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I’m ashamed to say I’d been out with Robson only once since a challenging and enjoyable 5 Star Canoe training at the back end of 2012 with Jules Burnard of Voyageur Coaching, so I had some trepidation in getting back in the canoe. In fact on our last mid-January jaunt with kayaking self-styled guru Daz Clarkson-King and friend Nigel Conway, we took a dip on the Dee’s tricky and as it turned out; sticky Serpents Tail in bitter, snowy conditions.
After a 2 ½ hour drive up the M6 and feeling the unfitness of the January gloom I met the rest of my group for the 2 day assessment. I was to be a mock student to gain useful tips and ideas for my own assessment later in the year and clearly to blow the cobwebs of the cold, wet, snowy, windy winter out of my stiff joints.
Ullswater in the top East corner of Cumbria’s stunning Lake District was the venue for day one of the assessment and would prove to be a challenging paddle, with winds gusting in ever-direction changing squalls. These really were 5 star conditions for the 3 candidates!
My ongoing personal relationship with Robson Brooks requires me to paddle as often as possible in varying environments with the aim of making conclusions on characteristics of construction, materials, design and features. I’m like a test pilot or semi-pro demoer. I’ll come to that bit later!
If as a paddler, you’ve never experienced being a mock student on the path to personal improvement then surely you have missed a trick. Neither paying for your role nor being assessed makes for an economical and relaxed couple of days in the hands of candidates who you’d hope could look after you in the event….and a couple of “Guru” assessors whom you can pick and glean information from in the satisfaction that you are not paying them a pretty penny.
So, the three assessment candidates led Emma, Bex, Ken and I in challenging winds, clustered and rafted crossing the lake from one island to the next. At times we hunkered down low in our canoes when the wind lifted with hurricane blasts, only to drop down again enough for us to proceed to the next destination. Robson Brooks is a big volume canoe with high gunwales, excellent for chunkier pilots but putting lighter paddlers at a distinct disadvantage on open water in these conditions and it’s worth noting that with so much rocker, Robson is inclined to turn unless harnessed. Trim would be key if the wind would make up its mind as to which direction it wanted to blow and plenty of it. I started the day with a large rock in my bow and the girls had opted for dry bags filled with the wet stuff in their canoes. This was what I was here for and I was enjoying every minute!
At lunch and after cheap white bread sandwiches and my life-giving flask of tea we cracked on with the third assessment candidate and sailing. The wind had abated by this time, mercifully and as sleet and rain lashed down on our backs, Bex and I hurriedly rigged our canoes with a small group shelter on a glass pole mast. We launched our canoe raft, pleased to see that everything was holding together. Promptly the mast snapped and the sail dropped. This truly was improvised sailing as I physically held the mast up to catch enough wind to make progress and Bex steered a course to the opposite shore. We made the shore despite the failed gear with great relief and de-rigged to paddle our return once again.
Expecting to carry on into the descending darkness I think all were relieved to be told that due to the challenging conditions of the day a night navigation exercise would not be required and that all the candidates had completed day one satisfactorily. Relief ensued from all and we packed up boats and gear to return to the bunkhouse via food at the pub.
Day two and we met at Chollerton on the Upper Tyne which is a big, wide river fed by Kielder water. Additional assessor Kim Bull and another mock student, Stuart had joined us and shuttles were run, kit was donned and the sun even made an appearance. 4 of the mock students were to be led by one candidate at a time starting with Ben. After a sloping river wide weir just below our get-in, the first few kilometers were easy, wide grade 1-2 rapids with no particular challenges for us mock students or Robson Brooks. In fact Robson made easy work of the eddy hopping and ferries with its generous rocker giving easy, capable turns. After the candidates proved their skills and judgement with some upstream travel we broke for lunch below a long wave train. More cheap white bread sandwiches were shoveled down and more flask tea and onto moving water rescues. This gave us mock students a chance to watch and relax whilst candidates Ben, Chris and Rick got wet rescuing themselves and each other.
Time was pushing on as we returned to our canoes to complete the last section of the trip and the crux rapids in Wardens Gorge. The English white water guide suggests grade 3-4 through the gorge so this would create challenges for both assessment candidates and mock students alike. Due to the SSSI status we were unable to inspect the gorge from the banks. Each candidate was given two mock students each and off we went. As I started to descend into the gorge behind my leader and Stuart, I was surprised how large the holes where. My best description would be that there was a series of great playable holes and waves (for kayaks). Those that have paddled beyond grade 2-3 in canoe will know that your lines need to be tight and accurate to avoid filling your canoe like an overflowing bucket, thereby rendering the craft virtually uncontrollable…..capsize follows swiftly after. Robson did not let me down as we danced with the waves and stoppers teasing the edges as we found a line through. Robson Brooks generous rocker and high freeboard made easy work of the rapids keeping me dry enough to negotiate the worst of the chop. I ran a right hand line skirting the boat sized cauldrons until a half enforced break-out into a V shaped, walled in eddy on the right. My leader was by now chasing Stuart, the mock student and his canoe around the corner, so I broke back in and followed. We retrieved Stuart, boat and paddle and continued to the egress at Hexham (the base for the Tyne Tour) What a climax to a great couple of days canoeing.
So how did Robson Brooks stand up to the two days?….I liked it. I liked the speed both on the flat and through the chop. The generous rocker means I can spin into and out of eddies with ease and the bow lifts over small waves with ease and remains dry when other canoes bury the bow and take on water. The deep gunwales can catch a blade as you switch to your offside on cross-deck strokes but I love that it keeps dry when running rapids. My previous Wenonah Prospector 15 was a smaller boat, similar characteristics but crucially a much wetter boat and remaining dry was challenging on steep white water. When I want to track a line on the flat bits I could heel Robson right on its edge, kneeling into the curve in the hull and it will be both directionally and laterally stable.
As I’d dragged the Robson out of the van on day 1, those that hadn’t seen the Brooks before were intrigued. The stealthy black looks, the unfamiliar Armerlite construction which looks very much like carbon fibre, the hull shape, all drew questions and admiring looks. The Brooks certainly stands out from the hum drum staple of green and red offerings. Its wood and web seats slung below vinyl gunwales and ash carry yoke perhaps the only universal canoe parts, otherwise Robson certainly looks different enough to be interesting.
Pick Robson Brooks up and you’ll be surprised and relieved at the weight (around 27kg without kit), of course this one is the 15ft version so I am bound to compare it to similar sized canoes in its class, the Mad River Explorer 15 and the Novacraft and Wenonah Prospectors. If your thinking 15ft Royalex that does pretty much everything; flat, white water, sail, carry loads, tandem and solo, Robson Brooks should certainly be close to the top of your pretty-short list. On my two days up North and on previous outings I have grown fond of Robson and I’ve been impressed with its performance and solid durability, despite looking to some like a carbon fibre canoe.
I now look forward to my next adventure with Robson as I make mental notes of Scottish multi-day trips on lochs and rivers. Surely Robson Brooks (15) is the canoe to take?
Length: 15′ / 456 cm
Weight: 59 lbs / 27 Kgs
Material: Recyclable Armerlite
Capacity: 550 lbs / 250 Kgs
Many thanks to Jules Burnard of Voyageur Coaching and Whitewater Consultancy.
Dee River Festival 2013
What’s the Dee River Festival all about?
The Dee River festival or DRF is about one thing – getting paddlers together on the iconic River Dee.
Why the Dee? The Dee is probably paddled more than any other white water river in the UK and was the home to the very first British slalom champs at Trevor Rocks, the infamous Mike Jones Rallies and many, many organised tours over the years.
The formula is simple; a range of paddling and rescue workshops ranging from novice right up to advanced. Not everyone wants to do a workshop so this year we will see an expansion of the event to include a river tour of around 20km’s form Glyndyffrywy to Ty Mawr, camping, rescue cover and shuttle buses.
The event is based at Mile End Mill where you’ll be able to see all the new gear to buy and demo from suppliers, grab a bite to eat and a shower.
We hope you’re inspired and come along to the DRF this year…..see you in March. Chris and Ali
For more information please follow these links:
We will be closing our Llangollen shop at Mile End Mill in the next couple of weeks. As we close a door on 6 years of trading here, we open a door to a future online venture with plenty of exciting new projects and ideas.
Beckie and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our loyal customers for their support and we look forward to your continued support online.
You can of course continue to place orders by phone 0800 0432 192 and online and through our ebay shop and PW Loyalty Card holders will not lose their credit. In fact you will be able to use and gain credit through www.paddleworks.co.uk very soon.
See you soon.
Paddleworks Presents a Double Bill of Talks: Canoeing a Personal Journey, UK and North America by Ray Goodwin and River Dee Source 2 Sea – A solo canoe expedition by Adam Robson. Ticket cost £5 on the door and receive a £10 Paddleworks voucher* Thursday 6th Dec 7.00 p.m at the Bridge End Hotel, Llangollen.
*Terms & Conditions apply – for more details phone us on 01978 861 444 e-mail: email@example.com
So we were lucky enough to have been loaned a Gatz Racoon by the good folk at White water Consultancy. Gatz is a lesser known German open canoe brand with a heritage going back to 1961. WWC started to import a range of Gatz’s most popular canoes a few years ago concentrating mainly on the Royalex market. With names such as Canoki, Mink, Tucan and Orca, Gatz show great individuality by not following the usual staid path of naming boats after rivers or areas of the great Canadian wilderness (although they do offer a Prospector).
So back to the Racoon. As its name suggest this canoe is sprightly, a bit twitchy, quick for its size and certainly bags of fun. Although I do not know any Racoons, I imagine this to be the case. My usual open canoe is a WeNoNah Prospector 15 and the Racoon is quite different, but in a good way. OK its not a slick all rounder like the Prospector and its not a boat for cruising on open water, however it is a similar weight at around 25KG, it is nimble and quick and it is easy to portage like the Prospector 15.
Whats it like then? Well its a very capable small river and creek boat, in fact I’d go as far as saying that its the closest thing to a Specialist Open Canoe without a pedestal and with 2 seats. Personally you can keep your Mad River Outrage’s and alike, I like a tradition boat, it just feels more proper if you know what I mean. The Racoon has bags of rocker and a flattish section in the middle of the hull so it turns on a “dime” and even boof’s when required on the steeps. Good secondary stability rewards the over keen. Its limitation is clearly its size, at 14ft 6inches its compact which is great for me paddling solo fitted with a kneeling thwart but may prove too small for tandems of anything other than diminutive stature. Indeed its markedly smaller than a Venture ranger 14 or Mad River Explorer 14TT, both capable in a tandem role. No I like the Racoon because its small.
Rivers its paddled. In brief; Lots on the Dee, Upper and Lower Tryweryn, Alwen, Banwy, Gam, Middle Conwy, Llygwy, Ceiriog. Most of these rivers have grade 2-4 rapids which should give you even more understanding of the little Racoons strengths, its a white water boat that wants to play in the rough stuff. It really is extremely tidy on steep rapids, spinning and surfing with assurance, eddying out effortlessly and changing line with minimal adjustment of edge and trim. On the down side (there always is) its not as dry as other canoes in this bracket such as the Legend (although the legend is larger) and it can get blown off line when running through disturbed water, such as down the Grave Yard on the Upper Tryweryn. In the end all canoes have limitations but most conditions are taken in the Racoons stride.
A note about build. You might be forgiven for thinking that all Royalex canoes are built the same, they aren’t! The Gatz range are notable by the tough Royalex hulls. This can produce a marginally heavier boat but you will gain in the increased life span. The demo Racoon that we have has exceeded our expectations of wear and tear considering what we have put it through. You’ll find vinyl gunwhales, cane seats and carbon deck plates in this model. Its a very solid boat.
Gatz Racoon specifications.
Side height: 35 cm / 13.7″
Bow height: 50 cm / 19.7″
Weight: 27 kg / 59.52 lbs
Weight Capacity: 300 kgs / 661 lbs
160 kgs – 22cm
Order your copy of the NEW Welsh Rivers book now. The eargerly anticipated guide book is here they keep going quickly so order now to avoid disappointment.
We are undertaking some improvements to the website – there may be a little disruption to some of the categories and pages but the outcome should be that it is much easier to find all that you are looking for!
Here is the link again to the live web cam from the shop – if reading on our web homepage click on “Latest news” then the link will work: – http://www.llangollenweb.co.uk/webcam/dee_1.jpg
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