduc said paddle boards range from about $300 for a rubber, inflatable model to roughly $1,000 or up for a higher-priced model made of plastic or fiberglass. He said the highest-end models are made of lighter carbon fiber; the lighter the material, the more maneuverable the board.
Hobie has a new model of SUP board, the Mirage Eclipse, which makes uses of the stair-step technology. These boards have a bar that rises from the base with a handlebar across the top. As you step, paddles beneath the surface flap forward and back, creating the motion.
This technology works the legs, not the arms, as you move across the surface of the water.
Piche’s doesn’t carry these boards as Hobie has authorized dealers. Learn more at https://www.hobie.com/pedalboards/.