Reading my copy of ‘Canoe Camping’ by Tim Gent, I came across the phrase ‘fettling a canoe’. This might not mean much to non-paddlers, but every canoe needs a degree of fitting out to suit its owner, and ‘fettling’ exactly catches the feel of the process for me – a mix of purpose and tinkering…
I recently was lucky enough to find a secondhand Mega Outlander 16″ canoe going at a good price at my end of the country. These boats aren’t well known, and don’t come up for sale very often, but those in the know speak very highly of them. They have a reputation of being light, fast and responsive on the water, but not unstable or too prone to the effects of a crosswind – an ideal tripping boat either solo or tandem. So I made a round trip to the North Pennines, returning with my new acquisition. A little bit of boat juggling found it space in the garage.
Then came the slow bit, thinking about how the boat will be used, and hence how I needed to outfit it. It is a composite hull, with no inherent buoyancy, so airbags are a must. I will mostly be paddling solo, with camera gear and tripping kit on board, and often my dog too, so I will need places to attach luggage securely, without preventing tandem use as well. I am unlikely to be tackling rocky whitewater rivers in this boat, but may still need to track or line it at times on trips, so there needs to be attachment points for ropes for and aft as well.
This was the starting point:
Not exactly a bare hull, but plenty to do to set it up as I want. The first job was to remove the old outfitting, rub down and oil the wood. The previous owner had screwed plastic loops under the gunwales to secure the green tape which would hold in the air bags. All bar one of these came out cleanly, the last one needing drilling out. I decided to lace the gunwales rather than drill the hull to refit the air bags. This would give more strength than the plastic loops fitted previously, but without compromising the hull itself. I drilled 6mm holes to take 5mm rope, but decided against making loops with plastic tubing. Instead I ran the rope directly under the gunwale, and threaded 25mm webbing under it to give a neat, concealed finish. The air bag with its protective cover would sit under the webbing.
I continued with the gunwale lacing passed the end of the bow air bag to the front of the seat, and also between the stern seat and the thwart. These areas were to make gear loops as strong attachment points for kit. The 5mm rope is simply threaded through a length of clear plastic tubing a little longer than the distance between the holes in the gunwale. I used a 5″ length of tube and a 3″ separation. The topside separation was 1 1/2″ for the gear loops in the cockpit, but 1″ in bow and stern to give more attachment points for the air bag lacing. The end result looked like this:
Then came the air bags. Removing the fibreglass end caps, I fitted small plastic loops to the inside of the gunwales and cable-tied the front of the air bag to these to keep it nicely in the end of the hull. When I removed the end caps I discovered that the wood was quite wet, and some debris had built up during the boat’s storage, so a little bit of cleaning and drying was in order, and another coating of oil on this area. I also drilled a small hole in the end of each end cap to help water drain away when the boat is stored on its gunwales.
I made the covers for the air bags from 6mm closed cell foam exercise mats. I folded the mat around the air bag, and tucked the tail of the mat underneath. These will help protect them from my dog’s claws, sticks and branches, and also abrasion from any detritus that finds its way under the bag on a trip.
I was pleased with the neat appearance of the webbing holding the air bag in placed.
And finally the painters needed fitting. I decided against drilling the hull to fit these, at least temporarily until I have been on a few trips, and simply larks’-footed them over the wooden carrying handles. This has the advantage of being quick and easily removable, but also can increase the tipping leverage of the rope on the hull, and isn’t quite as strong as a rope loop through the hull. Time and use will help me decide this one…
The final result doesn’t at first glance look all that different to how I got it, but I’m happy with things so far. The other small details, whether to lace the space between the thwart and the bow seat with gear loops, and how to fit removable kneeling mats, will be decided as I get used to the boat. Now I just need to get on the water…