Swift Osprey for Whitewater / Kevlar????

You have probably seen all my recent canoe posts. I am planning on selling my Osprey and keeping a royalex Wilfire instead for river / mild whitewater use but don’t want to ignore all available options…

What about the Osprey for whitewater? The hull seems good for it, but I would be very leary about using it given its kevlar layup.

Mine is the expedition kevlar which is supposed to be very strong. Would it be strong enough to take down the river? Of course you try to avoid rocks, but I am not sure how well it would do if you had an impact. Also not sure about scraping over rocks in shallow water. Probably does not slide well and of course it would be painful to bash up the gel coat!

I have seen debates about royalex vs. kevlar for rivers. What do you think?

Last…do you think it might be more capable than the Wildfire in Class II/ Class II+? I have read that the Wildfire is of debatable capability in these conditions. Osprey seems like it may be able to handle bigger water.


Royalex vs Composite
Years ago when there was no Royalex, people used composite boats on whitewater all the time, but they patched them not infrequently.

I started out running whitewater in a long Kevlar solo canoe, because it was what I had at the time. I hit some rocks, pinned it once or twice, and except for a little chip in the gel coat, it looks fine.

Many have had dissapointing experiences with the durability of Royalex in recent years. Many serious open boaters have gone to small, partially-decked polyethylene canoes, or canoes made of Twin-Tex (Esquif), Armerlite (Robson), or composite. I have had very good luck with Royalex but my boats are all made of the older stuff.

Royalex is more prone to abrasion damage than composite and tends to wear out at the stems and underneath the pedestal, but it is springy and has quite a bit of give when it hits a rock. Composites are more likely to crack. A crack in a composite boat can be repaired with glass, Kevlar and epoxy but a crack through a foam core or rib is a more serious matter. I have seen composite boats hit rocks with a lot of force and not crack, however.

Most hot whitewater boaters would agree with you that Class II+ whitewater is “mild” but be aware that Class II+ may have wave trains and drops that would quickly swamp a non-dedicated whitewater canoe. I have not paddled a Wildfire or Osprey down anything like that, but my impression is that the Osprey would survive longer than the Wildfire; with its greater flare it looked much “drier”.

Part of the equation…

– Last Updated: May-20-09 9:57 AM EST –

Part of the equation not typically mentioned when discussing the reliability of composite vs royalex, and doing whitewater is "the quality of the paddler".

A quality paddler will typically have fewer problems(no matter what the difficulty level) than the inexperienced paddler. I've seen good paddlers doing class 4 in composite & royalex canoes. I've also seen aluminum canoes wrapped about rocks on class 1 & 2. Does that mean that aluminum is weaker than composite or royalex? Or was the paddler who wrapped the aluminum boat out of their element?
A beginner doing whitewater "might" want to consider the replacement cost of the boat they plan on using........

New Osprey (composite): 18 hundred to 29 hundred, depending on layup.
New Yellowstone Solo(royalex): about 11 hundred.



– Last Updated: May-23-09 5:24 PM EST –

Both Osprey, 1.5/1" and Yellowstone 2.5/1.5 have differential rocker, normally indicated for intermediate skill levels and/or lake travel. Osprey, with significantly less rocker at both stems and an extra foot in length is more oriented to lake paddling. The shorter, more rockered, YellowStone will perform a little better in riverene environments.

WildFire, with 2.5" rocker at both ends, is much more maneuverable if the paddler has the skills to drive it on a line.

That said, the Swift Expedition Kevlar is one of the better laminates available and hold up fine in whitewater if you do your job.

Osprey and RX Wildfire
I am pretty sure that if you SLAM into one or more rocks a Royalex boat will fare better. If you wrap your boat around an imovable object again I’d say advantage Royalex.

Other than that a well built composite boat will stand up as well or better than a Royalex boat. I consider my Expedition Kevlar Osprey to be a very well built boat. It’s seen its share of rocks and other than some scratches in the Gelcoat it’s as good as new.

My opinion is that the Osprey is much better at shedding waves and staying dry than the Wildfire is.

I am not as certain of that as I was before paddling the Andrscoggin and Upper Ammonusuc a few weeks back.

I was in my Osprey and Eric Eckilson was in his Rx Wildfire. Every time we got to a rapid Eric was WORKING his Wildfire, wringing out as much fun from every feature as was possible. He certainly got some water over the gunnels but I never noticed more than he could easily bail. I got a bit of water over my gunnels as well. Was it the boat? Was it the boater?

I couldn’t say. In any case in the class II that we saw he sure seemed to be having at least as much fun in his Wildfire as I was in my Osprey.







Tommy, you must realize that if a boat
is agile enough to spin into eddies, etc., that a paddler may actually take in less water than will another guy in a less agile boat who is just running through the wave trains.

One of my major strategies for keeping my boat dry in class 2++ rapids, is to nail eddies and dodge holes. I can do this better in a whitewater canoe. As an example, I never run straight through Pattons or Bump on the Nantahala. I dodge the big waves, cut into eddies, and come through much drier.

So what your buddy was doing on the Androscoggin was avoiding taking on water while having fun. His Wildfire was just agile enough to allow him to do it.

And he’s a good paddler.

Net footage

– Last Updated: May-23-09 5:27 PM EST –


That RX hull from Bell may have a WildFire sticker on it, but it is a YellowStone Solo, which was available first in RX, then in composite. Compared to the WildFire it has a skegged stern, hence differential rocker, and a softer, lower, shoulder which makes it wetter than the original WildFire and keeps it from lifting its stems as high when heeled.

Bell's concept was to use the nameplate of a well known boat to legitimize the RX hull, but Bell didn't want to pay for the use of the name; hence the new nameplate: Yellowstone Solo. It's a better entry to intermediate hull than Wild because it tracks with less stick skill, but is not as maneuverable or dry.

I heartily agree that composites are fine for some whitewater once the paddler has acquired a commensurate skill set to handle his/ her/boat. A bunch of us scraped down fifteen miles of the Grasse River below Rt 3 a couple weeks ago. Carried the 4-5s; ran everything else - some scratches but no damage.

Swift's Exp lay-up would have done as well, and Osprey would have been more fun / less work than the 2 RapidFires on the trip.

I’ve paddled an Osprey a few times, but don’t own one, so I won’t comment on that boat at this time.

There were two Wildfire RXs (YS) on a Class II trip 8 of us took on Shavers Fork of Cheat River in April. No surprises - as we all expected those boats were wet in Class II. The guys paddling them had fun, but they were wet. I also own an older Wildfire RX which I haven’t paddled in years now. I elected to leave it at home that weekend (as usual) in favor of a MR Guide. The WFRX/YS is more at home messing around in small Class I creeks & small rivers & it’s fun for that. Just my two cents.

CEW’s comments on that boat are (of course) spot on. -RK

YS in WW

– Last Updated: May-22-09 6:56 AM EST –

The trip I did with Tommy a couple of weeks ago was the first time I'd had my YS out in WW in a couple of years. I was actually pretty surprised at how well it handled. It was easy getting into and out of eddies. It ferried fine, and was pretty good catching waves. I rode down the middle of every big wave train I could find (there were only two) and it stayed a lot dryer than I remembered. I'm a fairly big guy (225 lbs.), and was surprised looking at some of Tommy's pictures how low the YS sits in the water – but it was never an issue. I did have straps which kept me from bouncing around. One thing the YS wouldn't do is spin midstream - not enough rocker for that.

Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather use my WW boat, but I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to take my YS down a class II rapid. Wish I took some pictures of Tommy – his Osprey looked pretty good in those rapids as well. For you prospector fans out there - how about this


Tommy and Chuck got a lot of nice pictures of that trip.

I guess I would agree about skill being a factor in this decision as far as being able to avoid visible rocks.

What about those submerged that you don’t see? I guess skill plays a role there too in terms of reading the river, but in shallower "bony’ rivers sometimes there are those rocks that you don’t see that you nail going over.

And there are those ledges that no matter how well you read the river you can’t avoid scraping as you go over.

I guess I would just be leary of doing that in a kevlar boat…but then again maybe if you don’t care about scratching up the gel coat it may be just fine.


That’s right, if you don’t mind about
scratching the gelcoat, it will be just fine.

In my first dozen years of ww paddling, I used a little 13’ fiberglass Mad River Compatriot for all easy whitewater, class 1-2+. I had to repair the bow/stem a couple of times from running straight into rocks (the Compatriot was poor at sudden evasion), and after a half a dozen years I added a 4 oz glass strip down the keel line to make up for wear. But otherwise the hull never broke. This was not a heavily built boat; it was around 50 pounds.

I would expect most “Kevlar” layups to do at least as well, especially if the builders had the sense to use a couple of layers of FG for the outside of the layup.

well then…
The Osprey ought to do pretty well for this I would think. The expedition kevlar layup really does seem to be strong. It is still as heck that’s for sure. Plus mine has the kevlar skid plates.

Charlie Wilson’s comments about its length and rocker are true, but for me I find the Osprey more maneuverable than the Wildfire. My weight may have something to do with it. I find the Wildfire to be less maneuverable and to track better. The Osprey feels pretty maneuverable to me and really feels lively and maneuverable on moving water. I don’t know what it is but the hull feels really slick while ferrying and surfing. Maybe the stiffer hull vice royalex has something to do with that too.

Despite its length I think that the Osprety would probably be good for Class II. Not sure about for Class III.

I am starting to amass too many horses in my stable though! I think I may keep my Mad River Freedom Solo for rivers and use the Merlin for flat water / Class I in which case I am probably still going to sell the Osprey. Once I use the Osprey on a rocky river it will be a lot harder to sell I imagine given the gel coat will get pretty scratched I think.


Your Osprey would be OK for some
class 3 as long as you plot a route that does not require severe maneuvers. Lesser Wesser on the Nantahala is a well-known class 3, and you could do it in the Osprey following the “standard” route. You would be likely to take some water before the final drop, and so float bags would come into play.