Monday, February 29, 2016

Willimantic – February 28, 2016

Al runs the quick water
The Willimantic is one of those rivers that I usually drive by on my way somewhere else, which is too bad since it is a beautiful river.  The trick is to catch it when it has enough water to paddle, and we did that yesterday.  With last week’s rains the river came up nicely. Yesterday’s 50° temperatures were an added bonus as well.

I met Al, Jonathan, Mike, and Scott at Plains Road in Tolland for a run down the Willimantic.  The original plan was to take out at Merrow Road - about 9 miles, but Mike suggested that we continue down to a new take out on Plains Road in Mansfield making the trips about 12 miles. 

Mike getting ready to climb
into his Sopwith Camel
After running the shuttle, we got on the river around 11:00. The level was about 4.2’, 400 cfs on the Coventry gage - about the same level as the last time we were here, but it definitely seemed more fluid. The river alternates between flatwater and quickwater as it twists and turns along Route 32.  We stopped for lunch at Herring Cove – another new access point just below the Nye-Holman State Park and the Route 74 Bridge.

There are a couple of easy surf waves below the Route 195 Bridge, and we did our best to take advantage of them. We arrived at the take out at Plains Road at around 3:00, and I was home by 4:30 – great day.

Jonathan and Erik

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bell WildFire vs. YellowStone Solo

The story of the development of the WildFire and YellowStone Solo by Charlie Wilson from a 2009 post on P-net:

The Bell WildFire was conceived as a hull that would turn like the Yost designed DragonFly in moving/mild whitewater without being as tender. DragonFly was a race boat; 28.5 wide with a round bottom. Fast and maneuverable, it intimidated most intermediate and many advanced paddlers.

So WildFire, code named "Bubba Bug" during development, was shorter, wider and had an elliptical bottom compared to DragonFly's round one. Rocker was increased from 2", both stems to 2.5, both stems.

The project was a huge success, selling over 100 boats a year for a decade, but that stern rocker limited WildFire's sales to advanced paddlers. Anyone carrying their blade aft of their body, or keeping their top hand inside the rail, or directing their forward stroke along the rail instead of parallel to the keel would see all four corners of the waterway.

Interestingly, WildFire and FlashFire were designed to shoulders of the paddler-size bell curve. Fifteen years later, WildFire is at the center of the bell curve, and we need another boat to fit larger paddlers.

When we spec’ed the royalex version, we reduced the stern rocker from 2.5" to 1.5" to improve tracking, assuming that the lower price would attract entry-level paddlers.

The stems got blunter because royalex cannot be molded as tightly as composite materials. The shoulder got softer because the thing needed to come out of a vacuum-forming mold. Charlie Thompson made a multiple piece mold.

So heeling a royalex YellowStone Solo to the rail doesn't lift the stems as high as can be done in a composite WildFire.

Many builders, when they decide to do a royalex version of a hull make a heavy glass boat, fill the stems with stiff foam and start in with a belt sander to arrive at ~ 1" radiused stems as compared to 1/4" radius on the original. This is one of two reasons that royalex hulls tend to be shorter than their composite precursors. Royalex shrinkage is the second.

So yes, with a paddler aboard to pooch out the bottom, roayalex boats often turn faster than their composite version because they are usually shorter at waterline. Again, due to both skin friction and shorter waterline, royalex hulls are usually slower than their composite versions and usually do not track as well.

Mr Yost does no such thing; he starts with a straight line down the center of a long piece of paper, but he still has to live with the blunt stems and softened contours endemic to the royalex medium.

Excepting stern rocker, YellowStone Solo approximates WildFire's performance more closely than most royalex variants do their composite versions.

And the later composite YellowStone Solo:

WildFire was commissioned by me from David Yost as a 14ft symmetrical hull w/ 2.5in symmetrical rocker at the stems, asymmetrical shear line in 1993. A stripper was tooled, a split mold was made. That mold, now flanged for vacuum infusion, resides in Colden NY.

In 1999 Bell decided to enter the ABS vacuum formed market. The WildFire sized boat was redesigned with lower shoulders and blunter stems to accommodate the thick ABS sandwich and was spec'ed with less stern rocker to improve tracking for what was assumed to be an entry-intermediate level paddlers. 

ABS vacuum forming molds are very different from composite molds. They are much thicker and have vacuum ducting and vents connecting to a significant vacuum plenum.

When Ted and I tore the blanket, The WildFire name and mold came East, Ted changed the newer hull's name to YellowStone Solo, and requested a composite plug from DY, which was tooled and a two piece composite mold made. The composite stripper has sharper shoulders and tighter stems than are possible in ABS but retains the tripping differential rocker of the ABS hull. When DY draws asymmetrical rocker, he claims the hull comes out slightly swede form, so both YellowStone Solos are probably also slightly swede form.

There are two YellowStone Solos, the ABS and the composite. First year ABS YellowStone Solos may carry a WildFire name plate. No composite Y
ellowStone Solos carry a WildFire nameplate.

Pictures of the WildFire and Yellowstone Solo

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Finally got my WildFire - February 20, 2016

Back in 2005 I went looking for a solo canoe.  I was new to canoeing, and didn’t have the knowledge or connections to find a used boat.  Fortunately there was a dealer in my area who carried Bell and Mohawk canoes.  I fell in love with a black gold WildFire with cherry trim, but I ended up buying a royalex YellowStone Solo because it was in my price range.  The other option was a Mohawk Odyssey, which came in a close second.

I paid $800 for a 2004 YellowStone Solo with a couple of scratches, and for the past 10 years have paddled it just about anywhere you can take a canoe.  It’s a great boat, but I have still wanted a composite WildFire – and now I have one.

A local paddling friend sent around an email around looking for advice on a used solo boat.  He ended up with a Mad River Courier from DougD – the king of bringing wrecked boats back from the dead.  That email got me corresponding with TommyC1 about his WildFire.  Tommy was looking to shrink his fleet.  He offered me the WildFire at a fair price, and I grabbed it. 

Tommy apparently purchased the boat from a gentleman named Tony Figuerido who advertised it on P-Net.  Apparently Tony was an old-time P-netter who pre-dated me.  Tommy says:

She's a sweet boat, especially suited for freestyle. But for tripping and touring, I prefer paddling the Osprey, Magic, and Independence. So the WildFire needed a new owner. I think she and Erik will get on just fine.

Its a 1997 white gold WildFire with wood trim.  There are a few scratches on the bottom, and a couple of nicks in the gel coat in the stern, which I have since repaired – a boat with character!  I picked it up after a hike with Tommy and Bill at the Leominster State Forest, and raced home to get it in the water.

For all the talk on P-net about the skegged stern on the YellowStone Solo, I didn’t find that the WildFire paddled much different than the YellowStone on the flats.  To me, they both track easy. 

The WildFire did heal over a lot easier than the YellowStone, and felt a lot steadier.  It was 50° here yesterday, but the water is in the mid-30’s, so I didn’t try to push it down to the rail.  I will when it gets warmer.

My turns were about the same – I still only got to about 90°, but maybe I’ll do better with the WildFire healed to the rail.  Bow prys seemed a lot easier with the WildFire – not sure why that would be.

I'm looking forward to a lot more flatwater practice in this boat.  Few pictures of the (red) WildFire next to my old (green) YellowStone Solo here. I’m sure it’s just the pictures, but the YellowStone Solo looks narrower than the Wildfire.


Leominster State Forest – February 20, 2016

Bill and I hooked up with Tommy and Papa Joe Anthony to do some hiking at the Leominster State Park.  We met at the trailhead at 192 Fitchburg Rd, Princeton, MA. The 6-mile route was just east of Wachusett Mountain and featured a nice vista atop of Ball Hill.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Hiking at Tillinghast Pond – February 7, 2016

Bill and Sharon check out the map
I would have liked to do some paddling, but there didn’t seem to be a lot going on, which was a surprise considering how nice the day was.  Instead, I decided to join Bill’s hike down at the Tillinghast Pond Management Area in West Greenwich.

The Tillinghast Pond Management Area is managed by the Nature Conservancy and includes over 2,000 acres adjacent to the Wickaboxet Management Area. It has four interconnected trails (see map). 

On the trails
We started on the Pond Loop (blazed white), which starts at the Plain Road parking lot.  From there we got on the  Flintlock Loop (blazed yellow) past the old Ellis homestead and the Cathedral Pines.  From there we got on the The Wickaboxet Loop (blazed blue), which connects the Tillinghast Pond and Wickaboxet Management Area trail systems.  With smaller trails, snow on the ground and lots of trees down on the trail, it got tougher to stay on the trail as we got deeper into the woods.  We made it as far as the Wilcox homestead before turning back.

After today I'm thinking that hiking is almost as good a paddling - almost! Fun day as always, and I still got home in time for the Super Bowl.

The crew - Erik, Bill, Sharon, Henry. Louise and Cheryl
My Pictures

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hiking in a Winter Wonderland – Blackstone Gorge – February 6, 2016

Rolling Dam
It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does it doesn’t last very long, but on Friday we had the perfect storm for turning everything white.  It can’t be windy; it has to start off with rain, then turn to snow to coat the branches, and then turn cold enough to freeze everything is place. The result is a winter wonderland, and lots of power outages as tree branches come crashing down.

We had that storm on Friday, so I got out early Saturday morning to take pictures at one of my favorite spots along the Blackstone River – the Blackstone Gorge.  Granite cliffs covered with Mountrail Lauren and Hemlock trees tower over the river, which runs though a rocky set of rapids below.  The river was running pretty well – 8 feet, 500 cfs on the Route 122 gage.

Trail through the woods
I got out just after sunrise and hiked down to the bottom of the Gorge and back. I brought my snowshoes, but I didn’t end up using them.  Although we got about 8” of snow, there was only a couple of inches on the ground in the woods – most of it was still up in the trees.  I hiked along the river for the first half-mile, then had to climb the cliffs that run along the river. The views were great – pictures don’t do it justice. 

As I was heading out at around 8:00, the sun was already starting to melt the snow on the highest branches, which would come crashing down.  I took a couple of direct hits – including one down the back of the neck.  By noon, only the evergreens were still coated with snow.

Snow in the trees

Monday, February 1, 2016

What a difference a year makes - Blackstone Gorge - January 31, 2016

Fiona heads out
Last year at this time we had a couple of feet of snow on the ground, and the Blackstone River was frozen solid.  The ice was thick enough to support fishermen above the Rolling Dam – that almost never happens. 

Yesterday the river was pretty much ice free, and the temperature was in the mid-50’s.  It even looked like spring as we put-in above the Rolling Dam in Blackstone, but the water was a chilly 38° (this is one of the few sites around with a thermometer on the gage).   The level was around 7’ on the Millville gage.

Approaching the new bike path bridge
We had three boat and four paddlers as we headed upstream toward Millville.  It’s a couple miles of flatwater, but still a pleasant trip.  The main attraction on this section of the river is a huge stone lock that is a remnant of the 1828 Blackstone Canal.  It is one of only three that survive, and because it is now high and dry you can get a great look at it’s construction.  There are also a couple of massive railroad bridges – including one that is being converted for use on a new bikepath through the area. 

We put-in around 9:00, and got back to the cars around noon.  Prefect morning trip. 

Taking a break at the Millville Lock