Submitted: 07-18-2011 by Glenn_MacGrady
After three years of paddling the Hemlock SRT from Florida to the Adirondacks—on big lakes, swamps, twisty streams and whitewater—the SRT has turned out to be what I had hoped: the best solo canoe for combined flatwater and whitewater tripping on the market.
Designed by whitewater champion and wilderness tripper Harold Deal, the SRT can be confidently run through class 3 whitewater. The bow is full and flared to lift over waves. The hull is 14" deep to carry heavy loads and keep out water. The rocker is differential: 2.5" in the bow and 1.5" in the stern. These specs do not allow you to free spin the boat or dissect a rapid like a whitewater play boat. However, a skilled paddler using current differentials can execute all the key whitewater moves, spin on eddy lines, ferry easily and surf waves smoothly.
The biggest surprise to me was the SRT's great speed and ease of paddling on flatwater. It's as fast as any kneeling canoe I'm currently aware of. The speed comes from the narrow 26" waterline, the sleek length/width ratio of 6.7, and the low drag bottom shape, which is more rounded than the common shallow arch or elliptical bottom. The differential rocker, pinched stern, straight sides, and recessed Deal shoulder allow for easy and efficient correction strokes. While the deep hull will catch a little more wind on a lake than a shallower one, the positive tradeoff is that the depth and bow fullness defy the accompanying wind waves and give strong actual and psychological security in the maelstrom.
Paddled empty, the SRT will not turn on flatwater like the hulls that win freestyle exhibitions. However, when laden to about 250 pounds the SRT will begin to outperform those shallower hulls, as their water lines and rocker lines bog down. And the SRT can carry twice that load on a multi-week wilderness trip.
What's the negative? The same attributes that give the SRT its great speed and efficiency render the hull initially tender. The initial tenderness may be discomfiting at first to less experienced paddlers. Don't let this deter you want the SRT's performance. The feeling of initial instability will dissipate with experience, especially when kneeling. The straight sides cause the secondary stability to kick in very quickly and the deep hull makes the final stability extremely solid.
My SRT has the Deal-Hemlock touring bucket seat, which I like better than a cane seat. It has a sloped front lip for kneel paddling, and also allows for comfortable sit 'n switch paddling. I installed a Wenonah foot brace for seated paddling, neoprene knee pads, and thigh straps for whitewater. It's easy to lace float bags into the ends though the beautiful slotted wood gunwales. Dave Curtis' hand laminated craftsmanship is unsurpassed.
I wouldn’t ordinarily give anything a 10 but the Hemlock SRT earns it, because it does the solo combo trick better than any other canoe I know. It's a very fast flatwater boat on a lake. It's a highly capable whitewater performer. It will carry as much of a load on a wilderness trip as anything in its class. And it's fun on twisty streams and slaloming through a swamp. If I take only one of my 15 canoes and kayaks on the road to unknown waters, the SRT is the boat that now gets the call.