February 22, 2019

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Opinion

Set to row, row, row his boat for 40 days

Brian Neill tends to his rowboat with his black Labrador, Sam, at his side.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Brian Neill tends to his rowboat with his black Labrador, Sam, at his side.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2015 (1346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SIX rivers, six lakes, six weeks. Backwards.

True voyageurs might scoff at Brian Neill's contraption for paddling from Swan Lake to The Forks -- a souped-up rowboat -- but then again, maybe not.

Thursday, Neill is leaving the western shore of Swan Lake for a 1,100-kilometre trek pulling backwards on oars. He hopes to arrive in about 40 days.

"They've been rowing backwards for hundreds of years, since the Vikings and before," said Neill, in a phone interview from his Dauphin home. But not across Manitoba. "I don't think anyone's rowed this route before," he conceded. Voyageurs canoed it, he said.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2015 (1346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SIX rivers, six lakes, six weeks. Backwards.

True voyageurs might scoff at Brian Neill's contraption for paddling from Swan Lake to The Forks — a souped-up rowboat — but then again, maybe not.

Thursday, Neill is leaving the western shore of Swan Lake for a 1,100-kilometre trek pulling backwards on oars. He hopes to arrive in about 40 days.

"They've been rowing backwards for hundreds of years, since the Vikings and before," said Neill, in a phone interview from his Dauphin home. But not across Manitoba. "I don't think anyone's rowed this route before," he conceded. Voyageurs canoed it, he said.

Neill is a veteran canoe and kayak tripper, often going for one or two weeks at a time. He operates an outfitting company, White Pelican Kayak Tours. He has canoed all the lakes and rivers he plans to traverse.

The rowboat idea started with his dog, Sam. A canoe is impractical for lake travel, and a kayak doesn't afford space for his black Labrador.

So, Neill started building an enclosed rowboat. It's not the kind you visualize on the Swanee River. It looks like a giant kayak, with covered decks and hatches so it can shed waves. But it's much wider at 110 centimetres, versus the widest kayak at 64 centimetres. It also has a front cockpit two metres long for his dog to ride in.

"I have a dog bed on the floor. It's one he uses in the porch," Neill said.

His rowboat is built out of fibreglass-coated plywood. "It's because plywood is strong and you don't need ribs," he said. It weighs about 90 kilograms. Neill borrowed the design from sea rowboats used on the West Coast.

He has only taken his boat out twice. He'd never rowed backwards before and almost hit a tree on Clear Lake. "But I also saw an eagle that my friend, in a kayak, didn't see."

His rowboat has a sliding seat, like Olympian scullers, and much of the pulling of the two oars is with his legs.

The six lakes he'll travel are Swan, Winnipegosis, Waterhen, Manitoba, St. Martin and Winnipeg. The six rivers are Shoal, Waterhen, Fairford, Dauphin, Winnipeg and the Red. Most of his travel will be on lakes.

Fortunately, there's only one portage: the Fairford Dam.

Neill, 65, has seen friends pass away recently. It motivated him to fulfil his aspirations.

"I lost a good friend in January. Same age. Did everything right and cancer still got her," he said.

He has freeze-dried 40 meals but will make stops in towns. He's already planning to have a burger and fries once he reaches Winnipegosis.

"I think I'll be all right," Neill said, when asked if might get "bushy" — an emotional breakdown by trappers and others who spend extended periods in the wilderness.

He wasn't as certain about Sam though, he said.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop
Rural Reporter

Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.

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