River-Tripping Canoes

Originally manufactured by the Chestnut Canoe Company beginning in 1910, the Prospector is the longest-lived canoe design still in production. It is also a design synonymous with the concept of a “river-tripping” canoe, especially in Canada.

Today, several canoe companies have a Prospector model in their lineup. Though the design is subject to interpretation by manufacturers, qualities such as versatility and river-running capability remain constant. Not surprisingly, the Prospector variants available for this review all come from Canadian companies.

Prospector 17, Nova Craft

Though the original Prospectors were 16 feet long, the design of Nova Craft’s 17-foot version (they also make 16- and 18-footers) runs fairly close to that of the original. The addition of the extra foot adds a bit of functionality since a 17-footer has better speed and load-carrying capability.

Like the original, Nova Craft’s Prospector has a relatively sharp entry that flares noticeably about a foot back from the stem to give the boat extra buoyancy for running big waves. There’s enough rocker to turn the boat easily, even when loaded, but not so much as to seriously degrade its flatwater capability.

Our review boat was made of Royalex, so naturally you’d expect some performance differences compared to a composite version. The bottom of our test boat could be made to flex by pushing down on the gunwales, but the average paddler would be unlikely to notice this, especially when the boat is loaded with gear. Nova Craft, an Ontario company that has been building canoes since 1970, offers all three of its Prospector models in a variety of layups, ranging from fiberglass to a superlight Kevlar that shaves 26 pounds off the weight of the Royalex version.

Prospector 17, Western Canoeing (Clipper)

Western Canoeing, located in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has been building a wide variety of canoes under the Clipper nameplate for more than 25 years. Its lineup currently includes two Prospectors, a 16- and a 17-footer.

The 17-footer made available for this review was constructed in the company’s standard Kevlar layup. Though not as light as some other Kevlar-based laminates (Clipper also offers an ultralight version, as well as one made of fiberglass), it is a very durable layup and was by far the stiffest boat paddled for this review (remember, stiffness equals less effort!). A foam floor and ribs are laminated between layers of Kevlar, providing extra rigidity-extra noticeable after paddling Royalex canoes for an afternoon.

Like the Nova Craft version, Clipper’s Prospector 17 runs fairly close to the original design, with slight rocker for maneuverability, some flare for buoyancy and dryness, and a huge carrying capacity. Our test canoe was outfitted with tractor-style seats, which were comfortable, but standard cane or web seats are also available. Whether for extended river-tripping or ferrying large family loads, it’s hard to beat a versatile design like the Prospector, especially in a very manageable Kevlar weight.

Prospecteur, Esquif

At a glance, the biggest similarity between the Esquif Prospecteur and the Prospectors offered by Nova Craft and Clipper might appear to be the name. In reality, however, Esquif’s interpretation of the traditional design doesn’t stray any further from the original than do the 17-foot versions reviewed above; Esquif just skews the interpretation in a different direction.

Esquif, a French-Canadian manufacturer of a variety of Royalex canoes, is a whitewater canoe company, and so naturally river-running is the direction in which they take the design of their Prospecteur. The original Prospectors were 16-footers with extra rocker for river-running. Esquif enhances that capability by further increasing the rocker to a full four inches in the bow and three inches in the stern. The result is a boat that is clearly nimble on the river, and with proper outfitting could easily handle Class III rapids, even with a moderate load.

Not as much of a family boat nor as versatile as the larger canoes reviewed, the Prospecteur nonetheless lives up to its river-tripper heritage, with the emphasis on river.

Alaskan, Bell

Designed with input from legendary canoe-tripper (and Canoe & Kayak contributing editor) Cliff Jacobson, Bell’s new Alaskan is the only U.S. entry in this crop of test boats. Bell, the Minnesota-based manufacturer well known for quality flatwater and freestyle canoes, has clearly designed the Alaskan as a big-water tripper.

The gunwale width of the Alaskan is a full inch narrower than the maximum beam, giving the canoe a sleek and less flared appearance than that of the Prospectors.

On the water, the Alaskan is a smooth-paddling and surprisingly maneuverable canoe, thanks to the three inches of rocker in the bow (two inches in the stern). Like most big trippers, it has excellent overall stability, making the Alaskan as suitable for utilitarian family use as for wilderness-river expeditions.

As with most large Royalex canoes, hull flex is noticeable if you look for it but would again be minimized when the canoe is loaded. Reinforcing its image as a “rapids-capable” river-tripper, the Alaskan is being offered only in Royalex.

Freedom 16-6 Scout, Bluewater

Many U.S. canoeists are unfamiliar with Bluewater, part of the Ontario company Mid Canada Fiberglass, which has been building canoes for summer-camp programs since
the 1970s.

The Special Edition Freedom 16-6 Scout is a real head-turner, beautifully finished with cherry gunwales and a sculpted yoke. At 50 pounds, it was the lightest boat reviewed. While lighter than the Clipper’s, the Scout’s Kevlar hull is less stiff, as only its floor has foam reinforcement (with no reinforcing ribs).

The Scout is probably the most versatile design in this review, evenly splitting the difference between the 16- and 17-footers. It is also the only boat in this review with a shallow-V hull (the others have shallow arches). The difference in feel is noticeable, with less primary stability but rock-solid secondary stability.

Because it is slightly shorter and has a bit less flare, the Scout has the least roomy bow of the boats reviewed. On the other hand, keeping the bow a little tight results in a large carrying capacity-certainly large enough for river-tripping. Our test boat came equipped with a kneeling thwart for occasional solo paddling.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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