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Together my wife & I weigh over 400 lbs, & I stand over 6 feet. My wife, a few inches less. Our kids were raised in the bow of our Moore Venom Racer (nursing while I paddled). We’ve done our minimalist camping, but enjoy good meals & simple frills, so we don’t always pack light. Also, I’m an amateur outdoor photographer, with equipment weighing nearly 100 lbs. on photo ops.
We shopped a long time for our next “Perfect” canoe. It had to have leg room, be big enough for ocean, carry weeks of supplies, track well, and glide like a bird. Eventually we narrowed our search down to 4 different canoes and settled on the Kevlar Flex-Core w/ Gel Coat Itasca. Shortly after, I injured my arm. I was unable to paddle for over a year. I still can’t paddle a double blade, or match the racing strokes I used to love, but as a result, the maiden voyage of the Itasca was more than just a test of my passion…it defined our new canoe.
In high winds, and from the bow, my wife paddled a 9 mi. round trip in one day, & kept up with most of the rest in our group. After I was able to paddle again, we were victims of an intentional swamping prank. We rode quartering waves over 5 ft. from crest to trough & never went over. We did take on a small amount of water & the bow free-fell to the bottom with a slap, but we were still able to assist a flipped kayak suffering the same prank immediately after.
Insight & tips. This is a remarkable canoe. It instantly became our favorite. We ordered it with the Kevlar skid pads. Unlike after market installations, these are installed in the mold prior to laminating. There is NO additional drag. We got sliding/contoured seats, & a rear foot brace. After reading about wind problems, I was going to make a canoe cover. Not possible with my injury, so I called Wenonah. They told me: "Load extra ballast." An old trick we’ve used to trim out canoes for decades. But this required a lot of ballast & was soon abandoned. Our solution was a couple of $35.00 car top bags from Pep Boys. Empty or loaded, these shed the wind like a raincoat to rain, & give us a great & secure way to load the vessel. Speed is unholy for a touring canoe. It will never compete against a true racer, but for a tandem touring canoe it’s heaven.
Maneuvering was supposed to be a problem. After 20+ years in a marathon racer, it was no big deal. We use many of the same strokes the racer needs, & we can turn it on a dime in an instant. And the glide…it has a Gene Jensen glide. Need I say more. To launch, I just shove off & jump in. Initial stability is shamefully similar to a…er…uh…recreational…uh…floatie thing, but the secondary is so good you almost can’t find its limits. Get a light color, it hides the scratches better. Would be nice if Wenonah would offer pre-finished gunwale options for an additional price. It took me weeks to finish ours left handed.
The price was high, but worth it. Are there other great canoes out there? No doubt. So the down side would be this: I’ll probably never have a desire to find out. Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions. Vern Matthews, keep your bottom wet!
P.S: I rate a canoe or kayak by how well they meet up to their advertised expectations. I won’t rate one based on improper applications (e.g. whitewater use on a recreational canoe, unless it functions well even when not used as intended). So a 10 does an incredible job doing exactly what it was designed to do. If I could, I’d rate this one an 11. I never thought flatwater touring could go to this level!
My suggestion would be to get slider seats front and rear. Love that seaworthiness.
Our first few tandem canoes were of the ordinary type: fibreglass, heavy, flat bottom with little rocker and not a hint of a tumblehome (what’s that anyway?). We where satisfied. Everybody was using that stuff. So it couldn’t be that bad. And because all our friends and fellow paddlers where using the same kind of canoe, mostly made by the same company, we couldn’t do any comparison. That changed as our local canoe dealer got a hold on a new dealership. An American company, we hadn’t heard of before in Europe:
We-no-nah. Someone joked: We-Know-Nothing… Not true as later found out! I flipped through their catalogue and especially one canoe caught my attention: ITASCA!
I wanted to try that canoe! But of course, it was the most expensive one We-No-Nah made at that time. And of course, our friend and canoe dealer couldn’t afford to stock one. So he phoned around. Found one, three hours away at another dealership. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow us a test ride. Not on the phone, though…
A week later my wife and I visited that dealer. We got our test paddle after all…. I was amazed! The gunnels are pulled inwards at both seats. They are parallel to the keel line at the stern with lots of tumblehome. That accounts for highly effective power strokes without much correction: You tend to do your forward strokes parallel to the gunnels- that of course puts you off course with most canoes…
Not that much tumblehome in the bow (but still more than most canoes), due to the flare Gene gave her there. That accounts for dry runs through high waves. She is ‘ocean’ going-although I like to see at least one shoreline close by when I’m paddling…
At 19 feet length, Itasca can’t be a turning wonder. But empty, with paddlers only, she turns surprisingly easy and fast. Laden, it’s another story…. But fast she is-a Gene Jensen design with really sharp entry lines.
We later ordered our first Itasca. The cheapest and heaviest version-71 lbs. Today, my wife and me own our third Itasca. The lightest one they build. 45 lbs-I don’t like long portages but her weight certainly helps. So far, she has taken on any load we placed into her wide belly.
Three weeks worth of provisions, two kids, a 100lbs dog, me and my wife - all at the same time. I love her (both of them, this time…).
If you meet us on the water, feel free to ask for a test ride. But be prepared for love on first try…..
We had originally test paddled a Minnesota II at a local dealer who recommended the boat to us based on our needs. I had purchased it after paddling it on calm water unloaded with 2 paddlers. We were assured it would be good for our family of 5 + gear. It was a grave error and I contacted We-no-nah who recommended the Itasca. They took the Minnesota back and we bought the Itasca. I can't say enough about We-no-nah's customer service. Finding a manufacturer that stands behind its product is an important buying consideration. If you're looking for a craft capable of large loads, with good speed and predictable manners, then the Itasca is for you.
In detail: The foam core makes this canoe really stiff, and the moderate arched bottom together with the sleek lines and the length make it fast. When unloaded and trimmed well (sliding seats for paddlers with different weights), it feels like a cruiser and really glides. Initial stability is good, but secondary stability is fantastic. Paddling ergonomy is very good because of lots of tumblehome at the seats, so paddlers can move their paddle very close to them. When searching for an extra big and stable, but fast and light canoe, the Itasca is one of the most serious choices out there. Most Paddlers here rate their canoes high between 8 and 10, so objectivity might not be given, when paddlers write about their own, with hard earned money buyed canoe. But be sure - the Itasca gets 10 of 10 for the purposes it's made.
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