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Thread: Wenonah Itasca

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2005

    Default Wenonah Itasca

    Maker's Spec

    Itasca availability: Weight*
    Kevlar Ultra-light 49lb.
    Kevlar Flex-core 61lb.
    Tuf-weave Flex-core 71lb.
    *Weights published are for canoes with all standard equipment

    Maker's Write Up
    Versatile enough for all-around use, the Itasca is an extreme design -- a seeming contradiction that takes some explaining.

    This is our highest volume tandem, giving it huge capacity and rock-solid initial stability. Gene Jensen designed this 37"-wide hull with lots of reserve buoyancy so that it scoffs at big waves, even if heavily loaded.

    Large as it is, the Itasca handles like a smaller canoe. The wide and slightly-rockered hull turns much faster than you'd expect of its 19' length.

    Notice, too, that the gunwales pull in strongly at the seats, which gives a much better paddle reach than otherwise would be possible. This canoe travels well partly because you can apply efficient strokes. While not as fast as our Minnesota II, the Itasca carries more weight.

    One downside is that the Itasca's unusual shape is laborious to build, and it requires stout wood gunwales to hold the contour. That's why this model is more costly, but its attributes make it the perfect choice for certain uses.

    Extreme voyages are one of them, since this hull carries more while retaining better glide than any other tandem canoe.

    It travels quickly if lightly loaded as well, making the Itasca ideal for coastal touring, or wherever waves can be huge.

    It's also a safe and comfortable transport for a family with children, and is a steady platform for landing large fish. Although many people feel a canoe should be 16' or 17' long, the Itasca illustrates a different point: Only a longer hull can combine excellent paddling, capacity, seaworthiness, and stability. These varied aspects make the Itasca a superb canoe. A small loss of maneuverability results from its length, but a bit of paddling skill will fix that. And while the Itasca has extreme size and seaworthiness, it's also rewarding to paddle, and highly-capable in diverse conditions.
    Last edited by Chrish; 19th-November-2007 at 01:48 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2009

    Default Even better than I expected it to be

    With its wide belly and tucked-in gunnels at the paddling positions, never mind its length, this boat is a head-turner on and off the water. People - even non-paddlers - stop us and ask about it because they haven't seen a canoe quite like it before. Is this still the only one in the country?

    We've had a few short runs in the Itasca - nothing over a couple of hours as yet.

    Getting in it, you realise how long it is: paddlers sit a VERY log way apart - passing a drink back and forth needs full stretch and the aid of a paddle as a long tray.

    But it handles superbly. Feels like a 16 foot boat, not 19. With both paddlers putting in some steerage it turns very well and being extremely light will sideslip and spin very easily using prys and draws. We took it through some slalom gates on moving water a couple of weeks ago (not as hardcore as it sounds - mostly quite straight lines!) and it was surprisingly easy to manoeuvre.

    With my 12 year old daughter paddling as well (it has a third seat) we can put very little effort in and yet cruise comfortably. With two of us pulling hard in a sprint, it goes like stink. My friend has a Wenonah Escape (17') which is beautiful and very efficient - yes, I covet it. I think, even with his and his wife's superior skills and fitness, we could keep up with them ieven when they put the power down.

    In the high winds the other weekend, with it unloaded it was quite a problem: it becomes a sail! The length and high-ish sides (but the stem and stern aren't overly tall) both contribute significantly the side area. My daughter had to kneel just behind her friend, who was in the bow seat and as far forward on its rails as it would go, and then we could stay on course - next step would have been me (not small) kneeling forward of the stern seat, too.

    Side winds were still a problem even after we re-trimmed: coming from under the lee of the bank we were quickly pushed across the river. But once we got used to it we could at least hold our own sideways and still make good forward progress. And in all fairness once we had retrimmed and got used to it, whilst we were suffering more from windage than friends in their tandem Royalex boats, it wasn't a show-stopper.

    My friend and I had a short play with the expedition spray deck fitted. This was in wind and the windage wasn't much of a problem. I'm impressed with how much difference I think the deck made - had read about them but never tried one until now.

    With moderate, little or no wind, the boat is a delight to paddle. Very little effort needed, tracks superbly yet turns nimbly when needed. You can spin it on its axis with surprisingly little effort. It's not a Spanish Fly but then again it's twice as long as a spec boat!

    Primary stability is very impressive. It hardly moves when I stand up, which is easy when the gunnels almost touch your hips in the stern: plenty of handhold! Secondary stability is good, too. Had a few minutes soloing it - knelt in the very wide (37") centre in the bilge and heeled the boat over a good ways, which probably shortened the waterline by five or six feet. It leaned over and then stabilised nicely: no bad habit there! But it did have a tendency to want to spin when paddled from its middle, which is hardly surprising. I won't make a habit of soloing the Itasca but if I had to I could. But couldn't paddle it backwards sitting reversed in the front seat because of the sliding front seat's rear frame cross bar; and the boat isn't symmetrical front-to-rear. Soloing would have to be done from the middle regions. I doubt it could be soloed from the stern seat because even on an expedition there may not be enough kit to put in the nose to trim it level).

    Crossing some two-foot washes from a jet ski was event-free. No scary moments, either hitting the waves head-on or at an angle (the ski went past us two or three times). Hitting the wash head on there wasn't much pitching, as you'd expect from a boat this long, and we took no water over the bow: a very dry experience. Hitting the wash at about 45 degrees rocked us a lot (two-up, not three) but again we shipped no water and didn't have to work to stay balanced and upright.

    When our (smallish) dog rushes from one gunnel to the other you do feel it but once the boat has heeled it sits rock steady again. I put this down it its light weight - it has no mass to damp the weight changes: the dog is 10.5kg which, whilst not much, is getting on for half the weight of the boat!

    The itasca feels very stable all the time. In fact it feels more stable than an Old Town Discovery.

    As expected the hull is extremely stiff: no oil-canning or perceivable twisting or hogging. But roll it onto its side and the tumblehome hull side does deform under its own weight - so no strapping it to an upright on the roof bars!

    Durability: I try not to rest the hull on anything other than grass or timber. I certainly don't step in it when it's on the ground for fear of damage from point pressures from stones etc (won't do that with a Royalex or other construction either, though). I have another kevlar boat so know how badly they scratch. But we've picked up a few scratch marks just through normal use; none serious.

    As long as you don't bounce down rock gardens, drag it across shingle (although ultralights will get blown away on land by wind: tie them down if it looks blowy - discovered this the hard way with my solo boat), run aground hard or mistreat it, then the single-skin, no-gelcoat kevlar is fine: just have to be a bit more careful than with a heavier construction, that's all.

    The gunnels are wooden so will need a bit of attention to keep the water out. And we try not to drag the paddles down the gunnels or pry off them so they should wear well.

    The Wenonah Itasca is very easy for a novice to paddle as it tracks well and is light and so turns well - just don't let them hit things in it! With experienced paddlers in charge, the Itasca is a grand tourer that you can paddle all day, and is every bit as comfortable - this one is fitted with three cane seats which I was skeptical about at first (I like the Wenonah tractor seats) but are actually very comfortable.

    The bow paddler doesn't have a lot of foot room for sitting: the nose is very slim which limits the available space. Kneeling would be an option but not one my wife likes.

    Centre seat is a long reach to get the paddle in the water unless you sit to one side. Not the end of the world but reaching out becomes a little tiring. My daughter sits here mostly and uses a longer than normal paddle.

    Stern seat is a great place to be. The gunnels tuck in so closely the paddle can be vertical in the water with no effort or over-reaching. The foot brace is very useful and effective. Leaning outboard for big control strokes is easy and the boat remains stable.

    And the Itsaca's huge volume and massive internal space is incredible. There's room for three paddlers, a small dog and I'm confident I could get a week's camping kit for all of us in as well, and not overload it.

    This is one extremely versatile boat.

    All-in-all I'm delighted with the Itasca. I've yet to load it up with camping gear but given its ease and efficiency with three people in it, I'd say it will be a delight to paddle fully loaded (with two people or three) as well as unladen (both with two and three paddlers). I had great expectations but even they have been far exceeded by the Itasca.

    Got no pictures as yet. Will upload some in due course.

  3. #3


    Hi, I've just read this review and had to add my thoughts and experiences. I'm the previous owner of this beautiful canoe. It was sold because of long term back injuries meaning the boat wasn't getting used. This boat is a true example of specific design excelling. 19 foot sounds long, but if you're going a to b with no sharp turns then speed efficiency comfort and safety are the priorities. This boat fills them all. I've paddled long distance in this boat, with my brother, 30 stone between us loaded with very heavy winter camping gear. It cuts chop and rises over big waves, even big following waves can be coped with. Prior to my back giving out we once did 26 miles in five hours with a lunch stop on loch long, my friend who is an whitewater racer did not have to slow in his sea kayak for us to keep up. This is a beautiful boat. Wind is an issue but put the deck on and it's cut down massively. If you ever decide to sell it I might buy it back.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2009


    Sorry for the delay replying, William. Work has kept me off the water and away from the forums for well over a year.
    Sad to say we not paddled in all that time except during a week's holiday in Windermere. We intend to make up for lost paddling this year. I'll get some pix of the boat this year...

    I hope you will be paddling again by now, back allowing, albeit in a new boat as I doubt we'll ever sell the Itasca, we like it so much. But we'll let you know if that plan changes!

    All the best,

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