Ever since I decided to take on the 2010 Hawkesbury Canoe Classic in a canoe, people have thought me mad. Why would any sane person decide to do a 111km ultra-marathon in something as wide and slow as a canoe? Why would anyone add several hours to such a painful challenge, on purpose? Why not just use a kayak or a surf ski like everyone else?
Those who own and love canoes understand. These are not boats designed to finish anything quickly. These are boats designed to take their paddlers on a journey, whether that be a gentle meander through wilderness or a Deliverance-style adventure through back waters and across rapids. Canoes are boats that bring adventurers or families together with the promise of well provisioned exploration. They are comfortable, fun, and a pleasure to paddle.
In 2010 I took on the Classic with my friend Gelo in a 14 foot plastic canoe, covering over 93km in 17 and a half hours through torrential rain, gale force winds and breaking waves. To most, we looked crazy, pushing our little boat through the storm. But for me, this had been the greatest, most FUN adventure I’d ever undertaken, firming up my love for canoes even more. Being stopped due to weather at 93km also firmed up my desire to push a canoe across the finish line in 2011, and with that challenge firmly in mind I started researching just what sort of canoes were used for marathons in the home of the canoe, North America. The rest as they say is history, and on this day I was getting the chance to take out my chosen race boat for the 2011 Classic, a Wenonah Minnesota II care of Paddle and Portage Canoes.
We’d chosen a trip downstream from Berowra Waters for the test, a long meandering offshoot of the Hawkesbury River itself. This gave us plenty of pretty wilderness, a mix of small and wide water and plenty of distance to stretch out in. We were also joined by kayak paddlers Pam and Meg, keen also to do these waters at dawn and work on their own paddle training. With the three of us ready, we pushed off into the fog, enjoying the deserted glassy waters and the spectacle of hunting sea eagles circling above us.
For Travis and I this was more than just an early paddle though – this was a test of the boat we’d be paddling for 111km. We experimented with trim, shifting some weight around in the boat until we seemed to be sitting level, and then started to put in some firm but relaxed strokes in the “hit and switch” style. Before we knew it, the canoe had rocketed ahead of the others, clearly taken by surprise by the boat’s pace.
Of course once Meg actually tried she shot past us, but Pam struggled to keep up in her plastic kayak and we came to realise that this long knife of a canoe had a decent turn of speed. And importantly, it was requiring very little effort behind the paddle to get it up to that speed. The boat was almost silent as its sharp bow cleanly sliced through the river waters, leaving just ripples of wake behind us.
After a beach stop and some freshly brewed espresso, we set off upstream heading back to our starting point. We decided to meander a bit more and get a bit more distance under the belt, exploring hidden creeks and campsites along the way. Regardless of tide direction, the boat moved efficiently and silently through the water, taking us for miles as we chatted away. Without our knowledge, Meg clocked us on her GPS and gave us a cruising speed of 8km/hr, a great time considering we weren’t really trying.
As we got closer to the Berowra marina, we started to encounter lots of decent sized boat wake from passing cruisers and fishing boats. The Minnesota feels a touch twitchy in the primary stability stakes so I nervously awaiting the impact of broadside wake on the canoe. When it came, the canoe just rolled with it, not even close to throwing itself over and feeling perfectly safe. In fact it handled the wake so well we turned the boat perpendicular to it and allowed the boat to surf the waves across the river.
My feeling on the MNII at the end of the paddle? Absolutely wrapped. This is a magnificent boat that handles beautifully and allows effortless efficient paddling, and I can’t wait to take on the challenge and adventure of this year’s Hawkesbury Canoe Classic in her. Hope to see you out there! Cheers – FP
Special thanks to Travis & Paddle & Portage Canoes for importing the Wenonah MNII for me!