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Adirondack guideboats were built since the early 19th century and evolved from a hunting skiff to today's highly refined design, virtually unchanged since the late 19th century. The Adirondack guideboat was originally designed to benefit the professional sporting guide who carried the boat and provided all the propulsion for his paying passengers, who were hunters or fishermen who travelled to the Adirondack region of upstate New York from New York City.
It was in the guides' best interest to make their craft both lightweight and easy to carry over the typically unimproved roads and trails between the lakes and streams of the Adirondack region. While the boat is known as the fastest fixed seat rowing boat, the stability of the Adirondack Guideboat has often been described as merely adequate for the sporting purposes (hunting and fishing) for which they were originally built. The New York craft were famous for their on-center tenderness, a trade-off from their remarkable speed.
Although these boats resemble canoes, they are not. They are built in the same manner as a skiff and rowed, not paddled, except for short distances with a "sneak" paddle. 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 so that if the rower stops rowing and lets go of the oars they will stay with the boat and trail behind such that they do not change the direction of the boat. Adirondack guideboats have won open water rowing races in some very challenging conditions.
Modern reproduction Adirondack guideboat hulls are made of kevlar, fiberglass or wood strips. Some hulls use both materials, with a wood hull and a fiberglass laminate applied to the outer surface for greater durability. The boat can be fitted with either a fixed or a sliding seat and outriggers for racing.
Since 1962 the annual Willard Hanmer Guideboat & Canoe Race has been held in July in Saranac Lake, New York; it is a 10-mile canoe and kayak race on Lake Flower and down the Saranac River. Willard Hanmer was a master guideboat builder. There is also a Guideboat class in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, the three-day 90-Miler from Old Forge to Saranac Lake.
The Adirondack Museum has several classic examples in its collection.