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Prodigy X


by Jan Dettmer

For the Smoky River 2004: Over the Divide! expedition, Bell Canoe Works gave us 2 Prodigy X canoes. We paddled them on differnet rivers, from low volume to the Thompson River here in BC running at 900 cms. Low Volume runs were, among others the continuous Canoe River and the Nahatlatch River (including the canyon down to the Frazer River). Finally, the expedition on the Smoky River was the ultimate test for the boats. Bell is best known for their well designed and balanced flatwater canoes. They have everything from the dedicated flatwater freestyle canoe to the ultra fast pro marathon racer. Recently, Bell started building whitewater canoes. They have a few different models now, for example, Frankie Hubbards Ocoee. While other companies went out of canoe production, Bell shows real dedication to our sport.

ProdigyX, click to enlarge! For the expedition, Tim and I wanted a high performance boat. The trip was almost two weeks long with 7 days spend on the river and 4 days spent hiking up over the continental divide.

We chose the Prodigy X for this because of a number of reasons. Size is one of them. The Prodigy X is relatively big but still easy to handle. We needed a boat that could be paddled with extra weight. For my weight of 180 lbs, the Prodigy X would be slightly to large. I'd say its optimal weight range is around 200 lbs. However, with the extra weight of gear, I had more than 200 lbs in the boat. The hull features tug-in in the middle which results in an easier paddle placement. Smooth chines in the bow and amidships are forgiving and harder chines in the stern allow for carving turns. These are the most important measures:
12'4'' long
30'' widest point (27'' at gunnels)
15.5 deep
5'' (bow) and 3.5'' (stern) rocker

After installing the outfitting we could finally take the canoes to the Nahatlatch River in British Columbia. The Nahatlatch starts out pretty mellow with a number of boulder garden drops. Most of those are easy class 3. There are a couple harder bedrock drops with big holes. Then the river enters a little canyon that is easy class 4 with two harder drops that most people would call solid class 4 to 4+.

ProdigyX, click to enlarge! The first thing you notice while paddling this boat is glide. Incredible glide, actually. It only needs a few strong strokes to accelerate and then keeps the speed easily. Combined this with the length and the differential rocker of the boat and it becomes very important to plan ahead. It is easiest to take speed through moves and avoid accelerating the boat. Since I am used to shorter, slow boats (I mainly paddled a Necky Blunt as a C1 during the last season), it was great to feel the speed again. Quite often, I paddled the boat and though "Oh $*!, I'm not going to clear that hole". But just a few strokes and I would not even touch the shoulder. To make the boat turn fast, I had to use river features. This is normal for a boat of that length. Just stick the bow or stern into a foam pile or pivot turn on the crest of a wave and the boat will spin fast.

The boat is very predictable and does not catch edges. It still carves nice but not very agressive which I think is good in bigger water. In combination with the glide, it also holds a line nice. It locks in at the gunnels which means that the secondary stability is very high. The boat also rolls easy for its size.

A problem of the boat is dryness in big wavetrains. It handles long bouldergardens well and dry but runs quite wet in bigger wavetrains at the bottom of a drop. It punches holes nicely. I backendered out of a big hole on the last drop of the Nahatlatch canyon with the boat almost vertical. So, even in this boat: Lean forward and hang on!! If you get the bow out of the water with a good boof stroke just above the hole, it can also run holes dry. Since it does not have much flare in the bow, a good boofstroke is important. Once the volume of the wider parts of the boat hits the water, it will stay dry. Now boofing a long boat like this is not that easy. The Prodigy will boof big pourovers and give you some big air but in other situations you need a really strong boof stroke and have to throw your weight backwards hard (and hope to lean forward before you hit the bottom). Or do a rock boof. Try to hit a rock with the bow at the edge of the drop and do the stroke. This works quite well if there is a good rock. The rock will kick the bow up and out of the water. It needs a lot of practice though. Landing the boat is very soft. The rounded bottom really helps here. However, due to the maximum width, the boat does not sink in deep in aereated water, guaranteeing a dry run over big drops.

Conclusion:

The Prodigy X is a boat that has a lot of glide and incredible stability. It is wide enough to stay dry in super aereated water and lands soft after big drops. Together with being very predictable, this means the boat is at home on bigger water. Since it is hard to boof, I would not take it on steeper creeks. Other that that, be prepared for a fast ride in the Prodigy X and plan moves well ahead. You will make lines because of the speed, that will get your heartrate above the armchair level. As with all boats that handle good on big water, not so advanced paddlers will have no problem getting comfortable in this boat.




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© copyright 2004 Jan Dettmer