We wound up with an Ultra-Lite Champlain after we bought it for a wedding gift. A tree fell on it during a winter storm before we could give it away (it also took out a fence, part of a neighbors roof, and crushed one side of a covered steel canoe rack). We had to buy a second Champlain for the Bride and Groom. The groom was a tall powerful Marine (now a tall powerful cop). His tactics are to beat the water into submission. We knew we needed to get a large canoe that would allow him live out his abusive water routines while he and his new wife still got maximum enjoyment out of the canoe. Owning nearly 20 canoes and kayaks, we had a good idea as to what would work and what wouldn't. Now fast forward a few years…
We had our Champlain repaired by Wenonah and, with a couple of small exceptions; it looks like it just came off the sales floor. We jokingly call it "The Beater Canoe" because after the tree hit it, it looked like a beater. In fact now, it's anything but a beater.
My wife and I finally took "our" Champlain out for a proper spin. It was on a large mountain reservoir, just under 5000 feet in the Sierra’s. The trip included the bare necessities and a small dog (see our trip report: California, Union Valley Reservoir). We got a sampling of flat water, choppy water, wind, gusts, mixed currents, bow/quartering/broadside/stern waves (from 0 – 12”), etc. We thought we'd be sorry with such a parachute and no load or spray deck to keep it on task. It handled flawlessly.
This canoe is almost a mind reader. It takes little more than a thought and it responds. Absolutely no surprises and no acute "points of no return". Everything is predictable, manageable, and reliable.
It won't replace either of our Wenonah Itascas. At times it might replace our Spirit II. And it's in a different class than our other crafts. But it won't sit idle when we have friends or family along either. Especially if friends or family require a lot of room and/or a large load… Or if they have some perverse desire to beat the water into submission.
I rate a canoe or kayak by how well it does what it is advertized to do. So I won’t rate a whitewater canoe using touring canoe expectations, or visa versa. That wouldn’t be fair. A perfect 10, means the canoe (at least in my mind) did everything it was advertized to do, and did it exceptionally well. This canoe easily makes the 10 grade, but if we ever get it out into the big stuff I might have to reevaluate. I have owned a kevlar Champlain almost two years now. I have taken it on several trip including the Bowron in BC, the Missouri up in Montana from Ft. Benton to Kipps Landing and on the Takla - Trembler - Stuart lake chain in BC. It’s a great tripping canoe that can easily handle several weeks supplies and still have room for luxuries like a table and chairs etc. On the Takla trip, a big lake trip, it showed it’s ability to hold a line while battling wind and waves. I didn’t have any trouble quartering waves when on exposed crossings. With my wife and I, our two dogs, two weeks supply of food, a table and chairs and all our other camping equipment, it still had enough freeboard to feel safe in rougher water.
Have fun and Keep your paddle blades on the bottom half.
We ran a little white water on the trips up to non-technical class II rapids. It is great in standing waves and rough water, but it doesn’t have enough rocker, like a Prospector, to tackle any technical river. If I start paddling more technical rivers, I’ll probably get myself a 17 ft. Royalex Prospector or something similar.
I had much trepidation buying a kevlar canoe instead of Royalex. I’m pleasantly surprised that the canoe can take quite a bit of abuse and not have much damage. A little epoxy and sanding will fix any scrapes. Being light, I can load the canoe myself on my pickup truck. A kevlar canoe is the only way to go when you don’t have to deal with many rock gardens.
An unloaded Champlain in the wind is just another name for a sailboat. It’s not a touring canoe unless you go with enough cargo, kids, dogs, etc. to weight it down. Loading makes it an entirely different canoe. I made splash covers for mine and that helps with the wind. Being so large and beamy, it is a very stable canoe, which you have to remind yourself that when switching to another canoe, or you’ll be doing some trout scouting when you do something that wouldn’t be wise on a less stable canoe. That I learned from personal experience in a very wet way.
A Champlain is big, like the crate they ship a Spirit II in, so if you don’t need a big tripping canoe, look somewhere else. However, if you want to take a ten day trip down the Green River in Utah where you have to carry twenty gallons of water, a fire pan, a porta-potty, a variety of food for ten days; the necessities for gracious living like a cooler of beer, a table and chairs, etc., then the Champlain can be just what the doctor ordered. My wife and I purchased used Kevlar lightweight from Ely outfitter and got it this last March after some delays. More deep scratches than anticipated from description. Got it as substitute for our ancient 17' Grumman standard.
Plusses: light weight easier for my wifes compromised back (mine also), fast, easier in waves and maneuverable.
Negs: Does not turn to weather like the Grumman with keel (we get wind here on the Columbia River). Moving the rear seat 6" forward helped some, but its still a chore even with a middle paddler and all paddling on same side (yeah, I know what some may be thinking, but some times this set up is needed...). Am considering adding 16' 1x2 as keel (yep, I know the Indians did not use keels, but there may have been times that they wished they had 'em).
Overall satisfied. I like it better than the old Whitewater II I owned many years ago. Happy paddling!