Whilst waiting for James and Mike to start their race, I had the opportunity to have a good look at some of the Wenonah ICF boats they would be up against. This boat has dominated C2 marathon canoeing in the UK for decades mostly because there are no alternatives. But the design is now over 25 years old and to be honest, it wasn’t particular good in the first place. It’s as though Wenonah simply changed the shape of their current designs to ensure compliance to ICF specifications.
I found this little snippet on t‘interweb:
The ICF C2 design was made for the 1981 ICF world competition that was held in Canada. Wenonah manufactured and sent 2 boats to compete that year as sit&switch boats in a competition that traditionally hosted high kneel design boats. Very few of those 1981 ICF C2s were made.
The paddlers who paddled the ICF C2s were some of the godfathers of modern paddling. One boat was paddled by Crozier and Triebold, the other by Jensen and Hassel. It is understood that Jensen and Hassel’s boat made it into the finals, but unfortunately, ultimately, the boat could not compete with the highest level of competition of the high kneel boats.
In 1982, the ICF C2 design was tweaked, but unfortunately, the tweaking made the boat an unstable craft. That and the fact that the ICF Worlds went back to Europe led to the end of the ICF sit&switch idea. Ultimately the ICF C2 boats along with a similarly designed boat from Sawyer found a new life as the genesis of many of the “Texas” unlimited boat designs.
You have to admire these guys for having a go and trying something different.
The hull shape is certainly quick, but there doesn’t seem to be much empathy with equipping the boat for the paddlers, or any understanding of what is required for the inevitable portaging. This is borne out by the many and varied modifications paddlers have made to their boats to overcome some of the shortcomings.
Starting with the deck, there isn’t one! ICF regulations stipulate that the open area must be at least 2.8 metres long, and that the gunwales must not be wider than 5 cms. The ICF C2 is completely open along its entire length and the gunwales are the standard timber ones which simply add some longitudinal rigidity.
The sides have no tumblehome and are nearly vertical. This means they are subject to the effects of the wind, and there is also nothing to prevent swamping.
The timber tops of the gunwales does not give paddlers anything decent to grip when pulling the boat out at the get-out, during the running phase, and later at the put-in.
As water collects in the boat it invariably accumulates at one end, and if the paddlers invert the boat to carry it upside down on their shoulder, one of them (usually the shortest!) gets soaked as the water exits the boat. There is also nothing comfortable to rest on the shoulder whilst running. There are no portage handles to help pick up and carry the boat, unless you count the two aluminium braces.
There’s no provision to install buoyancy. Whether you think you need it or not, it is mandatory to race in the UK, and quite honestly, it makes good sense.
There are no footrests in the front. The forward paddler has to jam their feet together against a block (usually polystyrene). The rear footrests are a simple round bar.
The thwarts (cross members) could be better positioned to provide something with which the paddlers could pull on to help disembark, and to make it easier and safer to get back in again especially on some of the more challenging portages.
There’s no provision to implement any sort of spray deck. The only option is to tape some type of cover on the outside of the gunwales. There’s nowhere to mount a race number and racers often tape the number to the hull
Even the seats are the standard Wenonah “tractor” seats with very little option to exchange it for something more preferable.
Made of Kevlar, the colour of the boat when new is a golden yellow. However, as it ages and is affected by ultraviolet light, the colour darkens to a brown-beige.
The boat could be substantially improved and £3,395 is a lot of money to pay for such a craft.
So, ICF C2 owners often resort to innovation to help reduce the deficiencies.
This boat is typical, and the crew have adapted it to make things easier.
At the front, there are several different handles for portaging and to help the paddler get in/out. There is some buoyancy under the seat and some additional foam on the gunwales. A block of polystyrene provides a rudimentary footrest.
A small front deck has been constructed so that the boat can be carried upside down on the shoulder a little more comfortably.
The comfort of both seats has been improved with foam, and the rear seat has a higher back and is slightly tipped forward. A spray deck is secured amidships with cord, and the race number is inserted into a plastic sleeve which is secured using string.
At the back there is a small spray deck and a rope handle. The paddler’s feet are protected by a polystyrene “platform” which also supports a strap to help the paddler get in/out. There is a self-bailer to help reduce water in the boat, but this only works if the “puddle” forms around the location of the self-bailer.
All these changes certainly help with comfort and convenience, but there is a price pay in terms of additional weight, cost and complexity.
In this example, very few changes have been made, the crew opting to keep the weight down. At the front some polystyrene blocks form a footrest and also act as buoyancy. Both seats have some foam. At the rear, some straps have been attached to the footrest and the seat has been tipped forward.
This boat holds the C2 records for Waterside A and the series. Both records were set by this crew in 1994. The boat is an early ICF C2, and the Kevlar has turned darker over the years almost to the colour of wood. Bulkheads have been constructed in the bow and stern which provide buoyancy and a platform to place some foam to help make portaging more comfortable.
So, is the Wenonah ICF C2 any good? Well you can’t deny its popularity for marathon racing, or indeed the host of race wins and records. But is that because it was the only show in town?
It is unlikely that any kayak paddlers are racing such an old design, and it may be time to lobby Wenonah to consider designing a more up to date model. The main problem is the market for such a boat is so small, so maybe it’s not commercially viable.