I have developed a pretty good system for getting my lapstrake rowing canoe to the water. The canoe alone is pretty heavy, close to 80 lbs, and with the sliding seat, outriggers, and oars aboard, it tops 100 lbs, a lot more than I want to lift all at once. I keep the canoe on a shelf built into the garage so it slides straight across to my car’s roof rack and at the launch ramp I drag it off the back of the car, rest the stern on the ground at the water’s edge, and then lift the bow off. A pool noodle is all it takes to roll the canoe down the ramp into the water.
Getting the canoe launched at a beach is more of a challenge. I’ve been using the roller carts that I built for Ben Fuller’s article in our January 2017 issue. One has a wooden roller and the other a plastic pipe. The pipe has a larger diameter, 7”, and I figured it might work on sand. With the cart strapped to the canoe about amidships, the pipe made a lot of noise but worked fine over pavement, a gravel path, and a boardwalk. To my dismay, the pipe couldn’t handle sand. In short order, it bulldozed a pile of sand ahead of it and that was the end of it. To be fair, Ben had noted in his article that these carts are used upside down on soft ground and remain stationary while the boat rides the upturned roller. That does indeed work, but I have a broad beach to get across, and moving the canoe one boat length at a time and shuttling the roller ahead makes progress slow and tedious.
Several years ago, I had toyed with the idea of using an inflatable boat fender as a roller. The type of fender with a hole down the middle makes it possible to skewer one with a steel rod for an axle. The roller cart I made worked, but I didn’t really need it because I could just as easily carry a kayak on my shoulder. If I made a cart for the canoe with a larger fender, I thought I might have an easier time launching my canoe. Fenders are quite expensive, but I’ve had the good fortune to live by a mile-long lake almost completely hemmed in by marinas and there are a lot of runaway fenders. Just this fall I found five tucked under wharves and in the brambles.
I bought a length of 1/2” steel rod for an axle to fit an old fender 24” long and 10” in diameter. With the kayak roller cart I’d made previously, I had hammered a length of PVC water pipe down the length of the hole in the fender to create a more rigid “bushing” for the axle. I didn’t bother with that for this new cart. The distances I haul the canoe are relatively short, and if I did wear through the hole down the middle of the fender, it had cost me nothing.
The wooden frame was easy to make from a piece of 5/4” Douglas fir that was once a gymnasium bleacher and some ash milled up from a windfall. The fender bowed up in the middle when I put weight on the axle so I pumped some more air in and added extra clearance under the deck of the cart frame.
The fender rolls almost as easily as the solid rollers on my other carts and is a lot quieter—the molded ridges on the fender make a nice soft on rumbling sound on pavement. On grass or cobbles there isn’t perceptible difference in drag and on sand, even soft dry sand, there is surprisingly little extra resistance to rolling. The roller has such a large area of contact that it doesn’t sink or pile sand up ahead of itself. The flattened trail it leaves doesn’t even fill in the deepest footprints in the sand. When the canoe is afloat, I unstrap the cart, slide it to the side and it floats to the surface.
My fender cart worked like a charm, but the old fender eventually gave out. I had noticed a small crack at the edge of the inflation valve, a sign that the aging material was losing its flexibility, so it wasn’t a great surprise to have a leak develop where axle bears on the hole at one end of the fender. I’ll try again with a fender that isn’t quite so old and still has good flexibility. Maybe a pair of smaller fenders. And I may take another shot at bushings, at least short ones in the ends. For now my heavy-duty all-terrain cart, built on the cheap, just needs the right fender to go adrift.