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.I've now had this boat for a year, and paddled it in many conditions, and every time I take it out I like it even more! On rivers, the SRT excels; it glides easy over flatwater and is very responsive, handling sharp meandering turns with ease, especially if heeled over. It felt rock solid on Class II drops, as well as some sharp drops over beaver dams. The light weight encourages travel down streams where lifting over obstacles (trees, beaver dams) can be expected.
It also does quite well on lakes. I've paddled it nearly empty (just a camp chair and lunch in the bow for trim) into a 20 mph head wind and 2 foot rollers, and was able to keep up nicely with the kayaks, although the high sides do catch the wind a bit. Loaded down with gear, the SRT charges into the wind with ease, deflecting waves to the side and staying very dry. It is a dream to paddle on flat windless lakes while loaded with gear...it wanders a bit unloaded. It is VERY trim sensitive...if the wind switches around on you, be prepared to redistribute gear to adjust your trim. A sliding seat like a Swift Osprey has would be a good addition to this boat if you paddle it empty a lot.
The reinforced construction in the floor gave me peace of mind transporting it on a Canadian Boat Walker portage cart, loaded with gear...no flexing in the floor at all.
Finally, the boat can even be poled! It takes some getting used to, very twitchy, but one you get used to the degree of heeling you can do with the boat without any step-outs, it becomes a fun boat in the shallows.Mine was kevlar with ash trim. I can't believe how strong this boat was for 41-42 pounds - especially since its big enough to carry 400 pounds! The boat is so deep that it makes you feel extra safe all the time. It's also so deep that my dog cannot lie down and rest her chin on the rail like all my other boats...so - bad dog boat unless your dog is big (tall). Wonderfully narrow in the middle so you really can do efficient vertical paddle strokes. The boat is quick to respond to any lean so it feels tippy to beginners, but the secondary stability is unbelievable...very solid and very predictable...this boat will never scare you when you lean it. The craftsmanship of the boat is as good as any I've ever seen and better than most. I think it really is made for downriver work even though it has a fine reputation as an all around boat. For flatwater cruising the speed is about the same as a Wildfire...but the stroke takes just a touch more effort.
Although I really like the SRT and respect it, I'd personally go for a Swift Shearwater as a large capacity versatile solo canoe...or a Wildfire if I was leaning towards mostly river use.
For its intended use...downriver tripping with big loads, I'd guess that the SRT cannot be beat.