Sunday 6 April 2008

Review of the Wenonah Solo Plus on Somenos Lake

Vancouver Island Mapbook - Map 11 A3
Atlas of Canada Link:
Somenos Lake
Latitude and Longitude: 48o 48' 0" North 123o 42' 0" West
Trip Date: April 4, 2008
After purchasing our new Wenonah Solo+ canoe from Ocean River Sports in Victoria my son and I stop at Somenos Lake in Duncan to try it out.

The Boat Ramp off of Drinkwater Road.

Our Solo+ is an ultra-light composite lay-up with gel coat, web seats, and aluminium gunwales. Wenonah’s ultra-light lay-up involves a vacuum cured Kevlar hull with foam core reinforcing. Total package weighs in around 45 lbs. This review is based on comparing it to my old flat bottomed fibreglass tandem scout canoe, my graphite/Kevlar Spitfire, and my paddling experiences with single and tandem kayaks.

On First Sight: I was pleased with the overall look of the boat; the gel coat was uniform, the finish inside was even and the boat felt solid and tight when picked up – no fabric flexing or oil canning. There is a slight amount of rippling below the gunwales where the Kevlar is thinnest. The hull shape is not as uniform as my Spitfire. It definitely has the look of a factory made boat, but clean and well put together.

First paddle: We took the canoe out first as a tandem and I was immediately impressed with the tracking, stability, and movement through the water. There was very little bow wake until we really pushed it, and the progress along the marsh area we explored was quiet. It was the sort of situation in which you appreciate the boat’s smooth long glide. The tracking has to be the most significant performance feature compared with my other canoes. It felt similar to the tandem Kayak I have paddled in often, going steady and straight with minimal effort required to keep it on track. I was able to take a number of photographs while my son paddled in the bow. He made some corrections and kept the boat on course. The seats were still comfortable after two hours on the water.

Somenos Lake is bordered by a large marsh and Garry Oak meadows and we were bombarded by swallows as we made our way beside various woody marsh plants beginning to show green buds. Cat tail shoots were visible amid the brown remains of last year’s growth, but the oaks were still fast asleep and the aquatic plants were brown and lifeless. Red wing blackbirds were calling all through the bushes, however, and Mallards, Herons, Cormorants, and Canada Geese were all around us.

We paddled down Somenos creek past two beaver lodges but saw no sign of dams. A marsh wren was busy in the debris of the creek and we were able to get right up to her before she darted into the bushes. We could see a Gary Oak meadows on the left and I imagine it would be spectacular in May when the meadow flowers bloom.
Fishing: About half way through the paddle we took out our fly rods just as the wind picked up. We found casting easy and comfortable from the boat. We did not stand up, but from the sitting position the boat was hardly affected by the jerks as we pulled our lines off the water.

As we fished we moved along in the wind, but compared to my old scout boat, the amount of drift was much less. In the scout canoe we would have drifted halfway down the lake. The solo+, with its narrow waist and low profile just does not catch the wind like a traditional design.
Solo: We then tried the boat solo. My son liked how quickly he was able to get up to speed and I liked the fact that I could get out of my seat and adjust the foot brace without capsizing. My Spitfire is much more responsive but has much less primary stability. The Solo+ provides a very stable platform and I relaxed as I put it through its paces.
Turning is an issue. Compared to my 12 foot Spitfire it is much more difficult to pivot or turn sharply and I personally would not be keen to take this boat down a river with sharp bends and rapids. Class 1 straight runs maybe, but for a non-adventurous paddler like me, it would be less than ideal. When the weather is warmer and I feel comfortable falling in the water I will experiment with more dramatic leans and pries.
The solo paddling station is certainly the widest I have been in, with the possible exception of Native Watercrafts Ultimate 12. I felt that I wanted to scoot over to the gunwales to get my arms over the paddle when using a single stick, and the 240cm double felt suddenly short, forcing me to increase the angle of the blade. I will experiment with positions and strokes to see what is most comfortable.

The Solo+ appears to achieve its good solo feel by employing a deep tumblehome at a point in the hull where there is little freeboard. The overall effect is to put you close to the water in the centre of the canoe. Because of this design feature the solo seat ends up being close to the bottom of the hull. I didn’t try kneeling, but with the seat tipped on an angle it would be a challenge to get your feet comfortably under the seat.
Conclusion regarding the Solo+: I purchased this boat as a second/guest boat so I can invite family and friends to join me on the water and was attracted by the multi-use capacity and the combination of manageable weight and stable design. Overall there were no surprises with the boat and I am happy with the paddling experience.

Pros: Stable, multiple-use, good glide and tracking.

Cons: Minimal rocker and sharp entry lines impede quick turning, and the overall length widens the solo station – long solo trips may be harder on the arms than a more narrow dedicated solo boat.
General Impression of Somenos Lake: I chatted with two Duncan residents while we loaded the Solo+ back onto the Tracker and both seemed to have come to the lake to simply look at it in the evening light. It was a beautiful end to the day and both men talked of fishing and reported that the lake is stocked with catchable Fraser-strain trout. One of the fellows told us about two Bass holes he knew of on the lake and I appreciated the friendly advice.

Earlier, as we headed onto the lake, three car loads of young people had arrived - music blaring - and I guess a lake in the middle of a town is bound to have high use. The sheer proliferation of birds near the marsh was staggering, however, and I marvelled at this diversity so close to human activity, literally within a half a kilometre of the Island Highway. We will definitely be back to enjoy the lake and marsh when the spring growth is at its height and the meadow flowers are out.

© Richard R. Powell

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