The Venture Jura; A Sea Kayaker’s Opinion

A few months ago, I was contacted by a friendly Croatian couple that wanted to start a sea kayak business in their town of Lumbarda, offering sea kayak training camps similar to our annual Training Day at NORTHSEAKAYAK.

They asked for my advice regarding equipment, as they wanted to buy a fleet of kayaks for their business that had the best quality/price ratio; I recommended the Venture Jura and Capella, and they purchased 3 kayaks to test things out for themselves before buying more (I would have done the same in their place).

I joined them on their first Sea Kayak Training Camp recently and was able to test the Venture Jura MV extensively for the whole, five-day duration of the camp in a wide variety of techniques, rescues, scenarios, boat control methods, steering strokes, and support strokes.

The Jura I used was equipped with the skeg instead of the Skudder™;  I prefer this as I still believe that the kayaker him/herself should know how to steer and handle the boat (yeah, I’m old fashioned). This also meant I was able to test the boat in a better way when putting it on edge.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the handling of the boat, and the cockpit felt very comfortable and familiar. The same Connect seat is featured in my P&H Sea Kayaks, and it really does ‘connect’ you with the boat! The cockpit size on the Jura is also great; roomy enough for me to do a lot of rescue exercises and get out and back into the boat quickly without restriction to my legs.

The Jura I was paddling was made in Venture’s new TriLite™ material; a triple layer plastic construction which meant the boat was very stiff and a little lighter than other polyethylene boats of the same length.

Despite only being 56cm wide, the Jura is a very stable boat, and easy to put on edge without feeling wobbly. At only 4.9m (16′) in length, it’s not the fastest boat on the market, but I was still able to get from the back of the group to the front quickly; one of the most important things when you use this boat for coaching purposes.

The shorter length, in combination with the hull shape, also makes the Jura a very manoeuvrable boat, which meant I could get from one team member to another without too much fuss. Although I didn’t get the chance to try the Jura out in bigger surf, it paddled well in moderate chop, and I must say that it made me think about my P&H Delphin 150; of course, it’s not the same boat, but it has certain similarities that I loved about it.

I didn’t use the skeg at all during the five days of the camp, which also says a lot I think. The Jura tracks well without it, even in the force 3-4 wind we had each afternoon, and reacts immediately when put on edge; what else did I need?

You can tell that Venture (the same team who design and manufacture Pyranha Whitewater Kayaks & P&H Sea Kayaks) know what they’re doing; the Jura’s cockpit provides good contact for the paddler, and the deck is not too high, making it simple to roll. The Jura also performed well during the rescue exercises; the positioning of the deck lines and elastics is perfect, and the low deck behind the cockpit allows for a quick self-rescue.

Most sea kayaks rentals or guides in their area are not using the same quality sea kayaks, but this Croatian couple is aiming at people who already have some knowledge and skills, as well as those new to sea kayaking who want to learn with good quality equipment.

I would love to paddle this boat again on the next Sea Kayak Training Camp in 2019, and I’d recommend the Venture Jura to those who are looking for the best sea kayak for a limited budget. You’ll get a rock solid, manoeuvrable, and stiff, British style sea kayak which you will enjoy for years! The smile on your face is included!

Check out the Jura MV in action below:

 

Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!

Dimitri

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Act 4, Part 2: Kayaking Canada’s MacKenzie River Watershed

Three First Descents, Four Acts, 11,000+ KM

This post deals primarily with expedition context, perspective, and the remarkable history of the MacKenzie watershed.

Calendar

I have become reasonably good at predicting seasonal ice break-up from a distance, but that is really only germane with respect to day #1 of an Arctic expedition. I left on the second leg of the MacKenzie expedition during the last week of May. Items of this nature do not have broad predictive application. Figures 4 and 5 show what break-up looks like on big water in the far north. (Recall that Figures 1, 2, and 3 are found in post #1.) Icebergs and layered ice rafts (which are formed by several layers of broken ice that refreezes) can be larger than two-story houses. When these formations collapse, they can create surfable rogue waves. These waves are completely unpredictable.  They can come from any direction, and are a very serious threat to boaters.  One must scan for them constantly. The collapse of ice formations during break-up sounds like artillery.

 

Bears

Moose kill more people in the North than bears do (by a sizable margin), and falling coconuts kill more people in the tropics than sharks do, but bears and sharks cannot be faulted for doing what they are wired to do any more than moose and coconuts can. Travelers in the North are responsible for their own safety. The most concise thing one can say about bears is: 1) they are hungry and unpredictable, and 2) the hungrier they get, the more unpredictable they are. There’s a link between the two issues — but it does not translate into Humanspeak. Expect to be confounded if you travel among these animals.

 

Three Bear Encounters

The region between the Arctic Circle and the Beaufort Sea in remote northern Canada is one of the relatively uncommon areas on earth where all three species of North American bears (black, grizzly, and polar) co-exist. I had three bear encounters on this expedition. Two of those encounters were what I would call drive-bys – curious, hungry bears with little or no human experience simply checking things out. They blew through camp at a dead run (which is pretty fast – bears can outrun Usain Bolt).

Source: Sahtu Wildlife/Foter/Creative Commons Attribution — Noncommerical 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Figure 4. Ice break-up on the MacKenzie River near Ft. Simpson NWT (Canada)

 

Predatory Bear Encounter

One of the bear encounters was clearly predatory. A large boar black bear stalked me on day three of the expedition as I loaded my boat in the morning. I am mostly deaf nowadays, but I happened to catch sight of the bear out of the corner of my eye and was close enough to my boat that I was able to pound my paddle on the coaming like a drum. I screamed at the bear and it circled around to flank me along the waterfront. I took more of a chance than I would have liked, gathered the rest of my gear, tossed it in the cockpit of the boat, and launched. The bear tracked me along the shore for a while before heading back into the woods.

Source: Dr. Lance Lesack, Simon Fraser Uiversity Figure 5. Ice break-up on the lower MacKenzie River

 

I had not yet gotten into my dry suit, did not have a PFD on, and the water was barely above freezing – it was littered with icebergs as large as houses. Bears can both outrun and outswim humans, but I was almost forced to swim. At 34 degrees or so, the maximum amount of time a swimmer can expect to stay alive in Arctic water is about 5 or 6 minutes. I am a very good swimmer, but I knew this encounter would not end well if I was forced into the water.

 

Practical Bear Protection

While I carry bear spray, bear bangers (small explosive devices), an air horn, and (on this expedition) a shotgun, I had already packed my gun into its dry bag when the predatory incident mentioned above occurred. That lapse of judgment only happened once on the expedition — but that’s all it takes. I got lucky.

 

Wolves

Healthy wolves (even hungry healthy wolves) almost never attack humans. They are smart, they know humans are a lethal threat to them, and they avoid contact. They will occasionally show themselves, but they are generally very stealthy.

 

Foxes

Foxes are the primary vector for rabies in the north. They are quite common but (like all wild animals) should never be fed or approached.

 

Fishing

Although fishing gear features in my emergency kit, I do not fish on these expeditions. Once you catch and clean a fish, you can never get the scent out of your boat or off of your equipment, which means you become a potential food item for carnivores. If you catch fish, you become fish. Expedition travel creates enough unique scents without adding fish skank to the mix.

 

Navigation

Thankfully, navigation is still something of an art. If you travel in the north, carry with you at least one version of every navigational tool with which you are acquainted. Expect them all to malfunction — sometimes simultaneously. Uncertainty keeps you sharp.

 

Multiple Maps and Navigational Devices

Like everything else in the far north, navigation is challenging. Weather and unpredictable magnetic anomalies make compasses and GPS devices completely untrustworthy at times, and maps are frequently wildly out of whack. I use three printed versions of maps from different publishers in different scales in order to average out navigational kinks. Magnetic-compass and GPS-device functionality comes and goes without warning. (Batteries are always an issue, and the footpegs in my kayak and the metal in the brace I wear on my left arm also occasionally create problems.) There’s nobody to blame for this — stuff just happens. Electrical storms can make both electronics and magnetic compasses go haywire. Moreover, magnetite deposits seem to be reasonably common — but not predictably so. Being lost is not exactly an issue, but staying found can be challenging. Travelers who need to know exactly where they are every minute of every day are not well suited to this mode of travel.

 

Local Knowledge Focuses Upon Motorized Travel

Local residents frequently possess extraordinary local knowledge – but I encountered very few individuals who had detailed regional or super-regional geographical knowledge. The last of the true nomads in the North Country settled down in villages during the 1960s. The knowledge locals possess tends to be limited to what is of use to people traveling by motorized watercraft. Such knowledge keeps the locals alive when they are hunting and fishing but it is of limited value to a muscle-powered boater. The locals were generally surprised to hear about what I was doing (I do not generally broadcast my presence or intentions).

 

Local Advice Requires Reading between Lines

First Nations people are, by nature, highly circumspect. I found them to be outrageously honest if asked direct questions, but their collective cultural foundation seems to be firmly based upon minding their own business. Rather than say “do not do that,” they tend to say something like “my grandfather generally did it this way.”  Moreover, once they learned about how far I had come, they offered quiet respect. Because they are well aware of the potential cost of bad advice and bad judgment in the Arctic, they generally do not dispense unsolicited advice. Generally speaking, however, while they clearly prefer not to interfere, they will not hesitate to warn fools about potentially self-destructive behavior. They also maintain an absolutely seamless radio-communications network and are acutely aware of everything happening on their turf.  They appear to respect respect. We can all do with a bit more of that.

 

Logistics

Logistics are difficult in the far north. Small villages exist, and many of them have subsistence-level grocery stores. I carry 20 days of food and a 4-day emergency ration that I do not consider an extension of my basic food supply. I consider using my emergency ration to be a sign of poor planning and execution, and I have not yet been forced to resort to it.

 

Black-Swan Weather

Overall weather is difficult to predict above the Arctic Circle. Anybody with a computer can Google Arctic weather and drill down several levels, but in my experience that information is nearly worthless. I actually stopped checking weather reports. We are currently in the midst of a Black Swan weather phenomenon. 2016 was certainly a Black Swan year. Sea ice hit an historic minimum and summer temperatures hit historic highs. This is not a place for people who value predictability. Moreover, big water makes its own weather.

Weather-related downtime on my Yukon descent averaged about 25% — meaning that I was pinned down by weather one out of every four days. That figure rose to 33% of the time on the upper MacKenzie watershed. On the lower MacKenzie, bad weather made travel unsafe 66% of the time. That kind of downtime creates resupply problems and increased bear risk. Solo travelers need to be mobile travelers in bear country — and particularly in polar bear country.

 

Equipment

Equipment is a matter of preference and experience. My personal equipment – including everything related to self-supported travel: safety gear, tools, patching materials, spare footwear, 5 pairs of gloves, three hats, spare paddle, dry suit, etc, — weighs about 48 pounds. There is only so much bulkhead space in a Jura. On rare occasions — generally early in a trip, when I am still gauging overnight temperatures and might need an extra sleeping bag) — I will strap a dry bag to the rear deck of the boat. However, items like that make rolling difficult — and they tend to snag under water. Shipshape boats with minimal protrusions are safest.

 

Medical Kit

I carry a small but fairly comprehensive medical kit with me on these expeditions. Feminine hygiene products serve as my trauma dressings. My wife was a bit nonplussed the first time she saw me packing these items.

 

Misadventures

The surprisingly few people I encounter have largely proven to be the most helpful, hospitable, entertaining people on this fine planet. That said, some kids stole minor (but difficult-to-replace) items like gloves in one small village — and someone stole my entire backpack (including everything I owned) when I was on my way back home from the 2016 expedition. That was a major set-back because my book notes and both of my cameras were in that backpack. I sincerely hope the responsible party spends a bit of time with Bushman for that indiscretion. I’ll sharpen the knives.

 

Leave-No-Trace Ethos

I am a seriously committed leave-no-trace boater. While I do build fires in the extreme north (and driftwood is available for quite some distance above the Arctic Circle), I only build them below the ice-scour line on the banks of rivers and oceans – so that the normal seasonal behavior of ice and water will erase the burns rapidly. In the southern 48 states, I generally scatter fire rings and bury ashes when I find fire rings — so that people will not be prompted to reuse the rings.

 

Self-Support

I am well-supported from home. My long-suffering wife understands what I am doing and trusts me to do it as safely as circumstances will allow. However, Emersonian self-reliance guides the expeditions I undertake. Close attention needs to be paid to every aspect of boat and equipage. Even the smallest, most inconsequential, action needs to be carefully choreographed in advance of execution. Traveling alone in the wilderness is not a simple matter of paddling one’s ass off every day. Because there is no recourse for lost or misplaced items, one cannot allow items to be lost or misplaced. There is no room for lapses of judgment. Hidden risk abounds.

 

Watershed Metrics and Import

The MacKenzie is still largely virgin wilderness. It is raw, unpredictable, sometimes a bit threatening, and always captivating. In many places it was clear that the animals I encountered had never seen a human.

 

MacKenzie Watershed Is Unique

Volumetrically, the MacKenzie watershed is: 1) the third largest watershed on earth (after the Nile and the Amazon), 2) the longest watershed in Canada (draining 20% of the country), 3) responsible for delivering 15% of the fresh water that feeds Arctic oceans, 4) the only watershed between Pt. Barrow and Tierra del Fuego that crosses a Continental Divide from west to east, and 5) the only watershed on earth that delivers Arctic fish west of the Rocky Mountains. Moreover, the MacKenzie delta harbors the most vital avian rookery remaining in the Arctic. It is therefore extremely important ecologically. That’s why I was there.

 

Site C Dam Is A Generational Mistake

The Site C dam on the Peace River portion of the watershed is, in my judgment, a generational environmental mistake — one I would like to help stop. Plans to dam the Finlay have been floating around for about a century. The Site C dam on the Peace River is a clear sign that attention is once again turning to regions that offer untapped resource potential — provided that the people of this fine planet are willing to allow some of the most remarkable treasures remaining on earth to be destroyed.

 

Historical Context

The MacKenzie watershed is historically significant in the same way that the Columbia watershed is historically significant — it was the primary highway for true transcontinental exploration at a critical time in western expansion in North America.

 

Defining the MacKenzie Watershed

Two tributaries (the Peace and the Athabasca) that meet in a unique delta near Ft. Chipewyan comprise the MacKenzie watershed. The Peace (the longest tributary) starts at Thutade (Too-toddy) Lake in the Canadian Rockies northwest of MacKenzie, BC. The longest arm of this watershed is comprised of Thutade Lake, the Finlay River, Williston Reservoir, the Peace River, the Slave River, Great Slave Lake, and the MacKenzie River proper — 3,700 km (give or take). The MacKenzie delta empties into the Beaufort Sea. The scant 350-meter elevation drop from the Peace region to the Beaufort Sea makes an immense sponge of the millions of kilometers of wetlands responsible for the health of Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake – two of the most pristine lakes left on Planet Earth.

The Peace River was named for a First Nations treaty that followed a 1781 smallpox epidemic. Aboriginal explorers migrating south from the Bering Straits passed through the region 12 centuries earlier on their way to the American Southwest. Historical settlements related to fur trading in the valley date to the 1780s. Significant archaeological and historical sites stand to be lost forever to rising waters.

 

Alexander MacKenzie Crosses the Continent

In 1789, Alexander MacKenzie descended the MacKenzie River proper seeking Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The MacKenzie exits Great Slave Lake at the correct latitude for this goal — but it then veers north. Early explorers (and their trusted First Nations guides) were remarkably well acquainted with big-picture geography. In 1793, MacKenzie completed the first overland crossing of North America — a decade ahead of Lewis and Clark — by  traveling up the Peace and Parsnip rivers before portaging the Continental Divide to present-day Bella Coola, BC. John Finlay accompanied MacKenzie on that effort. Finlay subsequently (1797) traveled up his namesake river to near present-day Tsay Keh Dene before deciding the new route failed to improve upon MacKenzie’s.

 

Samuel Black Defines MacKenzie Source

During 1824, trader Samuel Black labored upstream to Thutade Lake, where he rendezvoused with First Nations chief Methodiates. Methodiates and his small clan walked despite being able to build canoes in one day from spruce bark (the skin), spruce roots (cordage), willow withes (ribs and keel), and pitch (adhesive). Locals with two millennia of experience in the Thutade region chose to travel by foot — frequently away from the riverside. This speaks to the ruggedness of the Finlay region. After a short stay, the Black party paddled downstream, discarded their canoe (which required two dozen patches per day), and walked out through what is now Alaska before returning to the westernmost Canadian fur outposts. Each paddler portaged up to 90 kilos of freight in addition to personal possessions. Bales of fur commonly weighed 40 kilos. The Black expedition was a feat of exceptional courage and determination completed at a time when the extraordinary was commonplace in Canada.

 

Patterson Provides Modern Perspective

During 1948, R. M. Patterson traveled widely by canoe in the upper MacKenzie region. At one point, a bear dove into the eddy in which he was fishing to attack him, but luck allowed him to escape unharmed. Various people have since run portions of the watershed — mostly limited to commercial routes between established settlements. Steamboats served navigable portions of the watershed for several decades. Commercial barges now navigate the lower reaches seasonally. The heart of the upper watershed (the confluence of the Finlay and Parsnip rivers) was inundated in 1968 by the Bennett Dam.

 

Serious Wilderness

I did not see a single other point-to-point paddler in the 3,700 km between Thutade Lake and the Beaufort Sea north of the Arctic Circle. In fact, in 11,000 km of paddling, I only met one paddler traveling more than 500 km.

 

The Big Picture

One of my most important big-picture goals is to use what has happened in the Colorado watershed and what is currently happening on the MacKenzie to focus long-term environmental attention upon the still-pristine Yukon watershed. The MacKenzie watershed is the canary in the mineshaft. It’s big canary in a huge mineshaft.

 

Biographical Note

By vocation, Bryan Brown is a Wall Street Market Strategist. By avocation, he is an eco-explorer. In addition to the three first descents and 7,000-mile river portfolio mentioned above, Bryan has hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, completed a 3,000-mile solo, transcontinental bicycle ride, climbed widely, collected rare Oceanic art by dugout canoe on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, snorkeled with Minke and Humpback whales in Tonga, fed Komodo dragons on their home turf, shared an interesting open-ocean dive with two full-grown whale sharks and a Galapagos Shark, and rounded Cape Horn by sea. He and wife Sandy have traveled on six of the seven continents, share a passion for scuba diving, and have logged dives in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Guinea, the Maldives, the Galapagos, Tonga, Cocos Island, and throughout Central America and the Caribbean. He can be booked for fast-paced expedition, motivation, leadership, and environmental presentations at: brownfirstdescent@gmail.com.

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Act 4: Kayaking Canada’s MacKenzie River Watershed

Three First Descents, Four Acts, 11,000+ KM

Watershed Protection at the Ecosystem Level

Overviews of my first three major solo kayak expeditions featuring Pyranha and Venture Kayaks have already been posted on this blog; these first descents total over 11,000km of self-supported travel and over 300 days of paddling ranging from the U.S./Mexico border to the Beaufort Sea well above the Arctic Circle. The efforts on the Colorado, Green, Yukon, and MacKenzie watersheds support my rational environmental goal of watershed protection at the ecosystem level. The plan is to transform my personal experience on the last major wilderness watersheds in North America into books that highlight human impact upon embattled ecosystems. The view over the bow of the quietest boat on Planet Earth — the kayak — is the least intrusive way to get this done.

Figure 1. Bryan Brown with Explorers Club flag near small village of Aklavik, NWT (MacKenzie Delta 2016); Source: Danny Swainson

 

First Descent #3 — Black Swan Weather

This post addresses the second (and final) leg of the successful first descent of Canada’s MacKenzie River watershed — which connects Thutade Lake in the Canadian Rockies with the Beaufort Sea by way of the Finlay River, Williston Reservoir, the Peace River, the Slave River, Great Slave Lake, and the MacKenzie River proper. Figure 1 shows Bigfoot (me — read on for an explanation) with an Explorers Club flag near the small MacKenzie Delta village of Aklavik during late May, 2016. The mountains in the background are the terminal ridges of the Canadian Rockies immediately east of the Alaska/Canada border.

This massive mountain range disappears into the Beaufort Sea at a windswept spit known to locals as Shingle Point that has been a First Nations whaling camp for upwards of two millennia. Figure 2 shows the overall expedition route. Figure 3 shows the final leg of the expedition in 2016. Based upon my daily mileage during 2015, I expected this final leg to take 8 — 10 days — and I had intended to follow that effort with a long run west along the Alaska coast. The 8 – 10 day expedition took 33 days and created insurmountable short-term resupply problems and unique bear trouble related to early ice break-up.

Figure 2. Route of MacKenzie watershed first descent

 

The Pyranha/P&H Family — Juras Are Skookum

In the far north, the word “skookum” means “powerful” or “very good”; a Pyranha Fusion featured in my Green/Colorado expedition because of its relatively small size, maneuverability, stability, drop-down skeg, and low weight. However, I selected the Venture Jura sea kayak as the vehicle of choice for the Yukon and MacKenzie descents. Juras have sufficient hatch capacity for long-distance efforts. They also offer an incredibly stable cross-section and have hulls that are (in my experience) almost bombproof; these boats can take a serious licking. I cached a Jura north of the Arctic Circle for an entire winter and was able to make it seaworthy the following spring with minimal effort. The hatch covers are extremely well designed. If your gear doesn’t stay dry in a Jura, it’s a user-error issue. This boat is well-designed.

Figure 3. Final leg of the MacKenzie descent

 

No Website, No Blog, No Hoopla

I travel alone with a rational environmental agenda in extremely remote locations. Not everyone in the outback supports (or appreciates) such agendas. The beer-and-gun factor in some regions mandates a quiet approach to travel until age or enthusiasm fail me. For the time being, however, age and enthusiasm are holding up (I am 60 but feel about 30), and I have largely met with heartfelt goodwill in the wilderness — with two exceptions (outlined below). There’s a goal behind all of this effort, but I do not believe that social media advance the puck for the time being. Books are pending.

 

Explorers Club

I am a proud member of the Explorers Club (Fellow National, 2016). As indicated in Figure 1, I carried an Explorers Club (EC) flag on this expedition. The EC supports a wide range of expedition travel and research initiatives designed to advance our collective knowledge of Planet Earth. Members of the organization have posted some of the most impressive firsts in history (Hillary on Everest and Amundsen at the South Pole, for instance). True icons of world exploration have carried EC flags to the remote ends of the earth for over a century.

 

I Am Bigfoot

This is hard to believe, but it’s true. No alternative facts here – I have witnesses.

 

Trail Magic, Bushman, and Languages

Three brief explanations provide perspective for this story. First, Trail Magic is hospitality – frequently unexpected hospitality – extended by strangers to strangers (the phrase comes from the Appalachian Trail). Those who have been beneficiaries of Trail Magic take the responsibility for repayment seriously. Second, language facility is remarkably common in the far north. Many people speak English or French as well as at least one regional language or dialect. Some people speak several regional dialects. Practical sign language is widely used as well. A surprising number of people either cannot – or will not – speak languages they consider nonnative. Third, all cultures with which I interacted had some equivalent of Bushman in their mythos. In English, this creature is widely known as Bigfoot – a malevolent entity throughout the North.

 

Bushman Is Skookum Bad

A local First Nations elder told me that when he was hunting once, he propped his rifle against a tree, walked 3 or 4 steps away, and turned to water the lilies. When he turned back around, his rifle was gone. He never found it. He figured a bear was that close to him and that stealthy. He thinks the bear stole the gun for the salt in the shoulder strap. Similar stories are common – and they are widely attributed to Bushman. People and boats go missing, nets are sabotaged, cabins are vandalized, unexplained things happen. Stories like this abound up North. Locals believe in Bushman (Bigfoot), and attribute a good deal of this mysterious stuff to him (never her) as well. Emmitt Peters (the Yukon Fox — he won the Itidarod sled-dog race in 1973) told me that his friend saw Bigfoot outside a remote hunting cabin near Ruby, Alaska, and lost his mind.

 

Richard Speaks No English

Winter ended my 2015 expedition near the Arctic Circle in a 5-day storm that washed me up at the confluence of an unnamed tributary of the MacKenzie. At a remote hunting camp, I met a gentleman I will call Richard. Richard was a highly skilled and exceptionally gracious gentleman who was cognitively challenged in a manner that did not impact his wilderness lifestyle. He spoke no English. He spoke only Slavey – which I do not know – and a second dialect I was never able to identify (possibly Sahtu). His grasp on time was tenuous — but he could skin a bear. I know this because (via sign language) he offered to allow me to sleep in his meat shed with the carcass. Skinned bears look remarkably humanesque. For the record, sleeping in a meat shed with a fresh bear carcass in bear country above the Arctic Circle is a bad idea. I declined.

 

Bryan Is Bushman

Since the weather was bad and I needed to arrange for a safe place to cache my boat for the winter, I was facing a long walk on a bad road and needed a place to camp for the evening. I chopped wood for several hours and then retired to a small chair beside the door of Richard’s small cabin to warm up and sharpen his knives and axes for him. I was wearing a bright yellow dry suit, a bright yellow PFD, a spray skirt, river booties, and the dumbest-looking (but warmest) paddling hat in creation. I was also festooned with a GPS device, a small satellite-communications device, a camera, a knife, and various bits of survival gear in multiple pockets. In short, I looked like Russell the Boy Scout from the movie “Up.” Richard apparently believed I was Bushman. Unbeknownst to me, Richard thought the three dozen of his knives and axes I collected from his cabin and woodshed to sharpen for him were going to be used to butcher him. I apparently scared the living s**t out of him when all I was trying to do was Trail Magic. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 

Putting the Bushman Story Together One Year Later

I put this story together during early 2016, when I was forced to retrace the final three days of my 2015 expedition. When I reached Richard’s cabin for the second time, his extended family was in residence (skinning their share of 18 beavers that had just been shot for food and pelts). Richard’s brother-in-law (an Indianapolis 500 racing fan who was delighted to find out I am originally from south-central Indiana) told me that Richard had spent the winter telling anybody who would listen about his visit with Bushman. The brother-in-law (who was working outside when I paddled up) saw me and said something like “Oh my god – you’re for real.” I was wearing basically the same kit I had on during my first visit.

By the way, roasted beaver feet are a delicacy in the far north — they singe off the hair and nails, score cross-hatches in the flesh with a knife, and roast the feet over alder fires. When ready to eat, they look like huge rat feet (they are an acquired taste).

 

Venture/Pyranha/P&H Family Sponsors Bigfoot

The Venture Jura is Bigfoot’s preferred kayak north of the Arctic Circle. The Venture/Pyranha/P&H family is, in fact, the only product line Bigfoot endorses.

 

Biographical Note

By vocation, Bryan Brown is a Wall Street Market Strategist. By avocation, he is an eco-explorer. In addition to the three first descents and 7,000-mile river portfolio mentioned above, Bryan has hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, completed a 3,000-mile solo, transcontinental bicycle ride, climbed widely, collected rare Oceanic art by dugout canoe on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, snorkeled with Minke and Humpback whales in Tonga, fed Komodo dragons on their home turf, shared an interesting open-ocean dive with two full-grown whale sharks and a Galapagos Shark, and rounded Cape Horn by sea. He and wife Sandy have traveled on six of the seven continents, share a passion for scuba diving, and have logged dives in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Guinea, the Maldives, the Galapagos, Tonga, Cocos Island, and throughout Central America and the Caribbean. He can be booked for fast-paced expedition, motivation, leadership, and environmental presentations at: brownfirstdescent@gmail.com

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Stikine Range – Sea Kayak Mountaineering

Thanks to Venture Kayaks for the support, the Jura is AWESOME!

For the full story, follow this link: http://www.mountainlifemedia.ca/flipmag/cm/latest/#80

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Paddling in our Wild World

Kayaking is an incredible gateway to our wild world.

As kayakers, we are in the privileged position of utilising Mother Nature to play in.

As a community, I feel it is our duty to do everything in our power to ensure that the aquatic play-grounds we hold so dear and all the creatures and plant life they are home to, are fiercely conserved forever more.

It is my dream and intention to spread the message of utilising paddling as a tool to educate about conservation matters far and wide – from embarking on marine or river safaris to inspiring regular litter clean up missions along our in land waterways and seas.

I also believe paddling has real potential to be useful to the scientific community in data collection such as species monitoring or even taking water samples to keep an eye on overall aquatic health.

But enough reading dear Reader, check out this 2 minute video on sea kayaking and our Wild World:

Happy Paddling with much love,

Sonja

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What Does Brexit Mean for the Kayaking Industry?

The British public have spoken, and they’ve elected to leave the European Union.

The full effects of Brexit are yet to be seen, and this resultant uncertainty in the UK’s political climate has led to a significant fall in the value of the Pound in relation to both the Dollar and the Euro.

For non-UK manufacturers, this means their products have become much more expensive when imported to the UK market, whereas our products (proudly made in the UK since 1971) have remained at the same price to our UK customers, and are now even better value to those in the US, EU and further afield.

However, this won’t last; although we manufacture all of our products in the UK, many of the raw materials and much of the packaging are oil-based, and as oil is traded in Dollars, the cost of these is sure to rise in the next few months once our pre-agreed contract pricing comes to an end.

If you’re asking yourself, ‘Is now the right time to buy a kayak?’, the answer is a resounding yes, as no one can predict by how much prices of the raw materials that go in to a kayak will rise, but as the margins we make on them is minimal, these price rises are sure to affect the consumer.

There has never been a better time to buy a British Canoe or Kayak, check out the Venture Canoes & Kayaks range now.

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ROYALEX IS DEAD, LONG LIVE T-FORMEX!

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Esquif’s Royalex Replacement, T-Formex is Here!
Available in the UK and Ireland, exclusively through Venture Canoes.

Venture and Esquif have enjoyed a longstanding friendship, and are very pleased to be working together in this important time of evolution for canoe material technology, giving consumers the very best choice and performance.


Venture will now be able to offer

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A modern equivalent of Royalex in Esquif’s T-Formex range of canoes.
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The best in the latest generation of lightweight sandwich layer polyethylene construction in our CoreLite X range of Venture Canoes.
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Our continued range of excellent value, Venture Canoes in standard CoreLite.

View the Esquif range here.

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Paddling a Pink Canoe

With the demise of Royalex and the shallow of nature of many of the rivers I work on in summer, I was coming to terms with a move to a polyethylene boat. It was with this firmly in mind that out of the blue I got an email from Graham Mackereth of Pyranha, owners of Venture Canoes. Graham was keen to have me paddle their boats and be involved in ideas on design. It was an offer I had to investigate.

The key for me was Venture’s commitment with its new material, CoreLite X. Not quite as light as Royalex, but feeling stiffer, giving it an easy glide through the water. Certainly noticeably lighter that its polyethylene predecessors.

After an initial meeting I travelled home to think about Venture’s offer.

Once I had decided, a critical decision remained, what colour? Those that have followed me on Facebook will know I have my own version of Godwin’s law (referring to how in the early days of internet forums it was only a matter of time before all threads reached a mention of the Nazis or Hitler, or in the case of SotP, airbags). I now had my own version, Goodwin’s law where at numerous points of an unrelated thread, folk would tell me that my daughter would like a pink canoe.

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Graham was highly amused when I suggested pink; they had never offered this colour, but to my amazement he offered to do a one-off for me (and Maya). By then, I was in cahoots with Mathew Wilkinson, who is in charge of Marketing for Pyranha. We decided to have a little fun and gradually release photos of the canoe without letting on who was having it. Even suggesting it was for a famous TV personality (no it was not me in the suit).

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I had gone into the factory to help rig it to my specifications with 5mm rope threaded down the side and the addition of a deep-dish yolk, kneeling thwart and airbags (pretty well Venture’s WW spec).

And even one of the canoe leaving the factory…

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Once home, it was straight to business with the boat in use on a 5* canoe training…

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Bliss: new canoe and a Downcreek Kingfisher paddle on Llyn Tegid.

So far so good; I am really pleased with the canoe. I had them cut the canoe a little higher so it is a bit drier than my Wenonah Prospector 16 and certainly works better for tandem. If I had to do a straight choice it would be hard, because I have enjoyed paddling both boats, but cost wise there is no competition, and I have high hopes for the durability of CoreLite X.

Ray

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Act 3: Kayaking Canada’s MacKenzie River Watershed

A 2,100 Mile Solo, Unsupported, First Descent

“I got caught in the worst summer storm in history on Great Slave Lake. Weather satellites recorded 78,000 lightning strikes in 6 days. For perspective, the Grand Canyon (which is known for its electrical activity), posted just 23,000 strikes for the entire year of 2014.” – Bryan Brown

The Mission

Los Angeles-based eco-explorer Bryan Brown is on a mission to document ecosystem-wide threats to North America’s most sensitive and embattled watersheds. With the aid of the Pyranha/Venture family over the past three years, he has successfully completed solo, unsupported first descents of: 1) the primary Colorado River watershed, 2) the Yukon River watershed, and 3) Canada’s MacKenzie River watershed. Collectively, these efforts amount to some 7,000 miles (roughly 11,200 km) of the most pristine and challenging wilderness left on Planet Earth.

The Pyranha/Venture Family

Sister firms Pyranha and Venture Kayaks have featured prominently in the success of Bryan’s expeditions, which require seaworthy boats featuring dependable, dry storage space for food and gear. For this reason, he has used hybrid whitewater craft such as the Pyranha Fusion and sea kayaks such as the Venture Jura on his expeditions.

Bryan selected Pyranha/Venture products after conducting exhaustive research focused upon durability and responsiveness. The Pyranha/Venture designers are highly experienced boaters who collectively offer decades of experience creating boats that survive the hard use of wilderness travel. As Bryan puts it: “I knew I would need durable boats that could carry loads without sacrificing manoeuvrability when things got rough… and they definitely got rough. My Jura took a ferocious beating on the Great Slave Lake that it simply should not have survived.”

Act 1: Colorado River Watershed (2013)

Act 1 was the first solo, unsupported, source-to-mouth kayak descent of the primary Colorado River watershed (both the Green and Colorado rivers) in history.  This 2,400-mile (3,900 kilometer) effort, which Bryan successfully completed in 100 days, was also a tribute to his younger brother (Bruce) who succumbed to Muscular Dystrophy in 2012.  The brothers began planning the effort in 1971 — when Bryan was 15 and Bruce was 11.  Some 41 years later, Bryan (then age 57) completed the journey carrying a packet of Bruce’s ashes.

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Brown with his Pyranha Fusion, Green River Lakes, Wyoming (2013) – Ultimate Source of the Colorado River

 

Bryan chose the Pyranha Fusion (which features a drop-down skeg and cargo space roughly the size of a mountaineering backpack) for the Colorado descent because of the watershed’s many dams. For good reason, the Patriot Act makes travel near dams difficult in the US; dams are now surrounded by large exclusion zones, and Bryan knew he might have to carry his kit around these zones himself. The longest such portage was about 6 miles (which translates into 30 miles of walking — 12 miles to scout, 12 to carry gear, and 6 to carry the boat).  The skeg on the Fusion allows it to track well on exposed reservoirs like lakes Mead and Powell on the Lower Colorado.

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Pyranha Fusion, Upper Green River, Wyoming (2013)

 

The 100 days this journey required saw temperatures as high as 120ºF (49°C) and as low as 15°F (-10°C). Ice dams on the upper reaches of the watershed were particularly challenging because thaws in tributary streams would release completely unexpected walls of water. These wave-fronts roared down the Blueway sounding like freight trains, and pushed miscellaneous trees and woody trash ahead of them in dangerous bow waves.

Act 2: Yukon River Watershed (2014)

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Foot of the Llewellyn Glacier, Atlin Lake, BC (2014) – Source of the Yukon River

 

Act 2 was the first solo, unsupported source-to-mouth kayak descent of the Yukon River in history. This 2,300-mile (3,700 kilometer) effort took 57 days and connected the Juneau Icefield (specifically, the Llewellyn Glacier) in remote north-west British Columbia with the Bering Sea in western Alaska.  The Yukon River watershed is so vast and complex that its actual source was not established by the U.S. Geological Survey until 1999.

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Yukon River Expedition (2014) – Approaching the Alaska Pipeline Crossing

 

The Yukon is billed as a flat-water run, but as Bryan so eloquently puts it: “Whoever rated this river almost certainly did it while mixing an under-abundance of Google Earth skills with an over-abundance of beer. Wind, weather, and run-off determine which channels must be used, and Class III challenges can crop up without any notice at all. Moreover, the banks of this watershed are heavily undercut by ice scour, so it is almost impossible to travel close to shore. Collapsing undercut banks caused trees to fall into the river one after the other like closing zippers, often for as long as 400 yards at a stretch, creating fearsome strainers and highly complex hydraulics without any notice at all.”

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Staging the Jura for the Yukon River Descent (2014)

 

As the mouth of the river (the Bering Sea) approaches, the weather becomes increasingly oceanic. Bryan encountered 10-foot waves near the small village of Russian Mission. Overall, the weather is the single most threatening factor on a Yukon descent; weather-related delays accounted for a full 33% of the total time spent on this east-to-west traverse of the entire state of Alaska.

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Venture Jura, Brown’s Yukon River Expedition (2014)

 

Act 3: MacKenzie River Watershed (2015)

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Thutade Lake, British Columbia – Ultimate source of the MacKenzie River Watershed (Venture Jura in Foreground)

Act 3 focused upon Canada’s MacKenzie River watershed. During 2015, Bryan successfully completed the longest solo, unsupported kayak descent of Canada’s MacKenzie River watershed in history. As was the case with Bryan’s 2014 Yukon expedition, this 120-day effort was also heavily influenced by weather. Roughly 50 days were delays of various sorts. The 2,100-mile effort was designed to link the ultimate source of the watershed (Thutade Lake in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains) with the Beaufort Sea in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The MacKenzie River watershed is the third largest watershed on earth after the Nile and the Amazon and is the last of the 10 largest watersheds on earth to be successfully navigated from source to mouth.

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Venture Jura in Ice-Breaking Mode, Spring Break-up at Thutade Lake

 

Bryan paddled into the worst storm in modern history on Great Slave Lake; satellites recorded some 78,000 lightning strikes in 6 days. By contrast, the Grand Canyon (which is well-known for its monsoon-related electrical storms) saw 23,000 lightning strikes during all of 2014.  At one point, Bryan spent 36 straight hours sitting with his back supporting his windward tent pole in an attempt to keep gale-force winds from collapsing his tent.  A 3-foot storm surge finally inundated the campsite, so he stuffed gear into the Jura, swam it to the nearest durable brush line, lashed it to the sturdiest trees available, and proceeded to walk and swim to the nearest village 17 miles away. He did not expect the boat to survive the bashing it took from the huge logs that were being tossed about by the surf, but it did so handily.

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MacKenzie Watershed Expedition (2015) – Peace River, Alberta on a rare good day.

 

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MacKenzie River Watershed Expedition (2015) – Great Slave Lake before the record-breaking storm.

 

Skills, Gear, and Mindset

Skills are difficult to define for expedition-style efforts; they’re nearly impossible to define for solo efforts. Bryan puts it this way: “The primary skill of a successful solo expedition traveller is not bleeding. The second most important skill involves minimizing or eliminating unnecessary risk. The third most important skill is the ability to improvise.  Beyond that, a bad sense of smell and the willingness to eat food that looks like wallpaper paste rank pretty high.”

On the Colorado, Bryan’s personal gear (tent, sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) weighed between 15 and 30 pounds depending upon the season (the upper reaches of the Green River were still partially ice-bound when he started the trip in June, so cold-weather survival gear was necessary). He carried 15 lb. of food for most stretches. When leaving the Yukon and MacKenzie watersheds (both of which range north of the Arctic Circle), his luggage weighed exactly 48 lb. A 20-day food supply on the Yukon and MacKenzie trips weighed in at 30 lb.

According to Bryan, mindset is everything. Endurance efforts require both long-term, big-picture determination and intense attention to real-time detail. These are not leisurely descents. The foundation element is a boat that can be depended upon to survive whatever comes its way.

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Tame Bryan, Wild Bryan & Tired Bryan

Fellow Travellers

In 7,000 miles, Bryan met exactly 1 other boater engaged in a similar effort. He met no other paddlers on the Colorado (2013) doing trips longer than the Grand Canyon run (which is about 225 miles). He met one other expedition kayaker on the Yukon River in 2014 (the intrepid Imre Kabai from Hungary and San Francisco), and zero expedition paddlers on the MacKenzie River in 2015.

Safety

Brown Safety Protocol #1 is: “never pack a wet tent.” Overall conditions in the sub-Arctic and Arctic are simply too demanding to allow for the hypothermia threat posed by a wet shelter. Huge storms can arrive with little or no warning. Emergency protocols for all foreseeable events must be established and practised in advance of need. Packing a dry tent is, of course, pointless if it gets wet because bulkheads and/or hatches leak.  To their credit, the designers of Pyranha/Venture boats have focused serious attention upon hatches and bulkheads that are successful at the most difficult task on the water: not leaking.

Bears

Bears are found in all three of Bryan’s targeted watersheds. His “go-to” bear kit includes Bear Bangers (small flare-like explosive launchers) and pepper-based bear spray. Bears were common in the Northland (he estimates that he saw roughly 200 of them along the MacKenzie, including several that swam the river with him), but he was never attacked.

Basic bear strategy while travelling solo in the Arctic and sub-Arctic is complex and requires some homework. That homework is best done, according to Bryan, somewhere other than the Arctic and sub-Arctic. “Don’t go unless you know” is his best advice.

Act 4: The Great Unknown (2016)

Bryan has promised us a fourth and final instalment in what he good-naturedly refers to as his ‘Eyewitness Guide to the Great Waterways of Planet Earth’. He readily admits to being a bit superstitious about pre-announcing his plans, and so he doesn’t do it. If results to date are any indication, however, whatever the next step might be, it will be ambitious.

The Big Picture

One of Bryan’s most important big-picture goals is to use what has happened in the Colorado watershed and what is currently happening on the MacKenzie to focus long-term environmental attention upon the still-pristine Yukon watershed.

The Colorado River watershed features some 28 large dams and possibly as many as 400 smaller ones of various types dating to the mid 1800s. Lakes Meade and Powell are found in this watershed. By volume, these are the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. Only 10% of this watershed remains unaltered from the time of iconic explorer John Wesley Powell’s run through the Grand Canyon in 1869.

The Yukon, on the other hand, features only one dam of any size and is about 98% unaltered. The MacKenzie watershed (which is about 80% unaltered) features: 1) one of the largest earth-fill dams on the planet (it is comparable to Hoover Dam), 2) a second dam some 22km downstream of that, and 3) a third dam (the Site C Dam on the Peace River) about to be built. Ground has already been broken for this dam, although it is technically still not completely approved.

The Colorado watershed is the most mature example in North America of what can, and will, happen to watersheds if we treat them as anything but large-scale ecosystems. The MacKenzie is a perfect intermediate example of what might happen in the fragile North if we do not pay very close attention to things. Bryan considers the MacKenzie watershed to be the canary in the mineshaft.

Biographical Note

By vocation, Bryan Brown is a Wall Street Market Strategist. By avocation, he is an eco-explorer. In addition to the three first descents and 7,000-mile river portfolio mentioned above, Bryan has hiked the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, completed a 3,000-mile solo, transcontinental bicycle ride, climbed over 40 14,000-foot mountains (and 1, 17,000-footer), collected rare Oceanic art by dugout canoe on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, snorkelled with Minke and Humpback whales in Tonga, fed Komodo dragons on their home turf, shared an interesting open-ocean dive with two full-grown Whale Sharks and a Galapagos Shark, and rounded Cape Horn by sea. He and wife Sandy have travelled on six of the seven continents, share a passion for scuba diving, and have logged dives in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, New Guinea, the Maldives, the Galapagos, Tonga, Cocos Island, and throughout Central America and the Caribbean. He can be booked for fast-paced expedition, motivation, leadership, and environmental presentations at: brownfirstdescent@gmail.com.

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Adventures with a Venture CoreLite X Prospector 15

A few months ago, Tim from Pyranha HQ gave me a call and said, “We have something new for you to try, interested?”; funnily enough, I was! A few days after that, he arrived with a Prospector 15 on the roof… Well, you can imagine, I was wondering where the ‘something new’ was. I have used the Venture Prospector 15 for many years and know them very well. Tim smiled and with an expansive wave of his arm said, “Here you are!” and we set about taking it off the roof.

I was ready for the usual weight that you get with a strong plastic canoe, but WOW was I in for a shock; this was lighter than my Royalex canoes! Honestly I was totally blown away (could have been in the very literal sense if the wind was stronger! hehe.) Everyone that I have given this boat to have all said the same thing, that it was noticeably lighter than they were expecting.

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The brief I was given was to try it out, do things in it that most people would try to avoid during a normal paddling trip in a trad canoe. Tim didn’t actually say break it, but I was welcome to try. “Hmm, challenge accepted!”, I thought to myself.

A quick blast out on a low River Dee showed me another of this new Prospector’s party pieces, stiffness!!

For me, one of the hateful things about plastic canoes is how flexible they are; you lose so much power transfer by the flex in all the fittings and the hull bending under pressure. I know that for most of us, a high performance carbon boat is not needed, but when you try this canoe you will realise that the extra stiffness in the hull is wonderful. Edging becomes more instant and positive, the drive you can put through your legs and heels is just so much more. I understand this is subjective, but everyone that tried it all agreed, it just feels more ‘lively’.

I have to admit here, that the Prospector 15 never lit my fire as much as some canoes (sorry, Venture!), but by the end of my second lap we were a team. Yes, spinning is harder work than some canoes, but speed, mmm speed is fantastic! Check and setting in this boat is almost an auto-move; I know we have ‘auto-boofing’ kayaks, maybe Venture have created an ‘auto-check-and-set’ canoe. As I got used to the stiffness and therefore quicker change in edge profile available, turns got quicker and tighter.

Lap three was where the canoe started to not like me; Tim had said try stuff, so a quick run off the top of Horseshoe Weir, a missed eddy on the right of Serpent’s Tail (read: big bang into rocks by front of canoe, followed by huge hit on the side, then a fairly large bump to the tail). Tombstones flair left and then run down main side of town falls, which at that level is a canoe bashing sequence of rocks, meant that the canoe was probably not my friend by then, but I was surprised when I looked under the boat.  How can a super stiff, light canoe not damage much after those hits?!

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Anyway, that was the end of playing for me as I had lots of courses back to back. The Prospector was centre stage on each of these courses, so got treated like a normal centre boat; dragged everywhere, dropped on trailers, bashed down rivers and generally abused (sorry, boat!). I decided to get as many folk on my courses into the canoe as possible, surely the best way to get feedback about a product is to get it used by real paddlers on real courses?

3 Star Touring was next, where we had a raft of canoes, new CoreLite X P15, original P15, P16, Ranger 14, Ranger 16 and a Hunter 17.

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Throughout the two days we all rotated around, and the only complaint about the new P15 was that it edged very quickly and took a moment to get used to; everyone loved the lightness and it was the first boat chosen each time!

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Then we had a series of Coach courses; it was nice to get some trainee coaches in the new Prospector and to get their comments about comparing the new P15 to older Venture canoes. Interestingly most could feel the difference, but what amazed them all was the fact that it was so stiff and light.

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A couple of 4 Star skills tweak courses followed, where we played on the Banwy and the Lower Tryweryn. Lots of rocks and bumps and slides and again the lack of noticeable damage to the hull was surprising. It took a change of my paddling style to get the most out of the canoe; check and set is its trump card, tight nice eddies just beckon you to check into and each time the hull delivered.

Through all of these we paddled it set up as standard, using the front seat as our solo kneeling thwart, and it worked fantastically. One of the many nice features that Venture put in their canoes is that the bow seat is in the right place to use as a solo paddler; less hassle and simple hey? Plus it leaves lots of space to do rescues or trim kit!

I keep going on about how little damage the hull showed after use, I say this as I’m surprised, happily surprised! I won’t go into detail of just how bad this lovely boat got treated as I fear I may get hate mail, but I did try to break it. Over 50 Days of  coaching, river trips, dragging, dropping, rocks and general abuse and it looked like this when I gave it back. Interestingly, it bruises rather than gouges, which can only add to its longevity.

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To sum up, I was surprised; CoreLite X is without doubt a fantastic material. We all know that Venture’s CoreLite boats last a long time and take a lot of abuse, but this new “X” variant has just made them into performance canoes too!

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