I have used a straight, bent, and kayak paddle and it responds well to all three, though the double-blade really gets it going in a sprint.
This canoe is good at hauling loads, in a straight line, while maintaining stability and seaworthiness. I was disappointed in the combination of firm tracking and relatively low speed (for a hull of this type). Good for those who appreciate tracking over maneuverability, I suppose, but the Prospector 17'6" is both faster in speed and faster to turn.
The Wenonah Minnesota II is in a whole different league for speed and efficiency, and if you prefer performance to durability it is a better choice.
The Wilderness 18 is a decent canoe, but I prefer others which have either better speed, better maneuverability, or both.
A poly boat from Novacraft, Mad River, or Old Town will outperform these every day of the week. A used Royalex or Fiberglass boat will be even better.
I like Coleman coolers a great deal. I dislike Coleman canoes a great deal.
The top grip is great on both, full and round so as to produce little hand fatigue or pressure points. The top grip has matching grain which is very attractive. The shaft is ovaled and a suitable diameter on both. The O'Blenis looks to have a laminated cedar shaft with ash facings for durability. The blade is a bit smaller on the O'Blenis paddle, allowing for a higher cadence, and better for long distances, especially in a loaded boat. The blade shape is similar to a Zav in that there are pronounced shoulders. The Grey Owl blade is obviously prettier, but the O'Blenis has a pleasing contrast of dark and light laminations.
The O'Blenis paddle has a curved bend at the elbow, and somewhat less angle than the 14 degree grey owl. The blade of the O'Blenis paddle is covered in s-glass which should make it durable, but there is no edging, which suggests that pushing off rocks is a poor idea. I inadvertently stepped on mine and it flexed nicely with no damage while I cringed in fear. The O'Blenis paddle is about 4 oz lighter (my kitchen scale says 16.5oz). The workmanship is first rate, with a smooth finish throughout and an excellent job on the glassing of the blade.
In the water the paddle is noticeable in its quick recovery time, and smooth, quiet entry. I found no flutter or imbalance in the stroke, and it performs as one would expect a premium paddle to.
In summary, the O'Blenis paddle will be my choice for a flatwater tripping bentshaft, and long-distance recreational races. I'm sure bigger blades are available, as he custom makes these paddles.
Contact info: http://www.joeoblenis.com/
On the negative side, it is longer and narrower than some prospectors, so I don't think it would run as dry through the huge waves (I bought a Slocan instead). It would be great for mixed water tripping, as the capacity is good, the speed is good, and the weight/toughness are perfect for portaging and whitewater mixed in equal proportions.
Please take the 8 and this review for what it is - an impression based on 30 minutes of test driving solo and with a couple partners. I wouldn't buy this one, just because I would rather own both the Slocan and the Scout. If you want one good tripper, though, consider this.
It is not perfect. It is not as fast as one might expect, and it is not the driest whitewater canoe out there. It is my idea of the best compromise, though.
For those who wonder, the second best canoe is a Trailhead Prospector 17' Royalex.
The fit and finish of the hull/layup was excellent, and the woodwork was very good (though not quite as nice as the old Bell's, or other "fancy" canoes). The construction feels very solid, the thwarts are well placed, the yoke was balanced and reasonably comfortable, the boat weighed exactly as it was advertised. The seats are mounted on rails riveted to the hull. They are comfortable, and a compromise between higher (for better kneeling) and lower for sitting. Personally, I would have liked them just about an inch higher for whitewater use (especially if you have big feet). Having them low, though, stabilizes the canoe while sitting.
This canoe is claimed to be "twice as fast as a plastic boat". That is an exaggeration. While efficient for a boat of this type, it moved along well, but didn't strike me as being a speed demon.
I have owned over a dozen canoes, and paddled many more. I believe this Hellman is my new favorite for a mixed (flat and whitewater) tripping design. Definitely worthy of consideration if you are looking at an OT Tripper, Mad River Revelation, Bell Alaskan, or Nova Craft Prospector 17. While a bit more expensive, I suspect this canoe will out-perform them all.
As I said - more to follow...
The build quality on all of Northwest's products is very good. They are not flawless, but they are well above average, and very wiling to stand behind their product in the case of any blemish (I've only ever seen cosmetic blemishes in the gel-coat). The rudder system (always the weak link in kayaks, it seems) is constantly beingin improved, and is as basic/durable as any I know. It isn't pretty, but it works well. Our organization had seascapes that were over 8 years old and going strong. These boats were used at least 50days/year, mostly by teenagers, and were transported by all manner of trailers, powerboats, and towing. They are, indeed very durable and easily repairable.
The design of the Seascape is really quite remarkable. This boat is extrordinarily stable in rough water even with beginners. Several times I'd see people become sea-sick from the pitching and rolling in big seas, but not be nervous about the stability at all. I've seen a set of large (8') waves move under a fleet of Seascapes with no concern on the part of the paddlers (I, of course, was plenty concerned and was setting up rescues in my mind). Beyond its stability, the boat handles well, is easily steered by strokes, and is reasonably fast. It also holds considerable cargo, including large items that would never fit in a solo.
I rated this boat relative to other tandems I've paddled and relative to what I think it ought to do. It is not as fun as a shorter solo boat with some rocker, for instance. I do think it is one of the best boats for serious expedition paddling due to it's stability, speed, and capacity.
The Expedition has a centre hatch and bulkheads which make it somewhat safer. The bulkheads do, though, reduce the useable interior space somewhat. Also, while I have never experienced significant leaking from the hatches, I have seen a bulkhead that was not properly attatched to the hull. Minor points - fantastic boat overall.
Overall, I suspect it is an adequate unit, but not something to be trusted, and not supported by honourable after-sales service.