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.
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
30'' widest point (27'' at gunnels)
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+.
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.
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.
© copyright 2004 Jan Dettmer