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Launching: New Tandem Canoe — the PaddlingLight Ursa Canoe

Ursa cedar strip tandem canoe.

Over the last few months, we built a new tandem canoe under a tarp in the backyard. It has been an interesting process plagued with problems, such as humidity and bugs, that we wouldn’t experience in a controlled environment. But, despite all the problems, we managed to get to the point where we could test it out. Yesterday, we launched the PaddlingLight Ursa Canoe — the name Ursa is tentative.

The canoe is a prototype that takes its inspiration from the popular Modern Malecite St. John River Canoe plans. I like the Modern Malecite, but I wanted something with more volume and efficiency for tripping. The canoe needed to turn easily for use on tight rivers, but it also needed to have enough directional stability to paddle across the flats. Additionally, it needed to perform well when heeled in Classic Solo Canoeing style. I wanted a classic look with a modern flare. I didn’t want high end that would catch the wind, but I needed a nice upsweep in the ends. I needed to balance all these considerations to arrive at a canoe that not only I would like, but other canoeists would enjoy, too.

Ursa Tandem Canoe PlansIf you’ve been following along on Facebook. You can see pictures from the entire building process. There’s nothing magical or all that hard — maybe sometimes frustrating though — about the process. If you have any do-it-yourself nature, a cedar strip canoe is easy to build and it’s a fun project. Something to consider. You can find lots of free canoe plans here. Eventually, the plans for the Ursa will become available. For this canoe, I used 3/16-inch strips on the bottom, 1/8-inch strips on the side, one layer of 6 oz. fiberglass on the outside, an extra layer of 3 oz. glass on the outside bottom, 6 oz. carbon fiber on the inside. The trim is ash. The decks are cedar and ash.

Launching the Ursa Canoe

Ursa cedar strip canoe.We launched the new tandem canoe in the Grand Marais marina, and paddled it on a relatively calm Lake Superior for about 4 miles. It was a short paddle without a load, so although I do have initial impressions, they’re not enough to make any final decisions about changes. The one “big” change that was apparent is that we sort of got our seat placement wrong. We’re planning on using this canoe as a tripper and storing the heavy pack forward the yoke, which means that when unloaded, the bow rises up out of the water. I expected that, but I didn’t expect to get what I got. With another paddler of my same weight in the bow, it’d balance perfectly. In retrospect, I should have mounted the stern seat and the bow seat slightly forward of their current positions. (An argument for sliding bow seats). We also decided that we didn’t like the width of the outwales, which means that I have some hand planing ahead of me (this will also drop a few pounds in weight!). The hull is so stiff because of the carbon fiber, it doesn’t really need the outwales.

As far as initial paddling impressions, the canoe feels stable enough (Ilena thinks less than the Freedom, but I think about the same). It feels more stable than some Prospectors that I’ve used. It turns easily, but isn’t a bear to keep going straight. We took it into some tight quarters in local rock gardens on Lake Superior with about a 1/2-foot or so of swell. We also paddled on some small breaking waves, into slots, etc… We took it where I normally sea kayak. It turned quickly in the tight areas. I feel like I got this right. The next step is to paddle it on windier day to see how it performs. Speed felt fine. I’m not sure it was as fast as my Freedom, but it feels faster than the Prospectors that I’ve paddled (the main competition for this boat). I need to get out the Freedom and paddle it side-by-side to compare the speed. I paddled it Canadian-style solo (I’m really rusty!), and it was super fun paddled that way.

Paddling the Ursa Video

Here’s a video of our first outing with the canoe. At 30 seconds, you can see the weight imbalance caused by the seat placement. When/if I release the plans to the public, I’ll move the seats forward to account for this.

The testing plan originally included paddling it on an October trip from International Falls, Minn. to Grand Portage, Minn., but one person backed out, so now we’re taking a solo canoe instead of this canoe, so it won’t get an overnight test paddle until November (if the weather holds). There’s still lots of work to complete on this boat, such as painting the bottom and varnishing the inside and outside. I need to oil the trim and fill a few fiberglassing bubbles.

It feels great to get it on the water!

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  • It looks great. Do you feel like the added cost of the CF was worth it?

  • […] across the flats. Additionally, it needed to perform well when heeled … … More: Launching: New Tandem Canoe — the PaddlingLight Ursa Canoe … ← The Best Sea Kayak More Kayaks Paddling Chicago River – Chicago Tribune […]

  • What a beautiful canoe, Bryan! I look forward to your report after you give it the full test on an expedition.

  • I just fiberglassed the inside of my first strip canoe. I appears I have a number of air bubbles. How do you suggest filling these?

    • Hi, Dale,

      Drill a hole and fill them with a syringe. That’s the easiest way. If you used fiberglass, you could sand the air bubbles down to the wood and reapply the fiberglass over the area that is now exposed. The glass will disappear. That’s probably the best way.

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