First let me thank everyone who gave me the great advice on solo canoes and demoing the canoes.
Not so serious story is followed by a couple of serious questions.
Thursday I drove 160 miles (one way) to go demo some solo canoes. I got one of my kayaking buddies to come along for the ride. TG Canoes in San Marcos let us try out a Vagabond, an Argosy, and a Wilderness (all Wenonahs) as well as a Bell Yellowstone Solo.
In about an hour of paddling I managed to hurt my left wrist, strain my right shoulder, and figure out that canoes are really different from kayaks. I did not swim, but I did come close. I also learned that althoug kneeling is more stable than sitting, what goes on while switching between sitting and kneeling can produced some interesting “stomach in your throat” moments.
My efforts with a single blade where pititful. I did figure out that there are approximately 15 different ways to hold a canoe paddle. These include various combinations of location of the T-grip (finger tip, finger base, palm), centering of the T (centered between ring and middle finger, centered on middle finger, offset to thumb), orientation of T (perpendicular to fingers, diagonal out, diagonal in), various thumb positions (in, up, around), lower hand orientation to blade, and finally lower hand distance from blade. My final conclusion is that there are actually 16 ways and I tried all 15 of the incorrect methods, but missed the correct one. I don’t even want to think about that “palm grip” thing.
I learned a few things about stability in canoes. The highest seat positions were set up by someone who was a big fan of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Canoes do have secondary stability, but when you get them to that point you slide sideways on the seat and bad things happen. “Keep you weight centered” does not mean kneel with your knees side by side in the center of the canoe. It seemed logical at the time, but repeated tries all had the same unnerving result. With my knees spread I did finally start to feel more stable.
By using a double blade I was finally able to gain enough control to actually test the canoes. The Vagabond was the most kayak like (especially with the seat in the lowest position). But the low freeboard and its slower turning response had me seeing it filled with water or wrapped around a rock on the first rapid I came upon. I know in experienced hands it would do great but my distance from “experienced” is measured in light years so I decided it was not for me. The Yellowstone Solo did remind me a little of an Eddyline Falcon 16 in that its least favorite position was level. However the Falcon 16 never tried to jump out from underneath me when I tried to turn it quickly. I am not sure exactly what was going on, but I swear it made some of the same moves I see the bulls making on the Professional Bull Riding show. It was definitely the most manuverable of all the canoes, but I decided it was a little beyond my skills. The Argosy was right in the middle. It did not feel like a kayak, but its responses were smooth and controlable. It was also the fastest of the canoes.
At this point you would think I had a winner, but there were still problems even with the Argosy (and solo canoes in general). I could not figure out how you are supposed to controllably heel a canoe either sitting or kneeling. There was no way to use the knee-lift/side-bend (J-lean) from my kayaking experience. When sitting I could shift weight to one butt-check, but when the canoe heeled I tended to slide on the seat and go well past what I intended. When kneeling I did not have the sliding problem, but moving weight to one knee seemed to be an all or nothing sort of thing. Worse than not knowing how to heel was not being able to react to right the canoe when it did heel. My instinctive kayak reaction of lifting with the downside knee and bending toward that side only made the problem worse. Maybe if I put in some of that bondage apparatus I saw in the whitewater outfitting websites the canoe would handle more like my kayak. The Argosy had a particular comfort problem. When kneeling I experienced very bad ankle pain if I sat back down on the tilted seat. If I lifted myself up a little off the seat the pain went away. I had no problem kneeling and resting on the slightly higher seat in the Yellowstone solo. The outfitter suggested I could pad up the Argosy seat, but I was concerned that would negate the increased stability I was getting from kneeling. The final problem was the lack of any foot bracing. I could never find a really comfortable place to keep my feet when sitting. The outfitter showed me a brace I could add, but it seemed a little complicated and I was not sure how it would feel.
Finally back at the shop we got to look at the one new Argosy they had in stock. There were just enough outstanding issues that I wanted to take a couple of days to sort things out before making the purchase. As soon as I said I wanted to think about it, I got a big surprise. My kayaking buddy (now ex-buddy) chimed in that he would buy the Argosy right then and there. I had to remove one set of saddles from my racks and take the other set out of alignment, but we did manage to get it on my car. So the final result was that I drove 320+ miles to pick up a canoe for an ex-friend and in the process made sure that I can not buy a solo canoe at least for the next 2-3 months (if they even get one by then). It was not the best canoe demo I could have imagined.
One a more serious note I do have a couple of questions:
This is for solo canoes like the Argosy without any knee or thigh straps.
- Is there a proper technique for heeling a canoe both when sitting and when kneeling?
- If the canoe heels due to waves or current what is the technique for getting it quickly back level (again both when sitting and when kneeling)?
- Is there some outfitting (besides padding up the seat) to help relieve the pain in my ankle while kneeling? Note: Extra height paddling under my knee increased the pain. Having someone lift up on my shin just slightly decreased the pain.