Wenonah Wilderness a River Boat?

Would you use a Wenonah Wilderness Tufweave on a northern CI-CII river? If so, what modifications would you make to get her better suited for such a trip?

I have never paddled a Wilderness. The photos make it look fairly straight-keeled but you would be in a better position to know if it would have sufficient maneuverability to deal with the rapids you anticipate running. The depth appears reasonable.

As for modifications for river tripping on Class I-II water I would say a couple or so are essential. You need to have some provision for comfortable kneeling if it does not currently have such. If it has a traditional seat make sure it is suspended high enough off the hull bottom to allow plenty of heel clearance for whatever type of foot wear you see using. If the seat is suspended from an aluminum hanger of the type Wenonah typically uses, you may need to raise the seat using some spacers and longer machine screws. Most people also find that a seat is more comfortable to use kneeling if it is canted with the forward seat frame down by 10-15 degrees or so. If you cant the seat, you will probably have to enlarge/elongate the holes drilled it the frame for the machine screws. I would also have some type of kneeling pads. Many people use removable pads, I prefer pads bonded to the hull bottom because they stay in if you capsize.

You should have some provision to secure your gear in the boat in the event of a capsize. There are many possibilities but one of the most common methods is to use nylon accessory cord or paracord lacing of about 3mm thickness strong crosswise from the gunwales to form a “cage”. The typical extruded aluminum gunwales that Wenonah uses are poorly shaped and too narrow to mount nylon “inchworms” or “P-clips” directly to the bottom of the inwale portion. But you can drill holes through the aluminum skirt that secures the gunwales to the hull and secure anchors using pop rivets. I would try to secure all of your gear so that it remains constrained below the gunwale line within the hull if you capsize. Gear hanging outside the hull greatly increases the chance that the hull will get hung up on rocks, strainers, or in the shallows.

It is also convenient to have some type of anchors bonded to the hull bottom. You can actually “glass in” webbing loops using epoxy, but if you don’t want to go that route, you can get vinyl patches with sewn-on D rings or webbing loops. These can be used to secure “keeper straps” running from the ends of the canoe toward the center to help secure gear. They are also very handy to secure water bottles, throw bags, dry bags, and the like.

There are a few other options you might consider. I believe in having painters attached at both ends of your canoe. Some experienced paddlers don’t use them because of concerns regarding entanglement possibilities, but painters make it much easier to self-rescue with your boat, it it becomes necessary. I keep the painters fairly short, around the length of the boat or so. If longer lines are needed for lining up or down rapids, longer lines can be attached. I prefer using 5/16 or 3/8" diameter polypropylene rope of kernmantle construction for painters.

Although it is expedient to just tie painters on the short carry thwarts near the stems of the canoe, it is really better to have them secured to grab loops secured by drilling holes through the hull near the ends. If the float tanks don’t come up too high, you can usually just drill a hole on each side just above the tank to run the grab loop through. If the tanks come up very high, you can drill holes into the tanks but then you need to make sure the tank is sealed against water entry. This can be done by running a short length of PVC pipe with an internal diameter big enough to accommodate your grab loop material right through the tank. The ends of the PVC pipe are then trimmed flush with the hull and bonded in with epoxy. The pipe ends can also be painted to match the hull. Either 1" diameter webbing or synthetic rope of 3/8-1/2" diameter works well for grab loops.

Although your secured packs and gear will provide some flotation, I usually use short flotation bags between the gear and the end float tanks. You can buy a set of “tandem end bags” for this purpose. They are typically 30-36 inches in length when inflated. If there is insufficient space you don’t need to inflate them fully. This provides some additional flotation in the spaces you really don’t want any extra gear weight in anyway.

Thanks pblanc. Good job. I may not need it for my trip up north this year, unless the my crew bails. I’ll be ready just in case.

what pblanc said - except, I would go with full size solo bags instead of short tandem end bags. You don’t really lose space for gear because you can place gear beneath the bags before you inflate them. Starting out with short tandem end bags, means you have short bag cages and no option to go with larger bags if you go with less gear - so start out with full size bag cages and full size bags - they will give you better floatation, hopefully keeping your boat a bit higher and less likely to pin. Also would be much better for day trips with little gear lashed in the boat. I would also add, if putting in thru hull grab loops above the tank, that I would use the pvc pipe there too, right to the outside edge of the hull so that your grab loops don’t saw/wear on the drilled holes, and so there is no tendency for the hull to get squeezed together - more solid than just putting a loop thru drilled holes.

There’s an in-between option, which is 48-inch bags. Using these in a solo canoe will leave just enough room between the paddler and the bags for a large pack, so you can put one large pack immediately behind the seat and another one immediately in front of your knees. These provide very good flotation, but without the inconvenience of having to partially deflate your bags every time you need to have access to your gear. Put tie-downs on the floor to secure the packs and they’ll provide a fair bit of flotation too.

@Mattt said:
what pblanc said - except, I would go with full size solo bags instead of short tandem end bags. You don’t really lose space for gear because you can place gear beneath the bags before you inflate them. Starting out with short tandem end bags, means you have short bag cages and no option to go with larger bags if you go with less gear - so start out with full size bag cages and full size bags - they will give you better floatation, hopefully keeping your boat a bit higher and less likely to pin. Also would be much better for day trips with little gear lashed in the boat. I would also add, if putting in thru hull grab loops above the tank, that I would use the pvc pipe there too, right to the outside edge of the hull so that your grab loops don’t saw/wear on the drilled holes, and so there is no tendency for the hull to get squeezed together - more solid than just putting a loop thru drilled holes.

The bag cages on my river tripping boats run the full length from the stem to near the central pedestal or seat, regardless of what size bags I have in it. If I am tripping with gear, then barrels and packs occupy much or most of the bag cage area with a bag at each stem. Most end flotation bags have a grommet or webbing loop at the nose, and it is easy to devise a way to secure that end of the bags to the stems of the boat. But it really isn’t even necessary because the gear will hold the bags in place nicely.

For lacing over packs and barrels it is wise to make the cordage longer than necessary so that it can be laced over to contain packs or barrels that might extend above the sheer line of the boat. To be able to lace and unlace the cordage quickly to stow and remove gear, you really want to run the cords through pad eyes, P clips, or some type of rope loop system.

I have end bags of various sizes from less than 36" to 60" in length. If you plan to use the same canoe to use for both tripping, and whitewater day trips unloaded, you might want to go with longer bags if you are only planning to buy one pair. How big the bags need to be to run Class I-II whitewater is a matter of opinion. Remember that flotation bags do not function like a spray deck to keep water out of the boat. In a boat like the Wenonah Wilderness, even if you go with a pair of 60" bags there will still be plenty room for enough water in the boat to make it completely uncontrollable. The purpose of your flotation is to make the boat less likely to pin and easier to rescue if you should swim.

Very interesting about the float bags. What brand of bag would you recommend for an open canoe? I imagine they can be UV sensitive.

Also, I’m now wondering which direction to move my seat. The thwart is in my back, but rather than move them both, I’m thinking moving the seat forward is best. If it runs deep in the stern when empty, and I generally run it with 3 gallons of water in the front, it seems like putting my big pack in the back would exasperate the trim issues, and moving my weight forward would help with the trim when loaded. However, I can also see how moving it forward would hurt responsiveness. The boat is low in rocker anyway, so maybe moving it forward won’t be the smart thing. I guess experimentation is in order, but if anyone has experience with this canoe and moving it’s seat, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I don’t think that float bags typically get enough UV exposure to degrade seriously, but they will definitely fade in color over time. A lot of flotation bag makers have disappeared. I have had generally good results with the bags sold by Harmony Gear or Mohawk Canoe. I have never owned NRS bags, but know of folks who have had problems with them…

I have never paddled a Wenonah Wilderness but judging from the photos it does not appear to me as if the boat should be significantly bow light with the stock seat position. I have seen quite a few boat makers err on the side of trimming their boats slightly bow light since it is often better than having them wind up bow heavy. The biggest space for gear or a pack is going to be directly behind you, especially if you plan to sit. Most trippers try to trim their canoes by distributing gear. If you carry water while tripping, the water weight can often be used to good effect to maintain trim. But rather than just going with one big pack, I would try to distribute the load front and back, even if you plan to portage it all at the same time in one big pack. I would shoot to have the boat in optimal trim unloaded.

Trimming asymmetrical hulls is trickier than trimming symmetrical ones. It is obvious that the Wilderness has asymmetrical sheer with more height in the front stem. But it is the water footprint that counts. I don’t have any familiarity with the Wilderness so I don’t know how asymmetrical that might be.

One way to determine optimal trim is to remove your existing seat and find a big foam block or something else that you can set in the canoe and sit on temporarily. Take a friend and put your boat in a friendly pond or pool and float it empty. Take some duck tape strips and carefully apply them to the hull of the empty floating boat near the bow and stern in such a way that the very bottom edge of the strips is at water level. Now get in the boat on your impromptu saddle and with a friend observing from shore or poolside adjust your position fore and aft until an equal amount of each tape strip is showing above the water fore and aft. Make a temporary mark on each gunwale where your navel would be, or slightly behind it. That will be your approximate center of gravity.

Exactly where you want the seat positioned to place your center of gravity there will depend on whether you are sitting or kneeling, and if you are kneeling, how much of your rear end you tend to put on the seat. Try sitting and kneeling with the seat in the stock position and see how far from your gunwale marks your navel winds up before you consider making any adjustments.

Paddling a canoe that is significantly bow heavy in current can be a challenging endeavor.

Well, I’ll jump in once more. I agree completely with Pete, of course, but I get the impression that an analogy once presented on this subject by the late DuluthMoose is something you’d find helpful. First, I’ll mention that what I’ve found makes trim adjustment easier is to use two packs, with one being a heavy one, put right up close behind the seat, and the other one being lighter, placed at some variable or adjustable distance in front of you. DuluthMoose’s analogy makes it clear why this works so well.

Now, here’s the analogy: Think of your boat like a teeter-totter. A teeter-totter can be made to swing in one way or the other by any amount of weight, but a really heavy weight can have a big effect when quite close to center, and a really light weight needs to be pretty far from center to have the same effect. Picture a balanced teeter-totter with a small child sitting out at one end and his/her 200-pound dad sitting just a few feet to the opposite side of the pivot point. With that in mind, think of your boat being in perfect trim with just you alone on board (that’s true if your seat is in the right place). Put a big pack behind you and now the boat is tail-heavy, but put a lighter pack in front of you, farther from center than the pack behind you, and the boat again becomes balanced. If the pack in front of you were the same weight as the one behind you, it would need to be right in your lap to put the boat in proper trim, so making that pack lighter means you can put it a few feet farther forward, leaving room for you knees or even your outstretched feet (the farther forward you need to put the front pack, the lighter it should be in comparison to the rear pack). And obviously you can shuffle other gear around, especially water, as Pete has already said. For myself, since water weight can be significant, I prefer to keep it close to center, near the seat, but I’ll often spread out the locations of the various containers just a small distance, with boat trim in mind (such as two or three containers very close behind me, and one container on the floor between my knees).

Keep this idea in mind and your boat will always be in trim, whether you carry a lot of gear or absolutely none, and there will never be any need to move the seat.

I have a Wilderness. I didn’t like the factory seat position so asked Wenonah to build it with the seat moved farther back and the rear thwart positioned 4 inches behind the rear edge of the seat. The front edge of the seat is now positioned 12 inches behind the center of the canoe. This now allows me to kneel with my knees on the Canoe’s bottom just slightly behind the center of the canoe. The back of my legs hit the front edge of the seat. This way I can kneel and not have my body weight drive the bow deeper into the water. The rear thwart is now positioned such that it provides a nice anchor point for a back band I’ve installed.

This wouldn’t be my favorite canoe for Class II water. It might do OK ( I’ve had it on ClassI+), but its initial stability leaves me a little nervous. Having said that, I’m still fairly new to the canoe, especially so in WW.

Regarding waterbearer’s comments, I used to have a Wenonah Vagabond, and many people say that the Wilderness is simply a big-man’s version of the Vagabond, with very similar specs, simply applied to a bigger boat.

I thought the seat of my Vagabond was a tiny bit too far forward. I wouldn’t have moved it back as far as Waterbearer did (not saying he was wrong though). I think the typical recommendation is for the front cross beam of the seat to be near the centerpoint of the boat, perhaps just a few inches behind center (somebody please correct me if I’m mis-remembering that, because I’m not running out to look at my boats just now to check this).

I found the stability of the Vagabond to be comparable to that of an aircraft carrier, and stability did “firm up” nicely as the boat was leaned to one side, so I think the Wilderness should be pretty stable, as long as the paddler isn’t too big for the boat.

As to maneuverability in a boat like this, “back-ferrying is your friend”. You can really do wonderfully well in a lot of Class II rapids simply by having a competent back ferry. If you get good at that, you will also learn to warn the guy/gal in the boat behind you to “back off” as you enter the tricky spots, as you’ll also end up finding out that an awful lot of so-called experienced paddlers are extremely befuddled when the need suddenly arises to slow down in swift water. Getting rammed from behind just as you were about to make dainty work of a maneuver is no fun. I sold my Vagabond years ago, but ah, the memories of taking it through whitewater.

Different people sit on seats differently and prop themselves against seats or kneeling thwarts when kneeling differently. I generally use the front frame of a seat merely as a butt prop when kneeling. Others will put more of their rear end on the seat. And body habitus and femur length can make a difference when it comes to positioning a seat.

Others might be different, but I find that I need to position a seat or kneeling thwart with its front further aft when kneeling. I used to paddle a Mad River Traveler with a sliding seat quite a lot, both sitting and kneeling. When shifting from a sitting to kneeling position, I always had to slide the seat several inches aft to maintain trim.

If you are like me and want to use the same fixed seat for both kneeling and sitting you may have to compromise. I find that for a sitting position my center of gravity winds up being roughly 1 1/2" forward of the front edge of the forward seat frame. But if I am kneeling my center of gravity will be around 4 1/2 - 5" forward of the front edge of the seat or thwart.

Ok, I guess I should have mentioned early on that I use the foot braces and seat. I’ve had 3 knee surgeries and can barely crawl in and out of my tent. Crouching, squatting, and kneeling have not been routine activities for me for 30 years. I love to see a skilled paddler carving turns while on edge, but the foot brace is my friend. I have a neoprene knee pad that I’ve never actually used. Gives me the chills to think about it. So, I guess I’ll try finding the center of gravity as described. I’m betting I’ll need to move the seat forward a couple inches. That will get my back off the thwart, and we’ll just have to see what happens to the turnability.

If you never plan to kneel you might consider lowering the seat height. If the seat frame is mounted to the top of the aluminum hanger frame you can lower it by an inch or more by mounting it to the underside.

Along with the footbrace, you might consider getting some minicel foam and fashioning a couple of “knee bumps” to bond to the inside of the hull just below the gunwales. You can use these to brace your knees firmly against the sides of the hull which will give you more control over heeling the hull. Minicel can be had or built up to any thickness required if you are unable to comfortably splay your knees out all the way to the hull. And it can be shaped to provide cups fit to your knees.

Unfortunately, moving the seat forward a couple of inches might wind up being a bigger job than you would like. You would need to move the hanger bracket, of course, which can be done by drilling out the rivets securing it and reriveting it in its new position. But you will almost certainly find that in its new position the seat frame is not going to be long enough to reach and you will need to buy a new seat.