May 30, 2017 I was in Flagstaff with my friend Greg when he asked whether I enjoyed canoeing. I said yes, even though I had no concrete recollection of being in a canoe. Six months later we were in Mexican Hat UT, placing two fully-loaded white water canoes in the San Juan River. The sun was impossibly hot and the water spit with genuine menace. Greg seemed completely unconcerned. Once underway, we passed beneath the US 163 highway bridge, the symbolic boundary between a bail-out and five days in a deep canyon harboring no Plan B.
This was the immersion program. Five days of swift water, rapids, shoals, and eddies. I swam through Class 3 Government Rapids and experienced a revelation while bobbing along, collecting paddle and boat. Being of the water was even better than being on the water. The waves no longer menaced, the were just one part of a system.
The connection to water is elemental. The subtle power of the paddle enables incredible maneuvers and propulsion. Draws, pries, sweeps, J’s, C’s and endless combinations. Understanding the physics of water is the magic. Mastery of the paddle and knowledge of the water is the algorithm of canoeing.
There have been dozens of trips since the journey down the Juan. There have been a number of canoes as well. The Mad River Explorer did it all. The Wi-No-Nah Minnesota II is a fabulous tandem tripper. And there is the Swift Osprey.
Twenty years ago, I was in Ontario on a work trip. This trip included a non-work segment to the Algonquin Provincial Park. No real agenda – maybe some hiking and goofing around. It was cold and there were patches of early snow. I visited the Algonquin Outfitters, thinking about a new paddle. Instead, I ended up with a new boat. The Swift factory was nearby and their Sales Manager sensed my interest in the beautiful Osprey on display. After a paddle in borrowed mittens I laid down a credit card of questionable capacity and the boat was mine. The Osprey is a spritely solo-touring boat. It is easy to trim when loaded and lives in the elusive land of fast-turning and steady tracking. The decks were cherry and the gunwales of ash. It was lovely and light. I’ve really mastered only a single thing in this long life – paddling this fine canoe.
The Osprey is still light but not as lovely. Hard use and poor storage led to the demise of deck and gunwales. She is now trimmed in aluminum and marine plywood. The gel-coat is faded and a constellation of scratches speak of hard landings and questionable lines. She has been hull down in many bodies of water. The cockpit has been awash with saltwater, freshwater, bog water, beer and coffee. And an unfortunate pint of Wild Turkey. It is a boat to love.