I've been a recreational canoer/kayaker all my life. In the last few years I have gotten more serious about the sport. I bought this canoe used over a year ago. Since then I have had many opportunities to paddle it on local streams and lakes since it pretty much lives on top of my truck and is there whenever I feel the need to get out on the water. My experience with solo canoes is pretty limited; most of my experience is paddling solo in tandem boats.
Initially, when paddled with the cheap-o plastic Carlisle paddle, I liked the boat, but wasn't really in love with its performance. I felt it tracked a bit loosely and could have been a little faster. Recently, I have switched to an otter tail-type paddle and discovered I really love the combination of paddle and boat. The new paddle, with more surface area, allows for easier course correction at the end of the stroke and better application of power (analogous to using a higher gear on a bicycle after previously being limited to lower gears). It also makes paddling much more silent.
I use the boat under varied conditions: alone (I weigh 165lbs), carrying a small child (50lbs) or with a 70lb black lab in the bow, paddling on flat water and slow moving streams. A couple of times I have been caught out in squall-like conditions with whitecaps and the boat performed very well – even being broadsided with waves as I turned the boat wasn’t too much cause for concern. As a platform for fishing it is great – it has enough stability when you need it for standing and casting (if you have good balance). It also has enough stability to pole it in shallow water, though you will realize very quickly it is not as stable as a tandem canoe. No boat is perfect, but this is a great canoe that does a lot of different things sufficiently well. I recently learned Mohawk will be also be making these in yellow and blue, which might convince me to buy a new one for myself and keep the other as a loaner.
A couple things to keep in mind when evaluating any canoe: use the right paddle for the job (cheap-o plastic for bumping down a rocky stream, a nice ottertail for deep water) and learn the correct stroke (I spent half my life paddling "goon style" before I understood the mechanics of the J and Northwoods strokes – you can stream many of the Bill Mason films from the National Film Board of Canada to learn the proper technique).I have had this boat for about 5 years and love it. It is one of 6 boats in my flotilla. I bought the boat from a guy that said that he couldn't keep the boat right side up. I lowered the seat about 4-5 inches (as I do in all of my solo canoes) and I haven't been for an accidental swim yet. Handles very well in Class I-II. It has been down most of our windy MI rivers and has been beaten to pieces and it still comes back for another day. I have the Royalex Lite (R-84/5) and it has survived the MI rocky/gravel rivers just fine.
This boat actually fell off our canoe trailer (part way) and was dragged for 1/2 miles eating a hole through the bow stem that you could put your hand through. A visit to the Mohawk website, a fiberglass strip and some Bodo, and the boat is still water tight after 4 years! It just looks like I added a skid plate! That is a tuff boat. I can even add gear to the boat to trip for 3-4 days. Great boat. The only other boat of comparable characteristics but much heavier and 4" longer is the Mad River Freedom Solo which has a bit more rocker.I have an R-84 Odyssey and it has proved to be an excellent choice for use on Ozark rivers and streams. We have riffle/pool conditions so a canoe needs to be efficient for stretches of flat water and still be responsive in the fast twisty sections.
I choose the R-84 version because of it's lighter weight. The canoe weighs 45 pounds and that makes it easy to handle on or off the water. I can pick it up like a suitcase and go. The R-84 is lighter and cost less but I understand the trade-off may be in durability.
The canoe is used for overnight small mouth bass fishing trips. The gear I take weighs over 100 pounds yet the canoe only draws 3" +/- of water, which is a huge advantage during low water conditions. In high water this canoe has taken 2' to 3' ledges fully loaded with no problems. It's not a classic white water boat but does perform in those conditions.
This model is narrow between the gunwales (29") which make for easier paddling than some comparable canoes. I ordered the vinyl gunwales and they help to reduce noise when fishing or coming up on wildlife. The canoe also came with a web seat that looks great and appears to be more durable than a cane seat. The seat was installed too low but that's an easy fix.
The canoe has some added accessories that include knee pads (Mohawk), webbed portage yoke that rolls up out of the way (Mohawk), webbed seat back that matches factory seat (Cabelas) and a unique stern mounted anchor system (Bass Pro).
For the way I use a canoe and considering cost, it's easy to recommend the Odyssey.I have a Challenger (now Odyssey) in the R84. This boat was originally designed by Gene Jensen, deity of modern marathon canoe racing design (he also invented the bent shaft paddle).
I pulled the gunwales in almost two inches, moved my seat forward about 2 inches and up 1". This stiffened up the boat considerably, increased the tumblehome for an easier reach to the water, and added some speed and tracking although with some sacrifice to turning and side slipping. It did wonders for ridding the boat of excessive oil-canning. The modification does give the boat a slight "rolling" affect which you will get used to as the secondary stability is still there.
Pulling in the gunwales (try one inch at first) can be done by simply moving the two thwarts to the center about 2 - 3 inches, and re-drilling the seat holes. Use your own judgement with these modifications please.
It is now a different boat. Although the R84 is not as durable as it's heavier cousin, the lightness when paddling empty on grade ii and iii rivers is too much fun. I installed a foot brace and use in sit & switch style with a 54" bent shaft in quiet water (it is significantly more efficient using sit & switch). I installed contoured knee pads and paddle kneeling with a 56" straight shaft for white water. I can go back and forth with these two styles when touring. With these modifications, this is the most comfortable boat I have.
I installed a gear strap down system for portage packs fore and aft. When empty, I install 36" bow and stern flotation bags for white water (could go bigger). I would hate to wrap this boat around a rock, it would not recover. I plan on installing a cover/deck which will give me more confidence in those big grade iii swampers and cut windage on long flat stretches.
All in all, this is the only boat around with this design. Most other Royalex rec solo hulls are a bit too straight with sharp stems for my needs as a WW tripping boat. I use it mostly to tour the rivers in the UP and Wisconsin, and best of all, rivers emptying into the north shore of Lake Superior and in middle/upper Ontario.
The boat allows me to stop on a dime, reverse course, and back ferry to an eddy or alternate chute. It is great fun. For what I use it for, it rates a 9, which is high. It would be a 9.5 if the gunwales and deck plates were a little beefier, but that would add weight.