solo whitewater canoe advice

I just refurbished a beat up Mad River Courier. When I took it out, it didn’t seem to like my bent paddle with a wide blade, and seemed to move more responsively to quick, less powerful strokes. Sweep strokes move it well, but draws weren’t as effective. Also, the stern end seemed to catch in the current and wind. So two questions:

Any recommendations on paddle? I’m figuring a straight shaft - but should I go with a narrow beavertail type?

Also can I move the seat back a couple of inches? It is currently at the normal 1 inch behind center position. It “felt” like I would have more exact control if my stroke went a little further aft.

I’m not planning on using this boat in extreme conditions, I just don’t want to bounce my kevlar Bell off the rocks in Michigan’s rivers.

I Primarily Used Two Paddles…

– Last Updated: Nov-01-12 11:59 AM EST –

...with my Courier. I used a Zaveral most of the time and if I needed something for tight maneuvering I used the Werner Bandit:

I had the kevlar Courier and found it very responsive kneeling in the stock position. I'm certain the royalex version may have a little bit different paddling charachteristics than the kevlar version? Being lighter, it probably was a bit easier to move? But I would think the blunt stems of the royalex version would make the stems less sticky? Of course, class I, light class II was all I had it in.

Anyway, you wondered about paddles and that's what I used. Wouldn't have sold my Courier this year if hadn't made it a personal mission to "Support" as many area physicians as I can. Here's a couple of shots I took of friends trying it out and one of the blade of the Werner Bandit. Nice boat! WW

A beavertail is not narrow
I suspect you are thinking Ottertail… And no you do not want to go there.

Sweeps are rarely efficient river strokes. Draws and pries are. But with a bent you spent a lot of time pushing down on water and the blade is not vertical during draws and pries.

It is not the boat. It is the paddle. Get a Sugar Island shape with a t grip and make sure all your strokes have a vertical entry and exit with no push down and no lifting of water.

I agree…

– Last Updated: Nov-01-12 1:10 PM EST –

Agree with kayakmedic.

I'd get a good quality, straight shaft paddle with a t-grip.
To maintain forward momentum; I'd be using the j stroke to make the corrections necessary to keep the Courier on course, instead of doing a lot of sweeping, or drawing.
I wouldn't move the seat; I would set it up with good knee padding, and if you are physically capable, use a kneeling position.
The Courier is a fairly high volume boat, and it takes a heavy paddler, and a good sized load of gear to get it down in the water. If you're just using it for day tripping & carrying day tripping gear; you're gonna have a lot of freeboard. It will be affected by wind from any direction.
With more paddling time, I'm betting you'll adapt to the canoe & feel more comfortable, and under control. I think the Courier is a good canoe for the person who likes to do multi night trips, and does not skimp on gear. I don't think Mad River intended it to be a whitewater canoe, but it can easily deal with some high class 2, or low class 3 water, if bagged out, and paddled by a skilled paddler. Too long & too wide for messing around in rock gardens, in my opinon.
If I hadn't needed the rack space for another canoe; I'd still have my Courier(which I sold to wildernesswebb). Kind of regret selling it; Couriers in excellent condition are getting very hard to find. Luckily, I have an original Mad River Guide to soothe my loss.

The most fun I had in mine was paddling the Buffalo River in Arkansas, as it was dropping down from flood stage. It ran some decent wave trains & took on very little water, easily bailed out with a sponge. It's manueverabilty is quite good for a long boat.

I think it's a pretty canoe too.


MRC Courier

– Last Updated: Nov-01-12 2:08 PM EST –

The Courier is a neat boat but as Bob said, it is very deep, 15" at center and 22" at the stems, which makes it as deep as a full out whitewater canoe. That means it is going to catch wind.

I also think that moving the stock seat position is unlikely to help much. If your stern feels stuck in the current, moving the seat back will only make that worse.

The Courier is a shallow V hull without a lot of rocker, like quite a few other MRC hulls. Being a fairly long boat without much rocker it isn't going to turn on a dime. Shallow V hulls often turn much better if you heel them a bit away from the direction of the turn onto the "flat" part of the hull. If you need to turn this boat quickly, you are probably going to have to get comfortable with heeling it pretty aggressively.

Rather than getting a paddle with a longer blade, you might consider getting one with a longer shaft. You will be able to get your blade forward of the pivot point of the boat more easily.

With its great depth and small amount of rocker the Courier more closely resembles a downriver racing canoe than a whitewater river runner. The boat will handle some significant waves but you are going to have to plan your moves well in advance, and you may have more success maneuvering this boat with side slips and back ferries than you will attempting tight turns with draws, pries, and sweeps.

don’t move aft

– Last Updated: Nov-01-12 3:27 PM EST –

as mentioned already. In WW single blading, emphasis is on pulling the canoe with the blade. Tom Foster has some DVD's out, and I remember him marking the canoe, if looking from the side bow to the right, with tape at about 4 o'clock and 5:50, which is approx. where your paddle shaft is when the blade enters and exits the water in ww paddling. Just bombing down the river can be different, but this is good advice for eddying, rock avoidance, and boat control in the frothy stuff.
FWIW, I use AB Edge paddles in Carbon and Fiberglass reinforcements. Prefer the softer glass in shallow rock strewn stuff, and the carbon for bigger moves.

Just so you’re clear on the fact that
the MR Courier is not a solo ww canoe.

Some people cut their teeth on whitewater in Couriers, back around 1980, but compare it to Mad River’s first real ww design, the ME, and you’ll see what I mean.

I had the smaller MR Compatriot, and I now have the later MR Guide Solo, and the MR Synergy. Of the three, the Compatriot is very V-bottomed, and is a terrible ww boat (though Jim Henry once placed third in the slalom Nationals in one). The Guide Solo is a bit V-bottomed, has good rocker, and is OK through most class 2. The Synergy has just a hint of V, probably just to fight oil canning, and is a pretty good, true whitewater solo and tandem.

I never got to paddle a Courier, but it appears to have too much V to be a good boat in whitewater. A marked V bottom is just not consistent with technical moves.

Having owned a royalex MR Courier
a thousand years ago i agree with g2g’s (I think it was comments). It handled IMO ww badly, especially comparred to its later ME. I am thinking the issue is more boat than paddle. I would not recommend a slimmer paddle to paddle this boat.

As you can tell, I’m a flat water guy. I’m not hitting heavy water with this boat. Just wanted something that I can take out solo for a couple of days and not worry about rapids. Advice was great. Couldn’t get the draw stroke going on it, but info on paddles makes sense. Also, with the cold water I didn’t want to test the Courier’s heeling ability too much. Think I’ll wait for warm weather to really get a feel for the secondary stability.

Yes, I did mean otter not beaver, although I have a long shaft beaver that I may try on her before I spring for a new paddle. Or if I get ambitious, I might build a paddle over the winter. Always wanted a T grip. And I agree, it’s a good looking boat. The big capacity appealed to me. I’m setting it up primarily for solo, but also so I can switch it over quickly to a tandem for river day trips with my wife. Thanks again.

Tons Of Secondary Stability
Will end with a story of the Courier’s stability. My wife and I were paddling with a friend in northern MN last year and were racing a storm. Had a nice tailwind and I was moving pretty good. All at once, I hit a boulder HARD enough that it stopped me dead. I lurched forward, hit my arm hard on the thwart, my friend said “Whiplash!” As I rolled to the right, the gunnel dipped to the water and then cradled me back to center. Most boats would have dumped me out. I think you’ll find it a very “Safe” boat.

Fine for what you want.
As others have said, the Courier is not a full on Whitewater Solo.

It is however a nice comfortable down river cruiser very similar to the larger Explorer.

My Explorer responds very nicely to (requires?) both onside and offside heeling. I prefer to paddle that Canadian, with both knees in one chine, heeled over hard to my onside, using J strokes, pry’s and C strokes to control my heading.

The Courier is wide enough to discourage switching sides. While you can do corrections with a bent shaft, I believe you will find a straight shaft gives better control.

I’d suggest a whitewater paddle such as the Mitchel Open Boat or the Werner Bandit. I do not think a long paddle buys you anything other than aching shoulders.

Pick up a used WW boat(an “OC-1”)

– Last Updated: Nov-03-12 10:18 PM EST –

With whatever boat you may pick sometime I think you'll find a true OC-1(WW boat) just a fun exercise..maybe a little scary-loose at first but 2nd to none in making your body learn to relax and balance, even if you don't make it a 24x7 activity...and one of those boats that really get the "really" looks from the woman/women in your life. A WW paddle needs the hand-on-top t-grip for the stable portion of the grip on the opposed to flatwater...where it's ~70/30 shafthand over the griphand, as in WW you want to cross over to the offside without changing hands most of the one plays with the resistance from moving water much more. In moving water rocker truly is your friend...somewhat sharp edges are tougher to start out with, but with more practice can be's all fun.
Yeah...position in an OC-1 is optional, however most usually end up within ~4-10"? aft of center as, indeed, the stroke usually needs to be much shorter.....enter Tom Foster's ~ "Catch Every Eddy..." book & DVD.

More paddle suggestions

– Last Updated: Nov-04-12 7:47 AM EST –

Although downriver racers and a very few whitewater paddlers use bent shaft paddles, the vast majority of whitewater boaters use straight shaft paddles with a T grip. Bow draws, cross draws, and J strokes can all be done fairly well with a bent shaft, but stern pries and stern draws are awkward unless you palm roll the paddle. And you don't want to be palm rolling the paddle in whitewater of any significance.

The low brace works with a bent shaft paddle as long as one is bracing on the power face, but you can't smoothly transition from a forward stroke, stern pry, or J stroke to a low brace or reverse sweeping low brace without palm rolling the grip (awkward to do with a T grip) and palm rolling requires you to relax your grip on the paddle with both hands, increasing the likelihood of having it knocked out of your hands when you need it most.

Straight shaft paddles are nearly always at least a couple of inches longer (in both overall length and shaft length) than bent shaft paddles used by the same person.

Furthermore, straight shaft paddles used on whitewater are often a little bit longer that straight shaft paddles used on flat water. Part of this is due to the fact that whitewater boats are nearly always deeper than flat water boats. Furthermore, the kneeling position used by whitewater paddlers might put their torso a touch higher than a sitting flat water paddler. In paddling whitewater I often have my shaft hand a bit higher relative to the water than I do paddling flat water as this makes it less likely to jam your hand between the side of the hull and a rock. To do this and avoid choking up on the paddle (which would reduce the power of the stroke) requires a little longer paddle shaft.

As an example I am about 5' 11" and use bent shaft paddles with an overall length anywhere from 48" to 53" in overall length. For straight shaft paddles in flat water I might use a paddle 54-56" in length but my whitewater paddles are all 56-59" in length.

A common recommendation for sizing flat water paddles is to use a paddle that places the grip hand at about shoulder height when taking a forward stroke with a good vertical shaft angle and the blade just fully immersed. A common recommendation for whitewater paddle sizing is to use a shaft length that puts the top of the T grip at eye or forehead level.