Saturday, July 28, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Solo Canoe

Our Review of the Esquif Zephyr

Our instruction team set out in search of the perfect whitewater solo canoe. In our search the Zephyr had much appeal so we decided it was a good place to start. The boat is not the perfect canoe for everyone (obviously) but seems to be one of the best for intermediate to advanced paddlers. Small (140 pounds or less) beginners will enjoy the boat very much, especially the light weight which makes car top loading and carrying to the put-in much less of a chore. The following is a brief synopsis of what we found.

Our Rating System
The Zephyr was rated on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the worst possible score and 5 the best. We compared the boat to other solo boats available today.

Overall Stability: 3.5
Initial: 3
Secondary: 4
Compared to other solo canoes, the Zephyr has about average stability. If you’re an “old school” canoeist, the initial stability will probably seem low but with some of the new paddling techniques, this boat is very stable. Even when I blew my line and bounced my way through a 270 degree turn in Wesser Falls, the secondary stability was amazing for a boat this size and width.

Speed: 4
This boat has a length of just over 11 feet but boat carries speed well and accelerates quickly feeling fast for its length.

Dryness: 4.5
This is one of the biggest strengths of the Zephyr. It is a very dry boat which allows you to paddle harder whitewater more comfortably due to the lack of water in your boat. If you’re running the big stuff it’s very dry for an open boat.

Turn/Carve: 5
The hull is very responsive and turns quickly while the boat is sitting flat and carves well on the edges. One of the things I enjoy most about the boat is that you can “hip surf” a wave. Just by shifting your edge from side to side, with some practice, you can carve the boat back and forth across a wave without taking a stroke. I think that is very cool.

Outfitting: 4.5
When the boat first came out two years ago, there was some concerns about the outfitting coming loose from the boats. From what we can tell, Esquif has worked out any problems and the factory outfitted boats have bomber outfitting in them this year. The placement of the thigh straps and seat provide a firm ride for a wide variety of sizes in paddlers. I personally really like the stock Esquif outfitting and enjoy being able to paddle their boats “right out of the box.”

Weight: 5
Any time you have a canoe weighing in at under 40 pounds completely outfitted, you have to stand up and cheer! Except for composite boats, it’s the lightest thing out there and much more durable for the weight.

User Friendliness: 4
Due to the sharp looking chines of this boat, it would appear to feel “edgy” with constant tripping over the edges of the boat. This doesn’t hold true though since the sides of the boat are beveled and reduce the amount of water piling up on the side of the boat during a turn or moving across the current.

Additional comments:
This is a great boat for the intermediate paddler or even lightweight beginners. If you are paddling an older model solo boat or converted tandem boat, this will be a sporty little rascal that will offer some challenges along with many rewards for your whitewater paddling career. The boat shown in these photos has been cut down an inch over the entire length of the boat to make it easier to paddle by smaller people. We also added the wood gunnels for added lightness and aesthetics. Although it was added to our fleet specifically for smaller paddlers, we find paddlers of all sizes and skills have enjoyed this boat. There has been some concern about the long term durability of the boat and it is holding up well for our instruction programs. We haven’t experienced any problems with our Zephyr’s this year and they seem to be lasting better than the vinyl covered ABS plastic boats. For the most part these boats are on class II-III whitewater and only an occasional class IV rapid.

The Bottom Line
So the question is raised again, “did we find the perfect solo open canoe?” The answer for some, yes! Lightweight paddlers of all skill levels and advanced paddlers will love this boat. Others will find the boat slightly above their skill level, especially if they are of the “McDonalds Generation.”



Anonymous said...

I am paddling an esquif nitro currently and I like the boat but have never tried another boat. I was wondering if the zephyr might be a feasable replacement for me. I have been paddling about a year and am 6' +- 230 lbs.


Port said...

I found the Zephyr to be a little more aggressive than the Nitro, so in that regard it would definitely be a boat you would grow into. I am 6'2", 210lbs and found the boat to be very comfortable and agile at my weight, I do not think that an additional 20-30 lbs would affect the performance very much. Overall this is my preferred boat when I want to go on the river and have fun in a canoe, for longer river trips I still reach for the Nitro or the Blast for the extra stability and speed. Hope that helps.