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Please show me your carry bar / portage bar

Discussion in 'Tips and Tricks' started by Snufkin, Sep 14, 2021.

  1. Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    My 68lb w/c canoe has a traditionally-shaped centre thwart (i.e. wider in the middle). She has 3 simple thwarts rather than seats (like a birchbark), so can be paddled or carried in either direction, which is really handy (and pretty). So I am reluctant to switch out the centre thwart for a retro-fit yoke that would make the canoe permanently uni-directional. However, as I get older (66) and bonier, the wide part of the thwart is increasingly an aggravation to my neck vertebrae when I move the canoe short distances from car-top to water. For longer slogs I lash in the paddles and am rather happier, but I would not dare to leave paddles lashed in while the canoe is in transport on the car roof, so my short carry problem remains.

    I have tried making a carry bar to fit atop the centre thwart, modelled on a few scant photos of those used in Keewaydin and used with a tumpline. I guess I got the shape wrong because I couldn't prevent it slipping backwards off my shoulders, dumping all the load onto the tump at awkward moments. Subsequently I have tried a simple round 1½" stick sat over the gunwales and lashed to the thwart by the tumpline. This was better (and looked great!) but still niggled my C7 and had no 'give' whatsoever.

    If you have a 'primitive' carry bar system that doesn't involve altering the canoe, doesn't involve metalwork or pipe insulation or ugly blocks of padding, and is satisfactory in use, please would you post a picture?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    An alternative, retrofit to what you are familiar with may be to use elastic cord wrapped around the thwarts to hold paddles in place while portaging. Quick and easy to insert and remove paddles. Leave the cord in place during transport.
     
  3. paddler123

    paddler123 Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    Here are some close-ups of the Temagami-style carry bar, with shoulder pads. There's a piece of cord that goes around the carry bar with two places to slide the paddles in under the pads, kind of like Rob Stevens suggested. The cord stays put, you just slide the paddles in and out as needed, and lash the shafts to the bow thwart. The tump goes over the paddles as shown. You can use it without the paddles and tump, with just the carry bar on your shoulders, and the pad does make it more tolerable. Whether it will stay put or slip backwards in this mode depends on how well balanced the canoe is.

    IMG_4111.JPG IMG_4480.JPG IMG_6587.JPG
     
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  4. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    That's really helpful, thanks so much. I hadn't realised that pads were commonly used with this arrangement. Thick felt must be pretty unpleasant when wet, isn't it? I usually roll up my Swanndri wool shirt into a donut and wear that round my neck for padding. It would be about the same thickness when rolled up.

    I still have questions. I notice that where the carry bar is fastened over the centre thwart (similar in shape to mine), it is narrower than the wide part of the thwart. Does it not still rest against the spine? Or does the shape of the carry bar prevent that? Do you have any pictures without the padding?
     
  5. paddler123

    paddler123 Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    I couldn't find any pictures without the padding. You are correct that it's a little unpleasant having the wet pads up against your neck - one way around that is with a raincoat and hood (since that generally happens when it's raining anyway). The wide part of the thwart does sometimes hit up against your neck a little bit, but it hasn't been a problem for me as long as the angle is about the same as the angle of your shoulders/neck - this will depend on how tall the carry bar is. I've also seen narrower unshaped thwarts (what's in my last picture), as well as wider (~3") carry bars to completely cover the wide part.
     
  6. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Last edited: Sep 15, 2021
  7. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Benson, call me a fool by all means, but I just don't like the appearance of those things on a nice canoe. For me, aesthetics is essential to my enjoyment of canoeing, which is why I choose a w/c canoe and one-piece wooden paddles - I think you would probably have some sympathy for that? I freely admit that my position is illogical, in that I don't like clamp-on devices with bolts and wing-nuts, yet my thwarts are fixed with bolts and wing-nuts.

    I know lots of people use those pads or something like them, but if I can find another way I would prefer it. However, my experiments along these lines have not been painless, hence my post here. I guess if nobody comes forward to say "I've done it this way for years, it looks like this and it works fine", I will know what to conclude!
     
  8. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    No offense was intended, there is no shortage of my own unusual quirks. I fully understand if pads and clamps are some of yours. Best of luck with your research,

    Benson
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Absolutely no offence taken - sorry if it sounded that way. Greatly appreciate all that you do for this community.

    Jonathan.
     
  10. Abenakirgn

    Abenakirgn Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I use a piece of closed cell foam from a sleeping pad held on with para cord. Pretty easy to remove once on the water if you don't like the look.
     
  11. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    I am not sure what your concern is about making a canoe "permanently uni-directional."

    You indicate that your current center thwart is held in place with bolts and wingnuts (presumably out of sight under the ends of the thwarts), which means that the center thwart should be able to be swapped out quite readily, without resorting to clamps or other makeshift paraphernalia.

    The carry thwart I made to stand in for the center thwart of our 15' OT 50 Pound model is not permanent. The carry thwart fastens in place with the same diamond head bolts as hold the center thwart. I can put the original back in any time I wish -- I did not throw out the original thwart. Indeed, I can switch the thwarts in and out any time I wish, although I would get wing nuts instead of the original square nuts I continue to use. This would be no more "clamp-on" than your current thwart. And I can and d0 paddle my canoe in either direction with the carry thwart in place -- it does not render the canoe uni-directional except for portage.
    100_8147 sm.JPG

    100_9030 sm (2).JPG

    It seems your concern about "unidirectional" is simply aesthetic -- not a non-issue to be sure, but a relatively minor one, I think, when you consider that the original thwart can be readily replaced temporarily, if you wish. I have not felt the need to swap the carry thwart in and out (I leave it in), but if you are fixated on appearance, changing out the thwarts should be about a two-minute task. Neither the carry thwart nor the original take up much space -- hardly more than the 1 1/2" stick (plus tumpline and/or bungee cords) that you have tried, and would be vastly more functional and comfortable in use. Carved carry thwarts/yokes are traditional and have been in use in canoes and guide boats just about forever. But if you are committed to absolute symmetry, you will need something that can readily be put in and out, or on and off, like a bolt-in carry thwart, or Jeanne Bourquin’s excellent bolt-on pads, or your paddles, which you can tie in place for portage once you get to the put-in (no need to have them inside the canoe while car-topping.

    But as always in matters of taste, de gustibus non disputandum est.
     
  12. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Greg, many thanks. I haven't totally discarded the yoke option, but I would prefer a carry bar solution if possible. Yes, my liking for symmetry is probably largely neurotic. Those of you with fitted seats already have a uni-directional canoe, so a yoke is no big change. I always kneel to paddle, and I like the simplicity of my symmetrical, uncluttered canoe. Mind you, where the trees/people/rocks/cars are close-packed it is handy not to have to turn the canoe end-for-end (and although the centre thwart has nothing to do with this, it is simple to swivel round in the canoe and paddle the other way if wind conditions require a different trim).

    If I eventually accept that a yoke is the best solution, I doubt I would ever switch it out for the original thwart. So I want to fully explore the carry bar/paddles/tump method first. It seems there are people out there who do things this way.
     
  13. Murat V

    Murat V LOVES Wooden Canoes

    It may be impossible to avoid the C7 pain with the "traditionally-shaped centre thwart" shape that you describe, i.e. the widest part of the thwart is in the center.
    [​IMG]

    The irony is the the shape isn't all that traditional. The whole carry bar & paddle system evolved from usage with birchbark canoes. If you look at early photos or existent samples, bark canoes nearly always had either a straight shaped thwart or one that was shaped to have the narrowest part in the middle with widening ends and notches for the tumpline. Below is an example from a circa 1910 bark canoe that was on display at the 2019 Temagami Canoe festival...

    [​IMG]

    Many more similar examples found on canoes at the Canadian Canoe Museum. I believe modern builders like Steve Cayard and Henri Vaillancourt also design their centre thwarts like this.

    I carved out this design for my bark canoe build and it made short carries (i.e. without strapping in paddles) much more manageable. That gradual narrowing towards the middle helped to clear the problem areas of the neck.

    As for an alternate 'primitive carry bar' system, here's a photo from Building a Chippewa Indian Birchbark Canoe by R.E. Ritzenthaler. The builder had different way of strapping in paddles and lashed a thin board of split cedar to the centre thwart by tying it right in the middle. Paddle blades face forward and are lashed to the front thwart to keep from shifting. The shafts are then jammed between the thwart and the cedar board and are held by friction giving the cedar board a curve. This curved cedar board then rests on the shoulders and the tumpline takes the weight. Never tried this method but perhaps it might work for you.

    [​IMG]
     
  14. paddler123

    paddler123 Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    That last one sounds kind of like what Joe Polis did as described by Henry David Thoreau in The Maine Woods, with a cedar plank and tumpline:

    He prepared his canoe for carrying in this wise. He took a cedar shingle or splint eighteen inches long and four or five wide, rounded at one end, that the corners might not be in the way, and tied it with cedar-bark by two holes made midway, near the edge on each side, to the middle crossbar of the canoe. When the canoe was lifted upon his head bottom up, this shingle, with its rounded end uppermost, distributed the weight over his shoulders and head, while a band of cedar-bark, tied to the cross-bar on each side of the shingle, passed round his breast, and another longer one, outside of the last, round his forehead; also a hand on each side rail served to steer the canoe and keep it from rocking. He thus carried it with his shoulders, head, breast, forehead, and both hands, as if the upper part of his body were all one hand to clasp and hold it. If you know of a better way, I should like to hear of it. A cedar-tree furnished all the gear in this case, as it had the woodwork of the canoe. One of the paddles rested on the crossbars in the bows. I took the canoe upon my head and found that I could carry it with ease, though the straps were not fitted to my shoulders; but I let him carry it, not caring to establish a different precedent, though he said that if I would carry the canoe, he would take all the rest of the baggage, except my companion's. This shingle remained tied to the crossbar throughout the voyage, was always ready for the carries, and also served to protect the back of one passenger.​
     
  15. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Murat, thanks very much for these thoughts. Like you, I have picked over everything I could find, and like you I realised that in the days when portaging was essential to human existence, not all thwarts were fattest in the middle. Adney illustrates some that were, although the majority in his book seem to have been straight, or shaped as you illustrate. So we can't infer that the wide-in-the-middle shape had some important function which explained its existence.

    I would like to hear from anyone with engineering knowledge about whether the thwart is stronger for being wide in the middle? I know that lightweight bicycle tubes are made thinnest (wall thickness) in the middle because that part takes much less strain than the ends - but I guess nobody tries to lift heavy weights using bicycle tubes. When I lift my canoe by the centre (ash wood) thwart, it bends perceptibly. For that reason I have some sympathy for the Keewaydin/Temagami view that the centre thwart needs reinforcement for portaging. On the other hand, there must be legions of people who portage using a yoke only and never experience any problem.

    Murat, I had already found your very inspiring website, so I have seen the Ritzenthaler photos before. That system appeals to me for its simplicity, it must take some of the strain off the centre thwart, and it clearly has some spring. It makes use of the paddles but isn't likely to take your ears off in a fall. I'm not sure it would be kind to the paddle shafts? Before starting this thread, I experimented with a 1½" round hardwood stick laid across the gunwales and tied to the thwart by means of the tumpline. The stick didn't have much spring, and because it didn't touch the thwart anywhere, it would not have supported the latter. Worst, I couldn't prevent the canoe slipping back off my shoulders - I could resist it that tendency by leaning into the trump, but once it started to slide, I was powerless to stop it.

    While this thread has been live, I have made another rigid Keewaydin-style carry bar (v.2) and am a bit more happy with it. I will post a photo here presently. I might try again with the Ritzenthaler method, too.
     
  16. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    I tried to find a pic for you, but, in short, yes, with a load applied in the middle, the highest stress is in the middle.

    As for options, I'm from/in MN, and have no/little experience carrying a canoe w/o pads.
    (I tried a carved yoke years ago, and 1 time around the back yard was enough for me to remove it.)
    The canoe on the left is ours, and while unsightly, the pads do make it possible to carry. Note, this is a 92 lb canoe.

    Dan
    WC Cover Pic 3.JPG
     
  17. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    I remember reading this too. I puzzled over the description for ages, but thought I finally understood it. Now I am in doubt again, but I think it is quite different to the Ritzenthaler description. Isn't Thoreau describing a short thin plank placed at 90 deg to the thwart?

    At any rate, JP seems to have been thoroughly fastened to his canoe, which would surely be quite risky in difficult terrain?

    It's a while since I read The Maine Woods, and I don't own a copy. How long did Thoreau say the canoe was? I remember being surprised that they fitted 3 people plus kit into it.
     
  18. paddler123

    paddler123 Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes

    About 18'. Also very narrow compared to what we're used to these days!

    When I was there four years before we had a rather small canoe for three persons, and I had thought that this time I would get a larger one, but the present one was even smaller than that. It was 18¼ feet long by 2 feet 6½ inches wide in the middle, and one foot deep within, as I found by measurement, and I judged that it would weigh not far from eighty pounds. The Indian had recently made it himself, and its smallness was partly compensated for by its newness, as well as stanchness and solidity, it being made of very thick bark and ribs. Our baggage weighed about 166 pounds, so that the canoe carried about 600 pounds in all, or the weight of four men. The principal part of the baggage was, as usual, placed in the middle of the broadest part, while we stowed ourselves in the chinks and crannies that were left before and behind it, where there was no room to extend our legs, the loose articles being tucked into the ends. The canoe was thus as closely packed as a market-basket, and might possibly have been upset without spilling any of its contents. The Indian sat on a cross-bar in the stern, but we flat on the bottom, with a splint or chip behind our backs, to protect them from the cross-bar, and one of us commonly paddled with the Indian. ​
     
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  19. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Thanks, paddler123. Isn't that fascinating?! I remember that was the best bit of the book for me.
     
  20. OP
    OP
    Snufkin

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Here's what I've now got. I'm going to round off the front lip a shade more, but after a short trial I'm happy enough to test this on increasing distances. The bar itself weighs 1½ lbs, which is more than I expected, but not a big deal in the greater scheme of things.

    Carry bar (1).jpg
     

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