Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Fourth Article PUBLISHED!
The Maine Sportsman - New England's Largest Outdoor Publication – Will be publishing my story written below in their February 2009 edition. The article will be part of the magazines “special sections” and highlight boating with small watercraft. For more information on the Maine Sportsman Magazine or to order a subscription click this link: http://mainesportsman.com/. The copy below is the originally submitted unedited version. Enjoy!
Portable Boats Allow Access to Inaccessible by Steve Vose
Motoring to a favorite hunting spot, the north wind stirs a light chop as my excited Labrador retriever begins quickly pacing port to starboard. My smile widens as I reflect that these same antics would have had me anxiously chewing off my fingernails a year ago. After exclusively using canoes and kayaks as my primary method of transport for over a decade, my need for a motor driven watercraft finally hit critical mass. A turning point was reached with the added carrying capacity, stability, comfort, and decrease in muscle expenditure a small motor driven boat could provide. Suffering with a variety of lower back problems, a limited budget and lack of sufficient storage space I knew that my options would be restricted, however, I was determined to find a watercraft that would fit my specific needs.
Any sportsman knows that to be successful you need the right tool for the job. You don’t hunt deer with #8 shot shells and you typically don’t take a small boat out on the Atlantic. In choosing a small boat it is important to remember that only when used within their limitations are they safe. Careful attention must always be paid to a number of concerns including; maximum horsepower ratings, carrying capacities and anticipated weather conditions. Ignoring any of these details can prove life threatening.
Right Tool for the Job
To be an effective choice, your boat should be designed to fill a niche that strikes a perfect balance of portability, purpose and safety. In short, small enough to launch alone, transportable without a trailer, matched to your intended outdoor pursuit(s) and large enough to be stable in your chosen endeavors. Typically this means watercraft in the 12-14 foot range matched with a properly fitting gasoline or electric motor. In my situation, this meant picking a boat capable of handling a small 2-cycle motor, light enough for one person to wrestle into the back of a pick-up and possessing the ability to transport two duck hunters and their associated waterfowl gear within its recommended carrying capacity. Identifying the intended tasks was easy, identifying the appropriate tool proved a significant challenge.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
Looking at the enormous variety of small boats available can be staggering. To assist you in narrowing down the options lets take a look at a few of the boats currently on the market that I researched before arriving at my final decision. The Internet is a great way of checking out other makes and models beyond what I have listed below and will also assist you with finding second hand boat options.
Lund and StarCraft Marine both carry a several small boat options. Lund carries the A12-14 and StarCraft the “Sealite” series all within the 165 to 200 pound range. These V hull shaped boats are capable of carrying themselves though moderate waves. Lund and SeaCraft also carry several flat bottom “John boats” in the 80-140 lb range that draft very little water and are extremely useful in calm water conditions. All models are constructed of sturdy aluminum. Though heavier, V hulls are typically more stable and designed to cut through rough water while the lighter weight flat-bottomed “John Boats” are less stable and intended for use on calm waters.
Wooden and fiberglass scull floats are an interesting alternative that allow you to use either a small motor for speedy transport or a sculling oar to silently sneak up on unsuspecting waterfowl. Though significantly more expensive than other solutions the Brant II by Lock, Stock and Barrel is a solid choice and will easily transport two hunters and gear.
My search lead to a product build by Portaboat and after considerable thought, I decided on the company’s 12 foot model. The boat fit all of my specifications, could be purchased within my budget, weighed less than 100 lbs (meaning one person could load and unload it) and since it folded flat could be easily transported on a standard set of canoe racks. The boat is designed with a cathedral hull that creates a small air pocket under the craft and literally “sucks” it into the water making in extremely stable. Though the boat can effectively manage a maximum engine size of 5 hp the added weight of the larger engine gave me pause and I settled on a 3.5 hp 2-stroke Nissan engine with internal gas tank. With an empty weight of just 25 lbs the engine fit perfectly with the portability of the boat.
As you settle into a choice of boat, you will understandably want to fine tune your craft for your specific outdoor pursuit. Have no fear that the choices of possible modification are many and varied. Anchor systems, padded seating, rod and cup holders, fish finders and even sailing kits are all great options to make your time a float more enjoyable.
Portaboats are even available in several colors, those who are inspired by duck hunting as much as I will understand there is no possible choice other than olive drab. A word of caution, this color scheme is extremely hot in the summer when you are fishing and those that do not need a camouflaged craft may want to consider white.
Pros and Cons
Owning a boat, I have learned that like most things in life there are trade offs. The 2-stroke engine allows me to access my intended destinations at a rate of speed vastly superior to paddle power, however a paddle rarely broke the idyllic morning silence. The inhalation of 2-cycle smoke seems to put a bit of a damper on the clean and refreshing pine scented spring air but that can be remedied by using an electric motor. Your friends will be leery at the prospects of setting foot in a small boat but if operated in a safe manner will be converted.
After 5 years of abuse my boat has held up extremely well and even with high levels of wear and tear it has yet to leak or show any signs of hull weakness. Its stability allows me to pull a 70 lb soaking wet Labrador up over the side or perform standing casts without worry of capsize. Drafting less than 7 inches it is perfect for getting into spots that would be unavailable to larger and heavier boats. The plastic construction is quite and scaring game less likely when you accidentally drop a shot shell or fishing pole.
Always wear your life vest as it provides you no benefit being used as a seat cushion.
Be sure to leave notice of where you are and when you will be returning with someone and if necessary, be prepared to spend the night stranded in a location should weather or other factors prevent you from making it home.
Although I have braved the waters of the Atlantic in small watercraft, I did so under extraordinarily good conditions. I do not recommend ever taking a small boat onto large bodies of water unless you thoroughly understand the inherent dangers.
If you have ever felt the pain of backing a boat trailer down a mile of a remote skidder trail you will immediately understand that eliminating the need to trailer your small boat will greatly increase your confidence in accessing ever more challenging and remote areas. “Extend a Truck” carries a hitching system that increases the length of your tailgate and allowing you to carry boats in the truck bed with added support and safety.
Know that eventually you motor driven support will fail. When it does, a small “tool” kit that contains spare spark plug, pull rope, gas cap, shear pins, pliers, screwdriver and small tack hammer will be invaluable.
Oars and installed oarlocks can be a lifesaver. These devices have saved me on numerous occasions when my motor driven support has completely failed. They are also invaluable when navigating shallow or unfamiliar waters, around decoy lines and other hazards.
Lastly, to safe guard your wallet it will be much to your benefit to grab a copy of the Boating Laws and Rules from Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This free booklet provides a general overview of boating laws, horsepower restrictions, public launch locations and a variety of other helpful information.
Maine is filled with unexplored wilderness areas that typically see little or no traffic. These prime habitats often exist right in our backyards but due to lack of good boat launching sites remain inaccessible. Small lightweight boats offer a solution to this problem and when used correctly are perfect for accessing these areas. While my small boat has taken me everywhere from hunting sea ducks on the quiet bays and inlets of the Atlantic Ocean to fishing on rivers and lakes throughout New England it is much more at home on inaccessible small ponds and streams where it has allowed me to fish and hunt in geographically isolated areas that few sportsmen have even seen. So, what are you waiting for get out there and explore!
For more see the "Hunting and Fishing with Small Boats" teaser with porta-boat assembly video I blogged back in September.