Sunday, 14 August 2011

14 Prospector, Packer, Solitude

Paddle Date: August 13, 2011

Paul and I met with fellow paddler Greg at Dougan Lake to compare 3 popular solo canoes sold by Abbotsford based Clipper Canoes. Paul brought his Solitude and Betty's Packer, and Greg brought his newly purchased 14 Prospector.

Packer, 14 Prospector, Solitude

The boats measurements look like this:
Solitude 14 Prospector Packer
Length 15 feet 6 inches 14 feet 14 feet
Width at Water Line 30 inches 29 inches 27.5 inches
Width at Gunwales 28 inches 29 inches 24 inches
Bow Height 16 inches 21 inches 16 inches
Centre Height 13 inches 15 inches 13 inches
Stern Height 14 inches 21 inches 16 inches
Rocker Minimal 1.5 inches 1 to 1.5 inches

Clipper also makes two other solo canoes, the Freedom and the Sea-1, and also offers the Prospector 16 and Tripper in solo versions.

14 Prospector and Packer

The Prospector and the Packer are the same length but quite different in design. The Packer is a Gene Jenson creation with a modest (almost straight) shear line, narrow ends, and moderate tumblehome. The Prospector is a James van Nostrand design with traditional ends (fuller and higher than the Packer) a wider beam, and slightly more rocker.

Packer (closer to camera) and Solitude

The Solitude is a longer and slightly wider canoe than either the Prospector or Packer but with very fine ends and a low profile. The Solitude has a modest tumble-home located near the waterline and a pronounced plumb stern which, combined with it's minimal rocker, gives it great tracking. The Solitude's low profile also reduces windage and makes for a sleek, reasonably fast, all around solo canoe.

We brought along an assortment of paddles to try with each boat. Paul had his two bend shaft graphite paddles, two square-tipped Grey Owl paddles (one bent shaft), and his Nashwhack  ottertail. I had my Larry Bowers Cree/Iroquois style single and my Alton Aluet double. Greg had a beautiful Grey Owl "Guide". I hadn't seen one of these higher end Grey Owl paddles and have to say I was impressed with the design and quality. The stunning colour of the cherry wood seemed to match the colours in the Packer extreamly well.

14 Prospector -- agile and maneuverable

The Prospector is an agile and maneuverable solo which is a delight to play in. It responds instantly to even modest paddle strokes and in the kneeling position you can lean out on your paddle and spin the canoe beneath you. It is easy to scull sidways as well as on an angle backwards and forwards. This hull is well suited for investigating nooks and crannies along any shoreline because of it's responsiveness and "turn-on-a-dime" characteristics.

Here is a video of Paul demonstrating how well it maneuvers:

Compared to the Packer the 14 Prospector feels much more spacious. It's more generous ends, higher gunwales, and wider beam all make for a roomy ride. By contrast the Packer feels close and narrow. Notice in the following photo how there is very little extra room between Paul and the gunwales.

Those who don't mind a tighter paddling station may not notice this aspect of the Packer and Greg said he found it to be adequately roomy.

We discussed the capacity of both boats, and while some claim the Packer to be fine for short tripping, I think this applies primarily to the "go light" crowd. The Packer supposedly has 7.3 inches of freeboard loaded to 400 pounds, while the Prospector can take another 200 pounds before reaching the equivalent amount of freeboard. It seems likely then that the Prospector would be much more comfortable on medium to long trips with more gear.


The Solitude does not quite match the Prospector's ability to carry a load (The Solitude carries 600 pounds with 7 inches of freeboard)  but the Solitude strikes me as being a more comfortable boat to paddle on long flatwater and mellow river trips. If even minimal whitewater is in the cards, the Packer's extra limited load carrying capacity might be offset by it's versatility, and make it a better choice over the Solitude.

The Solitude, with it's skeg-like stern and minimal rocker tracks well and has a much higher potential speed than either the Packer or the Prospector. But as many of us have concluded this "potential" for speed is seldom achieved by non-athletic paddlers and therefore I would say that for weekend and recreational paddlers shorter boats (12 to 15 feet) with lower surface areas (Packer, Rapidfire, Mist, etc.) give faster acceleration and an easier overall paddling experience.


Interestingly I found the slightly narrower and longer blade of Greg's ottertail to work particularly well in the Solitude, even better than my beloved Cree/Iroquois. I practiced the slicing stroke Paul taught me on Buttle Lake and found I could go 5 or more strokes per side in the Solitude without switching or using a correction stroke. It seems to me this combination would allow a paddler to cover a lot of water.

Left -- Solitude, Right -- Packer

On the topic of paddle match for canoe, I found the carbon bent shaft to be better when moving the Prospector across open water and I think it was primarily because of the larger blade surface. It dawned on me why people love their large surface paddles. In canoes like the Prospector that extra "bite" on the water allows you to keep it going in a straight line more easily. Probably any large surface paddle would do, and because the Prospector needs lots of correction in each stroke, a straight shaft might actually be more functional.

14 Prospector

I also tried the Aluet double in the Prospector and it worked reasonably well, but felt less pleasurable than with boats with a more narrow gunwale width. I was pleased to find that this corresponded to my experience in the Solo Plus, also 29 inches at the gunwales. The Prospector seemed even more awkward than the Solo Plus with the double blade because of the higher paddling station (thus further reach to the water) and near lack of tumblehome.


The Packer responds well to a variety of paddles. Greg seemed at home in the Packer with his ottertail and with the bend shaft carbon. I have enjoyed the Packer with my Aluet double blade, as well as traditional singles.

Discussing Canoes and Paddles

 While all three boats have excellent qualities, of the three my favorite is the Packer.


It tracks reasonably well, accelerates quickly, and turns and maneuvers easily without the tendency to weathercock or wander. It's low profile means less windage and an easier reach to the water than in the Prospector, and it responds particularily well to shifting balast, making trimming easy.

I also like the look of the Packer, it is understated but clean and smooth. The tumble home is full and comfortable if lacking the sexiness of the Solitude and similar newer designs.

Dancing in the 14 Prospector

It is hard to beat the traditional look of the Prospector, but for me, the extra sail created by those classic ends is not worth their aesthetic value. Still, that elegant shearline is a pleasure to gaze upon.

14 Prospector

Also, for me, the extra capacity and maneuverability of the Prospector are features I would seldom take advantage of. The Packer has been outfitted by Clipper for some customers as river boats, but it seems to me that those fine lines, reflecting the designers love of racing, preclude it from serious whitewater.

Prospector (left) and Packer

At the End of the Day

14 Prospector -- Highly maneuverable solo best suited to the paddler wanting to take longer trips with lots of gear and a likely to encounter a variety of types of water (whitewater, rivers, flatwater). Challenging to keep going in a straight line, especially in wind and slower top end speed than the other boats tested.

Solitude -- Straight as an arrow flatwater cruiser. Well adapted to hit and switch with an ottertail or bent shaft single. Suited for tripping on lakes and easy rivers. Stable and comfortable for photography.

Packer -- Versatile and lively all around solo able to handle flatwater and some whitewater but best suited to lakes and easy rivers. Because of the superb way this hull managers to allow both reasonable tracking and good turning, I rank this canoe as the best match of the three tested hulls for Vancouver Island freshwater paddlers.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Buttle Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook 4th Edition - Map 23 B1
Atlas of Canada Link: Buttle Lake


Degrees, Minutes, Seconds: 49° 37' 50" N 125° 31' 52" W
Decimal Degrees: 49.631° N 125.531° W
UTM Coordinates: 10U 317220 5500634
Topographic Map Sheet Number: 092F12

Trip Date: July 27, 28, 29

View from the Beach at Ralph River looking North
It's been awhile since I stayed in a provincial campground and I have to say it was a pleasant experience -- especially the clean, comfortable, and virtually odorless outhouse!

In fact the last time I stayed in a provincial campground was October of 2008. coincidentally I stayed at the Buttle Lake site on a solo paddling trip. The campground then didn't make much of an impression. Anglers and families were enjoying a last camp of the season, their voices rising and falling through the trees while I drank my tea and looked up through through the treetops at a star filled sky. It was a melancholy trip, with brown leaves in the wind and dead wasps on the surface of the water drifting past the canoe.

But the Ralph River campsite has a different feel when we drive in. The folliage along the road is slightly soft with dust but not as dusted as all the trees on nearby logging roads. There is the sense that all nature is approaching the fullness of summer, everything extended like a cat stretched out in the sun.

All the sites on the water side are occupied, but we find a nice spot near one of the trails to the beach.

Our Campsite at Ralph River
We set up camp, talk of automobiles and canoes, and our children, and then after the day's wind dies down we go out on the water with our canoes.

The sun goes beyond the peaks of Strathcona mountains, the sun wash from the eastern hills slides upwards, the shadow of clouds almost stationary, the calm of dusk fills the valley. 

We circumnavigate the bay in front of the campground, exploring a sheltered cove full of toad tadpoles. We get out on a rocky shore and walk carefully to avoid stepping on one of the thousands of tiny toadlets hopping around, some still with their tadpole tails.

We paddle back towards the campground and  up Ralph River a short ways past two fly anglers, one in an anchored boat and one stalwart fellow standing in the icy water up to his thighs. Paul has fun playing in the current in the Rendezvous and we retire in the fading light to a cup of tea and quiet evening in camp.

The next morning we are on the water again and paddle out past the point of land on the far side of the bay towards the source of sound we heard in the night, a cataract cascading towards the lake down the very steep western slope.

We admire the clarity of the water and that lovely color that mountain water gives to objects below the surface...

...including large stumps and roots of trees that were harvested, we imagine, prior to the flooding that occurred with the construction of the Strathcona Dam in 1958. The dam backs water up into both Upper Campbell Lake and to a lesser degree,  Buttle Lake. The Strathcona Dam is part of a three dam network including the John Hart Dam (John Hart Lake/Resevour) and the Ladore Dam (Lower Campbell Lake) and was developed in part to meet the needs of the Elk Falls Mill.  

BC Hydro intends to invest more than 1 billion dollars beginning in 2012 to upgrade the three hydropower facilities on this system. Together the three projects generate 237 megawatts and produce up to 20 percent of peak demand on Vancouver Island in the summer and 10 percent of peak demand in the winter. Other hydro electric projects on the island are much smaller.

Some 3186 hectares of land were flooded around Upper Campbell and Buttle Lakes. The entire bay in front of the Ralph River Campground was dry land prior to the construction of the dam system.

We are happy the lake is at a high level and we can glide over the the stumps admiring their eery shapes. We also spot large house-sized boulders under the water that had clearly tumbled off the nearby mountainside, one appearing to be laying on top of a sheared of log.

"The current practice of operating the Buttle/Upper Campbell reservoir near full pool during
summer likely reduces impacts on fish by providing stable littoral habitat but there is little
benthic productivity in the drawdown zone (Sinclair 1965; Lewis et al. 1996). Access into the
three main spawning streams (Ralph and Thelwood creeks, Elk River) is not affected by
drawdown levels (Lewis et al. 1996)." -- Bridge-Coastal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program
STRATEGIC PLAN Volume 2 (December 2000).

After Lunch we head to Jim Mitchel Lake for a nice paddle before returning to Buttle and putting in at the Price Creek trailhead and paddling up Thelwood Creek.


Thelwood Creek appears to be at a high level, and this years robust snow pack might account for it's generous flow. The Canada Geese we disturb seem almost unable to fly. I've seen this behaviour a few times recently and wonder if it has to do with the breeding season.

After returning to the put-in we continue out under the bridge. In the following video keep an eye out for the family of mergansers as we head under the bridge.


Despite the threat of rain we head out into the lake towards Myra Falls. We don't hear the roar of the falls untll we round the corner and are almost upon them.


Despite the strong head wind on the way back we consider seeing Myra Falls to be a highlight of the trip.

Morning View from Ralph River Campground of either Mount Thelwood or Mount Myra, I'm not sure which...
Back at camp we relax after a very full day of paddling.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Antler Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook 4th Edition - Map 30 G5
Atlas of Canada Link: Antler Lake


Degrees, Minutes, Seconds: 49° 48' 15" N 126° 3' 1" W
Decimal Degrees: 49.804° N 126.05° W UTM
Coordinates: 9U 712224 5521062
Topographic Map Sheet Number: 092E16

Trip Date: July 30, 201

Paddling North near the first picnic area

 Antler Lake is a sedgebender's dream.  There are two picnic spots and the second one affords a short set of stairs to the water where canoes can be carefully placed amid sharp rocks. We paddle north along the western shore, enjoying the shade and avoiding the late afternoon sun.

At the little point just past the first picnic area we find a sunken boat. This seems to be a common feature on many of the island lakes. I've seen sunken or abandoned boats in Lawson, Blackwater, Mirror, Sumner, and a ditch near Ward.

We head back along the shady side of the lake and examine honeydew on a log near the southern boundary of the main lake.

Paul heads for the marsh

Then we head into the marsh beyond. This area of the lake is easy to overlook on maps. In the Atlas of Canada link it is the area under the "e" and the "r" -- a magical world of beavers and yellow throats.

 The first opening in the marsh is warm and full of sunshine and Paul sees a family of otter (or maybe beaver) before they instantly disapear under the water, not to be seen again.

The second section is closer to the shady western shore again and we slow to take in the striking colors and contrast of shade and sunlight.

At the end of this pool is a small opening in the reeds and we slide through.

This brings us to an intimate backwater where we spy a beaver lodge and a large under-water store of branches. The beavers will have a happy winter this year.

Paul drifts past the beaver lodge
Note the collection of winter food the beavers have stashed in the lower left
We investigate the inflow further, but before long have to turn around
Eventually we make our way back out of the beaver's private pond, and watch fish swimming over the algea covered bottom of the larger pools beyond.

The spot is alive with birds. As I am turning to follow Paul out of this area I see a small hawk or kestrel diving towards me, swooping up over my head to catch a bird in mid-flight and then returning to a high tree with it's catch.

 Paul puts the glasses on it, but can not make out what it is.

We keep paddling and soon round the bend that brings us back to the wide entryway to the lake.

Along the eastern shore is an expanse of sedges
Paul can't help bending a few...
 Back on the main lake again we rest in the shade and watch the brilliant greens of early evening reflect across the water.

 As we arrive back at the picnic spot a family is unloading their inflatable dingy and fishing rods. We wish them luck with the fishing and head for home.