Last year I decided to take on the 111km Hawkesbury Canoe Classic ultra-marathon in a fourteen foot canoe, a slow wide boat perfect for family day trips, but not really a racer. I had a bucketload of fun both during the race and in the training leading up to it, and totally fell in love with canoe paddling in general. I started to make a few enquiries with North American canoe companies about the availability of their boats in Australia, particularly the more performance oriented varieties, but without much luck. Then as fate would have, I learnt of a new business starting up in Australia to do exactly that – bring in quality canoes from the well known We-no-nah canoe company. To cut a long story short, I made sure that the first container load contained a canoe never to have graced Australia’s shores before – a We-no-nah Encounter solo. Last weekend, Travis from Paddle & Portage Canoes delivered it and took me and fellow Team Fat Paddler member Nat out for a paddle at Berowra Waters.
If first impressions are anything to go by, I fell totally in love. Forget how it performed, the boat was just so damn sexy to look at that I couldn’t wait to get in. The three of us quickly got ready and pushed our boats out through the busy Easter boat traffic and into the waters of the Hawkesbury.
The boat felt fantastic. It’s curved hull gives it great secondary stability so I was expecting it to be a little twitchy on the flat, but the included footbrace allows you to brace the canoe with your knees much like you would a kayak, giving incredible boat control. Within minutes I felt myself starting to control her like my kayak, leaning at different angles to test how far it would heal over and how the leans affected its steering. I also found myself copping plenty of boat wash from passing cruisers and ski boats and felt the boat easily ride through and with the waves. At no stage at all did I feel like stability was an issue, so I started to experiment with boat wake to see if I could surf it. Sure enough, with enough speed and some stern ruddering the canoe would pick up boat wash and ride the waves just like a kayak (albeit a very large barge-like kayak!).
In all our excitement trying to catch wake, Travis had a little spill in his canoe and he was able to talk me through a canoe on canoe rescue, which was great to see/do first-hand. I’m pretty sure he took the spill on purpose just to show me this skill…. didn’t you Trav?? Either way, it was great to see how easy it was to do the rescue without falling out of my own canoe.
We spent the rest of the morning playing around in the boats before stopping at a little beach for breakfast, where we shared Travis’ wife’s muffins and brownies as well as hotdogs I cooked up on the Trangia. Travis demonstrated some technical canoe skills for us using my Badger Paddle before we packed up for our return trip back.
On the way back I tried a number of different paddles, feeling the difference between various traditional wooden paddles and a range of bent carbon-fibre racing paddles. I love timber and usually prefer traditional paddles, with my Badger Paddle being a stand-out, but I had to admit that the ultra-light carbon marathon paddles were great for going hard and fast.
When we finally returned I was ecstatic at the amazing performance and feel of the Encounter. Clearly the Wenonah canoes are a step above the standard plastic barges used by tour guides and scouts here in Australia, and will redefine what canoe paddling is about for those willing to try them out. I have no doubt I’ll be spending a lot more time in mine going forward!
A big thanks to Travis from Paddle & Portage Canoes for his advice and help on choosing the right boat, for delivering it and for taking us out for a paddle. He’s a canoe guide, instructor and all round canoe-fanatic, so if you’re thinking about canoeing in any form, feel free to visit his site and drop him note. Cheers – FP