Can You Canoe?

Maybe — but it wasn't easy in this tricky little skiff.

click to enlarge "MADE TO BE STOOD UP IN": At least that's what the note said. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
"MADE TO BE STOOD UP IN": At least that's what the note said.

I vaguely remember, several months ago, talking to Sunrise about how much I wanted a canoe.

I even vaguely remember, a couple of weeks back, after the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show, her telling me she thought she could get me one.

But you know how those things are — yearnings that surface every once in a while, then sink back under, sometimes for years. It's blue-sky talk, the stuff you might get around to doing next weekend or never. If I'd had a serious, overriding jones to accessorize the Seaside Shack with a fishing canoe, I would've commandeered the one that has leaned untouched against the fence in Joey Cocktail's back yard for two years now (though I seem to recall plugging a hole in it repeatedly with cigarette butts the last time we used it).

So imagine my surprise when I came home from work one day last week to find a canoe leaning against my fence.

Except it wasn't a canoe, exactly.

Sunrise's card informed me it was a pirogue. Like a canoe, but wider, with a flatter bottom, shorter sides and a deeper draft for stability, the pirogue has been the bog-craft of choice for Cajun hunters, fishermen and alligator poachers for 300 years, the "modern" design having been perfected a century ago. "It's excellent for swamps & calmer waters," said the card. "It is made to be stood up in, making it easier to fish." Sunrise knows of what she speaks — she's a midwife-in-training who generally can't be found when not studying or assisting with a birth, because she's canoeing or camping outside of Gainesville or some damn earthy thing.

(It was Sunrise who told me there were buffalo up there somewhere outside Micanopy; I didn't believe her until she sent me a website link with photos.)

I was touched.

I was also a bit scared, because the thing looked less than a foot deep. If you've ever been in a canoe, you know how perilous the balance situation can be, particularly if two people are involved. Standing up in a canoe might as well be a professional sport; standing up in this shallow skiff seemed like a really quick way to fall out. So I resolved to wait for a nice, wind-less day, carry the boat the half-block to Lassing Park, and teach myself to pilot it ("It's different than paddling a canoe, a little trickier," Sunrise's note contributed helpfully/ominously) in as little calm, clear ocean water as possible.

But of course, I couldn't wait.

Hey, look man, give me a break — somebody brought a free boat to my house, and I had to hold off trying it out? That's like holding the pork chop higher than the dog can jump.

Also, I hadn't been shallow-water fishing in months, because the last time I waded into the Bay at Lassing Park, a couple of curious hammerhead sharks investigated me closely enough that I had to poke one of 'em with my fishing rod to make it go away.

Also, I'm about as patient as a ferret that's been prescribed crank for its ADHD.

By Friday, I couldn't take looking at the pirogue any more. I saw it when I left the Shack, right after walking by my rods and reels. I saw it when I came home, right before walking by my rods and reels. It was a conspiracy.

It was too breezy down at Lassing Park's open lagoon, so I tied the pirogue to the top of the Jeep, grabbed a pole and headed for a more sheltered spot on Big Bayou, just a few blocks south. On the way there, I discovered an important mathematical truth of small-boat conveyance: The number of minutes you spend tying one to the roof of your vehicle is inversely proportional to the number of times you will have to stop and re-tie it to keep it from falling off.

Beyond the mangrove-lined shoreline at the end of a dead-end South Side street, the water looked a little rough, but I was already there. Besides, I'd been canoeing a dozen times. I could handle it.

I could barely handle it.

Another mathematical truth regarding tiny watercraft: For every pound the boat is lighter than its occupant, the force exerted on it by the wind increases by a power of 10.

I made the mistake of traveling with the breeze first, and that was fun. The hour-long half-mile slog back to the launch against the wind, the pirogue revolving with each gust and threatening to capsize in the foot-high chop, wasn't. I never picked up the fishing rod that lay at my feet, until I took it out of the skiff to put back in the truck.

It wasn't right. Wasn't I supposed to be trying the thing out? And would a trial be complete without making at least a couple of casts?

It would not.

I headed another mile south to pretty, underused Grandview Park, which is situated on the back end of a little mini-bay. There was no wind as I launched the pirogue and paddled leisurely around an island, stopping to toss a lure up under the mangroves every couple of minutes. A slight breeze picked up on the island's far side, just enough to push the boat lazily along the water's edge.

I saw a monster redfish laid up off a point in about four feet of water. I got proficient enough with the pirogue to cruise it out over a couple of deep channels with confidence. And I spent an hour being reminded why so many people see Florida as paradise, drifting along in the sun, watching the egrets pose in the trees, watching the baitfish skitter over the oysters, watching the blonde woman in the halter top sun herself on the dock.

I didn't catch anything, but then again, I didn't really care.

Besides, I was working.

Thanks, Sunrise.

Just don't expect me to actually stand up in the thing.