The Sawdust Factory Presents


Page 4: The Merlin In Use

I built the Merlin in the Fall of 2007, and this is being written in Spring of 2009.

When I began the project I honestly had no if I'd enjoy paddling a canoe or not. I had always had a vague desire to play around with one and get to know the style of boat, and then developed a more definite notion that I'd get a kick out of learning single blade paddle skills and techniques. Well, I've had a perfect blast doing all the above, and can now say with certainty that I'll never not own a canoe. For me it makes the perfect winter boat since I wish to stay bone dry so I can stay warm, and it's a spectacular fishing boat beyond any doubt.

Here's huge part of what makes it so cool and versatile for me . . . it's easy to stand up in. Being able to rise, and remain comfortably upright, is a tremendous advantage in too many ways to list. Plus, it's just a heck of a lot of fun.

Note the extra-long stand-up paddle, which doubles as a push-pole in shallow water. It's of hollow shaft "bird's mouth" construction, is 6' long, weighs 18 oz, and hasn't broken yet despite lots of hard use and abuse. Click here for more information on bird's mouth paddle making.

Note: Being able to stand up like this is one-half boat stability, and one-half developed skill. The Merlin is only 28" wide so it paddles very efficiently, but that's still plenty of beam as you can clearly see. Too many people rely upon the boat to do 100% of the job of staying upright, when 50% of it is really your job. In other words, it takes practice to do this, doesn't just magically happen -- even if your boat does happen to be named Merlin.

I hope this doesn't come across as bragging on myself. Rather, I hope to encourage people to learn new skills and practice advanced boat handling techniques at every opportunity; preferably during the hot summer months so they'll be more confident, and thus be safer and have more fun, in the cooler months of the year.




This picture illustrates how easily and comfortably I can cast a fly rod while standing in the Merlin. The water is cold and ten feet deep, and falling in is about the last thing I want to do. But instead of worrying about maintaining a balancing act, I'm concerning myself entirely with bass along the shoreline falling within range of my 4-weight fly rod and homemade balsa popper.

Note the two anchors mounted fore and aft. The system consists of 5-pound rubber coated dumbbell exercise weights, pulleys mounted to removable "sprits", cam cleats fastened to the thwarts, and a couple lengths of 1/4" nylon multibraid rope. It's a bit more "stuff" than I tend to like futzing with when launching or recovering, but the arrangement is so versatile and generally worthwhile I'm still fussing with 'em.


Here's a picture of my fishing buddy Bryan, and his Swift Shearwater solo canoe. This is the guy who taught me my first Eskimo roll in sea kayaks, had a big hand in getting me started in canoes, and has been a continuing source of inspiration on many other matters as well.

Care to guess where my anchor scheme came from?


Here I am sitting on my anchors in a shallow tidal salt marsh near Galveston. This is one of my most common haunts, there to do battle with the mighty redfish on a 6-weight fly rod. It doesn't get much better.


Believe it or not, I occasionally sit down in it too. In this shot I'm heeled way over while riding on a low brace to maintain stability to ham it up for the camera. It's a very easy and very fun little maneuver in both canoe and kayak.



Update: October 31, 2010:

Here are a couple pictures taken three years after launching, and with lots and lots of good hard use. Everything I put into it seems to have worked more or less perfectly from the very start, which just goes to show it's better to be lucky than good sometimes.....

But mostly what I wanted to say here is that I have learned a little about canoes, and can now say there are lots of options when it comes to the seating arrangement. I selected a racing canoe set up, with its sliding-seat-on-a-pedestal and foot brace, and am delighted with it. Why?

The pedestal-mounted seat has proven to be a very comfortable affair in every regard. It's not a bad little chair/stool to perch on any old time, and it offers instant access to the kneel position so I can swap between seated and kneeling quite easily. Which brings up the three positions I routinely use in this boat:

Standing up; unbeatable for fishing, birding, sightseeing, etc.

Sit-and-switch; with feet planted on the brace and a solid full body forward stroke, it's the way to go for covering goodly distances, dealing with stout headwinds, going upcurrent, etc.

Kneeling; it's a always good idea to hit your knees when encountering waves or rapids, not so you can say your final prayers, but for increased connection to the boat for greatly improved stability and control. Kneeling also makes fly casting pretty much as natural and easy as when standing.

Switching between these positions is also very helpful for keeping comfortable, and preventing muscle groups from going numb during long days in the boat. It's just one of the many luxuries canoes offer, that you don't get in kayaks.

The foot brace is not only just the thing for transferring effort from paddle to hull, it's also great for hooking your toes under to get a positive connection for leaning. Also extremely handy for hooking toes under so you can lay all the way back without using your hands, to get under low obstacles like foliage, low bridges, etc.; a feature I use fairly often, and always appreciate!

I'm finding lots to love in my Merlin!


I use a "kneel pad" in this boat, as many more traditional canoeists do, and while I tend to be impatient with, and quickly shed, any and all extraneous stuff to futz with, I find this gem well worth using 100% of the time. You can buy 'em from paddle shops (online or up north, that is; paddle shops in Texas scarcely recognize anything that isn't a Tupperware sit-on-top, or directly related to same), but mine is simply cut from an exercise pad from the local discount sporting goods megamart (hence the rather vivid appearance). It's still in good shape, so The Sawdust Factory can endorse its durability as well as its functionality.

I like it so much because it really saves wear and tear on the inside of the boat, is very comfy for my bony old knobby knees when kneeling, and also makes standing much easier by padding and giving traction for my feet. Also acts as a silencer for setting tackle packs and other fishing stuff down.




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