The Fantasy

Make no mistake, this is a silly boat.  Just as it has been a silly, unusual, and in some respects unpleasant summer.  The heat rolled in at the very beginning of June, and baked me thoroughly during an exploratory trip on the upper reaches of Tenderfoot Creek.  With the exception of a cool and rainy two days at a lookout in the Yaak, we made it through June and July with hardly any days much below 90, something that dropped rivers fast and brought on heat fatigue six weeks before I expect it.  These days I have little interest in backpacking in temps above 80, and really, only modest interest in doing so in temps above 60.  Combine high temps with kids who are too big to carry but not big enough to walk all day, and with the new oar rig my parents bought this spring, and we had little reason to not do a river trip most days all summer.  So that is what we did.  Since melt I’ve logged 10 separate trips to various stretches of the Blackfoot, and enjoyed circumstances nudging firmly my already developing interest in paddling as an art and end to itself, rather than a convenient and enjoyable means of wilderness transportation.

This being true, it was logical that in early July I bought a new boat, a solo whitewater canoe, one of the more esoteric genres out there.  The Mad River Fantasy is of a different era.  My boat might have been made 30 years ago, or as recently as 24.  It is 13 feet long, has 5 inches of rocker, is deep by the standards of a conventional canoe, but is on the shallow side for a whitewater boat.  The perhaps 7 feet of flat surface along the length progresses up in a somewhat less than shallow arch, with a distinct transition to almost, but not quite, straight sides that climb to the gunnels.  The stern cuts up earlier than the bow, the sum of these parts being a craft which on first entry was quite terrifying.  Held flat the bottom spins at the slightly thought, and I struggled mightily to get it to go straight.  I knew for the first that I would want to take out the original outfitting, as I cannot get on with kneeling on a pedestal for any length of time.  While I was at it, I thought I might try to alter the handling and make it more traditional, which I did by shortening the front and rear thwarts by 2 inches each.

This dropped the rocker, which improved tracking and hull speed, but doing so and then measuring and building the seat and center thwart turned the subtle flare through the midsection to tumblehome (ie the widest bit was below the gunnels), which made the Fantasy horrendously tippy.  A few folks, myself included, got suddenly dumped into the local pond due to my hackery.  So I tried again, figuring out after some experimentation that I could maintain the original width in the middle, and still pull the ends in.  This tamped down the rocker while keeping the flare, which is what allows the boat to have any real stability at all.

And the Fantasy does have stability.  That hull arch wiggles freely over 8-10 inches, something one can only tame via embracing it.  After his first ride, Little Cloud has refused to get in the “tippy nu” again.  With the flare restored that wiggle ends when the sides are dipped into the water, meaning that the Fantasy is (rather like skis) most stable in an arc.  And bulleting a 13 foot piece of wood and plastic into an eddy is very fun.   As shown above, I settled on a mix of a traditional bench seat and kneeling thwart.  I can sit normally and paddle relaxed, often cross legged with knees braced into the side.  After my first extended trip in the boat I had bruised from this, so glued in some 5mm foam.  I left the foam knee cups from the original outfitting, and have the seat high enough I can kneel with my legs crossed or feet under the seat when I want more emphatic control.

A canoe like this is an anti-packraft, in that packrafts can benefit from but never demand active piloting.  The Fantasy is, still, exhausting to paddle.  It does not yet, and may never, feel efficient on something like mixed flatwater and class II, but it provides me an entirely different experience, and that learning enriches my current appreciation for moving water perfectly.

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One response to “The Fantasy”

  1. Avatar

    Heya man. 

    This one brought back a lot of memories and laughs for me.  When I heard “Mad River” it made me think of the boats and then of the actual river back in the shire.  Our scout troop had a whole fleet of wood/canvas models, mostly from Old Town but we had one little shorty Mad River that was I think a fifteen-footer.  It’s nickname?  Tippy.  Of course. And it even had a keel.  :)  I rather do not miss the 90-120 pounds of those boats and lifting them up on the roof rack of the old Int’l Scout truck we used for those trips. 

    Pic attached of some novice city canoeists practicing on a gentle portion of the Great Miami in Dayton.  I think those are all seventeen feet.  More feet on the boats than years on the kids steering them. 

    I was going to write after reading your last article about the spill.  It really wasn’t until you mentioned it that I realized Person A and Person B were…you and the victim.  And then when you shared that it was your mom…..gosh, man.  I can only begin to imagine how you were feeling…during, after, and after-after.  And that moment when you realized she’d gone under in such a spot.  I really never stopped to think about that, although many times I’ve thought about what I’d do with good friends that I was hiking or biking with…but the thoughts were a little more abstract and practical without such emotions that a deeper personal connection would bring to the front.  Or that of family. 

    I had to chuckle about the heat cutoff threshold you mentioned, too.  That hit me a long time ago.  The limited trail options in Oklahoma are in places where the forest actually thickens up to be something resembling the forests of the east, but are not blessed with the constant breeze or winds of the rest of the state.  That air movement is the only way to come to peace with the hot summer temps and humidity here…especially when so many nights don’t even dip below 75F (and that, just before sunrise).  After many scorching summer long weekend trips, a couple of which were on the edge of being actually dangerous due to low/no water situations, I shifted to mostly “winter” trips here.  We usually have approximately two weeks of actual spring and fall, so winter it is.  :)  

    Enjoy the posts as always, take care. 


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