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Hemlock SRT Solo Canoe Review

Dec 1, 2012
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Altoona, Pennsylvania
The Background:
I have a bunch of canoes and added a Hemlock SRT to the collection this weekend. I met Dave and Carol Curtis in Lock Haven PA where they were in town for some mini power boat racing. I don't know if that's what it is actually called!. They are go cart sized power boats. I bought the boat for river tripping and for lightness. A shoulder injury kept me away from paddling for 6 months and I decided I needed to start thinking about lighter boats. Currently my heaviest (and favorite boat for local trips) boat is a Bell RX Prospector at 64 lbs. I was having a real hard time lifting that boat when the doc cleared me but I can lift and carry it fairly easy now. I've mostly tripped in tandem canoes with a dog, but as she go older I also acquired some solos as well. I currently own a Bell Rockstar in black gold and Bell Yellowstone in RX.

The SRT is 15' x 26.5" with 2.5" bow and 1.5" stern rocker. depth: 20" bow, 14.5" center, 18.5" stern. I bought it with the Premium Plus layup with ash rails. Options include foot braces and internal skid plates. Total weight at 39 lbs. My goal with the boat is to do some river trips of 15 days or more. Finding the time is going to be a challenge, but I hope to make it happen.

I've paddled a lot of whitewater up to Class IV in both WW outfitted canoes, and WW kayaks, paddling a Bell Prodigy and currently a Mad River Outrage X, obviously not the type of boat for tripping or even flat water type paddling. So in all my boats I like some rocker for moving water. The new Hemlock SRT, the Rockstar, the Yellowstone, and my Tandem Bell Northstar all have 2.5" Rocker up front and 1.5" in the stern. Both of my Prospectors have 2" front and back I believe.

I will start with my initial impressions and go from there as I paddle it more. I will also be switching back and forth with the Bell Rockstar for "side by side" comparison as time goes on. I have done 13 day trips with the Rockstar in the BWCA.

Initial impressions:
So I was immediately impressed with the sage color and general build quality. I had to park across the street due to all the racers at the parking lot and was very happy carrying it back to the truck without a yoke. I couldn't wait to get it out on the water, but my wife called me on the way to get the boat to advise we had a gas leak outside and the gas was off until the line was replaced. So no paddling.

Yesterday I decided to take it for a test run with minimal load on the Middle Yough at Ohiopyle. It is a Class II river and is a beautiful day paddle. There's rapids, swifts, and flat water in a 9 or 10 mile span. The water was lower then I would have liked but it is the end of Summer after all. I decided I would need at least a little ballast so I took a cooler of ice and drinks and weighed about 15 lbs. and a dry pack with some rain gear and misc. items for the bow that only weighed about 5 lbs. I did the bike shuttle back to the put in and there were a pile of rafters and kayakers so I immediately loaded up and shoved off to avoid the traffic. On my knees, the SRT Immediately seemed a bit more tippy in primary stability then the Rockstar. Above Ramcat Rapid there was enough water to catch a near shore eddy and then make some 75 yard ferries back and forth across the river and paddle upstream forwards and then some back ferries. The SRT glides very well and is pretty fast for the 15' length and volume.

So after about 5 minutes of messing around at the put in, I headed downstream to Ramcat rapid. It is rated Class II with a wave train in the middle and some shelves on river left. I eddied out at the first shelf in the wave train and ferried to shore. The SRT was very responsive and it accelerates across the features nicely. I pointed it back into the current and side surfed a small hole. Something caught while my paddle was out of the water and the boat lurched hard downstream but sticking in the hole. The secondary stability kicked in just as my brace hit the water and i took neary a drop of water. After 10 minutes in the boat I felt as confident as any other of my boats so decided to play out as many features as I could find as I headed through the various rapids. I eddy hopped and ferried my way down to the next rapid and still no water in the boat except from the paddle. The narrow rails allow me to make cross bow strokes pretty easily, but the depth of the boat caught me off guard twice and I smacked the side of boat a couple times coming back to my strong side. My shoulders have both had some issues and my flexibility isn't great these days but I found myself doing a lot of cross bow strokes and the boat responds crisply to them. When catching eddies, the boat pirouettes around a planted paddle pretty nicely too even though there really doesn't seem to me to a distinct edge or chine on the boat. Plant the paddle and give it a lean and the SRT comes right around. I think after another day or two of paddling it will be even crisper.

Skip to the flat water, and I put my straight shaft away, grabbed my bent shaft, and adjusted the foot pegs. Even my kayak didn't have foot pegs, just an adjustable bulkhead. My WW canoes have foot pegs, but they face the wrong way! Their main purpose is to keep in the boat when it is upside down. I really liked the foot braces in the SRT. I thought I would prefer the Wenonah style cross bar (and may change my mind) but I used them the whole time I was sitting. They are mounted on glue in studs that are set at a distance that I believe will accept the Wenonah style. Sitting and locked in the boat moved quickly and tracked really well. I leaned and tested the secondary stability to get a sense of where it caught but couldn't really discern. I made adjustments via multiple strokes to avoid rocks (don't scratch it up too much) and moves right around everything. Other than the surprise side surf catch the boat paddles very predictably. On flat water where speed, glide and tracking is more noticeable, I think the SRT may be a tad faster then the Rockstar, further comparisons will tell.

After 10 miles of Class II with no real tripping load, my thoughts are that the SRT is as advertised. It takes on the rapids without taking on water both in the waves (it's like a cork) and side surfing. I have paddling the same stretch in my Rockstar and Yellowstone and both are a bit wetter of a ride. The boat feels tippy at first but after two minutes that went away and it never felt that way again. It has good secondary stability, but I didn't feel it catch the way I do in other boats. It feels plenty stable in the secondary zone, but I have the impression that it takes less momentum to pass through that and into the drink than the Rockstar. Will follow up with that with more time in the boat. It responds crisply to paddle strokes and leans to catch edges which aren't apparent to me but you feel it. It tracks true when sit and switch paddling and has good glide. I think it tracks better then the Rockstar maybe. These impressions are without a load so my next paddle, I will add more load to the boat and will follow up with the effects that that had. And it stayed bone dry all day. Some pics of the boat (it's not my favorite paddle but I read some love for the Mohawk paddle recently on some threads here so I added as a throwback):



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Nice review, Waterdog. You're fortunate to be near the Yough.

HERE's my SRT review from July 2011 on pcom.

What kind of seat did you get, the Deal bucket or Conk curved web?

I have both seats that I can swap in and out onto the adjustable seat drop. I attached thigh straps from the seat drop to a dogbone web patch on the floor. The straps have detachable Fastex buckles, and when detached I jam the long ends behind the seat drops. As you can see, I also had Dave install a Wenonah foot bar, which I also can use to attach light gear when my canoe is loaded for tripping. Sometimes I put pipe insulation over the bar to soften it for bare feet and to lay my spare paddle against. I like the bar because I can put my feet close together, and I also keep extra seat/thwart nuts and washers inside the bar.

SRT on Raquette Falls portage.JPG

I believe you'll find the SRT faster on the flats than the other canoes you mentioned. It has a 6.7 L/W ratio compared to the Rockstar's 6.2. Plus, its round bottom is faster than the elliptical or shallow arch bottoms on most touring canoes, but that's also why the initial stability feels twitchy.

It's a great tripping canoe for people who can handle narrow waterlines. The center section is the same shape as Harold Deal's whitewater playboat, the Shaman. Harold designed the SRT (solo river tripper) for the kind of month-long trips he does in Canada -- big, potentially windy lakes separated by sections of whitewater. The boat can hold a lot of gear, is whitewater capable as you've already so well described, and is also fast on the flats with either a single-sided correction stroke or hit & switch.

Here are the SRT's of Conk, me and Harold on the Oswego River in the Jersey Pine Barrens. It's also a good twisty stream canoe.



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Great review. That is a serious boat! You can see by your photos how high it sits. I'd bet it will be great for rapids.
Plus, its round bottom is faster than the elliptical or shallow arch bottoms on most touring canoes, but that's also why the initial stability feels twitchy.

It's a great tripping canoe for people who can handle narrow waterlines.

I had the opportunity to briefly try a SRT on a calm lake. Very briefly; there were witnesses and I didn’t want anyone to see me inexplicably roll over 20 feet from shore.

The srt is a great canoe just for what this poster is doing with it. it is very specifically designed for that without compromises. yes it's twitchy and the high freeboard will cause you to be blown all over the lake, but that isn't what it was designed for.
I agree with Turtle that the SRT is a superb boat for the type of water shown in Waterdog's pics (downriver). I also agree with Waterdog that the build quality (and handling) is superb. I would not call the SRT fast on flat water...I'd call it OK. Mine seemed evenly matched with my friend's Wildfire for cruising. SRT has full/buoyant ends which are great for rivers but "push back" on flat water if you push the boat. I remember discussing the boat with Dave Curtis and he said it cruised well at normal 3-4 mph speeds and I said 3 mph yes but 4 mph maybe not...and he agreed.

One benefit not mentioned is the fit. SRT is narrow and with knees in the chines one feels more "locked in" than most solos. One downside for me is that the boat is so deep that the dog can't see out of it when laying down.
I've owned both a Bell Wildfire and the SRT for 10 years. The SRT tracks better and is noticeably faster on flat water. The SRT's L/W ratio is 6.7; the Wildfire's is a somewhat pudgy 6.0, the same as the Hemlock Eaglet, Wenonah Argosy and Merrimack Baboosic. The Wildfire turns easier and has more predictable secondary stability for heeling.

If you have the adjustable seat, Gumpus, try moving it a little astern to raise the bow and bury the pinched stern a bit more. Or it could be your dog in the bow that is dogging the boat a little.

With a full tripping load in both canoes the Wildfire with fall even further behind the SRT in speed, because the Wild's much lower interior capacity and bubbled sides cause the waterline to expand much more than the SRT's, causing the Wild to bog down. When the waterline moves up, the Wild's turning advantage also begins markedly to decrease. It's not even a close call to me as to what boat is the more efficient tripper, for me. For someone much lighter than me, the story might be different.

In whitewater I find the SRT to have acceptable maneuverability for eddy turns and peel outs, but it's nowhere near as maneuverable as a whitewater playboat. I like deep canoes because I started, as an adult, in deep canoes. The SRT takes windage on a lake, but the high sides give me great confidence in the accompanying wind waves. 12" depth touring canoes make me nervous in waves even when empty.
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Glen, I agree about Wildfire vs Srt speed. I owned a wildfire and generally liked it, but found it noticeable slower than my Flashfire-I'm a weak paddler.. I didn't say that I also enjoy paddling the srt, but it just doesn't fit my needs. Dave Curtis builds canoes equal or better in quality to anyone.
I sold my SRT years ago because I was disappointed in the upstream cruising performance relative to my other solos which would have included Blackhawk Zephyr and Ariel plus Swift Osprey and Shearwater and Bell Merlin II at the time. I used to cruise side by side with a Wildfire and just remember being disappointed that I didn't have to slow my pace to let my buddy keep up like I did in my other solos and even when we swapped boats they felt evenly matched for normal cruising speed to me. At that time the boats were unloaded so I would have been well under the 250-400 pound efficient range for the SRT. Subjectively SRT, Curtis Dragonfly and Northstar Phoenix feel similar to me for cruising where they push back pretty hard if you sprint and none feel very sleek for upstream paddling (as opposed to a Wildfire that doesn't take much effort to paddle upstream, it just doesn't cruise very fast). I always assumed the feeling of pushback was mainly due to the high volume in the bow up by the front flotation tank. I think SRT is a very cool boat (and gorgeous in sage) but I just have a hard time calling it fast on flat water.

Glenn, I'd be curious to know how you calculated the L/W ratios you mentioned. I get 6.35 for Wildfire using the data on the Colden site but I can't figure out how you'd get comparable numbers for other boats (actual W/L length and width at a similar load for all boats). As a metric it doesn't seem to help rank my current solos for speed but then again I can't figure out how to do an apples to apples comparison.
The SRT was Harold Deals response to the Curtis DragonFly.. The DF is more of a river boat with 2.5 inches bow and stern rocker. Harold flattened the bottom a little from the notoriously bucking bronco round of the DF and lessened the stern rocker. This makes the SRT more amenable to lake/river tripping. No need to watch the verticality of every stroke.
I love my DragonFly but in order to sit in it the seat MUST be lower or you will be doing s fish census.
My WildFire is quite a bit more amenable to sitting and kneeling and returning to sitting.

I believe l/w ratios are taken at various points from mfr to mfr which gives you only an approximation.. any deviance from that depends on hull shape and the load of the canoe.. For sure overloaded the Wild is more the bathtub.. Colden lists Wild waterline at the 3 inch mark.. Others use 4. Put more or less than that in the boat to sink to that waterline and your ratio will vary.

The length does dictate acceleration. Wild was intended to be a faster accelerating slower cruise boat. It was designed for Freestyle where you have to be up to speed in three strokes or less.

And skin area matters.. For smaller paddlers a "faster" boat can be slower.

Its not about just the boat . Its about the holy triumvirate : boat, paddler and paddle.
Well said yellow. Specs don't tell the whole story for solos. seat time is the test. Example-- My Colden Nomad specs close to many others, but cruses noticeable easier.
Thanks ladies and gentleman for your additional comments on the SRT and review. I will follow up on a couple things and hopefully will have more real world feedback on it soon. The seat is a conk seat and it is comfortable. I didn't mention it prior, but when kneeling I am creeping forward on the seat, not bothersome to me but I noticed it a couple of times. Certainly this boat is not a low volume rocket ship. I don't get caught up in numbers and I don't own any truly fast boats. Since fast is a subjective term outside the laboratory, especially for me who has no desire to go fast I'll describe my version of it. For me fast means that it has the speed and glide from a dead stop to ferry class 2 & 3 wave trains between obstacles (boulders) without getting pinned (or me getting window shaded in a hydraulic downstream). When running unfamiliar rapids, catching an eddy only to realize that you need to apply a "power ferry" (as my local crew call them) between an upstream boulder and directly downstream boulder from the relative calm of an eddy that may be just big enough for the boat. That's why I mentioned in my original post that "The SRT was very responsive and it accelerates across the features nicely". It's one of my favorite water features and the boat made those ferry's well. I never brushed the downstream obstacle even though the boulders were only a 8-15 feet apart. Also, I have paddled a magic and merlin II and both seemed fast to me and had a lot of glide. I personally don't have any expectations that the SRT would keep up with those boats in a sprint. I paddle alone though so speed for me is pretty relative. The SRT though did have nice glide and I didn't have to paddle with an unrealistic stroke per minute. I put in about two hours before the first group and I took out and had my gear packed/boat racked before the first group got there though.

Since I own a Yellowstone I will say that it is not large enough for me beyond day paddles and when it has the same load or slightly more than what my maiden test paddle in the SRT had, it's performance is much degraded. the YS is the smallest canoe I own save for the OutrageX, and it is a pretty wet boat in rapids with me and a cooler in it. I'm 6'-1" and just shy of 215#.

Grumpus, for sure the SRT is too deep for most dogs. I wouldn't even consider putting my 85# chessie in the boat, or any solo for that matter. I use tandem canoes for that, either the Prospector or Bell Northstar on Lake trips like BWCA and ADK.

Regarding wind, the day I paddled the SRT it was quite windy but I never noticed it's effect while on the river. Part of that may be that I paddle a Prospector lightly loaded very often and subconsciously maybe accept and make provisions for it in a way that I don't notice. I don't know, but I may try to paddle Lake Raystown here in a couple weeks and that will be a good test how it paddles in wind. That will be about 28 miles end to end and the lake is pretty sizable. I'll have to make that a matter of a future update.

Finally, Glen you are right, I'm lucky to have the Youghiogheny and Stony Rivers nearby. Even the Cheat and Gauley are a day trip from here. I will maybe try and do a separate canoe destination report on the Yough soon. For anyone close enough for a day paddle or weekend camp at Ohiopyle PA, the best part of paddling season is nearly here and I recommend you come try it. When the colors come on the mountains its a great paddle and the crowds are gone from town too. I'll even meet those who venture there, just PM me and I'll do my best to make it....I just like to paddle.:)


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Its not about just the boat . Its about the holy triumvirate : boat, paddler and paddle.

That is as succinct and Trinitarian as could be described.

To be clear, I appreciate that the SRT is a very capable canoe. IIRC Curtis, Conk and a couple others marathon paddled SRT’s across Lake Erie.

For sloppy me, and my paddling “style”, prayers and sacraments will not prevent the rite of re-baptism. And I have doubts about all of Matthew 28.

The spirit of the canoe needs to absolve me of my paddling sins.
IIRC Curtis, Conk and a couple others marathon paddled SRT’s across Lake Erie.

Actually, it was Paul Conklin, Harold Deal and Gary Marble in 2010, and the traverse was 41 miles across Lake Ontario. There are trip reports by Paul and Harold and many photos by both of them at this link:

SRT Crossing Lake Ontario.jpg
I’m sure I’ve seen pics of Mr. Conklin with a boonie or bucket hat on but a ball cap on a shade less lake of all place? I might buy one of those Shelta hats that Alsg recently posted about and maybe a second one to keep in the truck in case I ever run across Mr Conklin because damnit a paddler needs to protect their ears out there!
Glenn, I'd be curious to know how you calculated the L/W ratios you mentioned. I get 6.35 for Wildfire using the data on the Colden site but I can't figure out how you'd get comparable numbers for other boats

L/W ratio is a more easily calculable surrogate for a hull's block coefficient, both being suggestive of the hull's tracking speed.

Gumpus, Colden's Wildfire page states the W/L as 6.0. That's consistent with Charlie Wilson's historic calculations for the Bell and Placid Wildfires. Charlie has maintained a spreadsheet for many years of all the specs of all the solo canoes and pack canoes on the market. He makes it freely available. Does he still post here? I just picked out a couple of other solo canoes that Charlie lists as having a 6.0 L/W ratio.

Hmm . . . I just noticed that Charlie's more recent sheet corrects the Baboosic to 5.3 from a former 6.0. The Nova Craft Supernova is a 6.0.

Charlie's L/W ratios of some other canoes mentioned in this thread are:

Bell Yellowstone - 6.0
Bell Merlin II - 6.9
Bell Magic - 7.2
Colden Wildfire, Flashfire, Starfire - 6.0 (but Flash 6.1 on Colden site)
Colden Dragonfly - 7.0
Colden Nomad - 7.2 (but 7.0 on Colden site)
Hemlock Eaglet - 6.0
Hemlock SRT - 6.7
Hemlock Peregrine, Kestrel - 6.8
Northstar Phoenix - 6.1
Placid Rapidfire - 7.3
Placid Shadow - 8.5
Swift Osprey - 6.4
Swift Shearwater - 6.8
Swift Keewaydin 14 - 6.5
Swift Keewaydin 15 - 6.8
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I could quibble.. I am the same out of shape paddler and I have the RapidFire, Nomad ,and the DragonFly and the WildFire.. I used to have a Merlin II until I decided to jump a waterfall with it in Temagami
I have a Yellowstone Tandem but that is probably not the referred one

Now the numbers may not lie but the DragonFly and the Nomad are not the same speed boat.. Maybe it is because the DF is so darn wind and load sensitive and the freighter Nomad keeps on trucking no matter what the wind is doing.

And in subjective tests in the Rabbit Key Grasses passage just east of Pavilion Island in a bow quartering 30 mph blow the RF was WAY ahead of the Nomad. It has even better keeping course in a wind characteristics. Due to loss of control in the Nomad we bivied in the Everglades on a handy illegal beach. I don't remember what the water loads were in each boat so the displacements may have been unequal.

Over ten days with two paddlers alternating in various wind conditions the Peregrine lagged the Nomad.. But not enough to cause two solo paddlers not to be within minutes of each other.

You just cant try to mathematically average a trip unless you are racing.. And none of these are race boats aside from the Shadow which was specifically designed for the conditions of the ADK 90 miler.

I will keep my fugly Curtis Nomad which I paid a pittance for in mint condition some years ago..
Glen, I agree about Wildfire vs Srt speed. I owned a wildfire and generally liked it, but found it noticeable slower than my Flashfire-I'm a weak paddler.. I didn't say that I also enjoy paddling the srt, but it just doesn't fit my needs. Dave Curtis builds canoes equal or better in quality to anyone.

Turtle, I suspect the SRT is too big and too heavy for your taste. It's not too big for me -- I like 15' solo boats with depth, having been a whitewater canoeist for so many years in my early adulthood -- but unfortunately my particular SRT is much too heavy for my current taste. It's a first year build, 1999, and Dave admits he overbuilt the layups that year in anticipation of greater whitewater use. I've talked to him about building a sub-35 lb. SRT, but he just doesn't want to compromise the tripping structural strength that much.

I'm in need of a 15' solo canoe that's 30 lbs or less.
Ah. .so YOU were the other canoe... I arrived Saturday morning to pick up my new Nessmuk XL from Dave. He told me someone had picked theirs up Th or Friday.

Here's mine Saturday afternoon.



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congratulations on picking up your new boat. Yeah I was surprised when I found the trailer and there were two sage canoes up there. I didn’t pay close enough attention because I thought it was two sage SRT’s rather than a Nessmuk. Enjoy your new boat.