Paul and Craig were kind enough to invite Darkside Canoes to show The Darkness at their demo day on Saturday 2nd August, outside their shop at Dreadnought Reach in Reading.
There was a large array of kayaks and a rack of high kneeling canoes. I setup two of my boats right next to the sit&switch boats from Wenonah, an American manufacturer. These boats, predominantly made from Kevlar, have pretty much been the only available option for sit&switch racing canoes.
It was interesting to make a direct comparison with the J203 solo canoe which according to the Wenonah web site: “With the J-203’s fast acceleration and effortless speed, and drafting ability, it is no wonder that this hull has dominated the men’s category in canoe races since its introduction in 2000.”……………….. but hopefully not for much longer!
So let’s compare the business part of the boat, the hull.
The J203 conforms to the United States Canoe Association (USCA)
“Canoe width shall be a certain percentage of the overall length of the hull, at a point within one foot of the center of the hull length, measured at the 4 inch waterline, not including a keel. The minimum width for a Formula 14 canoe is 14.375 percent of the length. The minimum width for a Formula 16 boat is 16 percent of length.”
The maximum length for the boat is 18’ 6” which is 222”. 1% of 222” is 2.22”, therefore a formula 14 boat must be at least 31” wide and formula 16 boats should be 35.5”.
The J203 is 18’6” long so the minimum width has to be 31”, 4” above the water line. The ICF does not specify a minimum width for a canoe, so a USCA boat is at a distinct width disadvantage but compensates with significant stability. However the ICF does specify a maximum length of 17” so the J203 has an additional 1’ 6” in length.
I would also presume that a lighter paddler would be faster on the J203 as the boat would float higher on the water line and may not be influenced by the additional width which is 4” above the water line.
But, at-the-end-of-the-day, the J203 is not ICF compliant, so is excluded from most European races.
Meanwhile up on deck, the gunwales of the J203 are significantly higher than The Darkness. This reduces the risk of water coming over the side but can be susceptible to the wind.
USCA regs state: “The minimum height at the bow shall be 15 1/2 inches. The minimum depth for the rest of the canoe shall be 11 1/2 inches”
Although the gunwales on The Darkness are lower, it does benefit from deck sections at the front and rear, plus a “lip” around the gunwale which will support a full spray deck.
In the grand scheme of things, both designs have had to make compromises to meet specific regulations, but also to meet the needs of the paddler in terms of speed and stability.
In a straight race on a “level playing field”, my money is on The Darkness.