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.

Solitude

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.

Solitude

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.

Packer

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.

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.

12 comments:

  1. Wonderful..... beauty and solitude.

    Thanks

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  2. Great review Richard!

    We love our 16ft Prospector; it is light, very easy to turn, stable, pretty, and has no problem carrying gear+dog+kid+us..

    It does take some work to keep it tracking straight, and does like to wander in the wind. The trade-off is being able to take it out on the Thompson River and be right at home. I bet the canoe can handle much more water than I could.

    Beautiful boats on a beautiful lake make a great day with friends. Wish you paddled closer.

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  3. Thanks BT!

    Mike, I like the gear+dogs+kids+us formula. I'll bet the longer Prospector with even more capacity and buoyancy is a winner for this application.

    If you ever think of a vacation on the Island, let me know. I'd love to join you (and your gang) on a paddle sometime!

    Richard

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  4. Thanks for the excellent comparisons!

    I've been following your blog since your first posts on MYCCR with baited breath, especially since there is such scant info out there on Clipper's solo canoes. Just wanted to say thanks.

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  5. Thanks Anonymous,

    I appreciate knowing others are reading and that my thoughts and photos are helpful. A review of my new Bluewater Mist will be posted soon.

    Richard

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  6. Thanks for this blog. I have enjoyed reading all of your entries, especially this informative review. Have you received your new boat? I had the opportunity to paddle an Autumn Mist back around '85. It is a wonderful boat.

    I am currently looking for a new or used solo canoe. I live a little south of you in Washington, and there aren't many options available outside of a special order.

    Take care,

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  7. Thanks Keith,

    I have received my Mist -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/stillinthestream/6124252274/

    I have delayed writing a review because there were some issues with the hull that the retailer and manufacturer are still resolving. Basically they are sending me a new one this spring. If I receive the new canoe (there have been several promises but it is not here yet) and if it is in good shape I will be writing a positive review. Of all the canoes I have paddled so far, it has been the best fit to my preferences.

    I do believe/trust that it will all work out, so stay tuned for my extensive review.

    I have seen used solo canoes listed in Washington from time to time. Fellow Vancouver Island solo paddler, Harold, traveled to Seattle to pick up his ultralight Wenonah Prism. I'm assuming you keep an eye on paddling.net's classified? Good luck with your search and let me know if I can be of any help.

    Richard

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  8. Hi, just have to ask, after all this time with the Mist...how does it compare with the Packer? I know you had sort of decided on the Packer, and then changed your mind. I've followed your blog and research both here and on Paddling.net because I am also looking for a dedicated solo...but two years behind you it seems. I've got my eye on the ultra-light 34lb Packer right now, and actually just can't make up my mind. I've paddled it, and found it adequately nice. Like you said, "it tracks straight enough" and it's efficient(?) enough? I'd like your opinion, in hind sight now, on how you would stack the Packer against the other comers having paddled them re and re efficiency, tracking, speed etc.... (my emphasis on paddling is lakes and grade 1 rivers, 90% sitting 10% kneeling). Thanks and Cheers from Burnaby. John, hiromi64@yahoo.com

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  9. Hi John,

    Still love the Packer, and also love my Mist. The Mist has taught me a lot about what I like in a solo canoe, and I actually would not trade it for anything at the moment. I would like the opportunity to paddle the Wenonah Argosy and a few similar boats (the other Yost and Winter's designs that are only available out east). I'm tempted by the rocker. What I really want is my Mist with a bit of differential rocker. That would be perfect.

    Having been in some heavier waves with my mist, I have to say I also appreciate the hull design for shedding waves. The Packer is a little shy of free-board I think, so despite it's excellent qualities, I'm still partial to my slightly larger Mist. Lastly, I really like being able to kneel. I think you can get the packer with a traditional web seat. Not as comfortable as the tractor style, but more versatile, if kneeling is of interest. It wasn't initially for me, but now I love it. I'm also convinced that seat height should be lower than manufacturer's suggest, if you are doing mostly flat-water paddling. I ordered my Mist with a lower seat height and am very glad I did.

    Also had the opportunity to paddle a Solitude in the spring. Clipper's version seems faster and more efficient that the Wenonah version I had paddled. Amazing what subtle differences can do for the paddling experience. By the way, most people who paddle the Mist for the first time find it pretty twitchy. Same for the Packer I would think. So if you have paddled it and found it nice, then you would like the Mist too I would think. If you have a chance to try the Solitude, I'd suggest giving it a go, but it is more boat, and so depending on where you plan to paddle, the Packer may be all you need. It is one of those perfected designs. A real gem.

    Richard

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  10. Thanks, I will dwell on your advice. I'm thinking of giving th Packer another trial, and maybe asking if I can install a temporary web-seat, though I guess the tractor seat was comfortable. As of now, though I live in the city, there is a dearth of canoe choice in the lower mainland. I can't explain it, what with all the lakes, rivers, slough and streams, not to mention the sea. Of course, kayaks have become the predominant choice, but even there, I've seen stores closing and choice diminished. It seems like I am leaning to the Packer given that my wet weight is 140lbs, and actually went by Western Canoing yesterday and spec'd out an ultra-light version with black trim. Very nice looking.My wife saw the price tag and said that was very nice looking, too. I may have to become very charming soon if I'm to put another hull in the garage. Oh well...first world problems. Thanks again for the advice.

    John

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  11. Hey John, you're welcome, and yes, I don't understand the lack of choice in canoes out here too. Perhaps a cultural thing. So many choices in Ontario and Quebec especially. H20 is another company I like the look of, and they have an unofficial rep somewhere in the lower mainland. The 15 is a good looking boat. http://h2ocanoe.com/solo15.html

    I just have to add that Clipper's workmanship is top notch, so while the product is a bit pricy, it will last a lifetime and give many hours of pleasure. And your weight at 140 seems like a perfect fit. Would love to see some pictures of whatever you end up getting!

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