Favorite Tripping Canoe

12:58 p.m. on March 8, 2013 (EST)
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Let's say we are going to get a boat for downriver trips to Class II and big lakes with overnight equipment for 2 paddlers?  What boat would you choose?  There are some old favorites like an Old Town Tripper, 17-18 foot Grumman aluminum, or a Sawyer Charger at 18 1/2 feet.

I would like to try some newer boats like a Bell Alaskan, Dagger Venture, or others.  What say you?

 

11:53 a.m. on March 9, 2013 (EST)
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I guess I'd have to ask how long a trip? For just overnight or up to a week, there are lots of possibilities. Trippers and Grummans are still being built, but Sawyers are long gone, and Dagger doesn't make canoes anymore.

I also noticed that the boats you mentioned were bigger boats. They may be more boat than you want, unless you are doing longer trips of two weeks plus.  While it is true that a 17 or 18 foot boat will have a higher hull speed than a 16 foot boat, you won't be there much, if at all in a tripping boat. Something called the Froude numbers and the shape make that difficult.

When people ask me about which boat, I try to steer them to what they need at the time and into the foreseeable future. While they may dream of spending two months paddling in the Barren Lands, they shouldn't buy a boat for that trip if they are going to do over night paddles for the next twenty years until the kids are grown. Similarly, I had a couple in a Moving Water course show up with a shiny new Wenonah Itasca(19 feet). They wanted to learn to paddle easy rivers, but while the Itasca is capable of some of that, it is primarily a flat water boat, and not a good boat to learn river skills in.

At the risk of being too detailed, the other question is price point. If you want a light boat, you are going to pay more for something like Kevlar in its various layups. You can get a lightweight boat that is easy to portage, but still strong enough to take on Class 2.

ABS boats slide well over rocks, aluminum boats do not and composites are somewhere in the middle.

OT Trippers are good boats for two+ week expeditions on Arctic rivers. Most Barrenlands routes have big lakes, but without a big load in an OT Tripper, you'll find the wind, which always seems to blow in your face, will slow your progress.

Prospector type boats are very popular, and I have two that are close to the original, and one that isn't. Why are Prospectors so popular? Canadian paddle guru Bill Mason loved his Prospectors, the original Chestnut w/c. They had a lot of rocker for negotiating rivers, and could carry a big load. But most people don't put a lot of weight in a canoe, and so they would find that in wind, a Prospector is way too much boat to keep going straight. So enter today's builders, who have changed the shape and still call them Prospectors. These boats are flattened so they don't blow around as much, but still are capable of Class 2 water. All these Prospector spin offs will be compromise boats like the originals and like many other boats. They will be more oriented for flat water than the original Chestnuts. They will be capable of some white water, but won't be slugs on the flats.

Some boats I would look at: Bell Alaskan and Bell Yellowstone. Bear in mind that last I heard Bell was closed and may still be. You had asked about the Dagger Venture. This is a 17 foot boat that Steve Scarborough, the owner of Dagger designed with input from Cliff Jacobsen. It is asymmetric and has more volume than the OT Tripper they were trying to compete against. It is faster than the Tripper in the flats, less maneuverable, and a bit wet. It will handle Class 2, and maybe a bit more with a cover. Western Canoeing makes the Clipper Tripper. This is a great boat. I see them all over western Canada and the US. It uses tractor seats, which I'm not keen on, but that is my personal preference. Hellman Prospector. Bob Hellman makes good boats up in Nelson, BC. OT Penobscot. This isn't a big boat, so you can't load it up. I have a lot of experience with it and liked mine. It is one of the faster ABS boats. I had the 16, I didn't like the 17 as much, but it should be considered if you need more capacity. Nova Craft PAL. Great little boat, easily paddled solo or tandem. In Bill Mason's films, when he is soloing on rivers, people always assume he is in one of his beloved Prospectors. However, he was often in a PAL. Hemlock Eagle. I put this in because I have a lot of miles in mine and have found it a good boat. I got mine because I wanted a boat that had a narrow paddling station in the bow for my son, who was 7 at the time. It made it easier for him to reach the water with this paddle. I have soloed it in Class 2+ technical water, and tripped tandem in it in maximum Class 2 standing waves. It is a bit wet, but quite fast for a compromise boat. Mad River Explorer. These have been around for a long time. More capable in rough water than the Hemlock or PAL, they are a little slow on the flats. Wenonah Spirit II or Aurora. Both good boats, the Aurora is a little more maneuverable but has less capacity. Wenonah favors tractor seats.

There are also some other builders to consider. Souris River, Evergreen, Scott, Esquif.

I should add, that covers aren't just for whitewater. A full cover is frequently used on big windy lakes to keep windage down and waves out. BUT, covers can represent an entrapment hazard. Know how to get out of them before you have to.

Thanks for asking, ppine and I hope I didn't provide too much info!

12:12 p.m. on March 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich,

Since we have no other takers on this subject type away.  I like rocker in big boats especially with a load.  People always ask me why I like big American cars and trucks.  "Because I'm a big American" I answer.  I am 6'2" and about 220.  My brother is my favorite paddling partner at 230.  We bring our dogs.  Now we are at 510 pounds before we add any gear.  I am tired of freeze-dried food and no furniture.

I like big tripping boats for even a 3 day trip.  I have a Bell Northwind in royalex for solo and day trips.

My favorite trippers are not being made Sawyer Charger, Daggers, etc.  I would love to paddle a Bell Alaskan.  I have only owned used boats.  I ordered a Wenonah Spirit II back in the 80s from MN but sent it back because the pop rivets in the seats made the hull really wavy.

I read most of Cliff Jacobsen's "Canoeing Wild Rivers" last night with great intrest in rereading the chapter on the Barren Lands.  I am probably not a candidate with the reality of the cost, bugs, portaging and lining, freeze-dried food, etc.  I would rather break out the Aire cataraft and do a more obscure river in the lower 48 like the Grand Rhonde.

10:56 p.m. on March 10, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine, that narrows it quite a lot. You'll find the Venture too small and the Clipper Tripper too flat. Probably the Charger as well. The Yellowstone is also too small, and I think the Alaskan as well. For big boats with good rocker, I might start with the Sea Tripper by Western Canoeing. They also make a Prospector in 17 feet, that is a little flat. If you want lots of rocker and have a big load, I would really consider the Hellman Slocan. It is more like a Prospector than Bob's Prospector. The early versions were a bit fine forward, but still lots of rocker. The newer ones, are a tad fuller. I paddled one of the early versions on the Finlay last year. It was a ribbed Kevlar boat. It turned easily for a big boat, yet still accelerated well. I don't favor ribbed or foam cored boats for white water usually, but the Slocan did well, no obvious cracks, but we rubbed the gelcoat off in places(sorry Tony).

Trailhead makes a great Prospector. Their 17 is supposed to be pretty close to the  original Garry(17) that Chestnut built. They claim almost 4 inches of rocker. The boat is only available in Royalex, and it isn't light. But for a big boat that can handle a load, you won't go wrong. Like all of these rockered boats, don't expect to them to solo easily and they are a bear in a breeze when lightly loaded.

Wenonah makes the Minnesota 3, but it is probably too flat for you, though a good boat. I agree that the rivets don't look as nice as a clean hull, but lots of builders use them, they don't hurt performance. As well, all of my boats, even the very expensive new ones, all have some waviness in the hulls. And after you put a few scratches in one, it doesn't really matter anyway.

Of course, there is always the OT Tripper. The newer ones are lighter, but still capable boats. Blue Hole also made a big boat, 17.5 feet, that was a great boat. I can't remember the model right now, but people that have them love them.

I got a demo 17' NovaCraft Prospector last year and modified it. It is in Royalite and I wanted to bring it closer to Chestnut specs. Since NovaCraft used a Chestnut to make their mold, and their version is deeper and narrower, I reasoned that I could reshape it back to Chestnut specs. I confirmed this with NovaCraft. I removed the aluminum gunnels, thwarts and seats, and widened the boat from 34/35 to 37 inches, which brought the boat to Chestnut specs. The rocker increased to almost 3 1/2 inches. I installed new ash thwarts, yoke and seats, and fabricated spruce gunnels and decks. I have not weighed it, but it is quite light for its size. Spruce was used on many canoes for gunnels, especially inwales, but ash is more durable, if heavier and less rot resistant.

Cliff's advice is good, if opinionated. I have followed his advice more than not. He turned me on to Tingley boots, and a neat spray deck design.

Barren Lands trips can be pricey, depending on which river. Yukon trips are more reasonable, since many can be done without flying. And though the Barrens are bug land, most of the Yukon is surprisingly bug free. Little to no portages on many Yukon Rivers, nor lining or tracking. These may all be common misconceptions about the Yukon, as opposed to Alaska or the Barrens. As well, I frequently see paddlers with gourmet fresh food, steaks, fresh lettuce, fruit, potatoes.

I have had 12 days straight with no rain, 75-85 degree temperatures and no bugs on Yukon trips. In 2007, Dawson City was the hottest place in Canada for over a week. I have had the rare camp with bugs, the 40 degree days with the wind all but stopping the boat in a river that was running 9 miles an hour, but these are exceptions.

Strangely, I see few Americans in the Yukon, and not all that many Canadians on the rivers. It is a quite a distance away. Yet, there are dozens of Germans, Austrians and Japanese. On the Teslin, I ran into 18 Germans in 9 canoes. They were from Munich and only two had canoed before and had been to the Yukon. After their first trip, they put the word out and the next year, in 2003, they were joined by friends, friends of friends, and a surprising number of people they didn't even know.

The Grande Ronde and John Day are good lower 48 rivers. A bunch from my club have done one of them every year for about ten years. The hot one now is the Owyhee. Much more remote and harder.

12:02 p.m. on March 11, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich,

Thanks for the ideas, especially the boats from up north.  I rarely see Canadian boats this far south and have little firsthand experience with them.  I am in the market for a used boat.  I nearly ordered a Novacraft Prospector 17 once, as it is such a classic design.

The Sawyer Charger was my all-time favorite boat at 18 1/2 feet.  It was deep with full ends and adequate rocker.  The one I had was a Kevlar boat built in 1978, that finally got brittle and started to come apart.  My least favorite was a Wenonah Odyssey that had an absolutely straight keel line.

I ran the John Day at 6600 cfs with my brother in the Charger.  All the named rapids were big and pushy around II 1/2 - III.  It was not possible to line or sneak most of them.  We paddled ashore once with the boat completely full of water, but still upright.  My friend sunk his boat, but we were able to salvage it, pound out the dings in the fiberglass and used a roll of duct tape to get home, eddy shopping for 2 days.

After some deliberation, The Far North has lost its appeal for me.  The expense alone would stop me as a retired person.  I have a renewed interest in canoeing (and rafting) and I am in the process of planning some future trips.  Thanks for all the descriptions of the Yukon and the Barrens.

8:22 p.m. on March 11, 2013 (EDT)
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After trying to find the specs for the Charger, the closest I got was the 222 Sawyer Cruiser which replaced the Charger. The Cruiser is still being made, the molds having been purchased by another builder. The 222 was designed by David Yost. The Charger also appears to be a down river OC2, which turns ok but doesn't have as much rocker as things like the Trailhead 17 Prospector or the Slocan. It was built for speed on rivers, favoring a hit and switch paddling style Here is what canoe builder Charlie Wilson has to say about the Charger.

"Charger was an ACA long class downriver racer, i.e. a USCA Cruiser hull with higher sides to deflect waves. I think Rollin Mullen designed her?"

ppine, there are boats like the Charger today. They are not very popular, especially out west where there is little downriver racing, and the Class 2s tend to be more technical than in the midwest or east. Wenonah is really the only large builder making boats this big. Job Kazmursky who has Millbrook Boats, makes some OC2 downriver boats. As well, Clipper builds some Jensens, like the WWII from the 70's. These are down river boats, like the Sawyers in that mode, so they don't have the rocker, nor turning ability of something like the Trailhead 17. For others that might read this, there are many, many types of canoes, and downriver racers are long boats with good capacity and full enough to stay dry in class 2 waves. While somewhat maneuverable their rocker is usually no more than 2 inches, as they are designed for speed rather than turning. As well, a boat that is almost 19 feet long, will not fit in the small eddies of many rivers, so when you choose one of these boats, as with any boat, you need to know what type of water you will be paddling.

12:54 p.m. on March 12, 2013 (EDT)
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The Bell Alaskan has 3 in in the bow and 2 in in the stern.  The Esquif Prospecteur has the most of any tripper I have seen, 4 in in the bow and 3 in in the stern.  If the Charger had 2/1 it was adequate.  Maybe it seemed like a nimble boat after paddling a Wenonah Odyssey with no rocker at all. 

The Charger was the boat that the McGuffins used on their trans-Canadian trip.  It shows up in Jacobsen's "Canoeing Wild Rivers."  That is where I got the idea to buy a used one when it showed up.  I really miss that boat.

On craigslist I just found 2 Wenonah boats that I would go look at if they were closer a Cascade and a Whitewater X.  What do you know about those two?

2:16 p.m. on March 12, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine, I know that the Whitewater series evolved into the Odyssey and the MN 2. I don't know what the X would be.  Probably a bit flat and quite fair forward, more of a down river style boat. The Cascade will turn better and be drier. The Charger and other similar boats are fast down river boats. Turning isn't what they are meant to do and they favor a sit and switch style, which I'm guessing is the type of paddling you do the most. Clipper claims that their Tripper is the only boat to have crossed the continent in one season. I don't know about Verlen's trip with Clint, but suffice it to say, that all these folks were on major waterways and didn't need boats that would turn well. In any event, with enough tilt, almost any boat will turn.

One thing to be aware of, is those pesky rocker numbers. Every manufacturer takes their measurements from different points, so the numbers can be a guide, but should be taken with a grain of salt. As well, on some boats, the rocker will not start until near the ends, whereas on others, it will begin slightly near the middle and increase toward the ends. Turning ability also has to do with the shape of the ends, and the beam. A boat with wide full beam in the middle will turn better when leaned or tilted, than a narrower boat with a similar shape. Tilt gets the ends out of the water, and a wider boat gets the ends out of the water easier. 

Also be aware that published capacities are also different among manufacturers. One will say the max is 700 pounds, but that only leaves 4 inches of free board, while another says their boat's max is 400 pounds with 7 inches of freeboard.

Esquif makes good boats and their Prospecteur is well liked. It is not a down river racer like your old Charger. It is more suited to turning in rivers and big loads.

While I have asymmetric boats in my quiver, for tripping I prefer symmetrical hulls. Part aesthetics and part paddling style. Turning the former around and paddling solo doesn't work as well as with a symmetrical boat.

I also have a preference for bench seats, because they allow me to kneel in difficult rapids. The tractor seats are comfortable, but don't lock me in as well. 

Wenonah makes good boats, but it is important to understand that they are made for their particular locality. They also have quite a lot of tumblehome usually, which allows a more vertical stroke. However, when tilted, the tumblehome can make the boat more tender. For that reason, I like boats that are fairly straight sided, or flared slightly. I believe Cascade, like the Rogue, are exceptions for Wenonah in this.

10:55 p.m. on March 12, 2013 (EDT)
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As luck would have it one of Henri Vaillancourt's Algonquin birchbark canoes became available and within my capabilities to acquire. Have this strange feeling that the quest for the ultimate vessel is potentially coming to an end...


HenriVaillancourtAlgonquin2.jpg

...at which point having a spare on hand would come in handy, just in case?

11:43 p.m. on March 12, 2013 (EDT)
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I loved "The Survival of the Bark Canoe". I have not had the opportunity to paddle one, and occasionally see them for sale, not one of Henri's though. The photo shows fairly slack bilges and quite a bit of flair. I imagine it would be fast, and perhaps a bit tender initially, but harden up in a lean. When do we get to see some photos of it in the water?

6:31 p.m. on March 13, 2013 (EDT)
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What a wonderful book. To be honest, until I get her in the water, I too have never had an opportunity to paddle something so natural. It will be such a hoot to share the experience of paddling in a birchbark with the people around me. I wanted to get it wet today but the river was overflowing up north where I wanted to put in. I'm thinking that this Saturday, earlier in the day, before they turn the river green. It's going to be interesting paddling through the skyscraper canyon of downtown Chicago past Wolf's Point which has seen many a bark canoe in its day. Though I doubt the agent they use to "color" the water will affect the bark, I have a commitment which will most likely keep me from paddling the emerald sluice while the drunken horde above stumble amongst each other.

2:40 p.m. on March 14, 2013 (EDT)
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You've probably seen it, but others may not have. A great little film about a 67 year old fn man, building a bark canoe.

http://www.naturalbushcraft.co.uk/camp-craft/cesars-bark-canoe-bernard-gosselin-1971.html

9:42 p.m. on March 14, 2013 (EDT)
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WorldsConverge_sm.jpg

When worlds converge...

10:11 p.m. on March 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Love it! How did it paddle?

11:11 p.m. on March 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Amazingly well! Stability was just as you called it. Took in a little water but that seems to have subsided after the swell. Wetted out thoroughly before putting away for the evening. Tomorrow will tell if there's an improvement, otherwise it's resin time.

12:52 a.m. on March 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Great to hear. My Huron(w/c) had slack bilges and was fast on the flat, even though the bottom was quite flat. Essentially a narrow flat bottom with little arch, but the bilges started quite early. Interesting that i have not seen a modern canoe shape the same. What resin will you use, traditional bear grease and pine tar?

1:14 a.m. on March 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I believe that pine gum of different combinations of fat, and other ingredients is the ticket. Although I know an amazing natural material which would be workable by hand and blend in initially with the color of birchbark, darkening eventually over time or made darker right away using heat. Its primary ingredient is still pine resin.

12:51 p.m. on March 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Black spruce pitch.

12:51 p.m. on March 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Black spruce pitch.

4:29 p.m. on March 15, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine is correct that in the Far North, black spruce was used. White Spruce further south. But I think pine resin is more flexible. Here is a link to a guy in Saskatchewan who built and paddled two canoes with none other than James Raffan.

http://www.billbuxton.com/canoeGum.html

12:17 p.m. on March 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Okay, now that some miles have been logged in the birch canoe. I can honestly say that it's looking like my favorite for... ahem... er...


Margaretn-nMe.jpg

...tripping in.

12:24 p.m. on March 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Looks like you had quite an audience!

1:59 p.m. on March 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Who says the Golden Age of canoeing is past?

Erich,

I have checking out the Canadian Canoe Routes forum.  They like the Nova Prospector 17, Esquif Prospecteur 17, Wenonah Cascade, and Dumoine.

They put the list of the Bell Alaskan, Dagger Venture, Penobscot 17, and Wenonah Spirit II in a shorter trip tripper category.  Is that Canadian bias or does it have merit?

 

3:18 p.m. on March 17, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine, CCR is a great forum and a lot of knowledgeable folks post there, including some luminaries as Paul Mason, Alan Greve, Kevin Callan, and others who do extreme northern trips like George Luste. There is some merit. But also some bias. If you don't know the boat, you might not be able to comment on its performance and neither Bell nor Dagger went to Canada in great numbers. The Dumoine is much more like the Rogue than the Cascade in that it is shorter. For extended river tripping and lakes, I'd take these boats and put the Esquif and the NovaCraft, the Cascade, the Venture 17 and the Alaskan all together. The Dumoine I'd move to trips of up to two weeks on rivers. The Spirit and Penobscot to trips with some Class 1 or 1+ up to two weeks. To be sure, all these boats are different. The Spirit will be faster than the Penobscot, not because of any difference in length, but because of shape. Cliff worked with Bell on the Alaskan, but he has his prejudices too. The NovaCraft was pulled from a Chestnut and flattened, which, as I mentioned earlier, is a common theme for Prospector based designs. The Esquif is a newer design and although nothing like the original, is designed to be a good river and expedition boat. Bear in mind that it is a big boat, and designed for big loads. Not much fun to paddle in a breeze with a week end's worth of gear.

2:57 p.m. on March 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich said:

ppine is correct that in the Far North, black spruce was used. White Spruce further south. But I think pine resin is more flexible. Here is a link to a guy in Saskatchewan who built and paddled two canoes with none other than James Raffan.

http://www.billbuxton.com/canoeGum.html

 

Great video Erich... now I'm even more motivated to go out and learn about building one!

1:24 a.m. on March 21, 2013 (EDT)
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I have a friend in Prince George BC who was a whitewater rodeo champ. I consider myself fortunate that we paddled together on a descent of the Finlay in 2011. Lyle also participates in reenactments using Canot du Nord. He told me a said tale last year. The BBC wanted to do a documentary about Mackenzie's route to the Pacific. They had a replica constructed, beautiful boat by Lyle's account. He got to paddle it with some of his other reenactors for the doc. Apparently it paddled beautifully, very light. After the filming, the BBC donated it to the museum at Hudson's Hope. Shortly afterwards, some kids broke into the museum and destroyed it. 

In college, I did a lot of studying in the part of the library that housed many old journals. Instead of studying for my classes, I ended up reading many of the journals. One always stood out for me. A party of eight paddlers in a single canoe were paddling the rivers of the Central Interior of BC. On July 4, they used parts of their old canoe and built another. Then they stashed the canoe and took a hike, scrambling over some mountains in the process. They finally reached saltwater where one of the party found an old rock and wrote upon it, "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, 22nd July, 1793".

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