To get my family into paddling I needed a boat that could safely hold my wife and my two toddlers. Thanks to the good folks at Blue Earth Paddle Sports and Mad River Canoes, I was able to get into a Mad River Explorer 14TT from the good old US of A which I duly paddled every day for four days either solo, in tandem, or with kids. At the end of the four days I’d learnt a huge amount about the boat’s handling and performance.
The Explorer 14TT comes in at a fraction over 14 feet (3.9 metres) which makes it a relatively short canoe, although when seeing it in the flesh it’s hard to imaging it being called short. The length means not only is it suitable for tandem paddling, it can also be used for single paddlers, making this particular model a popular choice. The length also means it’s relatively easy to carry on the car without too much over-hang, which can be important depending on the vigilance of your local constabulary!
A close look at the boat and you can see the quality immediately. The hull material, listed as Triple Tough, is a sandwich-style material with foam sandwiched between layers of polyethylene. This adds stiffness to the boat, and whilst also adds a little extra weight, the added durability for family paddling is well worth it.
The boat comes with a pair of traditional styled mesh seats (a third seat is an optional extra), a shaped ash yoke across the middle for carrying, and a pair of strategically placed cup-holders by each seat (woohoo!).
The front and rear of the boat have a small moulded deck area with an integrated shaped carry-handle, which fits your hand remarkedly well when carrying – so much so it made me wish my kayak came with a similar setup!
The canoe design is listed by Mad River as a “classic shallow V-hull”. This means, like my sea kayak, the hull has a slight V which makes it a touch twitchy on the flat, but does help the canoe to track straight (despite the rocker at each end). It also means that with a slight lean, the secondary stability of the canoe kicks in and it becomes more stable, which is particularly handy when paddling either solo, or with kids leaning over the side!
The tests were all carried out at Lake Avoca, a small coastal salt-water lake separated from Avoca Beach by a narrow spit of sand. The lake itself is incredibly shallow, has a thriving kayak hire business, and sees windsurfers, ski paddlers, sailing dinghies, canoes, kayaks, dogs, fish and children all sharing its calm waters!
To start the test I took the boat out with fellow Team Fat Paddler member Ned to check its over-all handling with two of us in the boat. Stability whilst initially a little tipsy, soon improved as we started to feel how the canoe liked to be paddled. With steady forward motion the canoe is incredibly stable with or without a little lean. When cruising slowly, a slight lean dramatically improves the stability, with the canoe able to lean a considerable way before you feel like toppling out.
Next was to try the boat paddling solo, and I must admit I was a little doubtful that I’d be able to do so, with my 130kg weight likely to leave the front of the canoe high and dry, and pointing to the sky! The benefit of a classic canoe design however is that you can easily paddle the boat forwards or backwards, and for solo paddling you sit in the front seat facing backwards and paddle the canoe that way. This brings your weight closer to the centre of the boat, making it trim better. To go one step further, you can kneel in the centre of the canoe, lowering your centre of gravity and further stabilising the boat. This kneeling position is especially preferred for whitewater.
To this end I tried both techniques. The kneeling position for an ex-rugby player with bad knees is fairly uncomfortable, although some closed cell foam under my legs may improve that. The handling however is exceptional in this position, especially when kneeling offset to one side. The canoe heels over and then handles magnificently with a J-stroke (a technique I’m only just learning, that combines a forward stroke with a steering stroke which allows you to paddle on one side of the canoe).
Sitting up in the seat and paddling is the lazy option, and the option I preferred for much of the time! I could still slide to one side, heel the canoe over and use J-strokes for prolonged periods of time for cruising, or could sit back up in the middle fo the seat, lean back and slowly cruise along. The Explorer still tracks fairly well like this and is quite easy to paddle on a relatively straight track.
For the final test I loaded up my two daughters (Miss 2 sitting at my feet, and Miss 3.5 sitting in the front) and paddled out into the middle of the lake. There they giggled away as they peered over the side looking at jellyfish passing by under the boat, and despite their propensity to both lean out the same side of the canoe at once, the Explorer maintained its stability and easily handled their shifting weight. The canoe was definitely proving itself for my kids!
In general the Mad River Explorer 14TT has proved to be an excellent all round boat. It will give my family many weekends of paddling fun together on Sydney’s waterways. It will also give me a great platform for fishing or camping, or to explore a little gentle rapids, or as a stable photography platform. Its classic design is a great alternative to most of the canoes available in Australia (think the heavy barges used by canoe hire companies such as the Bushranger or Wobbegong) whilst retaining durability and strength as offered by its Triple Tough hull. And lets face it, the bunny smoking a pipe in the Mad River logo is just damn cool! Cheers – FP
A Quick Note on Safety: PFDs should always be worn during paddle sports. Some of the photos in this story show paddlers (myself included) without PFDs, however these were taken in controlled circumstances, with people close by and in shallow & calm waters. Children should ALWAYS be supervised by adults and in correctly fitted PFDs when out paddling.