When I took this gig, I thought I knew something about boating. I was wrong. Devlin operates on a higher level than what I have encountered in my history of Tennessee ski and bass boats. However, I do know paddling from a first person pile of experience, and I am targeting the one paddling design in the whole Devlin catalog. That is the Pond Skipper. It’s a sea kayak design in the tradition of Devlin stitch and glue technology. It is strong, bulletproof from a kayak perspective. It is light from the perspective of other materials used in kayak construction. It is much faster to build than traditional strip built designs, which means that it can be ready in time for summer. Summer in some places means the water is warm and you can perfect your paddling skills in a comfortable, risk free body of water. In the Pacific Northwest, it means that you can make mistakes without dying in five minutes in bone chilling water. So yay, Summer!
My first exposure to paddling was in an aluminum canoe, purchased at Woolco in a mall in Nashville, TN. Woolco is gone, and the mall has turned into one of those gypsy conclaves of third tier shop owners. In those early days, my impatient father would pile the entire family into this 17′ canoe, and head off down the Harpeth River. I don’t think he ever really relaxed, even though we were all strapped into our life jackets, and we all knew how to swim. The rapids consisted of a slight ripple in the current and for the most part the river was shallow enough for even my younger brother to stand. In those days, canoeing seemed rather stressful and dangerous. My dad had a gift for making things stressful and dangerous.
I mastered the single bladed paddle in a few years, after we moved and the river of convenience became the Duck River in Southeastern Middle Tennessee. At the same time, we developed a habit for daily water-skiing and frequent high stress (Thanks, Dad!) fishing, I was learning the song of the paddle on my own. Thanks to a gentle river, I could solo the trip, putting in at the bottom, paddling upstream and floating back down. Eventually, I reached the limits of that aluminum canoe, and started branching out into better boats. I tried my hand in Old Town canoes in the heavy whitewater of Western North Carolina, always picking the largest size I could manage from the middle.
Whitewater led to kayaks, which were hard to find in my size. Kayaks led to extreme rivers, shooting waterfalls and equally insane plays on the immortality of youth. But in the midst of splashing chaos, I eventually tried flat water kayaking, the southern equivalent of sea kayaking. I bought a hybrid kayak, efficient on flat water and capable of mild whitewater, which was the worst I would find in my local area. I would drop it in the lake where I grew up and paddle until I ran out of lake, some 8 miles upstream. I would explore every cove and head into the creeks until I ran out of water. I would see wildlife, too bewildered by the sight of me to even be afraid. I would set my paddle down and coast into a family of deer drinking the water, stopping right in the middle of unafraid creatures and slowly, slowly I would be pushed away without ever disturbing their moments. I would see a bizarre fight between a mink and groundhog and follow it along the shore until the combatants finally tired and left each other in peace. I would cruise around bends where Herons hunted the shallows and pass by without disturbing them in the slightest. I would track the circling of Turkey Vultures in the hope of spotting their quarry. I would ply the open waters in the rhythmic pull of the paddle, refining my stroke until I could literally paddle all day. I rested my mind in the rhythm while my arms and torso did all the work.
It is with this background that I present the Pond Skipper, Sam Devlin’s single foray into dedicated paddling in a vast catalog of boat designs. As it turns out, the Pond Skipper is very similar to that hybrid kayak I spent so many hours paddling. It’s not the cutting edge of open water kayaking, but it is light, strong and efficient, with enough maneuverability to get in and out of tight spaces.
I’m doing this now for two reasons. The first is that we are late in the building season, and this is a design that anyone could build and finish in time for summer exploring. The second reason is that paddling is a great way to experience the water. In the right boat, it’s quiet, peaceful and can make you one with the world around you. Animals will accept you, the water will carry you with amazing smoothness, and you will be able to explore the most extreme limits of your local waterways. On top of that, you will cover distances that will surprise you, and you will return home with a sense of connection and well being and a new set of stories to tell.
If I could spare the time, I would build a Pond Skipper, choose a body of water and start paddling. I know from experience it would pay off. – Jim
In that spirit, we are offering 50% off on downloadable Pond Skipper construction plans. We hope you will experience the joys of paddling this summer!
The Pond Skipper Plans are available here.
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