April 27, 2013

Big appeal for big canoes

The voyageur-style canoe -- with a history dating back more than two centuries to the fur trade -- is like a schoolbus on the water, but enthusiasts love to barrel downriver in them.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Cho Loring mans the bow seat of a voyageur-style canoe named the Kenduskeag Screamah, as it takes a practice run on Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor. The voyageur-style canoes, some of which seat 10 or more paddlers, have long been popular in Maine.

Photos by Michael C. York/Special to the Telegram

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The Kenduskeag Screamah holds six and has molded seats instead of having paddlers kneel on the floor of the craft. Mainers have been racing in these big voyageurs for decades.

Additional Photos Below

"It's a contained audience," Maybury said.

And apparently, from the longer canoes that show up in spring races around the state, Mainers love them.

Voyageur-style canoes can fit as many as 10 or more paddlers, sometimes side-by-side, and barrel down a river like a steamroller down a hill.

A week ago in the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, the Kelleys paired up with four friends to take first in the open class. Theirs was just one of the four canoes to ever go under two hours in the 47-year-old race.

On April 20, they pushed past the whitewater, boulders, rocks and flat water in 2 hours, 36 minutes and 15 seconds in a low-water year.

But a day earlier, as they scouted the river, the big canoe slid over some big rocks.

"Anything that doesn't stop us doesn't hurt us," Bill Kelley announced as the boat rolled over another boulder.

Some measure of care is taken to avoid unseen obstacles.

The six paddlers got out at one section called the "Shopping Cart" to pick their path. During the race there would be no stopping, or so they hoped. So they found their course the day before.

"If you see an upstream V, that means there are obstacles. You want a clear path. The rapids they call Gravel Pit could put a hole in the boat easy," Tammy Kelley said.

The Screamah is part of a spring tradition with the Kelleys and their friends. Bill Kelley built it by joining two canoes together, a veritable "backyard project" as he called it.

Many of the same members of the Kenduskeag team return to the boat each year, knowing the demands of paddling in sync in a big canoe.

But to be sure, the communication in these crafts is a challenge.

"I'm just paddling forward, I can make fun of everyone," cracked Bill Kelley, as he paddled from the middle.

While Tammy Kelley, sitting one back from the bow, tries to warn of rocks ahead, Leslie Winchester-Mabee, in the stern, and Ander Thebaud, in front of her, are missing some of the warnings.

For the most part from the back they're reading the river and directing the boat. The canoe slides over a few shallow rocks but runs through three sets of rapids like a school bus full of students.

Not easy in a war canoe, which has fewer choices and options than a more nimble 16-footer presents.

"It can't really turn on a dime," Winchester-Mabee said.

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:


Twitter: Flemingpph


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Additional Photos

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Bill Kelley helps to pull the Kenduskeag Screamah out of the water at the “Shopping Cart” portage on Kenduskeag Stream.

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A voyageur canoe needs all of its crew to help with a portage – a group effort seen here at 6 Mile Falls on the Kenduskeag.

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Tammy Kelley, center, and crew mates Ander Thibaud, left, and Leslie Winchester try to figure out the best course to take through obstacles on the low-water Kenduskeag Stream.

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