Bob's Relationship With Bell Canoe Works
Bob and Karen in a Nexus in Lava Falls Rapid on the Grand Canyon. Taken by John Gryszkowiec
I have received lots of inquiries regarding my relationship with Bell Canoe Works and the boats that I’ve designed with them. Below, I’ll attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
My Relationship with Bell Canoe Works
Through the years, I have had the opportunity to design boats for Dagger (Genesis, Rival and Phantom) and Navarro (Loon 16 and 17, Egret, Pursuit and Whisper). When Bell approached me about collaborating with them and David Yost on designing a line of white water canoes, I talked it over with both Dagger and Navarro before making a commitment. All parties were supportive of my working with Bell and left the door open for me to design with them in the future. I feel fortunate to have such excellent relationships with these outstanding companies.
To many it may seem a strange time for Bell Canoe Works to be entering the white water market. While other companies are backing out of the designing and manufacturing of whitewater canoes, Bell is forging ahead with three new whitewater boats (Prodigy, Prodigy X and Nexus) co-designed by me and David Yost.
By offering a line of quality whitewater canoes, Bell is now able to promote and service all styles of canoeing – white water, touring, recreation, freestyle, marathon racing, etc. In addition, they are also trying to keep some of the old classic canoe designs alive. Bell has obtained the molds for The Canadian and Mike Galt’s Egret and plans to make them available to the public.
General Philosophy of the White Water Series
Companies design boats with different performance goals in mind: stability, dryness, surf ability, speed, etc. Before sitting down at the drawing table, we discussed what Bell was looking for. They were clear that they wanted to offer the white water canoeing community innovative designs to choose from and not just slight variations on already existing themes. It was also decided to design for the average whitewater enthusiast and not racer.
David Yost and I designed the canoes in Bell’s whitewater series with versatility, speed and performance in mind. We wanted each boat to be versatile enough so a beginner could feel comfortable paddling it within a short period of time, but at the same time a boat they could grow into as their skills developed. Speed and performance are also emphasized in the design, because these are the features that you need when trying to do a hard ferry, make an eddy turn and catch and surf a wave. These same features also help the boat move through the water with ease, which means at the end of the day the paddler will be less fatigued. Our boats may not be as dry or have as much initial stability as some other boats on the market, but that’s OK. We make up for it in other areas. Bell is giving white water boaters more designs and options to choose from- boats to match their skills, goals and body size.
The Prodigy is the first of three in Bell’s white water canoe series. It’s designed for the smaller to average sized paddler (weight between 100 to 180 lbs). This solo canoe may appear small in size, but it is actually close to 12 feet in length (11’ 7”). We’ve scaled down the volume of this boat to fit smaller to average sized paddlers – which means better control and less boat for them to move around.
With its sleek lines and soft chines, the front half of the bow was designed with speed in mind, while the harder chines in the stern allows the paddler to use the edges to cut and carve. The Prodigy offers the feel of a soft and hard chine boat. The extra ridge right under the bow gunnels is there to help throw water out. I enjoyed speed. In most rapids, when ferrying or surfing, speed is your friend.
The Prodigy will appeal to beginner boaters looking for a canoe they can paddle in a straight line with speed and won’t have to chase, as well as to the advance paddler who’s looking for a boat that carves, performs turns with outside heels, and attains with speed.
Side note regarding the Prodigy: In 2002 Karen Knight and I decided to test the first Prodigy canoes out of the mold on a two week trip in the Grand Canyon. The time frame for getting the boats to us for the trip was tight. In the rush, there was a mix up at the factory and the wrong size thwarts were installed. Bell tried to reach us before we put on the river to let us know, but just missed us. The thwarts installed were shorter in length, which made the boat narrower and reduced a lot of its flare, thus decreasing some of the boat’s initial stability. This made for an interesting trip. But even with the wrong size thwarts Karen found that she was able to make moves in the Prodigy that she was unable to do in other boats, because of its exceptional speed and lightness. Also, during the first year of production we realized that the sheer line of the boat was too low. Since then, the sheer line has been raised, making the boat drier.
The Prodigy X, the second boat in the white water series, is designed for the larger paddler (180 to 280 lbs). At 12’7”, this truly large persons “solo” canoe (vs. a tandem boat that can be paddled solo) is probably the fastest, shortest, big person’s boat available on the market today. With plenty of leg room to spread the knees, paddlers will find the Prodigy X comfortable and easy to control. For years, larger paddlers have been paddling tandem boats solo - because that’s all that has been available. While many of these boats were stable, they were large and heavy too. To heel the boats, paddlers often had to do a weight shift by leaning their upper body out of the canoe. Not so with the Prodigy X . In this boat, paddlers will need to modify their technique, by keeping their weight over their seat (“nose and navel over center”) and learn to heel the boat with knee pressure versus upper body lean . Us smaller paddlers went through this learning curve years ago when boats went from 13-14’ to shorter and smaller. If we continued to lean out like we use to in the larger boats we be in the water a lot more.
While there are similarities, the Prodigy X is a unique design and not just a magnified Prodigy (no we didn’t just add a foot to the middle of the boat).
Besides being fast and maneuverable, the Prodigy X is versatile. It’s a fantastic and I mean fantastic solo tripping canoe with the capacity to hold gear for multi-day white water trips.
This tandem white water canoe is the third boat in the series. Karen and I took it down the Grand Canyon and loved it. When asked to describe the performance of the boat – “fast, fun and stable” were words that immediately came to mind. Unlike some tandem canoes, where it is a constant struggle to hold a line, the Nexus is easy to control. Besides being fast and stable, it carves well when heeled too. Versatility, speed and performance were the main design features that Dave Yost and I were aiming for when we designed the Nexus. This boat delivers all of that and more.
Recommendations on Outfitting
1. Prodigy -Place the seat in the canoe so that your back bone is about 79” from the bow.
2. Prodigy X - Place the seat in the canoe so that your back bone is about 82” from the bow.
3. Nexus - Paddling skills and style determine how to best outfit this tandem canoe. For those paddling the boat from standard positions, the back bone should be 67”-68” from the bow for the bow paddler and approximately 58” from the stern for the stern paddler. For paddlers with a higher skill level and wishing for tighter positioning, the bow person’s back bone should be about 75” from the bow, while the stern person’s back bone is 63” from the stern.
Overall Recommendations for Outfitting the Prodigy, Prodigy X and Nexus: When positioning the seat for outfitting, the above are starting point recommendations. Everyone is looking for a certain feel and has their own ideas on where to place the seats. I would recommend before gluing in the pedestals to take the boat out and place the seats in the recommended starting positions and then move them forward and back an inch at a time and see how the boat handles for you. Mark the place on the boat that works best for you. (You should not be more than 1-2” either sided of the above recommended starting points.) The tandem seat positions are based on the size and weight of the tandem team. (I weigh a 160 lbs and Karen is 110lbs) Again, I would recommend setting the seats in the canoe, having the tandem team get in and then adjust the seats for their weight and for the best performance of the boat.