To launch out onto a voyage of nature and heartland and Main Street and liberty, to embrace and fully explore the storied town and country and river landscapes of this land down low from the bow of a canoe, it felt only natural to consider my vessel to be as more than a mode of transport and lifeline, but as an allegory for freedom.
Which led me to the history of canoe making in the United States, and with it, the legacy of master wood-and-canvas canoe maker L.H. Beach of Merrimack, N.H., who in the 1950s first introduced a thin fiberglass hull reinforced with wooden ribs to the world. “THE FIBERGLASS CANOE THAT LOOKS LIKE A CANOE” was his slogan. A perfect blend of the old and the new.
From L.H. Beach to his son Lem, to grandsons Randy and Vernon, the authentic Merrimack design was passed along and remained true. While Randy retained Merrimack for many years in name, his “black sheep” brother Vernon moved West and started up Navarro in his California garage, a canoe design based on Lem’s old molds.
Fast forward to the present, with WhiteGold and Kevlar and Tuf-Weave Flex as one’s (pricey) choice of material, with manufacturers like Northstar and Wenonah and even my very own Old Town running through my mind (according to Paddling.net there are “900 or more canoe models to choose from”), I decided to look back to where the revolutionary balance of old and new originally began.
With Merrimack eventually purchased by Sanborn Canoe Co. of Winona, Minnesota, and Navarro bought (via Craigslist) by a pioneering retiree couple in Rock Island, Illinois, the choice came down to price and availability. And just the right model for this trip.
Thanks to an exchange of emails with Bruce and Sue Peterson of the reincarnated Navarro Canoe Co., I soon settled upon the Loon, which can track in wind and wakes and waves, and also carry a generous “expedition” long-distance load.
In the end, I took a lead from Sue and found my very own Navarro Loon on Craigslist up in Lake Bluff, just above Chicago. The nautically-minded gent who was selling had taken care of his craft with love and with oil and with grace, and as it dates from 2002, it comes with a Certificate of Origin, from Talent, Oregon, signed by Vernon Pew.
The canoe will be more than a partner in expedition. She will be my home base for the next couple of years, a focal point for the journey, and a canoe I’ll need to embrace with my life. I see it as a great honor to carry (and paddle) along a bona fide Merrimack/Navarro work of modern art from West back to East, to partner up and traverse and share via this blog the watery byways of this great land in style and with a tip of the cap to history. In so doing, hopefully living up to L.H. Beach’s good name.