Sure, plastic kayaks and factory canoes will float, but they certainly don't rate as treasured family heirlooms. For that, you'll want to turn to the craftsmanship of builders like Merrimack Canoe Company. Unlike brands that mass-produce their wares, this Crossville, TN-based company is a two-man operation – Randy Pew, the head boatbuilder and grandson of the founder, and woodworker Scott Hale.
The pair construct boats at a blistering rate of two a week, which is just slightly faster than Pew's grandfather did 43 years ago. That kind of care is reflected in the canoes' construction and build, a blend of ultra-strong modern materials like fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber paired with artisanal craftsmanship and classic wood detailing, from the curve carved into the deck plate to the hallmark cherry ribs lining the belly. (It's also found in the price, which starts around $3,300.)
For the first time, Merrimack is adding sustainably grown woods like Purple Heart, teak, Zebra, and Yellow Heart for its new line of vessels, The Exotic Wood Collection (which, not to quibble, is a bit of a misnomer, since these are easy-to-grow, sustainable, and thus not rare exotic woods). Pictured above is the Exotic Wood Collection version of the company's Osprey model. "I love woodworking and building boats," says Pew, "Yeah, I sit at home weaving seats while watching TV in the evenings or drinking coffee in the mornings. It's what I do." [From $3,300; merrimackcanoes.com]