gears (9K)   Pros and cons of a spray deck

I always wanted a spray deck. I knew a spray deck would put me on the New Brunswick rivers others dared not run … especially in high water, when the margin for error in an open boat shrinks dramatically.

gregkenbh (69K)
Greg and I at Burnt Hill, Miramichi.

My first deck was for my Old Town 16-9, the boat for the masses. The first river Biff and I used it on was the North Renous, and it worked like a charm, especially when we paddled across North Renous Lake in four foot whitecaps. It was wonderful to watch the waves break over our deck, waves that would have swamped us ten feet out from shore in an open boat.

On the river, it worked well at keeping the water in the river and out of our boat as well. This stream features rapids that run around bend after bend for about 20 kilometres, on the second day past Guagus camp. Thanks to the deck, we were able to run drops that open boaters could only shake their heads at in wonder. But still, the deck wasn't perfect, for two important reasons.

Every time we scraped the gunwales against the boulders going through the rock gardens, the unforgiving granite abraded the thin vinyl fabric, especially where it wrapped around the gunwale rim. By the end of the trip, the deck was torn in several spots, and not reusable without a hefty repair bill.

Second, as we all know, running long rapids can take a terrible toll on a paddler's thirst. Every time we took a break, it was a long and tiresome routine to undo the snaps down each side of the canoe and gain access to food and drink. We overcame this handicap by making sure our refreshment breaks were suitably satisfying, but still, we missed quick access to the cooler all day long.

After the trip, I took the deck into the local cobbler shop, and he reinforced the vinyl along the gunwales with heavy-duty fabric. However, I had to drill new holes down the length of my boat and install new snaps, because the deck had shrunk after the repair job. My boat looks like the sides of the Frankenstein monster's neck, with all the snaps protruding like electrodes. Speaking of these snaps, sooner or later they get knocked off against the rocks, so every season, you've got a couple or three to replace.

I finally had to get a new boat anyway, because I wore out the Old Town. There are cracks running lengthwise down the floor, and there's only a thin layer of outer vinyl left. I've tried fiberglassing over the cracks, and it peeled off. I've tried dripping melted plastic into the crack to seal it, but it just breaks again when the bottom flexes on a rock. I guess the cracks are there to stay.

I got a Mad River Freedom next, along with a spray deck from Totem outfitters. It works fine, as you see in the picture of my son Greg and me running Burnt Hill on the Miramichi. The difference is that all the open boaters ran this stretch along the far shore, on the easy and boring sneak route, whereas Greg and I were able to ride the haystacks that would have swamped everybody else. I usually tie a throw bag behind me to rest my back during the easy stretches.

This model has a velcro and zipper opening near the middle, where I stow my cooler. Much better. Still, there are always other necessities that unfortunately are stowed out of reach under the deck… a camera, for instance, sometimes can't wait. I find too that it's not quite big enough for a 16-foot boat, I wouldn't mind a few more inches of deck to wrap over the gunwales on either side. The deck is held taut by ropes running through loops set in holes drilled through the hull along its length, and sliding through sleeves at the edge of the deck. Neater than the Old Town arrangement.

The fabric is heavy denier, I'm sure it's boulder-proof. It takes about ten minutes to run the string through the loops and sleeves, and tie it up tight. Sometimes, that's an eternity, when your buddies' open boats are all loaded, and they're standing around watching you work as the blackflies swarm around your head. It happens.

Cost? Well, I forget what I paid. I'm not rich. They say boats are holes in the water you throw money into. I think it was worth it though, just for the rivers I've been able to run thanks to the extra margin of floatability the spray deck has given me. Totem has a website, but GeoCities frowns on commercialism, and I don't want to endorse any company anyway. Just use the Search key.

For the New Brunswick canoeist who sticks to the popular spring rivers, the added expense of a spray deck might not be necessary. Then again, I met an old buddy last year on the Miramichi who made his own spray deck with an ordinary blue plastic tarp and some bits of rope and Velcro, and it looked pretty damn good to me.

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