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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BeSOTted? Why Not? Sit-on-Tops Make Sense

Sit-on-top? SOT, for short. It's not the most elegant of names, is it? Well, no, it isn't. But names aren't everything. SOTs are among the best-selling no-octane boats today, and for good reason. They're stable, forgiving, and easy to paddle. And they're at home in a wide variety of water, from easy rapids to the margins of the sea.
OK. They're hot, but they're not exactly new. A SOT is just a fancy version of the slab-canoe you'll find described on page 389 of Dan Beard's 1890 classic, The American Boy's Handy Book. And the idea was already ancient when Dan Beard picked it up. Of course, the "giant logs" that got Dan Beard's boys on the water are long gone today. They've been made into chip-board and plywood forms. But we've still got plastic. And plastic makes great boats.
Who'd want to buy a SOT? Just about anyone who likes to fish, picnic, or paddle. And that's a lot of people. Who else? Folks who like the idea of kayaking but aren't turned on by the sometimes claustrophobic feel of a decked boat. No, conventional kayaks aren't traps. In fact, it's harder to stay in one in a capsize than it is to fall out. But some folks still like to be able to see their legs when they're paddling. And there's nothing wrong with that. SOTs are fun, pure and simple.
OK. "Serious" boaters sometimes look down their noses at SOTs and the people who paddle them. Let them. These boaters have a lot to learn. Not one paddler in ten thousand makes his living with his boat. The rest of us paddle because—you guessed it!—it's fun. And fun is what SOTs are all about. So let the "serious" boaters think whatever they want. If you're having a good time, that's all that matters.
Is there anyone who shouldn't buy a SOT? That's a harder question, I admit, but it's got a couple of good answers. Wilderness trippers can find better boats. SOTs are relatively heavy, and they're hard to portage solo. They also can't carry the load that a canoe can. Expedition kayakers, too, can find more suitable craft. Decked kayaks protect paddlers from cold air (and water), and they can be made sleeker and faster. That sort of thing doesn't matter on Golden Pond, and it doesn't matter on a summer day at the seashore, but it does matter if you're planning to paddle around Greenland.
You're NOT planning to kayak around Greenland? Then maybe there's a SOT in your future.

Ready to go shopping? Just remember "Farwell's Rules": Decide what you want a boat for. Don't be in a hurry. Try before you buy. Make up your own mind. Follow these rules, and it's hard to go wrong.
One caution: When you go paddling in your SOT, take a roll of duct tape or even a couple of pieces of chewing gum with you. Why? Simple. Most SOTs have hollow hulls, and not all of them have any encapsulated flotation. The hulls don't puncture easily, of course, but if they do, water will seep in. The result? You get that sinking feeling. The remedy? If you can get ashore and dry your boat off, duct tape will usually get you home. If you can't dry out, but if you can find the puncture—follow the bubble trail—a wad of bubble gum forced into the hole may buy you enough time to seek safe harbor. Then, once you're home, you can do a definitive repair.
BeSOTted? Good. SOTs are great boats to have fun in. And that's what it's all about, isn't it? 'Nuff said.
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