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:
|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.
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.
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.