all-rounder solo to grow into

I’m 6’3" and about 190#s. I’m looking for a solo canoe that will compensate for my weak freestyle technique (most important) yet be somewhat efficient in a straight line (not terribly important) and carry gear on the very rare occasion (about an additional 100#s). I would like a hull with quick acceleration to benefit my erratic pace. Initial stability is not valued, but secondary stability must be close to rock-solid. The boat will spend most of its time on backwaters and probably not see anything over class II.

For the past six years I have been paddling my only canoe, an 18’ Wenonah Sundowner, northwoods style. The Sundowner is a downer solo.

I have been looking for quite some time and I am leaning toward a Wildfire in a whitegold lay-up, but I’m hesitant to actually bite the bullet and invest in an upscale solo without exhausting all the choices. Parting with $1600 + the $200 for the wood trim pains me. I would love to find a nice used Zephyr in my area (Louisiana), but I don’t foresee it.

What about the Argosy?

All suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

all rounder solo
I hesitate to give advice as a relatively new canoeist. Nevertheless, fools rush in where angels fear to tread: I started out with a tandem/solo compromise boat, a Clipper Tripper “S”, 16’6" X 32". It has a neat kneeling thwart just abaft amidships and is certainly a lovely thing in many ways. Its biggest problem is that with the capacity for tandem use it floats awfully high solo unladen making it vulnerable to wind. Once I had established that no-one else in my family was as crazy for canoeing as I, my seach for a dedicated solo led me to a Wenonah Vagabond, 14’6" X 29". Delightful little boat but not for you because it is more initial stability with limited secondary.

And then, speaking of used buys, I discovered and bought a Wenonah Voyager (or Voyageur, as we spell it North of the 49th parallel). This is a cruise missile! 17’6" x 28.75" - only 22" across the gunwales. I had been very interested in the new Wnnh Argosy before buying the Voyager. It would seem to answer my concerns about seaworthiness in the Vagabond with greater depth, rocker and I would guess a less shallow arch of bottom. I wonder about capacity for your weight and a load? 14’6" is not a very big boat. Of course, that is a lot of the charm, small boats are so handy. Even in Royalex, the Vagabond is only 42lbs. Good luck with your search. Keep us posted.

I guy on the Canadian Canoe Routes forum just bought an Argosy that he plans to have see some whitewater - the thread is about seats & thigh straps. Perhaps you can learn something from his recent shopping.

There’s also some freestylers there.


My $.02 worth
And $.02 is about what it’s worth.

I think you have chosen a good boat. Another good boat, and cheaper would be the Mohawk 14. They are using them in freestyle classes for teaching purposes. Definitely not as pretty as the Bell.

If budget is an issue (it usually is)
then look for used.

For FreeStyle you are right on track with the Wildfire. You also might keep an eye out for a Merrimack Baboosic. And of course as was stated prevoiously, the Mohawk Solo 14 would also be a good choice, but certainly not as pretty, and probably not quite as versatile as the Wildfire.

Then of course you may win the lottery and be able to obtain a Loon Works boat…my FS favorite.

I have a Vagabond and really like it. However, it sounds like it really has less rocker than you are looking for. I would look into the new Argosy for sure. From what I have heard, it is very similar to the vagabond but has more rocker. I am not sure of the price, but wenonah tends to be a few hundred bucks less expensive than Bell canoes. Worth a look.

Try the Wildfire
Some good responses above. The Mohawk Solo 14 does make a pretty good Freestyle canoe – I have one in the “family fleet” (my daughter’s boat). It’s not as rockered as the Wildfire and it’s slow as molasses, but it does have excellent secondary stability. It’s also very reasonably priced. It is however only available in Royalite. IMHO Mohawk excels at customer service. If all canoe builders were as prompt and courteous as the fine folks at Mohawk the canoe world would be a much better place.

As to the Bell Wildfire: with the exception of the rare 100# gear load you’ve described a Wildfire to a “T”. I think you should try one. The Wildfire and the Flashfire (for smaller paddlers than you) are the “defacto standard” composite Freestyle boats. The Wildfire also makes a dandy all-around solo in my opinion. The next size up Yost designed “Fire” boat is of course the Starfire - formerly built by Bell now made by Placid Boatworks. This boat is more typically set up as a tandem, but can also be built as a solo. Think of it as a large Wildfire.

I’ve seen this boat (but not paddled one) used as both a tandem and a solo Freestyle canoe. I’ve often thought this might be the ideal gear haulin’ solo river tripper for a canoeist with a Freestyle interest. There was a magazine article last year (Cruising World, March 2004) about a guy who decked a pair of Starfires and turned them into sailing canoes for Great Lakes travel. Seems like a very versatile boat!

As an aside, regarding Freestyle canoes – many Freestylers will claim that just about any canoe can be used for Freestyle. While that is of course true (sort of)… a boat with some rocker – and symmetric rocker at that – does work better for Freestyle maneuvers. Obviously a canoe with solid secondary stability is a must for Freestyle. It has been my observation that those who make “any boat will do” claims in reality have multiple hulls (and some expensive hulls at that!), but don’t want to seem elitist… so they throw out the “any boat will do” stuff… Some of these same people will also say any paddle will do for Freestyle – and that is also true… but a wide blade with a very thin edge and a generous (symmetric) palm grip works better. Enough on that…

I too am a weak Freestyler (I’m workin’ on that). When an opportunity came up a couple of months ago for a good buy on a used Merrimack Baboosic in excellent condition I jumped all over it and have been very pleased with it. It has symmetric rocker, classic lines with its tall curved stems, cherry ribs (eye candy) and well above average craftsmanship. I believe it has slightly wider waterline in comparison to a Wildfire. It also has a wider rail width than my ABS Wildfire (now Yellowstone Solo) or my Swift Shearwater since it doesn’t have tumblehome. I thought at first this might bother me… but the extra width has not really been a problem (I’m about your size/weight – with long arms).

Both the Baboosic and the Starfire are advertised only in carbon lay-ups, so they will naturally be more expensive than a Wildfire in Whitegold. The builders of these two canoes MAY offer S-glass/Kevlar lay-ups on special order… but that’s just speculation on my part.

Just some thoughts & boats to consider – good luck on your quest. Let us know what you get! -Randall

have you…
looked at the bell merlin II?

If you want to try the Wildfire at a Mohawk price - here’s a used one that’s one state north of you:

They don’t always post if the boats have sold on this site, so it may or may not still be available, but it’s a lead…

Good luck!

I have a Merlin II
that I use as my primary everday boat, but because of the asymettrical hull shape and differential rocker, abd though possible it makes FS maneuvers inefficient. My Wildfire is light years better for FreeStyle, but not as efficient for cruising as the Merlin II.