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A Canoe Season

Photo: Toni Harting
A Canoe Season

Not having raced that hull for years, I wondered about the choice. The Jensen is a tad slower than the new Killing design I usually paddled. But it was also virtually identical to the hull used by the competitor next to me on the line, the year’s rookie in our master’s class. He was a lot younger, probably stronger … but maybe not faster. I wanted to race him on even terms.

I like Jensens. It is satisfying to paddle a classic modern hull, designed by the man who invented the category. Years ago, I moved the thwart back on mine to mount a seat amidships. I riv- eted in some aluminum angle for foot braces and, voila, my first solo canoe.

There were twelve hulls at the start. I aligned my bow with the first turning marker about one kilometre out. Good paddlers on either side, we kept our distance, feathering and bracing to hold our positions in the seconds counting down to the start.

THE AFTERGLOW OF TECHNICAL ADVANCES

I paddle in two of the most beautiful places in the world … in the waters beneath the mountains up Indian Arm just east of Vancouver, British Columbia and, once summer comes, in the islands on the east shore of Georgian Bay, Ontario.

I also paddle in the afterglow of huge technical advances in canoeing. Long, skinny, low profile canoes with straight keel lines to track like arrows and made of tough, light materials …. with adjustable seats and foot braces mounted amidships for soloing as well as in the stern and bow… vastly more efficient bent shaft paddles …. and the sit and switch technique, much more speed with much less effort.

FINDING THE PERFECT STROKE

Early each season, it feels like I have lead in my arms and sedative in my veins. I fight the paddle. I have to fool with my seat and foot brace to get the hull properly trimmed again. I have to move my torso around until it settles into the angle that will be comfortable for the rest of the season. 

My stroke was laboured, … come on stroke, where are you? Just because I have spent a winter skiing doesn’t mean I have abandoned you forever. Repeat. Persevere through clumsiness until muscle memory kicks in and suddenly it is back.

As the season builds, I move constantly between the nature around me and an interior dialogue, watching my own technique, observing what works, what is getting better and what is not. Every hour or so, I pause and drink some water, eat something, look up at the mountains to the snow which stays well into the season. Later, when I am east, I float deep in the lees of the Georgian Bay archi- pelago, watching the charcoal, white necklaced loons who live in this bay as they raise the next generation just like I am doing with my children.

Eugene Jensen spends his life trying to build the perfect canoe. I spend a lot of mine trying to find the perfect stroke.

The perfect stroke—that elusive moment when you are in the perfect trim in the perfect canoe, when your hours of meditative paddling now allow you to divide a 1.2 second stroke into a hun- dred intervals and know exactly what you have to do in each one to be able to deliver maximum power in the instant when physics and geometry can deliver maximum efficiency—and you are suddenly in that moment, turning on the afterburner in a final shot of accelerating effort. You have made the canoe go as fast as it can. And then the canoe takes over, holding onto the speed you have given it in a long glide, a victory of inertia over friction thanks to the great designer who thought out your hull—and it waits for you to do it again. 

The search is the reward. I have paddled the same routes all my life and they continue to give me something fresh each time out. A still, early summer rain shining the rocks and bringing out their colour as the lichen swells and softens, later, the first cardinal flow- ers telling me the summer is ending, crimson strokes painted along the ends of tough, thin green stalks late in the season. The search reintroduces me to my rhythms and gives the partnership of two good paddlers, the quiet pieces of shore on which you rest, the perfect union of form and function in those quick and beautiful hulls.

STRENGTH VS TECHNIQUE

If I had lost the race, the winner would have paddled well. I didn’t lose. I was ahead from the start and increased my lead the whole race. Two kilometres later, I finished fifty yards in front. The new guy is second. Two hours later, my brother and I won the doubles race in the same hull. He is all strength, I am all technique. We had the canoe humming early and we left good wake the whole race.

The new guy beat me in the sprints a week later. I was quicker off the line but he gained speed and I couldn’t hold mine. He beat me by almost a length. He and his partner did it again in the pairs. His sprint technique was better. Next year mine will be too … and I look forward to it.

Ted Cape is a 51 year old paddler for whom the sport was reborn when he discovered the modern canoes designed by pioneers such as Eugene Jensen and their successors. Over the years, he has accumulated 6 of these canoes. For him paddling has become athletic as well as aesthetic and for this he thanks the designers whose creativity, thoughtfulness and willingness to depart from tradition have produced these beautiful hulls. 

This article on canoeing was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Travelling the Bloodvein River

Photo: Rick Matthews
Travelling the Bloodvein River

When our four canoes carved into a Bloodvien eddy we were met by a wall of mirrors. Ten days into a three-week river trip, the eddy shore was alive with young women in well-beaten canoes. All sixteen of them stared at us, silently for a moment, as if we were creatures from Mars. And we stared back at their ancient gear, their wooden wanigan box nearly a metre high, battered wooden paddles that had pushed off a thousand rocks and clothes that seemed to have tripped several summers since their last ride in a washing machine. Then one of them softly said,“Oh, oh, oh, look at their canoes!” To them, spacecraft had landed. That was the moment that we saw ourselves mirrored so clearly in their eyes.

Our boats and our gear were as new as theirs were old. Our yellow and red canoes were packed tightly with food barrels and vinyl dry bags, hard cased camera boxes and bright lining ropes. We were strapped into whitewater outfitting, carried composite paddles and we all wore helmets. Our women were hard edged and tough and had lines even when they weren’t smiling.

THE PERFECT RIVER CHOICE

The idea was to paddle up and out of one watershed and down into another, as I recall. The Bloodvien River seemed perfect, rising in the open mossy parkland of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and whitewater pool and dropping its way to Lake Winnipeg. Enticing six whitewater playboaters into this adventure was child’s play. No one even blinked at the mother of all car shuttles.The 725 kilometres, required chartering a Beaver on floats to bring the drivers back to the group, and demanded about three weeks of pulling a canoe past a paddle. 

Upstream is a dirty word to most river paddlers. Tracking, wading, pulling and bug swatting up airless narrow creeks has a very narrow following and you never meet strangers. So our happy crew left Red Lake, crawled its way up Chinkuni Creek and in three days, crossed the height of land into the Arctic watershed. Not being in the least superstitious, we paused here for a tobacco ceremony for a moment and begged for the good graces of the spirit guardians of the land, the rocks and the rivers. No one scoffed as the tobacco fell to the water, it was so quiet you could hear your heart beat.

Usually downstream is better, but for us, the next few days felt just the same—wading, pulling, swatting, sweating and never a sign of another human being. The country felt untouched, except by fire. Large areas had been burned in various recent times, but the land regenerated with a ferocious intensity.The new forest grew back like a solid stockade of green along the bank.

Gradually, hour by hour, the river grew under us, often opening into lakes, then closing in again. Just before the Manitoba border, the river opened into Artery Lake, the site of perhaps the most famous pictographs in Ontario. Painted on an outward sloping rock face, a red ocher bison with a throbbing heart ran at eye level, fish swam, men and animals lived, and canoes with a dozen paddlers froze time and lowered our voices to whispers. It was cool in the shadows, like entering a church on a summer’s day. The drawings commanded our reverence.

CONSTANT JUDGEMENT

Woodland Caribou Park is joined by Manitoba’s Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Area at the border, and it is here that the river begins its serious whitewater, narrowing again and again to little more than the width of a canoe and always running in an ancient granite channel dressed and stained with lichen. For these are the oldest rocks in the world; they were here long before the river and have watched time go by for 2.6 billion Januarys. Following the faults and fissures of the Canadian Shield, the river makes countless right angle turns, widening and constricting, always changing and full of surprises.

We ran throw bag safety for each other, carefully scouting each set as individual teams. This was a low water July trip, with careful technical paddling and bow paddlers who were always wet from being the first over the sharp drops, and into the pools below.

The Bloodvien, with its more than eighty sets of rapids, imposed the need for constant judgement. Our days were filled with the concerns of canoe performance and water reading, the endless search for the perfect line and whether to run, line or portage.The knowledge, opinion and wisdom of companions built a team and formed a bond.

It seemed to be a river of eagles, for we were rarely out of sight of a bald eagle at any time, and they were there for the fish. After setting camp, we would paddle the designated fisherman out to the boiling eddy line. There he would make a cast, hook a fish generally a bit too big for eight, and then be paddled back to shore, the fishing complete for the evening. Simmered, not boiled, for three minutes in a vegetable stew, the fish was always served with a glass of Merlot from a bottomless box, making a day on this wild and generous river complete.

It is unusual to meet other paddlers on remote rivers; all of us move in the same linear experience at close to the same speed. But the sixteen bright-eyed girls were travelling against the current, a day ahead of their instructors, so they said. This was their forth and last year together as a group of camp kids, now near grown to adults, almost on their own and fired with their sense of freedom and independence. After they had completely devoured our gear with their eyes and filled the canyon with laughter, they paddled away with their sixteen year old map reader sitting high on her wanigan, her blond pony-tail waving as she talked. Would they, we wondered, carry away with them into their grown-up lives our pressing need to travel rivers, to take the path less traveled, to live outside where the water moves and dances? Did they look far, far ahead, and see themselves in us? 

Brian Shields is currently pursuing a career in retirement. When not resurrecting battered boats, he can be found playing on any whitewater river that will have him. 

This article on the Bloodvien River was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Algonquin Park: Where it All Began

Photo: Don Standfield
Algonquin Park: Where it All Began

Algonquin Park. Just teh name conjures up images and emotions that resonate deep within the soul of many thousands, maybe millions, of Canadians. The impact may be most apparent in our response to the howl of a timber wolf on a moonlit night. But not everyone understands the language this landscape speaks, only because they haven’t been there, and it’s not obvious from afar. Algonquin is not a place of spectacular scenery, with towering mountains or cascading waterfalls, forbidding coastlines or endless vistas— “What is it about Algonquin?” asks an outsider. The question very nearly defies response. 

On a bright, crisp autumn day, with my vintage 1928 Peterborough cedar-canvas 15-footer on my shoulders—the old way, with two paddles lashed down to the centre thwart to bear the weight—I wend my way along the forest path, stepping blithely on fallen leaves that have laid out a thick carpet of crimson, gold, orange, scarlet, damson and butter yellow on what was once an Aboriginal portage. The sun’s rays penetrate through the upper canopy and down to the forest floor for the first time in months, and a thick, rich aroma of the deep woods rises to my nostrils. I move slowly, all my senses overactive. For me, the portage here is part of the pleasure; it’s not like trips on some of the far north’s wild rivers, where a carry around an unshootable set of rapids seems a nuisance and a chore, often a heavy toil, little more than a delay before getting back into the current. Walking through these woods is a vital part of understanding Algonquin.

AN INTERGENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PARK

Canoeing Algonquin takes me back to my roots. As a young lad growing up in Toronto in the 1950s and 1960s, we went north in the summer. I think my parents took me to Algonquin for the first time when I was only two.Though I don’t actu- ally remember it, I went for my first ride in a canoe on one of Algonquin’s lakes. My mother knew them well; she had paddled here as a young girl in the 1930s. As did my grandfather—the original owner of my treasured old Peterborough—before her. It’s like that for a lot of my generation in Ontario. So when we began to take canoe trips of our own, it was only natural to go to The Park as we called it, for in our minds there was none equal. Algonquin, for us, was the beginning of an important part of our lives.

In the decades since, I have been to Algonquin countless times, not unlike most Ontario paddlers. It is our collective favourite, though for each of us it offers something different. The Petawawa River has its devotees, including George Drought, who knows it well enough to have written a guidebook. His praise is unequivocal: “For beauty and quality of rapids, the Petawawa outshines everything else in Ontario.” For others, it is the traditional routes that loop north from the Highway 60 corridor: Canoe Lake, Big Trout, the Otterslides, Opeongo, all the oh-so-familiar names. There are 2,500 lakes in all, with 1,600 kilometres of canoe routes and 3,000 prepared campsites.

You don’t have to work hard or travel far in order for Algonquin to bestow its gifts. It was Pierre Trudeau who wrote: “Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” In Algonquin, you don’t even need to go that far.That’s why it remains the smaller, less-travelled lakes that draw me back. That’s where I find peace. That’s where I see an old-growth white pine so large it takes four of us to link hands around its girth. That’s where I feel the bond to wild places that stirs deep within us all.

AT HOME IN ALGONQUIN

For those who know it, the park provides that primeval connection. It is a steady, reliable friend—a place that is always there waiting for your next visit, a place that never disappoints. Ralph Bice, in his nineties, the last of the park’s old-time guides and trappers, summed it up nicely: “Anyone who knows Algonquin Park will be disappointed when they get to heaven.”

With thoughts like that in mind I reach the end of the portage through the autumnal forest, swing the canoe gently down from my shoulders to straddle the border between water and land, and stand there in the refreshingly cool air coming off the lake, taking in the view. It is a tiny, picturesque lake—like a painting by Lawren Harris—with only one campsite, on a rocky point, and it looks empty. I’ll be alone, as I’d hoped. An unseen loon’s tremulous call adds his welcome from across the way. I feel at home…in Algonquin…where it all began.

This is an excerpt from a longer story by David Pelly in Paddle Quest, published by Boston Mills Press. Pelly is also the author of Thelon: A River Sanctuary, a biography of a northern wilderness, and most recently Sacred Hunt: A Portrait of the Relationship between Seals and Inuit, published by Douglas & McIntyre/Greystone. 

This article on Algonquin Park was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

The Secrets of Crab Lake

Photo: Scott MacGregor
The Secrets of Crab Lake

Noel’s requests were quite demanding for his son’s first canoe trip. He wanted a quick and easy route only a couple of hours drive from his home near Toronto; maybe a short portage so five-year-old Walker could experience, for a brief moment, what it felt to shoulder all your belongings on your back; and a choice campsite set on a remote lake that happens to be populated by monster-sized bass. Noel has been on a number of trips with me before and I knew he wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that such a perfect trip didn’t exist. But it did. A place called Crab Lake. And it’s a gem I couldn’t wait to share with him and Walker.

Crab Lake is reached by Wolf Lake a left turn off Highway 28, north of Peterborough but just south of Apsley, Ontario. Wolf Lake is a perfect destination on its own. Only a few cottages crowd the lake, mostly along the south shore, and a strip of Crown land along the north shore, as well as a number of small islands to the west, provide some excellent campsite possibilities. 

Crab Lake is much more isolated and is easily reached by way of a short 107 meter portage located at the far end of Wolf Lake’s southwest bay. Getting to Crab Lake seemed like a relatively easy process, but with the last road not being marked we found ourselves lost. Our group missed the turn for Wolf Lake twice and even somehow managed to begin paddling across a totally different lake for half-an-hour before we resorted to asking a local cottager to steer us in the right direction.

BEGINNER’S LUCK

Crab Lake has five main bays that head off in all directions and is much larger than it first appears. Each inlet also has one or two prime campsites, complete with an exposed chunk of granite to catch a breeze and escape the bugs and a snug canopy of pine, maple and birch to pitch a tent under. Our group chose an out-of-the way spot directly below where a rough trail heads up to the top of Blueberry Mountain—an exposed hill that’s literally covered in thick blueberry bushes. On any other trip the blueberries could have been the highlight but this trip was all about the fishing. After quickly setting up camp, we headed out in the canoe again in search of the lake’s monster bass.

We cast our lines out the moment we entered the first weedy bay; Noel and I with our fancy plugs and spinners, and Walker with his half-dead worm stuck on a bear hook. It was my idea to give Walker the defunct bait, thinking the lake’s healthy population of sunfish would keep him occupied for at least long enough for Noel and me to catch some decent-sized bass for supper. Of course in no time at all Walker had caught three bass, averaging around four pounds each. Noel and I hadn’t received a single bite. Quickly we switched to the decomposing worms and, in exchange, allowed Walker full rein on our lure boxes. Ten minutes later Walker had caught two more trophy bass—one on my scent-impregnated rubber frog and the other on Noel’s pink-coloured Holla-Popper. Noel and I remained fishless.

I doubt Crab Lake has ever given up so many fish. In fact, Noel and I were quite mystified by Walker’s success and had to blame it on beginners’ luck to settle our egos. Walker, on the other hand, had a different reason for catching so many lunkers. Each time he lowered his line into the water the intrepid angler would whisper the secret code, “Here fishy, fishy, fishy.” Walker insisted that without saying this magical phrase, no fish would ever bite a hook. So, whether we agreed to play along for the fun of it, or that we just became completely desperate to catch fish, both Noel and I tossed out our lines and repeated the expression,“Here fishy, fishy, fishy.”

Thinking back, the trip to Crab Lake wasn’t a complete success according to Noel’s set criteria. The route was actually a two-and-a- half hour drive from his home near Toronto;Walker only carried his personal pack halfway along the portage before handing it over to his father; and Noel and I never did catch a trophy bass. Crab Lake did manage to fulfill his main objective though—Walker can’t wait until next years trip. And according to Noel, a father can’t ask for anything more perfect than that.

Kevin Callan is the author of numerous guidebooks for canoeists, including the bestseller Cottage Country Canoe Routes. The Crab Lake route, along with a number of other great weekend getaways in the Kawarthas, is included in his latest book Gone Canoeing: Weekend Wilderness Adventures in Southern Ontario. Callan’s newest book project Ontario’s Lost Canoe Routes is scheduled to be released this Spring. 

This article on Crab Lake was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Guides and Outfitters: Trip Planning Made Easy

Photo: Don Standfield
Guides and Outfitters: Trip Planning Made Easy

The easiest way to plan a canoe trip is to not plan the trip at all. It’s much easier if you can get someone else to plan it for you. In other words, employ the services of an outfitter or guiding company. You can gain a little convenience by hiring someone to help with some trip-planning aspects; or, you can pay to have a company run the entire trip and gain a lot of convenience. Believe it or not, there are times when even the most die-hard independent canoeist with all the gear can use the services of a guide or outfitter. Most paddlers would probably agree a trip taken is better than one postponed until next year.

REASONS FOR USING A GUIDE

There are numerous factors that can hinder your efforts to run your own canoe trip—if you let them.

If you’re new to canoe tripping, an outfitter is always a great way to go. It’s like on-the-job learning; you experience the joys of a trip and avoid problems novice trippers often encounter. At the same time, you can pick your guides’ brains about gear, paddling tech- niques and canoe camping.

We’ve all experienced incredibly busy summers when you meant to sit down and plan a trip, but somehow the time just disappears. 

Outfitters offer pre-scheduled trips that you can jump right into. The options are endless, as the packages range from interpretive afternoon excursions to thirty-day expeditions. Pick one that fits your schedule; or, if you have a group large enough, most outfitters will guide a trip specifically tailored for your group and date.

Maybe you just moved across the country and you’re new to the area. Complicating matters is the fact you can’t determine which boxes contain your equipment. However, you have to get in at least a five-day trip to feed your paddling fix or risk serious soul deprivation. Hiring an outfitter is a great way to learn about a new region and meet new people.

Perhaps your paddling or tripping skills are rusty. Maybe you want to go to a wild, remote place, but want the security of an expe- rienced and qualified guide. Perhaps your palate revolts at the prospect of eating more freeze-dried food. Or maybe you and your significant other recently split up, and he/she got canoe-custody.

The list is almost endless. Regardless of the reason, if you cannot plan a trip because of any of the above situations, or a myriad of others, but you need to get out and paddle, that’s the time to call an outfitter or guiding company. 

TYPES OF PACKAGES

There are different levels of outfitting services, ranging from simply picking up a canoe for the weekend to all-inclusive adventure vacations. Most outfitters offer several options. It is up to you to select the most convenient arrangement based on your needs.

The simplest way outfitters can help is by offering equipment rentals. Perhaps you don’t own some of the necessary equipment; or perhaps you own it, but it’s too difficult to transport. Rent a canoe, paddles, a car topper, perhaps a tent and you’re ready for adventure.This still involves planning on your part, but the convenience of not having to purchase, store and maintain a boat keeps cash and storage-strapped canoeists active and happy.

It is common to use your own equipment, prepare and pack your own food and stop by the outfitter for last-minute weather details and a shuttle. Letting someone else worry about negotiating the shuttle roads of the Canadian wilderness can save more than your vehicle.The time it takes to run a shuttle to reach even some of our most accessible routes can whittle away at your precious trip time. Hiring a company to run shuttle for you also expands your options so you don’t have to restrict yourself to another looping trip. Of greater importance, you can still go on your desired trip without having to find another driver with a car.

The all-inclusive packages are by far the most hassle-free type of outfitted trips.You pick your trip, pay your money and let the guiding company handle all the logistics, route-planning, equipment and food concerns. Bring your personal effects, pack a few extra rolls of film, and maybe a harmonica, if you’re musically inclined. And whatever you do, don’t forget to fill in your meal preferences and whether you would like to sleep in a solo or dou- ble tent.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to take a trip where all you have to do is paddle, leaving plenty of time to paint, write, explore or simply socialize with new and interesting people.

You may even become addicted to hiring an outfitter, and wonder why you ever spent the time and effort to plan your own trips in the first place. 

This article on outfitters was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots.This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Canoeroots’ print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Pyranha Spanish Fly

Photo courtesy Pyranha
Boat Review: Pyranha Spanish Fly

A Brief History

Colin Broadway started a company in England distributing Savage V boats around Europe. His personal interest was the Skeeter and the Super Fly designed by Frankie Hubbard and produced by Savage V. When Savage V appeared to have money trouble, Broadway investigated buying into the company. The deal fell through. Meanwhile Frankie Hubbard was unemployed and wanted to build a new boat; by this time the Skeeter and Super Fly were no longer in production. Frankie moved to England and teamed with Broadway to design the original Spanish Fly. When Frankie moved on to Germany, Broadway switched from glass moulds to aluminum and made some alterations o Frankie’s design; it was still called the Spanish Fly – but branded Savage. Then, Broadway made some life changes, retired and worked a deal with Pyranha, who now produces both the Spanish Fly and another Hubbard and Broadway open canoe the Prelude.

Outfitting the Fly

One of the downfalls of traditional whitewater solo canoes is that few manufacturers were in the business of providing outfitting. Some shops used to outfit boats for customers but most have now stopped bothering with the service. How nice it is for the Spanish Fly to come ready to paddle.

The Spanish Fly ships with bags, a foam seat and bulkhead system and the classic aluminum and plastic foot pegs. Pyranha also foams-out the side walls to help displace more of the water from the cockpit area. The system works. To make it better we’d glue in the foam walls because the supplied two-way tape doesn’t stick. We’d replace the vinyl bags with lighter nylon ones. The foam seat pillar is pretty narrow, so we’d add more foam to each side and shape it for more butt contact. Only minor changes when you consider we were used to staring into an empty hull.

More than a Hull Boat

Not sure if any canoeists noticed, but the Spanish Fly took the top three places at the 2001 World Freestyle Championshop in Spain. The funny part is few open canoeists actually go into holes and the reason could be either the chicken or the egg. Have we stayed away from holes because there hasn’t been a boat worth paddling, or has there not been a boat worth paddling because we don’t paddle the holes? Deep.

In a hole the Spanish Fly stabilizes in a smooth side surf, letting you get comfortable and look around. The trick is to fight your ingrained tilt-downstream instinct is to fight your ingrained tilt-downstream instinct and level off your tilt. The Spanish Fly is short, very rockered and hard chined and an absolute blast to front surf. The Fly is slow so needs a fast, steep wave. It also doesn’t pin the bow in the upstream green water so you can finally carve the face of a wave.

The Spanish Fly is more than just a hole wave and toy. It deeks in and out of the smallest eddies, holds a line and easily corrects with a quick offside tilt. The flat bottom provides a stable initial platform and the sharp chine and little flare on the sides allow the Fly to fall over to its rock solid secondary stability – stability that saved us on more than one occasion. With little glide, your stroke rate needs to increase and you need to be constantly driving the boat around the river. The covered bow and stern decks and raised gunwale line make for a fairly dry ride and the above mentioned stability allows for aggressive wave blocking. 

The Bottom Line

With Dagger’s Quake and Savage’s Skeeter and Super Fly out of production the choice of small plastic open canoes is dwindling. The Spanish Fly is not likely to suck traditionalists out of their real solo baots. But, if you are willing to try something new, run smaller rivers, paddle a little harder and drop into a hole once and a while, you should give the Spanish Fly a try.

Specs

Length: 8’9”
Width: 28”
Bow height: 12.5”
Centre height: 16”
Weight: 46 lbs
Suggested paddler weight: 132 to 220 lbs
MSRP CAD: $1975

This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Dagger’s ID

Photo courtesy Dagger
Boat Review: Dagger's ID

Outfitting and Comfort

Early releases of the 2002 whitewater kayaks brought with it much attention and hype about Wave Sport’s and Riot’s adjust-on-the-fly outfitting systems. Moveable outfitting is ideal for rental programs and schools but we’d say that if you don’t want to share your boat (and who does really) Dagger has perfected fixed foam outfitting. The Clutch Outfitting peel and stick hip pads and shims are essentially what paddlers have been carving and gluing for years. Seat adjustments are a snap, the backband works, the Thigh Booster extends the seat and offers a base for adding foam if you need more lift under your legs. The Pressure Plate foot blocks are again just what we’ve been doing for years but are now supplied from the factory. Compared to the Egos and G-Forces the foot box is quite narrow and the foot bumps are pretty shallow. Size 10 plus feet and long legs begged for the larger 7.0. Having the luxury of three sizes this year allows paddlers the opportunity to better match volume and comfort. 

The Hull Story

Dagger’s Egos are incredible flat spinning boats but the compromise was extreme wdth and edginess. Looking to compliment their line rather than replace anything, Dagger redesigned with some different principles in mind.

The ID’s planing surface was made as short as possible with hard rocker break. Shortening the planing surface reduces hull speed but brings the rocker closer to the body making the boa respond quickly and easily. To overcome the wide, edgy feeling of the Egos, the ID’s hull was also brought in closer to the body, the edges were lifted and it was given more curvature across the bottom. This results in quicker edge to edge transitions and less wathunking at the expense of some looseness. The nose narrows more like an Ultraguge and the volume is distributed more evenly rather than all around the knees. The stern is slightly wider, but still very Dagger looking, no radical changes there.

On the Water

The theory of the smaller boat the better is dead! The three sizes of the ID are very close to one another designed around the weights of 125, 160, and 195 lbs. Getting in the right size is important and the right size is one that allows you to trim the boat properly. The short planing surface means you can teeter forward or back on it very easily with upper body tilts, so you want to begin in a centered position.

If we had the label the ID we’d say it is a hole boat. The short length and narrow, slicey ends improve the huckability of the ID resulting in smoother end to end transfer without the beach ball bounce. Flatwater wheels and tiny hole play are very rewarding. Being able to balance the ends rather than fight to keep them down improves freewheels and splits.

On a wave the ID feels narrow under the cockpit and the picked-up edges are less catchy but limit the planing surface. It feels skippy to green grind, and bouncy in the trough of the hole. Flat spinning is still relatively easy and more in line with the Wave Sport Ace than the Dagger Ego or G-Force. Back surfing, the rockered stern seldom catches.

While we spent more time playing in the ID than river running, we did notice the boat is dry and predictable. The bow stays on the surface, keeping the boat and paddler dry and not getting squirreled around and squirted on little cross currents.

The ID is soggy on eddy lines. It tends to absorb into eddy lines and mush across or even slide downstream. Really nailing a tight spot requires aggressive paddling and a big, pulling, glide-draw to get nay snap in an eddy turn. Resorting to just plain old paddling across the eddy line without any fancy strokes is sometimes the most effective way to ensure getting out of the current. Slalom paddlers must be cringing as they read this

The Bottom Line

For a while it seemed kayak companies were building boats for their pro team paddlers. While this is likely still true, Dagger seems to have put more consideration into the end ser of the boats – intermediate paddlers. The ID series is no less a high end kayak, Dgger just dropped the bottom end of the scale making moves attainable to more paddlers by producing an easier boat to paddle. And more forgiveness allows advanced paddlers a wider margin for error so they can push the limits further.

Specs

Length: 6’10”/6’11”/7’
Width: 23”/24.5”/25/25”
Volume: 44/49/54 gal
Weight: 33/34/35 lbs
Paddler weight range: 80-140/100-175/140-215 lbs
Standard features: Precision seat and thigh braces, Clutch Outfitting system
MSRP CAD: $1649

This article first appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Esquif Detonator

Photo courtesy Esquif
Boat Review: Esquif Detonator

The Total Package

We had paddled Esquif’s first whitewater solo canoe, the Nitro, two years ago in a comparison test between the aging Dagger Ocoee and the newer Phantom. We found the Nintro had some fantastic performance characteristics such as solid secondary stability and a dry ride but it was longer and consequentially more in line with the Rival and Genesis. The Detonator, at first glance looks like a shorter, ten-foot Nitro, but there is more to this new boat than first meets the eye.

Esquif has answered the call for a shorter open boat and has kept many of the charms of the Nitro. The most obvious are the completely flat bottom and four-inch double chine. This combination gives the Detonator a different feel. It doesn’t have primary stability as we are used to, rather it wants to fall to its early and bomber secondary stability. The Detonator isn’t tippy, rather it is just more stable tilted slightly to one side or the other. The style of paddling is different from the smooth transition of rounded hulls; you are always tilted, which is okay because in whitewater that is most often the case. This is especially strange for timid paddlers reluctant to commit to a full tilt.

Front and side surfing is still ahuge part of solo open boating and an area the Detonator shines. At only ten feet, the detonator is nimble and tons of fun on short steeper waves. The rounded, blunt bow is easy to keep free of the upstream current. The secondary stability is ideal for offside tilting for quick changes in direction on a wave. The double chine provides incredible forgiveness across eddy lines and has the same soft effect that helps when side surfing in a hole.

Another interesting characteristic of the Detonator is that Esquif has shortened the thwarts in the bow to produce an asymmetrical shape. Boat builders determined long ago that boat speed is based on a number of factors; one is waterline length and another is the shape of the footprint. Esquif has changed to a faster asymmetrical shape to compensate in speed for the Detonators shorter length. The narrower bow also makes the execution of strokes easier, and it makes us wonder why solo canoes have always been so wide. Further improving the ease of paddling, the sheer or gunwale line is almost level, making crossing the deck much cleaner and allowing the Detonator to fully turtle instead of getting caught on your offside when rolling. Like the Nitro, the Detonator rolls up with a minimum amount of water on board.

The Bottom Line

Esquif is marketing the Detonator as an advanced paddler’s or expert’s boat for class III rivers and up. We think more advanced paddlers will have to try the Detonator first because it appeal depends on individual paddling style. We are sure they will enjoy the quick pivot turns of a short boat, the narrow asymmetrical design for efficiency, and the stability that will allow them access to more challenging runs without the worry of catching a hard chine. On the other hand, many advanced paddlers look for a hard chine as a desirable carving characteristic on solo boats. The largest market and the best fit for the new Esquif Detonator may be aggressive intermediates and smaller paddlers who are sick of pushing around larger solo canoes.

 Specs

Length: 10’
Beam: 28”
Gunwale: 24”
Bow/stern depth: 23”
Centre depth: 17”
Bow rocker: 5”
Stern rocker: 6.5”
Weight: 46 lbs
Material: Royalex
Hull design: asymmetric
MSRP CAD: $1200 for shell

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2005 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Riot Booster

Photo courtesy Riot
Boat Review: Riot Booster

The Hull Story

A name like Booster would be almost condescending if not for Riot’s sculpted detailing, superhero graphics and metallic finish that make sitting in the boat feel like you are in Batman’s secret new play machine. With the Booster, Riot has kept their angular edges, crisp detailing and added some innovations pushing the limits of forward thinking outfitting.

Riot’s new Elastomer Outfitting is a totally new concept in cockpit design. The first thing you will notice is that it looks like a rachet buckle crazed snowboarder outfitted the boat. There are five beefy rachet buckles: two on the backband, one between your legs for the adjustable bulkhead footrest, and one on each thigh strap, yes thigh straps, You just sit down on a sculpted foam seat and start cranking ratchets to dial in your fit without spending a day working with bulk foam and contact cement.

The thigh brace system is the largest departure from traditional outfitting. You still use the inside of the deck as the primary thigh braces, but the thigh straps stay in contact with your legs when you relax them. We couldn’t quite figure the system out, so we contacted Corran Addison for his design perspective.

“Iat’s like wearing a soft snowboard boot rather than a hard boot. The soft boot has hard contact points under the boot, and the high back behind the boot. But the boot itself flexes and follows your movements, while a hard boot simply restricts them.” Does it work in kayaking? Well, we’re not sure the thigh straps contribute to more boat control but we didn’t notice any lack of control either. It just feels different. We did notice a comfortable, flexible feel while sitting in the eddy and despite all the ratchets and buckles you don’t need to be a whitewater Houdini to enter and exit the Booster.

The rigid backband is mounted to a fixed plastic pillar keeping the backband in position. Add a vertical height adjustment and this is an ideal system that we’re sure will be ripped off.

Riot is known for edgy, high performance hull designs that are more than a handful for your average paddler. But not the Booster. It is forgiving, super stable, and predictable due to a softer edge between the release chine and the sidewall of the boat. Riot has always had low, sharp seam lines – the Booster has a higher, softer seam line. At first it feels like Riot may have tuned the performance out of this boat to make it easy to paddle. Not true.

A playboat isn’t just about busting moves on a wave, it is about transitions – getting out onto the wave, recovering from a move not-yet-nailed, and getting down-river to the next spot. The Booster makes all the transitions that much easier, helping you save your energy for on-the-wave fun. The Booster planes into a slightly nose-up position riding over seams and deflection waves. Hitting eddies is confidence inspiring, with no secondary edge grab common with many high performance boats.

The Booster has less of the super fast carve of many Riot boats, but is no slouch in a good playspot. If you want more play than river running, get in the smallest size you can. The Booster cartwheels at any angle, which allowed testers to ease from flatspins into more vertical moves. Once vertical the Booster is stable and easy to control because of a very even taper from the ends of the cockpit – no cockpit bubble, so no bounce. The large planing surface and rockered ends free of harsh edges makes spins super easy with the trademark Riot ability to carry a spin through the sideways position that carries other boats off the waves.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Booster fits into a popular performance category somewhere between the Pyranha Inazones, and dedicated park-and-play boats. If you are looking for more play than your old river runner, but still want to run rivers with confidence there is now a Riot boat for you.

Specs

Model: 50/55/60
Length: 7’2”/7’2.5”/7’3”
Width: 24.5”/25”/25.5”
Volume: 50/55/60 gal
Weight: 35/35/36 lbs
Playboating capacity: 110-170/160-220/210-220 lbs
Riverrunning capacity: 80-130/130-180/170-220 lbs
MSRP CAD: $1495

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2005 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Perception Full-Tilt

Photo courtesy Perception
Boat Review: Perception Full-Tilt

The Total Package

One of the first things paddlers of long freestyle boats notice when they hop into a corky design is the usual lack of vertical stability. The Full-Tilt measures in at 6’5”, but you might forget that when you are paddling it. It initiates easily, slices in and holds a vertical position stalling like a longer boat, especially on the tail. The increased balance  allows you to slow down your rotation from end to end allowing you to think more about your paddle placement, and less about falling on your face.

In a nice foam pile the slicey, longer boat feeling continues allowing for less-than-perfect technique as you try to figure out how to get your rhythm going. We found the Full-Tilt needs to be paddled farther down the foam pile so get used to sitting on the seam of your favourite play hole. You also need to stay active in a hole, otherwise the ends load up very quickly, leading to many inadvertent loop attempts. After two days of playing with the Full-Tilt in Hass Hole on the Lower Madawaska and Earls on the Gull, we couldn’t wait to get it on a wave. But first we had to get it down the river.

River running in the Full-Tilt presents many opportunities to say “OOPS!” If you have paddled a Dagger Ego or Super Ego you know what we mean. The low shear line, combined with an abrupt transition from slicey ends to a full volume cockpit, creates a front edge that loves to bury itself in a seam line and hang on tight like a gila monster (that’s a lizard that hangs on really tight). Super-aggressive tilts, and well placed eddy crossing strokes are necessary to prevent this tendency. We had to pay very close attention to this boat to hit all the eddies that make a technical run like the Gull River so much fun.

On a short, steep wave, the Full-Tilt was disappointing. This boat surfs as if it has no edges. We could lay the boat almost to its side and still not generate a carve across the face of the wave. As a result of not being able to carve, blunts were mushy and mostly muscle powered. Competition boaters will appreciate the ride; big carving blunts may be impressive, but they are relatively low scoring and risky. The Full-Tilt allows you to hit a quicker, less risky bounce blunt and get on to getting vertical and racking up the points. Spinning was easy on the other hand. The Full-Tilt is as loose as any other boat out there and the front edges that make eddy crossing difficult didn’t seem to effect the spinnability. On a big, fast wave the lack of edges is a plus when trying to land aerial moves, and the rocker profile makes the Full-Tilt easy to get off the water and into the air.

The first to introduce a wrap around thigh brace system, kudos to Perception for further improving with the Full Tilts outfitting. Perception has removed the front and rear foam bulkheads and instead the deck is molded to fit with a pillar from the seat rail. The new and improved Thigh Master thigh braces are the best thighbraces we have ever used; they are rigid and adjust in multiple directions. Today, in the days of just stuffing foam at your toes and quick release moveable bulkheads, the adjustable rail bulkhead system introduced in the Amp/Shock is outdated but works.

The Bottom Line

The outfitting in the Full-Tilt isn’t an instant fit, but once time is spent to tweak it out, few boats offer a more custom fit. Often the short kayaks that are ideal for shallow pour-overs are too corky for pleasingly balanced cartwheels. The Full-Tilt is ideal for someone wanting to try out a spud boat, but still wanting the vertical stability of a longer, slicier boat. This is great combination, one that we think will put Perception back on the Canadian map and the full-Tilt and Spin on the river.

Specs

Length: 6’9”
Width: 24”
Volume: 47gal
Weight: 36 lbs
Cockpit: 33.5”x19”
Paddler level: int-adv
Suggested weight: 130-190 lbs
MSRP CAD: $1695.00

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2005 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.