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Trip Reports and Performance Review of B.N. Morris Wood-Canvas Canoe

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
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This is a follow-on to this thread:

Handsome canoe! It deserves to be see water even if it means picking up some scratches along the way.

Posts like Al's were very helpful to me psychologically. So, I got a trailer and finally hit the waters and shores of five northwest Connecticut waterbodies to test out my soloized 15' B.N. Morris reproduction (by Rollin Thurlow) canoe.

Frankly, I didn't have high expectations for its performance. I assumed it was mostly a pretty boy pleasure canoe that would be slow and a poor turner, especially with its full keel. I was wrong. It's not as fast, of course, as my skinny solo canoes such as my Lotus BJX or Hemlock SRT, or as turny as my freestyle Bell Wildfire, but it is faster and a better turner as a solo canoe than my 15' Nova Craft Bob Special. I was unexpectedly impressed. And the visual aesthetics of looking at the red cedar, white cedar and mahogany wood interior as you paddle is unbeatable.

Let's take five trips as I experiment with different paddles, kneeling cushions and wind conditions.

Here is my old van and new trailer on my unmowed lawn ready for the Morris' first trip.

Morris ready for first trip on uncut lawn.jpg

The Morris received its first watery baptism in Winchester Lake, using my Bruce Smith ottertail paddle and my custom designed (by me) and custom made (by Brad Gillespie) Gillespie Free paddle. I ended up somewhat preferring the Gillespie because it provides more power per stroke, auto-rolls better, has a longer shaft for bow stroke reach and turning bite, and is more useful in shallow waters.

Winchester-Morris first touch of water.jpg

Winchester first water2.jpg

I experimented with a ⅜" ensolite pad and two 1½" high density EVA kneeling pads. I mostly used both together because, even though I lowered the seat one inch, it is still a bit too high for comfortable kneeling.

Two types of kneeling pads.jpg

Kneeling allows three-point contact with the hull and enables me to generate more power and to better reach the forward quadrants of the canoe for bow strokes than sitting does. I am able switch to a sitting position very easily under the seat height and across the smoothly half-ribbed floor, and I experimented with a variety of leg positions while seated. However, with only one point of contact (seat on seat), I feel I can generate only about 70% of the power per stroke that I can when kneeling—unless I'm seated with a foot bar, which I'm not going to install on a wood-canvas canoe. Seated paddling is not for me, except as a respite from kneeling for my bent feet and ankles.

Winchester Lake has some nice coves full of lily pads and flocks of geese that you can't see in these pictures.

Winchester lily pad cove.jpg

Winchester geese cove.jpg

There are also two giant wind turbines over the north end of the lake, which you can see in this picture.

Winchester Wind Turbines.jpg

Hey, Glenn! Maybe lakes near wind turbines aren't ideal! Sure enough, the wind started to pick up—not a big or dangerous blow, but pretty stiff with gusting cat's paws.

Winchester wind picking up.jpg

The wind provided the biggest surprise to me of all about the Morris' performance. I expected it to get blown all over, especially with those high, upswept ends. However, to the contrary, it's almost completely wind neutral. It doesn't wind cock or lee cock and is virtually unaffected by wind direction, whether I paddled with wind from the front, rear, front quarter, rear quarter, or straight across. It's the best solo wind boat that I own or have ever paddled. My asymmetrical solo canoes do some very asymmetrical things in wind, especially rear winds.

I attribute the Morris' excellent wind neutrality partly to the keel and mostly to the well-centralized solo seat. To me, paddling a tandem canoe solo, bow seat backwards, as I have to do in my Bob Special, is a chore and the pits. I really can't stand it. I have to put 40-50 lbs. of fake ballast in the bow to get a level trim, and I can't properly reach the front quarters for effective bow control strokes. This all makes turning difficult and stodgy, and an inefficient way to paddle solo for me unless my only paddling interest was forward stroking with a heavy load in the bow. That's not how or why I paddle. A centralized solo seat solves all these issues along with being the best position for wind neutrality.

The second place I paddled is the closest spot to home, Housatonic River/Lake Lillinonah. For this trip I added two bent shaft paddles, a double-scoop power face Sawyer Manta and a curved carbon blade, double bend Mitchell Leader.

Lillinonah paddles.jpg

Here is Lovers Leap Gorge where Indian Princess Lillinonah, who was unable to marry her white man lover, killed herself going over a waterfall in the gorge, which caused her lover to leap from the cliffs to his own death.

Lillinonah Lovers Leap Gorge.jpg

I survived the transit of the gorge alive, which then opens up into a view of a quaint red New England farm house. You can see invasive Eurasian milfoil in the waters close to shore.

Lillinonah Farm House.jpg

Around the bend from the flag, you can get a glimpse of some more Eurasian milfoil on the water.

Lillinonah flag island.jpg

As to the paddles, for decades I have primarily been a single-sided paddler with bent shaft paddles on flat water. However, I didn't care as much for either bent shaft in the Morris. First, since I kneel or sit higher in the Morris than in any of my other five flat water solo canoes, the two 50" bents felt a bit short. A 52" Wenonah carbon bent shaft paddle, which I used on a later lake, was a better fit, but I think it's somewhat heretical, if not sinful, to use a carbon paddle in a wood-canvas canoe. Second, it's harder to do a J correction with a bent shaft than a straight shaft, and I think the Morris' full keel made bent shaft correction even a bit more difficult. I'll probably stick with straight wooden paddles in the Morris.

Here I am returning to the put-in, where my magic bus van and trailer await.

Lillinonah return to put-in.jpg

The Morris' third trip was on Pond Brook/Lake Lillinonah and then part way up a tributary, the Shepaug River. For this trip I added my 54" Lutra 2.5° S blade, which was my go-to flat water "straight" paddle from 1984, when I bought it from Bardy Jones in the Everglades, until I designed my Gillespie Free in 2009.

Pond Brook paddles.jpg

I didn't care for the Lutra paddle in the Morris as much as the Gillespie or the Smith ottertail. Too short. But I enjoyed noodling along the shore of Pond Brook, even though the waters were murky green with algae . . .

Pond brook shore algae water.jpg

. . . and paddling up to a small rock island with one lonely tree . . .

Pond brook tree island.jpg

. . . and looking down the length of Lillinonah to the bridge in the far distance, which takes one to Mia Farrow's house in Bridgewater, who (sigh) has never offered to paddle with me.

Pond brook bridge in far distance.jpg

The fourth outing for the Morris was a new lake for me, Stillwater Pond, a shallow reservoir with a small dam at one end. It was a gorgeous, cloudless day with virtually no wind. I love paddling on glass.

Stillwater no wind.jpg

Because the water is shallow and we've had so much heat, this was another lake with murky green water in places, albeit ungreening trees.

Stillwater murky water red tree.jpg

Other shallow places had lovely beds of lily pads.

Stillwater pads and beginning color.jpg

On one small island of various vegetation, white flowers caught my eye. Queen Anne's Lace, perhaps.

Stillwater white lace flower.jpg

I heard babbling water as I paddled back along the far shore, and found a starved brook when I poked the canoe into a narrow cove.

Stillwater shore brook.jpg

As I paddled out of the brook cove, I spotted a white contrail in the blue sky and reflecting in the water. If you look close there are actually two contrails in the sky.

Stillwater Contrail.jpg

As I was Indian stroking and side-slipping along the shore, I spotted the dam through the changeling branches of an overhanging tree.

Stillwater dam house thru tree.jpg

Fearless former whitewater paddler, I paddled up to the dam's spillway to see if I could get a look at what seems to be about a 25' drop, but not close enough that accelerating waters could suck me over the precipice.

Stillwater dam spillway.jpg

I finished Stillwater Pond and a few days later explored another new lake to me, Burr Pond, which I discovered when registering my trailer in a new town.

Although I remain the world's worst trailer backer-upper, at this put-in I was brave enough to back right into the water. I was then able to turn the canoe right-side up on the trailer bars and slide it backwards right into the water. Splash. No lifting. No cart wheels. I did the same when I took out after the paddle.

Burr slide off trailer.jpg

Burr is a very interesting and variegated pond with several arms and coves, big boulders above and just below the surface, islands, a state beach, another spill dam, and very clear waters (thank goodness, so I could see the underwater boulders). Right away, I came upon a beaver lodge.

Burr beaver lodge.jpg

A small island was separated from the shore by a narrow water path. Should I go through it?

Burr fit thru gap.jpg

I didn't. Not because I thought I couldn't do it, but because I didn't want to risk scratching my new canoe on the shallow bottom or by the branches on the sides. I would have gone through with any of my composite canoes.

I did go between some islands . . .

Burr islands.jpg

. . . and ended the day sunning myself on the other side of the state beach peninsula, and contemplating my beautiful new wood-canvas canoe.

Bottom line: The Morris is the quietest canoe I have ever paddled. No wave slap. Silent slicing. It is the most wind neutral of all my canoes. It has adequate speed and makes a nice turn when moderately heeled, even with the keel. It has much more initial stability than narrow solo canoes, which promotes confidence when shifting from knees to sitting and when getting in and out, and it has very strong secondary stability for its 30.5" plank-to-plank width. Finally, the visual aesthetics—just looking at the rich wood colors while I paddle—are unsurpassed. Far better than any plastic or composite canoe I have ever paddled.

Even though it's too heavy for me to portage at my age, I am so glad I bought the canoe and the very useful trailer. My Morris is a joy.

Burr state park beach area.jpg
Very nice boat Glenn. I hope it gets you out on the water more.
It looks like it has already Glenn, that's what it's all about.

I took my Seliga out today and felt the same way about the hull being very quiet with no wave slap, and I also thought it was quite neutral in the wind too, contrary to the reviews. Maybe it had something to do with Joe's connection to Morris boats.

Great photos too.
It’s almost like those old time canoe builder/designers knew what they were doing😉
Really enjoyed your insights and pictures Glenn.
Thanks Glenn. I enjoyed the writeup and photos very much. I somehow missed most of those paddling destinations during the 13 years I lived in Connecticut in the 70’s and 80’s. Still a beautiful area-especially at this time of year! 🛶
Nice report, beautiful pictures. I have paddled Winchester, Burr and Stillwater, Thanks for the memories.
Yesterday, the Morris went on its sixth day paddle—this time on another new lake for me, Squantz Pond, which is an enclosed extension of Connecticut's largest lake, Candlewood Lake.

This time I took two yellow rectangular float cushion PFD's to try as kneeling pads, in addition to my smaller beige EVA pads, and I also took a 52" Wenonah carbon bent shaft paddle in addition to my Gillespie Free and Smith ottertail straights.

Here is the boat ramp put-in (direct splash entry from the trailer bars), looking north. The right side of the lake is all built up with houses while the left side is all hills and woods.

Squantz boat launch.jpg

I paddled up the right side because it was in the sun and warmer, plus I wanted to look at the houses, many of which had several canoes and kayaks. I found only one small island on the lake.

Squantz island.jpg

I paddled all the way to the very north end where a dried up Glen Brook usually feeds the lake. I am in about 3 inches of water.

Squantz north end glen brook.jpg

I started going back down south along the wooded shore, but it was sort of cool there in the shade for my short-sleeve shirt and the scenery was sort of monotonous. So I cut back across the lake to the area of that small island.

Squantz back to island.jpg

After paddling along the housed shore again for a bit, I changed my mind again and cut diagonally across the lake to look at the state park beach. The beach was deserted because it is closed for the season, and was closed even earlier than that for swimming because of high bacteria levels. The boat launch put-in is around the corner from the beach at the left of the photo.

Squantz cross lake to state beach.jpg

I got out of the canoe at the beach to stretch my legs, but the Morris wanted no part of land and started paddling away by itself, like Hiawatha's thought-controlled Cheemaun canoe.

Squantz Morris drifts away at beach.jpg

Morris changed direction all by itself and tried to go back to Glen Brook.

Squantz Morris further drifts away.jpg

I had to corral the wayward and mischievous canoe and plunk it on the beach, as I sat upon some boulders casting shadows of my former self.

Squantz back on beach.jpg

After resting for a while, I went round the corner to the boat ramp. There, two fishermen helped me carry the canoe onto the trailer after watching me back the insubordinate thing all over god's green acre except down the boat ramp. One problem is that I cannot see the low trailer out of the small, high rear windows of my full-size van until the trailer shows up already too far angled in my side mirrors.

I decided that the 2.5" thick rectangular float cushions made kneeling too high, and reverted to my 1.5" thick small EVA pads. I again preferred my straight paddles over the bent paddle, mainly because I can correct more easily with the straights, and I find myself doing palm roll in-water recoveries about 80% of the time in the Morris, which you can't do with a bent shaft paddle.

On the way home, I stopped at the locally famous American Pie bakery in Sherman, CT, to bring home a slice of pumpkin and apple crumb. You can guess which ones were for my wife and me.

American Pie bakery.png