There are days when I really love living on Vancouver Island. Yesterday was one of them, the sun was out, and the temperature warm enough for me to be out on the water with only a T-shirt. Secure in the knowledge that most of my fellow Canadians were busy shoveling snow, I felt I really had no choice but to go canoeing.
Recently a little red canoe came into my shop, a Chestnut Bob’s Special, and yesterday I could hear her calling my name. She’s slated for a full restoration, but the canvas is still serviceable enough for a little flat water paddling. Although I’ve paddled countless canoes, of virtually every type, I’ve never actually had a chance to try a Bob’s Special. Yesterday was the day.
The Bob’s Special was one of Chestnut’s two lightweight pleasure models (The other was the Chestnut Featherweight.). It was originally advertised as a 50 lb special, but over the years the weight increased to around 58lbs. and Chestnut dropped that claim from their catalog. Hefting it onto the roof of my little truck however was a whole lot easier than what I’m accustomed to. I’ll definitely have to weigh this boat before I strip off the canvas.
“The Chestnut 50-lb. Special has been designed to meet a certain demand for extremely light weight canoe of good carrying capacity and has proved very popular. Owing to it’s width and flat bottom it is very stead and the ends are low, making it easy to portage through the bush. The wood for the hull of this canoe is very carefully selected and the canvas used in both grades is lighter than on our regular models and while the canoe is not as strong as our standard grade it will satisfy every reasonable demand and has given the best of service on many hard trips. On account of the light framework we advise purchasing this canoe with a keel and all our stock is so equipped. Both grades have two cane seats and are priced with a keel.”
Chestnut Canoe Co. Limited Catalog, 1950
The Bob’s Special is touted as a “pleasure canoe” or “cottage canoe”. It’s wide (37″), has a relatively flat bottom and is therefore quite stable, in other words not quite so “tippy”. I therefore expected it’s performance to be nice, but unexceptional. I was wrong. I have done hundreds, probably thousands of hours of solo canoeing, in dozens of different canoes, and this little Bob’s Special is without question the sweetest flat water solo boat I’ve ever had the privilege of paddling. She paddled like a dream. Lightly loaded she skimmed across the water, tracked well and turned easily. As you can see in the picture the bow was riding out of the water so I believe a little more weight would only improve her handling.The Bob’s Special was one of Chestnut’s more popular and famous models. It’s no accident that Ted Moores included a strip built version of the Bob’s in his book Canoecraft. This is an exceptional canoe, perfect for the solo canoeist or two medium or light weight individuals tandem. The Bob’s special really is an ideal cottage canoe, perfect for fishing, light tripping or recreational paddling. If she has a draw back, it’s her her light weight construction, which makes her unsuitable for serious white water paddling.
If you ever get a chance to paddle one of these beauties, do so. If you have the opportunity to buy or restore one, do so. You won’t regret it. Chestnut’s Bob’s Special is an exceptional canoe, one that paddles like a dream. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in love…