By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
Self-propelled craft have been around since the dawn of mankind, but continued advances in design are keeping their popularity steady in the modern outdoors.
Stability, functionality, reliability and affordability are key factors to consider when buying any watercraft. When it comes to ease of use, today’s kayaks and canoes answer those needs well, and offer easy access to waters and places that might otherwise remain unexplored if the rigmarole of launching a heavier, powered boat was the only other option.
“The kayaks, especially, are becoming a lot more popular,” Randy Haynes, with Sports Center, in Starkville, says. “Because of their length, their weight and their price, they’re selling well.”
Lighter is better
Canoes vary in length depending on their purpose. A small, highly-maneuverable canoe will be roughly 12 to 14 feet long and weigh around 80 pounds, and larger, expedition-style canoes reach the 17- to 20-foot range and weigh upwards of 100 pounds. As canoes get longer, they trade maneuverability for capacity. Short canoes handle rapids better than long canoes, while long canoes haul more gear and track in straight lines better than short canoes.
Tuned for the job
Kayaks typically fall in the nine- to 10-foot range and weigh around 40 pounds. Modern design has made these boats not only light, but stable as well.
“They’re designed to have a skirt around the rider for rolling over, but nobody around here is rolling a kayak,” Haynes laughed. “They’re really stable on the water.”
The craft also offer a surprising amount of storage space as well. Most are designed with a spot for dry storage in the hull behind the rider, and the space inside the hull forward of the rider’s feet is open for use also.
Room for gear
“People use dry bags in their kayaks to haul tents and sleeping bags and all sorts of things,” Slade Fancher, also of Sports Center in Starkville, said.
Day trips and weekend expeditions along the Tenn-Tom Waterway and the Tombigbee River are common outings for groups. Since both canoes and kayaks require only the shallowest of waters to float well, countless creeks and ponds are open to these craft and none other.
Often more powerful than price or access, though, is the simple aesthetic value of the operation of the craft itself. Davis Lovelace, of the Becker community, has been building wooden canoes by hand as a hobby and side trade since the age of 12. Both the construction and the application are powerful parts of his life.
“I’ve been 263 miles down the Pearl River in a canoe I built by hand,” Lovelace said. “It gets my mind off of work, off of whatever else is happening. It’s a very therapeutic process.”