Wood and canvas canoes are hardly common on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve only ever paddled in company with another on a couple of occasions. So the chance to meet someone who actually builds them seemed too good to miss. Driving south through Sweden, I puzzled briefly over the correct phone code, then sent a text. A reply arrived almost immediately, and a rendezvous was soon arranged at the edge of a lake somewhere to the south of Linkoping.
Josef Hegart hasn’t been building canoes for long. I believe he only founded his business in 2011. Nor has he built that many yet, the demand just isn’t there. He certainly seems to know what he’s doing though.
As soon as I saw him wending his way between the trees, his Prospector on his shoulders, the lines looked right. Many canoes with this well-known name are made these days. Few look like a Prospector to me. Josef’s does though; fine at the stem and stern, expanding quickly like a well fed trout to offer a full bilge, a generous beam and confident sheer. Add to that a slight tumblehome, lots of rocker and a healthily arched hull profile, and there you have it. Just as the Chestnut Canoe Company would have built it, except that in this case it isn’t.
White cedar, such as Chestnut and many other Canadian and US canoe builders used for much of their construction, just doesn’t grow in Sweden. Josef says he could import it of course, but that cuts right against the grain of his approach to life – keeping things local and sustainable. So while there may be the expected ash gunwales and seats, from trees felled in the woods nearby, the ribs of Josef’s canoe are also bent from ash, the planks cut from spruce.
‘Are they easy to work with?’ I ask.
‘No,’ admits Josef with a smile. ‘But it works, and I’m sure they’re both stronger than cedar.’
I must have looked a little sceptical, and Josef went on demonstrate that he not only knows about wooden canoe building, but using them too. A few years back, he and a group of friends spent ten weeks up in the far north-west of Canada, each paddling a cedar and canvas canoe. This was pretty wild stuff too, and they’d managed to break quite a few ribs and planks paddling numerous rapids. Paddle the same sort of water in one of his canoes, Josef claims, and you’ll hardly break any.
‘Well, perhaps one or two,’ he admits, grinning again.
But enough of that, how does Josef’s canoe paddle? Well, just like a Prospector should.
We’d set out across Lake Drögen as the sun began to head for the pine-lined horizon, Josef in his Prospector, Susannah and myself paddling our Stewart River Pal. After Fika, or tea and chocolate biscuits from Josef’s canvas bag, consumed on a small granite island about a mile off, we swapped boats.
Unloaded, and with that generously arched hull profile, Josef’s canoe has relatively little initial stability. That’s just as it should be with a canoe bearing this illustrious title. All that will change completely I’m sure once a full load of camping gear and provisions is added, transforming this canoe into a nimble cargo carrier, just itching for a rough river expedition. Paddled solo, and tipped over on its side, everything firms up nicely, allowing for a whole lake full of spin-on-a-sixpence fun.
Oh, and Josef’s paddles are pretty impressive too.