Hello. I currently am paddling an Old Town Penobscot 16 RX which I love. I was debating whether to install float bags on it because I would like to do up to class III whitewater and be able to self-rescue if I’m out on a big lake or the bay or sea. I love the Penobscot and the fact that I can seamlessly switch between solo and tandem on the go. I just wanted to see what this community thought of my situation and where I should go from here-- Penobscot with air bags or a more whitewater-oriented canoe that can hopefully switch between solo/tandem. Thanks so much.
I own a 16 foot RX Penobscot and am very pleased with its performance in many settings. However, it would not be the boat I would use on a Class III run; it doesn’t have turning capabilities of a more rockered WW canoe. My experience is Class II is the max limit for the Penobscot and for that you need to be skilled in handling the canoe and be able to read water well.
It never hurts to add flotation, it makes canoe recovery so much easier.
Penobscot is a great boat. One of my favorite pictures is a Penobscot 17 in the Westfield Wildwater Race:
In whitewater, I would take a Penobscot out tandem in easy class III, but I don’t think I would try it solo. If you are serious about solo whitewater paddling, I’d recommend getting a whitewater boat that is outfitted with straps and a pedestal - much safer than kneeling with your feet under the seat or a kneeling thwart.
In whitewater canoeing, float bags are installed to keep the boat floating high in hopes that it won’t wrap around a rock in the event it gets swamped. They are installed differently in solo and tandem boats. In a solo boat, the big bags are at the ends with the center open for the paddler.
In a tandem boat the big bag is in the middle with smaller bags at the ends to leave room for the paddlers,
If your boat is set up for tandem and solo with three seats (or kneeling thwarts), the seats are going to be in the way of installing the bags. I know some boats have a removable center seat that would make it easier to install the center bags.
In terms of open water rescues, I suppose bags would float the boat higher to make is easier to flip over, but they could also get in the way of getting back in the boat. If you have never done an unassisted recovery into a solo or tandem canoe you should try it - it isn’t easy. I stay close to shore unless I have someone with me to help with an assisted rescue, and then you really don’t need the bags.
Personally I’m not big on the “one boat does it all option”. Once you have paddled a solo boat, you won’t want to paddle a tandem boat solo - at least I didn’t.
I agree that the Penobscot wouldn’t be a good choice for solo whitewater above class 2 - and that should be non-technical class 2. A rockered tandem though can be used for some class 3, if the conditions are right. That might be a combination of skill, outfitting, size and reach of paddler, and less technical class 3. Something Prospector-ish or like the OT Appalachian would be appropriate.
Seats removed, allows room for 60" bags at both ends, and camping gear. Even with rocker, this arrangement is still a lot to turn quickly as a solo - but it will take on some pretty big wave trains without having to dump too often.
That’s as close as I can get to a “one canoe for all”. Other than poling, I prefer a solo canoe when paddling solo.
Oh - you may note that the paddler with the MR Freedom Solo in the background managed his way cleanly through the same lower CL3 sections with the spray cover but no flotation. That was in what I would consider the upper limit for the Prospector as a solo (for me).
Oh - you may note that the paddler with the MR Freedom Solo in the background managed his way cleanly through the same lower CL3 sections with the spray cover but no flotation.
I’d say spray skirts and bags have different functions. A spray skirt will deflect water out of the boat, perhaps making it less likely to swamp, but a swamped boat will sink low and be more likely to wrap around a rock. Bags don’t really keep water out the the boat, but they do float it higher if it swamps making is less likely to wrap. I guess they both have their place, but I’d take bags over a spray skirt.
On my Guide, I’m setting it up for bags under the spray skirt.
Interesting point there regarding that photo. Since I was mostly poling the Prospector - which has deep stems and moderate rocker - I was more likely to have a suddenly completely swamped boat than to have lots of splash over the bow. OTOH, the paddler in the Freedom Solo was more likely to have a lot of splash over the bow. As it turned out, we were both appropriately prepared - both of us stayed upright, and neither boat was ever actually swamped.
Hey kingshrubb, I’m not a whitewater paddler like the other responders but I did own a Royalex Penobscot 16 (with mahogany trim!) years ago and I still remember taking it over a pretty serious extended rocky drop one time and while we came out OK we did bounce off a few rocks pretty hard because in serious current the Penobscot gets pushed around and you are not in control. It’s easy to overestimate the boat’s capabilities when it handles like such a sweetheart in calm water.
So lucky you, you need another boat. I hope you work your way up to class 3 methodically and study/practice safety basics.
The Penobscot 16 is capable of running shorter rapids that are not too technical. As has been said, it really doesn’t have enough rocker to maneuver in highly technical water, nor does it have enough depth to stay dry in sustained rapids, especially if paddled tandem.
Canoes set up to paddle either solo or tandem always compromise on something, Sometimes they compromise on both solo and tandem performance. If you are serious about paddling Class III whitewater, I would look for a boat more dedicated for whitewater use.
If you wind up paddling Class III water, you are almost certainly going to want pedestals, kneeling pads, and thigh straps for control and to minimize the risk of entrapment. There have been a few whitewater hulls outfitted for either tandem or solo use with either a triple pedestal, or three separate pedestals. Unfortunately, this type of outfitting almost always compromises on positioning of the tandem stations, especially the stern, usually placing it too far aft. There simply isn’t enough room to place a pedestal and complete paddling station in the center of most whitewater canoes if the bow and stern stations are placed ideally. Still, a boat set up like this might be your best option, if you insist on using the same canoe for both solo and tandem whitewater paddling.
A few whitewater tandem hulls that were often set up for solo/tandem use were the Dagger Caper, the Dagger Caption, and the Esquif Verige X. The Dagger boats are long gone, but the Esquif website says that the Vertige X is available in T-Formex. Used Capers and Captions very occasionally come up on the used market.