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The Mad River folks have assured me that it is not normal and the canoe should be returned for warranty replacement. I got the canoe through REI, so I have no worries about getting a replacement, as long as one is available through the distribution chain.
I now realize that the Mad River Exp 14 flat strap seats are much better than any molded seats. To go solo simply reverse the canoe and sit in the bow seat backwards (try that with a molded seat) and you are positioned great for solo paddling. Have seen a MD Exp 14 with very stretched straps once, but mine are doing just fine. You can put a padded seatbacker in any position or direction whereas with a molded seat you are going to have problems on both of these issues. The strap seats, despite their looks, really seem to be more comfortable in the long run.
I regularly take my two boys (8 and 10 years old) with me and by putting an Old Town plastic removable third middle seat (it fits the Mad River Exp 14 almost perfectly) just ahead of the yoke strut, I have tons of leg room and the boys do fine. (The MD exp 16 TT has another strut that might hinder this).
The Mad River Canoe catalog goes into a lot of detail explaining canoe hull shape that can really guide the beginner in choosing their first canoe. The MD Exp 14 is rated pretty close to an all purpose canoe that works reasonably well on lakes or rivers and from my experience that is very true. Does beautifully on rivers with the very moderate rapids we have run and well on lakes. You will have trouble keeping the canoe on a straight line against a stiff breeze on a lake, and particularly if you run solo or with a very light front passenger like my son, but then again that is the trade-off you pay for getting great river performance. It will oil can a little and flex at the middle bottom if you get grounded on a rock running a river, but it immediately bounces back as soon as you get off and shows no sign of damage once you get the canoe out of the water.
After two years we have never tipped the canoe over, though my son (or me?) did manage to dump me out of the canoe when I leaned back over the end of the canoe to tend my fly line, (the canoe stayed upright). The canoe appears to be quite stable, though I would not stand up in the middle of it like some reviewers say they have done with other canoes. My son and I have exchanged paddling positions in the middle of the lake by using the I-crouch-in-the-middle-of-the-canoe-and-grab-the-gunwales-while-he-ducks-under-my-legs method.
Weight at 72 lbs is heavy for one though a tough soloist can portage this one alone. The portage yoke is positioned for perfect balance. A Fulton canoe trailer hitch swivel loader or equivalent; or a trailer will make your life a lot easier. I can still load this canoe with a swivel type loader on top of the car with a bum left shoulder though I prefer the home-built canoe trailer I made. We store it outside under shade upside down on saw-horses. After two years, no cracks, no warps, no loose seats, no problems at all. The only change from new is some shallow scratches typical of use.
The canoe appears to be very tough and durable. Two adults and 4 kids are pushing the limits for this canoe weight-wise (~900 lbs max, don't do it!) but we have done it on the lake several times without tipping (but gunwales 3 inches above water line at that weight) to the great amusement of those on shore.
We are low on cash but trying to get another canoe. What are we planning on getting: a OT Guide 14 for $400 or a Mad River explorer 14 TT for $700? The Mad River Explorer 14, I believe the extra $250 is worth it, particularly in the long haul.
Seats are just about the right height. Nice and low. Too low for me to comfortably paddle kneeling (can't get my size 13's underneath the seat) but my knees are shot anyway so I spend 95% of my time in the seat anyway.
Portaging this canoe solo is a pain. It weighs in the neighborhood of 70 pounds which I personally think is too much for solo use. I imagine this boat would be a heck of a good time though on the rapids.
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