Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing
Henry David Thoreau
Wherever there is water, there is watercraft. Mostly, this is in the form of a canoe. Canoes throughout history have been made from logs, animal skins and tree bark and were used for basic transportation, trade, and in some instances, for war.
The design of the original canoe varied, depending on its use and where it was built; it varied between open-topped bark canoes to a dug-out tree to 130ft war canoes. In contrast, kayaks were built to ensure icy Arctic water did not enter the boat. They were made by stretching animal skins over a wooden frame and could generally only carry one man at a time.
There are two theories for the derivation of the term “canoe.” Some claim that the word is of Arawakan origin. Originally spelled canoa, the word was later Anglicized as “canoe.” Another theory is that the term is derived from the word kenu or kanu which means dugout.
The Kayak probably originates from Greenland, where it was used by the Eskimos while canoes were used all over the world. The word Kayak (ki ak), meaning “man-boat” in Eskimo, was found predominately in the northern parts of the world, North America, Siberia and Greenland. They were ideal for individual transport and were used primarily for hunting and fishing. The canoe, on the other hand, was used on a much wider scale. From the Native American tribes to the Polynesians, the canoe enjoyed a variety uses including transport, trade and warfare.
The main differences between canoes and kayaks are that kayaks are closed boats with a cockpit for sitting in. They are paddled from a sitting position with a double-bladed paddle. Canoes are open boats paddled from a kneeling position with a single-bladed paddle. No one can say exactly where canoeing started, but canoes have been around for thousands of years. Several years ago, archeologists discovered the remains of a dugout canoe among ancient ruins believed to be 8,000 years old.
Although canoeing is now considered a sport, canoes were used for transportation throughout history. Clues from the history of Indian canoes can help us understand how got the canoes we use today. In North America, the very first canoes were used by the indigenous people of the Caribbean to travel between the islands.
Throughout history — even over the last century — the canoe has evolved from those made of logs to modern canoes, made of birch back canoe, was used by Native Americans, explorers, missionaries and trappers. Since it could haul huge lots of cargo while handle all sorts of conditions such as quiet waters, open lakes, quickly-moving rivers and coastal waters, it was perfect to navigate North American waterways.
As soon as European explorers came to North America, they found canoes quite handy and started using them. In fact, the Europeans were amazed with the advanced engineering skills that the Native Americans used to design sophisticated canoes. Instead of hollowed out logs, these canoes were framed and constructed of multiple types of wood and held together with glue made from trees. In 1603, Samuel de Champlain was the first explorer to record the dimensions of Native American canoes. He wrote that they measured up to 23 feet (7 meter), to a 50 inch (1.27 metre) beam, and carried as much as 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) of cargo. The French used the canoe to establish the fur trade and further explore what we now call Canada and the mainland United States.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that canoeing made the change from being solely for transportation to also being used for fun. John MacGregor, a Scotsman, designed a recreational canoe which he named the Rob Roy, after his famous Scottish ancestor and his own nickname. Canoeing then caught on as a recreational sport, leading MacGregor to start the Royal Canoe Club in 1866 with other canoeists. From there he designed a line of canoes and wrote books about the sport of canoeing. John MacGregor is generally credited with being the initiator of modern sport canoeing. Whilst working as a Barrister in London he designed a double-ended canoe based on Indian canoes he had seen in North America. This was then built on the Thames at Lambeth. The end result was made from oak planking with cedar decking, was 15ft long, and weighed 80lbs or 36kg. During the 1860s he had at least six more canoes built to the same design, and used them on long trips in the UK, Europe, the Baltic and the Middle East.
In 1866 MacGregor published A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, which became a huge success right across Europe and in North America. This was followed by other books such as The Rob Roy on the Baltic in 1867 and The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Nile, Red sea in 1869. Each of his books was illustrated by MacGregor himself. MacGregor did not note the aboriginal lineage of the “Rob Roy” in his book but his design was based on sketches of Inuit kayaks. Following on from MacGregor’s adventures, Robert Louis Stevenson undertook a voyage by canoe in 1876 through the canals and rivers of France and Belgium, an account of which appeared in the first of his books to be published, the 1878 ‘An Inland Voyage’. Stevenson used “Rob Roy” canoes.
The second period of development of canoeing was from the 1930s to the 1950s and is identified with the wooden frame and canvas kayaks and the start of the British Canoe Union Coaching Scheme. Percy Blandford (1912 -2014) wrote books and produced a host of designs for the Scout movement, which brought canoeing to a much wider number of people in the United Kingdom. The low cost, make it yourself PBK (Percy Blandford Kayak) designs, were, like the ‘Rob Roy’ stable, went in a straight line, and had large cockpits which made them easy to use for recreational paddlers.
Whitewater canoeing came about after WWII, with Europeans leading the way in advancements. Whitewater canoeing eventually became a sport which took place on artificial rapids with competitors racing for the fastest time. This became a part of the Olympics in 1972. It was not seen again until 1992 in Seu d’Urgell as part of the Barcelona games. Since then, slalom paddling has been a regular at the Olympics.
The design and specification of both canoes and kayaks has advanced hugely over the centuries and it is now possible to have canoes or kayaks made from materials such as plastic, wood, Kevlar, fibreglass or carbon fibre. Kayaks and canoes are designed to suit either beginners or experts and can be for journeys, recreational paddling or sport;