From the Shop: I like big bows (and I cannot lie).

With apologies to Sir Mix-a-lot for that title, I though this week I’d look at why Blackfly boats are “funny looking” for canoes, and why it works better.  I get the question pretty commonly, “Why are the ends of the boats so bulbous?”  To answer that, let’s fire up the Way-back machine and take a walk down memory lane…

Baby’s got bow.

…The year was 2010.  Blackfly Canoes was in it’s first year, with only a freestyle OC boat in production.  The traditionalists said “That’s not a canoe!”  So I decided to build a “canoe” version of the boat.  The Ion went into production the next year; at 6’10” it had all the traditional identifying characteristics of a canoe but was radically short and high volume (ok, it didn’t have the “pointed ends”).  In the effort to make an extremely short canoe, I had to pack as much volume into the ends as possible.  The result was something that looked even more bathtub-like that most canoes.  But the thing was… it worked really, really well.  As soon as I put it on the river, I knew I was on to something.  The boat bobbed through waves, rather than piercing through them.  The ends stayed on top of the water off ledges.  Heck, it even shattered the open boat record at the Green Race!

The Ion became the genesis for most of the Blackfly boats that followed, other than the Option.  The Octane 91/92 was conceived as a stretched and widened Ion, with even more volume in the ends.  The Octane 85 was a narrowed and slightly shortened 91.  The Condor was originally conceived as a lengthened Octane.  So the lineage is strong, and a big part of the DNA is the high volume ends.  So why?

The short answer is volume keeps the boat on top of the water.  If you look at modern kayaks, the creek boats bear little resemblance to the kayaks of 25 or 30 years ago, and even less so to the ones you would have found the Inuit paddling.  They’re short and high volume with a lot of volume pushed way out to the ends.  They stay on top of water really well.  In whitewater, that’s a good thing.  And it turns out, it’s even better in a canoe, because if the ends of the boat stay on top of the water, the boat doesn’t take on nearly as much water.  More volume = a drier ride.  It’s pretty much that simple.  At some point you have to eschew the pointy-gunwale aesthetic (or give the boat a heck of a lot of tumblehome) in favor of bulbous performance.

But doesn’t it make the boat slower?  Well, not necessarily.  Most of the volume is above the water line, so it doesn’t effect how the boat is interacting until you need it.  When the boat hits a wave, then the volume comes into play and helps the boat ride over the wave.  Perhaps that does slow it down some, but is it as much as the 10 gallons of icy water that would have otherwise soaked your crotch and are now weighting down the boat because your bow speared through the wave?

At a recent river festival, I was talking with a friend who has been kayaking for probably close to 4 decades, much of that time at a high level.  His parents were canoeists, and he chose a different path.  Looking at my boats laid out on the grass, He said “I never understood the point of having a pointy bow to try to cut through waves.  Wouldn’t you want to go over waves?  This makes a lot more sense.”  I just smiled and gave my best northern New England “Ayuh.”