I had to run out of the store to Smitty’s on Snowbank to pick up two rental Souris River Quetico 17’s that came back from a five day canoe trip.  I put a  “Back in 20 Min”  sign on the door, grabbed Delilah and put her in the truck.  Cookie stayed behind to guard the fort and keep our Northwind Lodge guests amused. She’s a strange little dog.

It’s another long string of beautiful days here at Northwind Lodge and I could not help but notice as I drove up the dusty  driveway and made my turn left  on the Fernberg.  In five minutes I would be well down the dusty Snowbank lake road doing my best to dodge the pot holes.

The ride is the customary rough one with our truck which has extra heavy duty springs on it for the snowplow.   Delilah bounces along in the passenger seat next to me.   I take the turn off the main gravel road as I head down to Smitty’s.  Their road is a slightly different type of rough and I always note that as we pick up speed like we’re on luge run.  It’s a big gradual slope into their property.  Once there,  I note that one of our canoes is present with some of the renter’s personal gear still  in place with velcro and buckles.  I undo their rods and seat backs and load our paddles and PFD’s into the truck.  Delilah is calmly watching me work  from the driver’s seat.  I pick the 43 lb. kevlar canoe up and raise it overhead to set on the canoe rack on the truck and strap it down.  While, I’m doing this, I hear yelling in the background and see the second canoe being carried over as well.

The other three members of the party appear and watch while the canoe portager sets the canoe down.  “Man, we SURE loved those canoes!”, somebody of the group said happily.

He went on to say that he’s never been in a canoe before that felt so secure when loaded OR empty.   I told him that his observation was very perceptive because most people do not catch that subtle, but very important, detail.  Souris River Quetico 17’s achieve what no other canoe can do.  They are stable, fast, easy to turn, lightweight, and durable.  You don’t get all five of these characteristics in just any canoe.  Also, I believe the canoe world thinks having all of these details is not possible in one canoe and that is why we don’t really see a competing model for the greatest canoe ever built.

After noticing the stability and handling of the canoe (the important parts) then they commended the Quetico 17’s on their incredibly light weight.   They were an unusual group.  Most do not notice or cannot articulate all the reasons they really loved the canoes and usually can only conclude that they were really light on the portages.

The order of the details which should always be taken into consideration  for acquiring a canoe for rentals or ownership always should begin with handling characteristics.   Remember – the canoe’s weight, while it may be wonderful part of a Boundary Waters trip – is the least important detail.  90% of one’s travel time in the BWCA or Quetico Park is on the water where the weight of any canoe is 110% irrelevant.  A floating canoe weighs zero pounds in terms relative to the work it is performing.   A really famous blogger once said, “Nobody ever drowns on a portage.”.    That still remains very true.  If the canoe is not user-friendly on the water, but super-lightweight, what is the point of owning it?

Well, this group peppered me with the questions.  How much are they new?    Is that black stripe in the Le Tigre Kevlar carbon fiber and does that contribute to the canoe’s performance?  No, it’s kevlar that has been dyed no matter what the “expert” outfitters out there say it is &  No, being carbon fiber or having carbon content would be mostly irrelevant in the performance of the Quetico 17 (or any non-racing canoe) as hull shape is what dictates performance on the water.   How much do we sell them for used?  $2200-2400 depending on the number of times it went out on the water.  How long do Souris River Canoes last?  We began selling them in 1994 and it is now 2014 and I’ve seen several that have lasted 18 years with no difficulties.  What makes that Quetico 17 SO stable?  There is a  6 foot flat region in the center of the hull that shallow arches under the paddle stations (seat area).  The canoe can tip sideways but is reluctant to go over due to the shallow-arching areas near the ends.  Primary stability is excellent due to the flat region in the center.  Tracking is achieved because the bow and stern have the right amount of knife entry into the water and the rocker of the canoe allows it to be turned like a normal canoe should be able to do. (Grumman).  Racing canoes do not turn because their shortest path from point A to B -both sideways and up and down – requires them to have little to zero rocker.  Zero rocker makes them hard to turn and the sharp knife bow allows them to cut through the waves.  Cutting is great from a speed standpoint, but if your bow is 20″ tall and the wave is 24″ tall and the canoe does not ride up and over the wave, somebody will be getting water in their lap up front.   In the Boundary Waters, where riding up and over waves with a full load is a must, most rockerless canoes that are designed for racing first and then adapted (Wenonah MN II) to wilderness use, are not a good choice for many paddlers.  They don’t respond to the stern paddlers actions and usually require that the bow paddler knows how to perform cross-bow ruddering, sweeps and draw strokes.  Unfortunately, 98% of all bow paddlers in the Boundary Waters barely know how to paddle straight ahead – hence the reason for them sitting in the bow.  Setting these people up with user-UN friendly canoes is sloppy outfitting, in my opinion.  Sure, they always make if back when in a Wenonah, but they don’t usually jump up and down about what a GREAT canoe it was (especially when trying to maneuver).  Now, when they spend 5 days in a Souris River Quetico 17 or 18.5, we usually see a lot of jumping up and down.  A seasoned paddler can make that discovery in about 5 minutes in a Quetico 17.  It’s a pretty special canoe, to say the least.

They nodded, smiling in agreement with my mini-dissertation on canoe hull performance and design.  Being that I was now overtime with my “Back In 20 Min.” sign on the Red Rock doors, I said I had to go.  They all reached out to shake my hand and I bid them adieu commenting about what a beautiful set of days they had for their trip.  They happily agreed.

I jumped in the truck after tying Quetico #2 on and bouncing back up the Snowbank Lake road I went.   I was in overtime but nobody was waiting at the store door when I arrived.  Sign of the season, I guess.

 Life On a Minnesota Resort – Stories and tales about Northwind Lodge in Ely, MN

Red Rock Wilderness Store Online

Northwind Lodge Website – Cabin Rentals near Ely, Minnesota