Paddling can be relaxing or exhilarating, and everything in-between. It can be a peaceful slow jaunt on still water, or a frantic battle against the rapids. When we decided to begin our canoeing adventure, we opted for the slower-paced version. This we did for several reasons. When we began researching this activity, the children were 6, 6, 7, and 10, Rebecca and I were both pushing 50, and the challenge of carrying enough watercraft to fit us all on a Jeep Wrangler narrowed our choices considerably.
Ultimately, we decided to ask Santa for two 15' canoes capable of accommodating three people each. I figured out that two canoes could be nested with very little modification allowing them to be carried with a minimal footprint. On Christmas Morning 2010, Santa delivered. Now, getting canoes for Christmas might seem a bit odd. It is, after all, pretty cold in the winter, even in our neck of the southern woods. In fact, for the first time in my life, there was snow on the ground on that Christmas morning. Needless to say, we didn't run right out and get in the pond. We waited a couple of days for that.
With regards to carrying the canoes on our Jeep, I began my research well in advance. I found a watercraft rack manufactured by Warrior Products which was really nothing more than a luggage/light rack without the basket. It served its purpose but proved to be a bear to install correctly. Once the rack was attached to the Jeep, I discovered how difficult it was to load the two nested canoes by myself. I usually have some help, but I prefer to know I can do it solo if I have to. I solved the loading dilemma by installing a Cabela's canoe loader and rack. This ingenious device made it much simpler and safer to load the canoes, plus it added significant support to the rear portion of the canoe rack.
So, with the transportation issue resolved and two new canoes, paddles, and life jackets, we did what any eager family would do, we headed south. Our christening voyage of the Minnow and Manatee (yes, we name everything we own) was in the 70+ degree waters of Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National forest. We couldn't have asked for a better first experience. We were able to see and touch manatee while paddling around the peaceful waters. Bonus? No one was eaten by a gator!
We have since taken the canoes on several trips and have enjoyed them immensely. We even tried a little of that "moving water" canoeing at Cedar Creek Park, but we think we prefer the slower pace of still or slow-flowing water. If you are considering a way for your family to experience some water-based fun without breaking the bank, consider canoes or kayaks. If you aren't sure, visit a state park or outfitters and rent one to try on for size. Just remember your gear!