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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

By George Washington Sears ("Nessmuk") (1821-1890), 1880-3

The Bucktail in Florida, 8

The following is the eighth of nine articles entitled The Bucktail in Florida, by George W. Sears (Nessmuk), in Forest and Stream. Copy-text is Manley pp 188-190.

According to a later Rushton catalog, this canoe, the Rushton-Fairbanks, remained in service for at least two years.

And Captain Kendall wrote later to Forest and Stream, August 23, 1900: " Sixteen years ago a drayman drove up to Tarpon Ranch with two canoes packed in one box--the Smarty, weighing sixteen pounds, and the Rushton, weighing nine pounds fifteen ounces." After heavy use by Nessmuk, a young woman, and Captain Kendall and his wife, "the two canoes, barring a few scratches, are as ready for the water as the day they were taken out of the box sixteen years ago."

Forest and Stream, July 16, 1885

MONDAY, May 18, was a good day for canoes. It was barely sunrise, and I was monkeying around the fire with a condensed milk can by way of coffee pot, when Jake, the darkey carter, passed within ten rods of camp with an oblong box on his cart, beading straight for Kendall's ranch. He hailed me with, "I'se got a little boat here fer de cap'n; come ober an' see her."

"All right, Jake, you've got a little boat there for me, too, I reckon?"

"No sah. Box ain' big enough for two boats," and he drove on.

Now, the Captain's ranch is just about seventy rods from my camp, and before the leaves grew so dense on the black-jacks the camps were in sight of each other. Even now I catch glimpses of light from his windows at night, while he can always see my blazing camp-fires of a dark evening. And as I leisurely drank a cup of black coffee (which is the proper thing to do of a morning in this climate) I heard a hammering and rending clatter over at the Captain's house, as of one who opens a dry goods box with a store hatchet, and there came a clear ringing hail, which I answered, and then walked over to the ranch. I found the Captain contemplating the contents of the open box with a smile of grim satisfaction, while Mrs. K. was actually dancing with delight like an excited school girl. Her little canoe, the long looked for, clinker-built cedar, had come at last, and was nestling snugly and safely in its packing without scratch or crack. Well, she was a beauty, and light as a cork, turning the scales at sixteen and a half pounds barely. Finished in oil and varnish, and of a different model from any of the light open canoes I have seen, though the difference is slight. On the whole I prefer her model to that of the Bucktail, though the latter was built strictly on the dimensions given by myself. Her length is 10 1/2 feet, beam 26 inches, with 9 inches rise at center, twelve inches at stems.

But what interested me most was another and lighter canoe nested neatly and safely inside the first. This was the little Rushton ordered nearly a year ago, with no directions save as to name and weight. She must in any case weigh less than ten pounds. And the name to be painted neatly on each side of one stem in gold and scarlet letters. This was meant as a slight compliment to the man who has done more and better canoe work for me than any man living. Other makers might have done just as well, but they all, I believe, use white lead or some other waterproof material to make close joints. Other things being equal, I prefer naked wood to wood; close joints by close work. When I have rattled my canoes until they leak, I can do the daubing myself. The Rushton Fairbanks at just 9 pounds, 15 ounces, is 8 1/2 feet long, and has 23 inches beam, with 8 inches rise at center, and 10 1/4 inches rise at stems. I thought she had rather a tubby look when first placed on the water. Her very flat bearings, with the way she carried her width out toward the stems, made her look like the model of a Dutch galliot; but, turning her keel up, she showed lines and curves that looked like gliding over water very fairly. Balancing her on the end of a finger, she really did seem too frail--too trifling for real work. But I remembered the handsome behavior of the Sairy Gamp (only nine ounces heavier) and decided to test her fairly.

We formed a procession of three down to the landing, Mrs. K. leading, and jubilant at the thought that she could make her own carries without help from the male element, whereat the M. E. gave me a side wink and grinned sardonically.

I do not like Kendall's landing--not for an open canoe. The water is too deep and the bank too steep. I prefer a gentle slope of soft sand where the canoe can glide up to a stop easily, and I may walk out or in on the keelson. It was agreed that Mrs. K. should launch out first; and with some trepidation and a little help ftom the Captain, she got safely off and began to ply the double blade. Gingerly at the start, but finding the canoe steady and easy under paddle she grew confident and put on muscle, paddling up and down the river, in and out of bayous, and handling the light craft skillfully as a squaw. Finally she landed and lifted the canoe out of water, saying, "Oh, she is just lovely; worth half a dozen spring bonnets." Then the Captain hinted he would like to see the Rushton "go," and I dropped her into the water with a spat, dropped a folded blanket into her for a seat, and crept in, rather carefully it must be owned.

But once in and fairly seated I found her, to my surprise, steadier than the Bucktail of more than twice her size; i.e., she did not tip or rock so easily, and she required less propelling to the mile than any boat or canoe I had ever handled. I saw that she would trim with fifteen or twenty pounds in addition to my own weight, and I had not paddled her half an hour before deciding that, if she would stay in a lumpy sea, I would adopt her as my cruising canoe.

We went down to the Springs, the Captain, Mrs. K. and I. It is only a mile as the crow flies. By the tortuous channel of river and bayou it is nearly three, and a pleasant trip we made of it. Of course, the light canoes attracted a crowd; they always do that, even in towns where canoes are common, but the crowd was not a large one. The Northern tourists had flitted, and the permanent population of the Springs is less than one hundred. We paddled back in the cool of the evening and agreed that it was good to be there.

"It's the first time three double-bladers ever hauled in at one landing on this coast," said the Captain. And I think he was right.

This was more than a month ago, and I have kept the Rushton pretty well in use since.

Every well built canoe, yacht or ship has some individuality, some peculiar trait of its own. The peculiar trait of the Rushton is to take in spray heavily when going to windward, say four points off. This is owing to her sharp, short curved lines. We went outside, Tarpon and I, to test her against a brisk sea breeze--he to lie off, watch her closely, and give his opinion as canoeist, builder and sailor. For he is all these. I put her straight in the wind's eye with a choppy lump of sea against her, and she rode it like a duck. I turned and ran before it, and she got away from the seas like a whale boat. Then I laid her beam on, and--well, it took some balancing, but she kept dry. Lastly I tried her with the wind about four points abaft the stem, and she slashed the spray in, a few spoonsful at a time, until I was obliged to creep under Tarpon's lee and sponge out.

Then he gave his opinion, "Let me deck her and you can stay out as long as the seas don't break under you. That will swamp any canoe." So she is to have a light cloth decking and a cockpit withal, like the able-bodied canoes of the A. C. A. . . . .

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