Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ottertail Paddle - "Pros and Cons", "How it's Made”, and "Let's Give it a Test"

A Quest for an Ottertail Paddle
Canoe paddles come in various shapes and styles.  I have used square tip, bent shaft, beavertail, and oversized paddles - but never the Ottertail.  My quest for an Ottertail paddle began this summer on the Trent-Severn Waterway after I met Dick Persson of Buckhorn Canoe Company in Buckhorn, Ontario.

Dick was providing me a tour of his workshop/store, when I asked about the thin blade paddle hanging along showroom wall. Dick’s explanation of the Ottertail caught my attention when he mentioned you could do the J-stroke paddle return without taking the paddle from the water.  I have been using the J-stoke when canoeing for the past few years, and his mention of a change in my J-stroke was something I just had to try.  Dick shared his use and knowledge of the Ottertail paddle in the video below.

What is an Ottertail Paddle - and its Pros and Cons?
The video interview of Dick best describes the use of the Ottertail, but as an introduction here, let me respond to the obvious question, “What is an Ottertail paddle?”
The major distinction between the Ottertail and other paddles is its narrow blade.  The Ottertail is most often used from the stern. Its distinctive shape is easier on the shoulder for traveling long distances.  The Ottertail is popular with canoeists for lake and flat water travel.  
Ottertails come in a variety of shapes and materials. The grip has many styles (Maine Guide, t-grip, standard grip, etc.) The Ottertail blade is thinner than most other paddles.  Blades can be straight, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, and thinner at the top and wider at the bottom.  Most blades are rounded at the end and allow the paddle to slice the water easily and gently. 
Ottertail Paddle is similar in design to that of the Beaver Tail but has a narrower and rounded blade towards the tip and has a shorter shaft length.
All canoes must be equipped with an extra paddle, so why not carry an Ottertail for the long trip on flat water.  When in whitewater or needing speed to return back to camp for dinner or get out of a coming storm, grab the beavertail or square tail paddle.
A Custom Made Ottertail Paddle
My next step was to try an Ottertail paddle. Interestingly, none of my paddling buddies had an Ottertail, so I turned to my cousin Linwood, a Master Maine Guide.  He located a paddle maker, Dri-Ki Woodworking in nearby Patten, Maine where I could have my own Ottertail paddle built custom for me.  An exchange of emails with owner Rick Keim, led to my visit to Dri-Ki Woodworking to watch the Ottertail paddle being made.  Rick not only gave me a tour of his shop, but he said, “Let me build an Ottertail for you now”. 
The below video shows craftsman/artist/Rick going through the various processes required to build my custom paddle.  Rick buys the white ash logs with a beautiful grain and strong wood.  Rick dries and mills the logs himself, then uses the outer part of the log, the straightest grain, for the paddle.  The paddle is outlined in pencil on a plank, and a band saw is used to rough cut a rough shaped paddle.  Then a variety of planer and sawing equipment are used to obtain the Ottertail shape.  Once Rick is comfortable with the paddle, it receives two separate polyurethane dips.  The paddle is now ready for the canoeist.

There are various ways to determine the length of an Ottertail paddle.  The method we used was to measure from the floor to the bottom of my chin.  And while we were at it, why not make a custom paddle for my grandchildren, Madison and Carson.

Let’s Give Our Ottertail Paddles a Test

Our quest for the Ottertail has taken us to two countries and two northern New England states. In August we went to the Buckhorn Canoe Company in Buckhorn, Ontario and Dick Persson compared the Beaver and Ottertail paddle, and Dick explained the use of the Ottertail in the J-Stroke. In November we next went to Dri-Ki Woodworking in Patten, Maine for our made-to-order Ottertails, and to see how the Ottertail and Beavertail Paddles are made.

The first paddle with our personalized Ottertails came in Sunapee, New Hampshire on a below freezing December day with ice forming on Perkins Pond.  This was no time for a flip!
Enjoy this video as my friend Dundee I test our paddles for their virgin dip in canoeing waters.

Never say, “I wish I had canoed with an Ottertail Paddle

Give the Ottertail Paddle a try - it will enlighten your canoe experience.
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·        Buckhorn Canoe Company
·        Dri-KiWoodworking

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