I know these paddles are drop dead gorgeous, but how do they paddle? I’m looking at a Galt desgined Mitchell bent shaft and a Galt designed straight shift that a friend wants to sell. Originally Mike made these as the Lutra I believe.
The Lutra paddles were made by the Blackburn Bros, not Mike Galt. The name Lutra was trademarked by a paddlesports rep, Paul Marsh. The design of the paddles was, according to Frank Hosford, a group effort with Paul coming up with the S concept. Frank was a partner in Lotus Canoe and the publisher of CanoeSport Journal, so he was there at the flood and should know.
The Blackburn brothers discovered there was damn little money in canoe paddles and went on to more profitable woodworking projects including birdhouses.
Mitchell was sending S blade prototypes to both Mike and I for evaluation, but it took sending my Lutras to them to get the project finalized. I was surprised they put Mike's name on the sticks.
It's a belief based system rather than a fact based one that Mike designed the paddle. That's OK too, we all need heros.
The "claw" or re-curve at the blades bottom served two purposes. It got sped up or made the catch more aggressive, and, when trailed, provided course correction. The shape is fine for intermediate paddlers but the quality priced the things for masters. Once the forward stroke is dominated, that claw increases drag and compromised paddle physics.
Lutra's were beautifully made with nicely relieved throats although the edges were square and the dihedrals were hollowed, not faired, both compromising slices. Mitchell copied my originals, flaws and all. Eric Schooley, who built Ibis Paddles, solved both problems. I enjoy all three of my Ibis sticks, two of which are 14 dg bents.
The 14dg S bend was quite the stick, whether from Blackburn, Mitchell or Ibis, perhaps because they had blades large enough to function at the ~30 strokes a minute pace recreational paddlers tend to use.
Bell later commissioned a large bladed bent from Gray Owl, and later from Mitchell. The Mitchell is still available. Both blades weres/are straight, or not S bent, and they are fine sticks, certainly that Mitchell is wonderful for tandem FreeStyle because it will support a lot of weight across the rail.
I have two
The Lutra that appears straight is actually a 2.5 degree bend. It was early called the “S-blade” because that is the side profile created by the slight bend along with the curved lip (or “claw” as CEW calls it).
That was the original Lutra. I have a picture of the very first one ever made by Blackburn, taken by Mike Jones of Cricket Paddles when he was repairing it years ago.
I bought a 2.5 S-blade from Bardy Jones in Florida in 1984 (during the winter Olympics) and have used it continuously since then as my primary flatwater “straight” paddle. (It may now get demoted a notch, as I have designed for myself an actual straight paddle.)
I’m sure the Lutra design was a group effort, as many canoeing designs are, but the evidence convinces me that Galt deserves primary credit. First, he told me so. But Mike said lots of things, so that is not conclusive. Second, I have heard from knowledgeable sources that David Mitchell and Eric Schooley sought Galt’s permission before they copied the paddle. Third, Mitchell originally sold their version with Galt’s signature on it. That combination of evidence convinces me that the paddle-making world at the time gave primary design credit to Galt.
Just last year I bought a brand new Mitchell version of the 15 degree Lutra, which had been made by David many years ago. Peter may still have a few left.
I call the Mitchell an interpretation of the Blackburn Lutra rather than a copy – at least the Mitchell I have.
I was very disappointed that the grip is different. The Blackburn Lutra has a smoothly aggressive wide cobra grip. Mitchell put his asymmetric palm grip on his version – the same grip that is on the high end Mitchell Leader. This almost caused me to send the paddle back. The Mitchell grip is very good – I love my Leader – but it was a disappointment in terms of being historically faithful.
Mitchell also shortened the curved cutaway on the upper third of the shaft. Another disappointment.
But I got over all that and am using the Mitchell Lutra as my primary kneel canoe bent shaft, displacing the Blackburn Sea-1 that Mike Galt gave me in 1984.
On the other hand, Mitchell made aesthetic and structural improvements in the woodworking craftsmanship. The multiple laminations of cedar, ash, basswood and walnut piping are beautiful. Blackburns have no edge protection up the sides. Mitchell used an ash edging framed by walnut pinstripes.
Would anyone other than me like using these blades? Probably not many. I don’t see them. I’ve always liked the powerful bite of the large S-blades for the slow tempo, correction stroke flatwater cruising I do in kneel canoes. The blades are also superior for on- and off-side grab strokes.
The 15 degree Lutra is not my choice for extended sit-n-switch paddling or high tempo paddling of any kind. On my outrigger I use smaller and lighter blades.
To the extent open CanAm canoeing still exists on this planet, it has become, like everything else, increasingly carbonized. You have to be somewhat of a canoeing atavism to appreciate paddling with a Lutra.
I have a Lutra…
Tony Fig conveyed it to me some years back. I believe it's a 5 degree bend. It must be a somewhat sought after paddle 'cause I've gotten unsolicited e-mail about future ownership of it if I ever grow tired of it....I like it so much, I ordered a Zav OR with the same bend...I really like that one too.....
Thanks for the information!
I appreciate the information on the paddles. It has warmed up, so I will try them out to see if I personally like them. What would be a fair price for the paddles, which are in like new condition?
Mitchell will still make them
But they will, IIRC, be priced as custom paddles.
I was around when “sport canoeing” or freestyle didn’t have a name. I was aslo good friends with Mike Galt during those early years. I bought my first Dandy in 1978 or 79, I believe. I was a outdoor/canoe retailer in Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina when all this stuff was first starting up.
I was at an early rendez-vous at Gaston’s in Arkansas in the fall of 1982 and I believe it was there that some of the first S-blades were introduced to the wider canoeing manufacturers & early sport canoeing pioneers. And there were alot of the “luminaries” from that time there: David Yost, Jim & Kay Henry ( They arrived with the new Lady slipper proto-type), the Blackburns, Pat Moore, et al. Pat garnered alot of attention one evening when most of us were at dinner in the dining room at sunset overlooking the river when he came cruising along dowing the Olympic high kneel stance paddling a racing shell. It was a rather majestic moment.
I spent a fair amount of time talking with the Blackburn brothers about the paddle. They indicated that the blade design had some others input (David Curtis as I recall) but that the paddle was really theirs. I never heard Mike take any credit for any part in it. But Mike was one to sort of co-opt ideas as they gained cache.
On another occasion Mike came to a friend of mine’s store in north Louisiana for a paddling seminar. He & I spent a great deal of time drinking wine & talking paddles, esp. what was most suitable for this new kind of canoe ballet as he referred to it for a lack of vocabulary again at that time. Again I don’t have any memory of him holding court or postulating on the physics of an original blade or paddle design. But then again red wine was no friend of mine.
Also around this time in the early 1980’s around the time the BJX came out Pat Moore started building custom-made wood paddles for the some of the sport canoers to those who could afford them. ($350) Each paddle was individually measured - lenght of arm, bend of arm from middle of neck (sort of like a custom shirt), torso length, kneeling heigth from bottom of canoe to clavicle, palm width. These were meant to be “freestyle” paddles. I have one. I know he made one for my friend, Bruce and he made one for Bardy Jones. I got to paddle with Bardy’s before he did when Pat brought them to Louisiana for a paddling symposium & day trip organized by Micky Landry. I have some great photos somewhere of Pat, Micky, Dana & Tom Blackburn (is that their names?), and bunch of us just trying out these new moves and working on giving them names.
My memory is not what it used to be but these are good memories for me. Hope there are some of you out there that might have been there too that can chime in with some more recollections of the days when “freestyle” manuevers didn’t even have names.