Help support the WCHA Forums by making a tax-deductible donation!

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?

  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
    Snufkin likes this.
  4. OP

    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

    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,

  9. OP

    Snufkin Curious about Wooden Canoes

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

  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

    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.

    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...


    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.


Share This Page