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|The Mississippi Backwoods Drifter
A Creek Drifter Designed for Downriver Cruising
Paddles like a Canoe, but offers standup stability in just twelve feet.
Ernest Herndon paddles the 12' Backwoods Drifter
|The prototype Mississippi Backwoods Drifter was designed and built on
commission for one of Mississippi's most experienced padders,
award-winning journalist, author, and adventurer - Ernest Herndon.
Here's what he has to say about the boat:
Description of the Backwoods Drifter, excerpted from
Canoeing Mississippi, by Ernest Herndon:
"I became an admirer of johnboats when I took a 10-footer down the Tangipahoa River in Louisiana. Though
not as fast as a canoe, it was speedier than I expected. Its broad, stable bottom made it safe to stand in, and it
handled nimbly in swifts and bends. There's also something indigenous about a johnboat, which evolved from
the flatboats of yore and is now universal in the South.
All, in all though, the johnboat can't compare with a canoe. In fact, the only boat I've found that is equal to or
better than a canoe for Deep South streams is a wooden boat built by Mississippi craftsman Scott Williams of
Prentiss. It's called the Backwoods Drifter and is designed specifically for Mississippi waters.
The Drifter, which was featured on ETV's Mississippi Roads in 1999-2000, is stabler than a canoe or pirogue,
faster than a johnboat, and supremely maneuverable without being jerky. What Scott did, in essence, is take a
johnboat, do away with the wide stern, and make both ends like the bow, upswooping and tapered but still
square. The result incorporates elements of canoe and johnboat. He uses composite construction - mahogany
plywood, fiberglass, and epoxy - to create the flat-bottomed vessel, which is a good bit heavier than a canoe.
Mine measures 12 feet long, 30 inches across at the bottom midcenter, 40 inches at the gunwales, and weighs
probably 80 pounds (canoes average 70-75 pounds). Incidentally, that's not unlike those Indian dugouts found
in the Homochitto River area: 12 feet long, square ended, with platforms on each end. Talk about indigenous!
As I said, every boat has its drawbacks, and the Drifter may feel too responsive to folks accustomed to using
only a straight downriver paddle stroke. A correction stroke is needed, but in my opinion every serious
paddler needs to know that stroke, which I describe below. The Drifter is slower than a standard canoe,
though it easily outpaces a johnboat. It's a great vessel for many Mississippi streams since it handles the twists,
swifts, logs and shoals better than a canoe, and is reasonably efficient on flatwater."
14' Drifter with Electric Motor option
14' Drifter under construction
More photos of the Backwoods Drifter out where it belongs: drifting on backwoods streams. Click
photos to enlarge.