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New to canoeing with the idea of paddling the entire Missouri, I had no real idea of what canoe to purchase for a trip the length of such a big river, the longest on the North American continent. I decided to look for a boat that was light weight, strong and had good carrying capacity. Fifteen to 17 feet seemed to be the right length and somewhere between 35 and 40 pounds was a weight that I could easily handle with all of the portages and ins and outs of such a journey. After significant research I discovered that Wenonah Prism Kevlar Ultra-Light would be my choice. Proving a very good choice, it fulfilled all my expectations for a touring boat.
The Prism handles well in rough water and high winds while tracking straight and turning easily. With a few professional lessons and practice, the boat responds to all my directions quickly and smoothly. Carrying up to 2 weeks supplies along with 5 gallons of water has little effect on its speed or handling.
During my training sessions on Emigrant Lake nearby my home, on the Klamath River with somewhat faster water then I thought a novice should be paddling and on the Willamette River I found that the Prism quickly inspired confidence. It just feels stable.
I am an old man in my 7th decade and comfort is an issue as my body does not bend easily or sit for long periods in discomfort very well. Neither of these has been a problem. Paddling for 8 or more hours a day still found me feeling ready to go every morning. I have added the Wenonah seat back and cushion which helped a great deal.
Kevlar is: strong but susceptible to scraping wounds. A little more care is required if you want to keep your boat bottom looking good. I do like a clean finish and that requires a little more care on my part.
Now that I am a more experienced paddler and understand boat design and its effect on performance would I choose a different canoe for the same journey? No. I would choose again a We-no-nah Prism.
The Prism is fast -- my GPS clocks it at 4.5MPH without pressing when using the double-bladed kayak paddle, and it has exceeded 6MPH downwind in a current. I generally get about 3.5MPH when using the traditional single-blade canoe paddle. A recent solo trip demonstrated the boat's speed, which surprisingly was almost as fast fully loaded. Incidentally, the Prism handled like a barge fully loaded until I rearranged the gear to improve the trim, after which it was fine; the sliding seat definitely helps the trim, especially when lightly-loaded.
This boat is designed to track extremely well, which means that it is definitely NOT suited for whitewater use as it cannot be turned quickly enough to be safe in a rock-strewn rapid, especially when loaded. However, last week I found myself in big water with a 25MPH wind and two-foot waves (not recommended for any paddlecraft!) and found the boat to be extremely steady and seaworthy. In summary, this is an excellent touring and tripping solo canoe for flatwater use which I would definitely recommend to anyone. If whitewater is your thing, however, look elsewhere as this boat is just not designed for it.
I took a four day solo trip this past spring. The total load I was carrying was about 340 pounds. That included a 70 pound Chesapeake. I was really happy with the way she handled the wind and waves when loaded, and when empty in the evening while fishing. I was real happy with the speed I was able to maintain. I generally use a bent shaft paddle with the sit-and-switch technique. I switch to a straight shaft when I am fishing (trolling) and paddle with a C-stroke then. Both techniques have their place.
I was most impressed with how she rode out waves. On the last morning of my trip there was a 15-20 mph wind that was kicking up waves that were about 1 foot (I don't believe reports of canoeing in 2-3 footers on small lakes, either dumb or not a good guess on wave height) with whitecaps. Things were a bit ticklish when the waves were directly on the beam, but quartering or heading directly into them was fine. I did slow down going into the waves just so that I wouldn't spear them, with unpleasant results.
In the wind it really helps to be properly trimmed. The sliding seat makes that quicker and easier than without. Any high performance hull will tend to have quirks when things are not in trim. I have had the boat out without cargo (just the dog and a small day pack) in about a 25 mile per hour wind (small bay w/o significant waves) and didn't have any problems with directional control. I had to work a bit harder to make her go straight, but I expected that.
I have been satisfied with the turning even without heeling over. You simply use a sweep stroke. Heeling over will allow a quicker turn though.
When I used her to paddle up a small windy river the Prism was clearly out of her element, even with a lot of heeling. The current just grabbed the bow and I couldn't make some curves w/o a few tries.
I guess to summarize this boat I would say that she is a sweet boat that paddles very well light and loaded. When I went on my solo trip I found that I did a lot more poking around off of my most direct route. The Prism paddles so easily that going off of my most direct path was not an issue.
The stability is very good for a roundy bottom canoe. If you've never paddled a solo canoe, it's a bit like staying balanced on a bicycle only easier. If you could lower the seat an inch or two somehow I don't think you would ever be able to tip it over unless you tried really hard. Along with it's inherent stabillity it has the ability handle waves without any problem, in fact waves are fun in this boat, you don't feel like you are about to go over at any time and in big power boat wakes that is very re-assuring.
The tractor seat is comfy for hours and hours if you use a gel yak pad on top of it. You can also fit several boat cushions between your back and the rear thwart and it's almost like a lazyboy chair then. The foot braces work excellent, they're very well designed, just replace the wing nuts they give you with self locking nuts or they will come loose and fall off, possibly while on your roof going down the highway which is not good.
The width of 26" at the seat is great because it allows you to access stuff along side the seat pedastal like a water bottle or anything else that can get a little bit wet without hurting it. I bird watch with binoculars and make videos while parked and have found that a 2lb round fishing weight makes a great anchor and takes up little space.
Not that space is an issue because this canoe has lots of it due to it's length and volume, it also tracks well, but is not quick to turn so forget whitewater in the prism. As for speed, my Etrex indicates that it does about 3 mph. at a comfy paddling pace with a kayak paddle. I use a bending branches 240 cm wood paddle which is very light weight and has that small amount of give that is so nice about wood plus it's warmer in the winter to hold onto than aluminum or composite would be.
I have been paddling since I was 15, now I'm 43 and spent some of the most happy hours in this canoe, and it does everything I want it too, almost. The one and only drawback I have found which I was unaware of before I bought it, is that any kind of breeze affects this canoe VERY adversely. If you compare the measurements that wenonah gives for the prism it is about 3" higher at the bow and the stern than the advantage, which people reviewing that canoe say is not affected by the wind so this may be why the prism has problems, at least with a 175 lb load. More weight might help with the wind problem but I haven't tried that yet. As it is it has very high freeboard and very little draft so this translates into sometimes not being able to control the canoe if the wind gets stiff enough. It just blows you sideways like other reviewers have also said. I personally feel this can be down right dangerous in the wrong set of circumstances and it's positively annoying otherwise to say the least. This cuts down on the number of places where I feel I want to use my otherwise fun little canoe. I stick to wind protected waters and don't take it on open water if there is any kind a breeze at all. I wish Wenonah would make a model of prism with less bow and stern height like the advantage for instance, because it really is a wonderful canoe otherwise, every thing else about it is just fine. I may get an Advantage someday simply because of the wind issue, but I just hate to give up that wonderful stability. If it wasn't for that I would rate the Prism a 10. But only, only, because of the wind problem I give it a 9 because I can't use it in places I would like to other wise. But I still love my Prism anyway!
I raised the back of the tractor seat about an inch to make it easier to kneel in, which helps the lower back. If you want to turn on a dime or do whitewater forget the Prism. But if you want a stable, predictable boat you can "cover ground" in and carry a week's or more worth of gear, laughing at the waves, give 'er a try.
On a positive note about the Prism I don't even blink at 3 foot waves. The boat will take them at any angle. I have gotten it to spear waves but I had to really work at it. It carries a large load or a small load fast enough for me to keep up with any tandem and that includes a Minnesota II. It's stable enough to fish out of. For a hit and switch paddler there is nothing better, beginner or expert. If you have trouble getting this canoe to turn try contacting Wennonah. The staff there will be more then happy to give you some tips that really work.
In general the canoe is well made. The wood trim is reasonably well done but not perfect. In general I don't think the We-no-nah canoes are quite as well finished as the Bell canoes but they are satisfactory. On the other hand I wanted a canoe without rocker and Bell doesn't make one.
I took the canoe to the BWCAW in late September. When crossing Brule Lake I was in 2 to 2 1/2 foot waves. At first I was somewhat nervous about this but the canoe handled the waves without any problems at all. I took no water over the bow. The canoe weight is cataloged at 34 pounds and We-no-nah states the wood gunwales will add about 2 pounds. Weighing the canoe on an accurate (balance beam) scale it weighs 35 pounds. Its a dream to portage and a dream to paddle both with steering strokes and with switch side techniques. It does not turn readily (due to its 16'6" length and lack of rocker) unless well heeled over. On the other hand I bought it for the BWCAW not as a white water boat. Due to its light weight I was very careful to tie in to a tree every night, something I never felt necessary with my Grumman canoe!
All in all I have been very satisfied with this canoe.
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