Thank you again for liaising with Bob Hellman and arranging for the delivery of my new custom Hellman Solitude! I cant tell you how much I appreciate this. I am waiting with great anticipation the arrival of this boat. I have some paddling plans for this summer and this canoe is at the center of them. This will be my 5th Hellman canoe purchase since 2006 when I bought my first prospector. In my opinion these are the best hull designs on the market. My personal favorite being the Hellman Slocan. Maybe the Solitude will be my new favorite?
Ever since I first viewed ‘Path of the Paddle’ series on CBC in the late 70’s I have been hooked on paddling, more specifically whitewater paddling. Simply put I love whitewater, the bouncier the better! With that said, there is no question that I abuse the boats I purchase; I smash into things when paddling, I drag, push, pull boats over whatever portage situations I encounter. I frequently run class 3 to 4 rapids when running rivers. This is why I choose to buy Hellman canoes. For me Hellman canoes seem to have found the right balance between stiffness and forgiveness in their hull design. Some hulls can be very stiff, which makes for snappy maneuverability, but when under stress, they seem to break. Hellman hulls seem to have “bend don’t break” characteristics.
I appreciate the simplicity in the build layups he manufacturers. Nothing exotic, nothing trendy, with time tested, proven build quality. If I could sum it up I would say they are tough and durable. I really appreciate the weight as well. I am not a big guy, I am 150 lbs. I appreciate the weight savings of his layups compared to a similar boat in royalex or its alternatives! There is nothing worse than portaging a 90lb boat through broken terrain or crashing through bush, when it could be a 56lb Slocan.
I also appreciate how he makes gunwales, wood or aluminum are hard to beat. The new trend in carbon gunwales is in my opinion a bit silly for whitewater tripping. If the manufacturer doesn’t absolutely get the infusion of epoxy into the gunwales perfectly they shed carbon shards. These shards cause terrible skin irritation. Putting your paddle against the gunwales over time causes the epoxy to ‘wear’ and it’s only a matter of time before the gunwales cause issues. Same goes for rubbing the gunwales against rocks. I like the fact that Hellman hasnt bought into this trend. His gunwale design is perfect.
One aspect of his boats I apreciate most is the layup. I run over rocks, drag my boat over obstacles, and frequent rock strewn mountain whitewater rivers. I constantly scratch my canoe hull. The layup he uses is easy to fix with a tube epoxy. I can fix a deep scratch easily on the river. Some manufacturers use Kevlar (or alternatives) on the bottom of the hull. This is a mistake in my opinion, Kevlar has hydrophilic components and as such absorbs water. So if you scratch your boat, it will absorb water and be virtually impossible to fix correctly. This is usually not an issue in summer, but wait til winter when water that is trapped in the fiber freezes. It expands and then begins to delaminate you hull. However Helmann manufactures his boats I have not had this issue.
I also like the fact that Hellman uses large bang plates on the bow and stern of his boats. I have seen and experienced that when other manufacturers put small bang plates (or worse, none at all!) they don’t provide enough surface area to adequately protect the hull from the abuse whitewater can inflict. Not protecting the hull in the place where it needs it the most is dangerous on a whitewater river trip. The bang plates on my Hellman canoes are extra insurance and give me peace of mind.
I paddle 80-100 days per year, mostly whitewater. I frequently run big whitewater on my trips up to class 3 and 4. Notables in the Yukon include: the Tatshenshini, Bonnet plume, Snake, Lapie and the Firth. In BC notables include: Upper Stikine, Kispiox, Turnagain, Odonnel, Jennings, Gataga/Kechika, Bulkley canyon, Telkwa, and stretches of the Ishkinish. Notables in Saskatchewan include the Porcupine, Clearwater, Wathaman, Foster, Churchill and the Napikamew. The list goes on of the beautiful rivers I have been blessed to paddle! The Hellman hull design is so efficient in moving water I find I am able to maneuver with absolute ease in the river. The efficiency contributes to the durability of the hull because I am able to avoid obstacles. I am admittedly very rough on a hull, and considering the amount I paddle the functional life of a boat for me is 3 years, sometimes less! 250-300 days of abuse in whitewater is alot to ask from a manufacturer. Hellman seems to have dialed in the durability for my application. I never have had buyer regret with a Hellman canoe. I enjoy purchasing a new canoe after every 3 years, it means that I have had 3 really great seasons of paddling!
Hull design on Hellman whitewater boats are very special. From the rocker profile, bow and stern height, beam width and of course lenght, they produce high volume boats. This volume increases freeboard, especially with a load. The design creates a highly maneuverable, yet very large boat. Large and maneuverable seems contradictory but they have found this balance. These gains allow the boat to function like a much smaller boat. Allowing “creeking” maneuvers. It’s actually pretty amazing considering the size and volume. I like that I can also paddle an empty canoe in 3 inches of water with his boats.
This is especially true in the Slocan. These boats pivot easily under load allowing eddy turns and peel out’s WITHOUT input from paddlers other than just lean/tilt. With paddler input the boat is highly maneuverable, allowing for complex advanced moves in moving water. Jet ferries, surfing, and catching micro eddy’s are the norm not the exception . The rocker profile allows paddling on huge waves at slow speed (with back paddling).
The increase in maneuverability allows me to run class 3 and some class 4 rapids loaded. I have run Jewel rapids on the upper Stikine at 1250m3 (normal high water is 500 m3, this was full flood conditions after 5 days of heavy rain) with 12 to 18 foot waves (spray decked of course) and on Donaldson channel/Barker lake on the Churchhill river undecked in 8 to 14 foot waves when the Churchill was running at 850m3. In case anyone is wondering, these are the driest boats on the market. Decked or not, it’s a dry ride in a Hellman.
Most of my paddling partners will tell you that I hate portaging. I really do. It’s my least favorite part of canoeing. It is likely one of the reasons I have become proficient running rapids. The 2 worst portage experiences I have had were on the Turnagain river and the overland route to the headwaters of the Nahanni river. The Turnagain was 6km one way walk through blow down, a rockslide, swamps, steep creek draws, and mountains. It was brutal, a real class 5 portage with no real trail to follow. I had a royalex boat on that trip, I vowed to never again carry such a heavy canoe! The overland portage to the headwaters of the Nahanni was also brutal, 54 km according to my gps. At least I had a duralight Hellman prospector to carry.
I simply cannot say enough good things about Hellman canoes. I realize I am part of a small niche of paddlers. I prefer big whitewater and long wilderness trips of 3 weeks to 3 months. My longest trip was 110 days (I decided to paddle across 3 provinces into Hudsons bay). Hellman boats have never failed me. I have never broken one, in fact the only boats I have broken are royalex. I have witnessed many other manufacturers’ boats break.
Two summers ago, my paddling partners and I were intending to paddle a northern Saskatchewan River, as we were loading the floatplane, the pilot was securing/strapping another manufacturers canoe onto the side of a turbo Otter, the canoes carbon gunwales buckled, broke, and the hull was ‘ripped’ on both sides! Thank goodness I own 2 Helmann Slocan’s, which we promptly strapped to the plane without issue. When my friend called the Canadian Manufacturer to inform them of his broken boat, they refused warranty. Citing that strapping a canoe to a plane is not intended use of a canoe! They denied warranty of his $4000 custom whitewater layup canoe! The boat didn’t even have 5 days of paddling on it, and they didnt even offer to fix it for a fee. My friends refuse to fix or paddle the boat, they don’t trust it. So it sits in their backyard as an expensive raised bed planter. Now it’s intended use is producing tomatoes, which is sad and ridiculous. Their choice of replacement boat was a Hellman Slocan.
Warranty with Hellman for me has been excellent. I have requested warranty and service with him on 3 occasions. First one for a broken seat on a Slocan, which he replaced no questions asked at no cost to me. The seat on a trip last summer, he replaced it without even asking how I broke it! Second one was for broken gunwales on a Slocan. A pickup truck backed into my canoe in a parking lot, pinning it end to end. The force snapped the wooden gunwales on both sides. Surprisingly the hull was not damaged! Hellman promptly sent new gunwales and only charged me for shipping! The third was replacing a front bulkhead. I hit a reef in a class 3+ rapid on the Kitimat river in northern BC head on at high speed. The impact caused the bulkhead to blow out of the front of the canoe. Our momentum was stopped instantly from the impact. We ended swamping and up joining the ‘swim team’ as a result. The hull was completely intact, a large chunk was missing from the bang plate. Resulting damage to the canoe was the bulkhead ‘blew out’ into the river. They promptly sent us a new one, which was easy to repair with some epoxy and filler.
My summer plans have changed due to the Covid 19 pandemic. I was planning some paddling adventures in the Yukon and BC. Instead I will be working (nursing) in Saskatchewan close to my family, and I plan on paddling locally.
I am at a hospital close to the put in on Clearwater river in northern Saskatchewan. My intent is to clear ALL of the Portage trails on this river this summer. This is no easy task since there are a great deal of them. To complicate matters 2 large forest fires and one ‘plow’ wind has created havoc on the portage trails. There are literally thousands of downed and burned trees across the trails. The access to this beautiful place is now restricted to exceptional whitewater paddlers that can run big water without having to portage. Myself and a group of local paddlers intend on improving access which would allow everyone to visit this magical, world class whitewater river. My new Helmann Solitude will be my ‘ride’ for this project. I will send some videos of our project and hopefully running some Rapids!
Take care, stay safe, and paddle on… and remember tough times don’t last, tough canoeist’s do.