By Alan Kesselheim
Everything about the Ally DR is tight! Boats of this class—from the old Klepper kayaks to various folding canoes—have to be tight fitting to function well, and the Ally is no exception. In fact, it might qualify as exceptionally tight. Ally's assembly video shows a guy in a meadow laying out the boat parts, fitting them together with a tap-tap here, a tap-tap there with the rubber mallet that comes standard, and in short order, he's hopping in and paddling away. In my reality, this is one of those jobs that my dad used to say required two men and a small boy. It will take an hour. You'll want some bandaids handy. And harsh words will be spoken. Yes, it gets easier with practice, but that's like a woman saying childbirth gets easier by the third kid. It's still hard.
That said, the good news is that being tight is a virtue once the canoe is together and on the water. The hull is remarkably rigid for a fabric boat, stable with a load, with plenty of capacity to handle an expedition. It is a boat designed with slight rocker for river travel, and it does like to turn if you flirt with eddy lines. It handles flat water reasonably well, but takes some correcting to stay on track. The dramatically recurved bow and stern make you feel very Ojibwa-like on the water, and the slight tumblehome lends itself to comfortable, ergonomic strokes. In bouncy water you'll want the deck (also pretty damn tight!) in place, at least over the front half of the canoe, to avoid splash over the bow.
I spent several days in the DR, camping along the Yellowstone River in Montana, and paddling some demanding stretches. Overall, I was impressed. The canoe handled turbulence well, it required minimal maintenance, took a few knocks, and looked like new when I disassembled it at the end (thankfully, taking it apart goes quickly). As with all folding craft, the big advantage is easy stowage and transport for remote travel or cramped quarters.
My reservations are pretty minor but worth mentioning.
1) The molded plastic seats are hard. Yes they adjust and tilt, but even if they fit your butt well, I'd take along a cushion or foam pad;
2) Kneeling is tricky. The placement of the chine rods made my stance either a bit narrow or too wide, and the lack of padding left my knees vulnerable to rocks beneath the hull;
3 Over the long haul, I'd worry about the durability of the hull fabric rubbing against sharp rocks or sticks. I was careful to step out well away from rocky landings and gently bring the canoe to shore;
4) You'll want to bring the rubber mallet along with you to adjust the rods and ribs if they shift;
The take home on the Ally: Persevere through the assembly, and enjoy great performance on the water.
Intel: 16' 5" long; 44 lbs.; load capacity – 835 lbs.; $2,050. www.bergans.com.