During its long history of building canoes, the Chestnut Canoe Company produced a range of models they called Pleasure canoes. One model proved to have such universal appeal that it became the definition of a general-purpose craft. This model began life as the Ajax but it grew to be so popular that it was renamed Pal to reflect the affection owners felt while using it. Nova Craft has painstakingly reproduced the lines of the original Pal to provide today’s paddlers with the opportunity to own one of the best general-purpose traditional canoes ever made. It’s a great choice for paddlers who want a canoe that does it all well. Nicely suited for flatwater trips or short outings for sightseeing or fishing, the Pal handles rough water well and feels comfortable in windy conditions. Indeed, it’s a pleasure to paddle either tandem or solo. Once you paddle one you’ll know why owners call it “My Pal”. Shown in TuffStuff.
Now, I don't have any more than two months experience soloing, but I am very pleased with this boat. It also performs as good as I can ask for with me and my 110lb 12 year old girlfriend in the bow. I haven't yet taken it full of gear with two paddlers. I get the impression splashes of water might get in if weighed down in large waves, but I'm not too worried. I took it through some class 2 (and a half) rapids... terrific. I was however shocked at how easily the Royalex shows damage. Mind you it is only superficial, except for the shavings of plastic removed by the sharp rocks of a man-made lake.
Other than that, the only complaint I have is that on occasion I find the rear thwart to be a little too close to my legs, but I'm 6' 3". I would also suggest the manufacturer to angle the seat bars downward to increase surface area on my thighs. This would relieve pressure when I'm kneeling. I typically only paddle prospectors, with a week of gear and about 80lbs of weak lily dipping kid up front.
So far I'm really pleased with my purchasing the Nova Craft 'Pal'. Funny though, I had to buy it in the USA because they were sold out here, and just after my looney government trashed the loonie (and therefore my paycheck). $2700 CAD! Luckily the border agent was too Canadian to notice the 16 ft bright red canoe on top of my car I was smuggling (back) into the country.
The Pal has worked out well. When my wife comes along I can easily handle the Pal myself. She has some back issues that we don't want to aggravate. We use the boat for flat water recreation and birding. It paddles easily, decent glide and good all around performance. it has red topsides, sand bottom and tan interior. I really like the lines of the boat and have received many compliments. The tan interior is not to hot in the sun.
When I paddle solo I sit on the bow seat backwards, place two five gallon collapsible water containers forward and under the stern seat and lean the gunale well over to make paddling easier since the boat doesn't have any tumblehome.
I have to say I really enjoy paddling the Pal solo. I wouldn't have thought I would grab the Pal over the Magic when I new I was going solo, but I really enjoy paddling the Pal Canadian style. Trimmed with the ten gallons of water enables the Pal to handle light air (5-10 mph) no problem. The boat is also very comfortable and the Novacraft seats are just great.
It seems the more I use the Pal the more I like the boat. The boat has turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. Thanks Tim Miller and all the folks at Novacraft. Great canoe!
The PAL's capacity is rated at 900 lb. Our put-in at Kingston, with the 2 of us (400 lb., me accounting for the larger portion, and intending to shrink by next year(!)) plus our 200 lb. of gear (we were determined to depend only minimally on the various amenities along the way) was initially serious cause for alarm. We set off in windy conditions, and with the PAL's low profile/low freeboard we had visions of being swamped at any moment.
Our concerns turned out to be totally, absolutely groundless. As it turned out we had to deal with all sorts of heavy wind conditions (including a full day of 40 km/h, frequently gusting to 60 km/h, headwinds which we sometimes had to take on a close diagonal) and we never ceased to be amazed by the stability of the PAL.
Neither of us are particularly strong paddlers, so we were also pleasantly surprised by the momentum we were able to maintain in both benign and adverse wind conditions.
My one concern is that, so far, my experience paddling the PAL solo (albeit "light") has not been very satisfying. I do not have much experience as a solo paddler, but I know I did better in a Bob's Special which I had the use of last year. But I have received assurances from people much more experienced than I that the PAL also has excellent soloing potential, so I must reserve judgment until I have had the benefit of instruction and more experience in solo paddling technique.
One last point: I find the "traditional" lines of the PAL (and most Nova Craft canoes I have seen) to be really appealing aesthetically. I never tire of just looking at her.
The canoe is extremely stable, primary stability excellent. My dog managed to put the canoe practically on its side getting out without tipping the boat.
I had the bow seat removed for space, at 48 lb the Kev/Spec is not ultralight and that would be the only downside in my view.
The low-profile and low free-board is a dream in the wind -its an all round great boat and as a relative novice, I am very confident in this boat. It's sturdy and well made.
If it were available one day in Super ultra-light (under 40 lbs) that for me would be the perfect boat... as a woman solo paddler I'd like something around 35 lbs.
My only previous paddling experience dates back to the Eisenhower era with a few trips around a small lake in a heavy/noisy Grumman. In the interim, I've done a good bit of sailing, but of late have become more interested in slowly checking out what is going on along the bank with a paddled craft. Oh, those kayaks seemed so charming... but with my 260 pounds (and a strong desire for a slightly more normal sitting position) I soon started looking at canoes.
On paper, what I was looking for was a canoe with lots of secondary stability -- figuring that my sea legs could handle nearly any shortage of initial stability. With that as a criteria, it really didn't take very long to gravitate over to the Nova Craft website. After a few phone calls, I drove several hundred miles to meet the friendly, informative folks at Blue Mountain Outfitters and look at a Nova Craft PAL in Royalex Lite with White Ash gunwales. Now, this is a pretty boat: one glance down the sheer line explains why boats are always referred to as "she." The PAL seems almost eager to show off her maker's workmanship. All details point to a canoe that would be easy to live with and easy to maintain. Done deal.
I've paddled the PAL a few times now. It is a very nimble canoe, tracks well, and gives very good glide. This would certainly not be my first choice as a platform for time-lapse nature photography, but this canoe gives it's paddler a strong feeling that leaning over will be met by a reassuring amount of resistance. She is simply very well behaved---as one would expect given her fine reputation established long ago by the Chestnut Canoe Company.
The amount of time involved with oiling the gunwales (and the special winter maintenance made necessary due to the combination of wood and Royalex) seem well worth the effort – considering the beauty of natural wood. I hope to never own any boat that doesn't have at least a little wood to look at and feel.
I'll rate the Nova Craft PAL a 9 confident that I don't know enough about canoes to claim to recognize perfection after just a few dances.
Back in May 2006, I wrote my first impressions of the Nova Craft Pal, and I don't have any reasons to change my review, only add to it a bit. First, I must point out that Nova Craft donated this Pal to the James River 400, so my review may be a tad biased...
It's a darn good canoe for lake and river tripping where big whitewater isn't an issue. It weighs a good bit less than comparable 16 footers making it easier to handle on and off the truck and on portages. Putting the saddle in the canoe as mentioned in my first review was mostly so I could race it. Adding a few pounds of gear amidship gives the boat better balance. As pointed out by the builder, the seats are where they are so the paddler has a better position for a vertical stroke. Moving the seats closer to amidship would mean the paddler has to reach farther to paddle, thus losing the efficiency of a stacked stroke.
The last day I used the Pal this season was about Mile 220 on the James, where the water is lean and the rocks and ledges are everywhere, making it a 'thread the needle' kind of day. My bow partner was an experienced kayaker who wanted to try canoeing and she learned quickly. With hearty bow draws and stern prys we could turn the Pal and place it pretty much where we wanted it each time. On the flats we could out run the recreational kayaks with no problem.
I really like the Pal and recommend it highly for its intended use. If big whitewater is in the trip plan then move up to the Prospector. You'll lose some speed but gain a good bit of maneuverability and riding over wave trains instead of punching through them. If you're traveling on all lakes then I'd recommend the Cronje which is faster.
On the whole however, you won't go wrong if you buy the Pal as your 'go to' boat for most recreational canoeing and wilderness tripping. If you want to test paddle this Pal just give me a shout, I'm always glad to show it off.
I brought the boat home and talked a friend of mine into entering a downriver race. We practiced an hour or two then showed up at the race and took third place in our division. Our time was 1 hour and 34 minutes for the 9.5 mile course, which had several Class II rapids. That is just under 6 mph. The winner only beat us by 7 minutes so I felt pretty justified in buying the canoe for fast wilderness tripping.
The fit and finish on the canoe is good, the seats are bootlaced and the rails are vinyl. The yoke is carved but tended to slip off my shoulders so I added a 1/4 inch minicell pad. I think the back seat is too far back for level trim. The front seat is already far enough forward and going any farther forward would cramp the bow paddlers legs. So I installed a minicell saddle about 2 feet in front of the rear seat and leveled the boat right out. There isn't much rocker so it takes some effort to make a snappy turn. Its important to line up early for the rapids and have a good line picked. Leaning helps. We did a few turns with an off side lean like in a sea kayak and the stern-skid turns were pretty impressive. No doubt the Prospector would be a better choice if the rapids are big and confused and long, but for most rivers that I travel the Pal is an excellent choice and the advantage of speed and ease of paddling outweighs the need for running an occasional tight rapid. I look forward to updating this review at the end of the season after I've put a good many miles on the Pal.