For a nearly two centuries, Adirondack guideboats have been regarded as one of the highest examples of the boat-builder’s art. Originating from the waterways in the Adirondacks in the early 19th century, professional sporting guides required a boat of unimaginable versatility: something a man could carry for a mile and row for a week. To serve as a fishing boat, a hunting boat, a hauling boat, and luxury transport. To be quick, efficient, and stable, in calm and rough waters. Necessity is the mother of invention, and accordingly, Adirondack guideboat design was born.
Today, these boats are still being made, by hand. If you’ve seen an Adirondack guideboat, chances are, it was built by Adirondack Guideboat, from their facility in Vermont, where the company has been handcrafting guideboats for three decades. Today, they build guideboats, packboats, and sailing dories from both Cedar and Kevlar, as well as rowing accessories – all hand built by two brothers in their 30s.
Justin and Ian Martin are authentic, wunderkind-like artisans of boatbuilding in the US, and their skills are evident in every boat they bring to life. As teens, both brothers began learning the trade of boat building, design, and assembly at Mad River Canoe, and eventually joined Adirondack Guideboat in 2000. In 2012, fueled by a genuine love of boats and boat building, the brothers bought the company from the founders, and carry on the craft of the guideboat.
A guideboat utilizes the efficiency of a rowing boat, but without a rowing boat’s traditional heft. Often mistaken for a canoe, a guideboat is actually much faster, as its design has been modified to account for the speed realized with the efficiency of rowing (as opposed to paddling)… especially when the weather picks up, and the water gets rough. The boat is more stable than a canoe because the occupants are sitting lower, almost on the bottom of the boat. The oars are pinned and aligned, and the oar handles cross in front of you, taking advantage of the physical mechanics of efficiency and ease of motion.
Oars use larger muscles and larger muscle groups, not just wrists and arms. A paddle typically has a mechanical advantage of 1 to 1 (your hand at the end of the paddle is the force, your hand in the middle of the paddle is the fulcrum…if the paddle is 5-ft long and you have one hand in the middle, the mechanical advantage is 1 to 1). Adirondack Guideboat oars, depending on their length (which varies with boat size), have a mechanical advantage of 2.5 or 3.5 to 1. And… as you will be using two of them, your actual mechanical advantage is 5 or 7 to 1. You will feel that advantage on every single stroke as you advance your boat through the water.
There is another difference between rowed boats and paddled boats. In rowing boats, you and your companion spend your day sitting face-to-face. You aren’t talking to the back of the other person’s head. You aren’t constantly saying, “Huh? What did you say?” You get to see your companion’s smiles, their reactions to your conversation. And they get to see yours. It’s not a big deal, but it is one of life’s pleasures. And it’s something which doesn’t happen in a canoe or kayak.
The beauty and grace of the guide’s boat was also part of the wilderness experience. Adirondack Guideboat blends contemporary materials and techniques with the traditional form of the guideboat. At Adirondack Guideboat, the woods are carefully selected and joined one to the next. One of their finished cedar boats takes roughly 300 hours to build, after they mill and make all the various wooden parts. The exterior of their wooden boat is covered with a protective layer of nearly invisible fiberglass. The fiberglass protects the hill from impact and moisture.
Their series of Kevlar boats take about 40 hours from start to finish. The Kevlar boats are approximately 75% Kevlar and 25% fiberglass. The Kevlar is what makes the boat durable and light, eliminating 20 pounds from the weight, if it were fiberglass only. There are Kevlar skid plates on each end of the boats to protect them from impact when coming to shore. The interior is gel-coat while the seats and trim work is all cherry.