Buying first canoe (?) - questions

I am totally new to paddling, have only gone out on rec kayaks and sit-on top kayaks a few times. I now have a small cabin quite close to a lake in the Sierras, and really want to get a boat I can paddle on this lake (need to drive 3-4 miles to the lake, though). I have been doing a lot of reading on this site, I and I think a family canoe might be the right answer, but I thought I would ask for some advice before I pulled the trigger.

  • I want this primarily to be a family activity. One kid is going to go to college soon, but the other will be around for a few years
  • I think it would be nice for us all to be in the same boat; also, I thought it would be easier to transport only one boat.
  • I think that my family is more likely to go if they are likely to stay reasonably dry.
  • We would use the boat to go out on nice days, paddle around and look at the scenery, maybe do some picnics etc. I don’t think we would do any camping or anything longer than a day.
  • I don’t know if my family would stick with it, so it may happen that I would end up going out by myself too (hard to find a compromise solution for both, I know.)
  • After getting some experience, I would want to go out on Lake Tahoe perhaps on nice days, but will stay home for any bad weather/waves.

    The first question is, does a canoe seem like the right choice, or should I look at two rec kayaks instead?

    The second question is, given our lack of experience, are we going to get too frustrated with a canoe? I think we will have to learn mostly by trial and error, most clubs/classes around here (SF bay area) are on kayaking.

    Assuming canoe is the way to go, I am looking at a used Royalex Spirit II. There is also a used Wenonah Kingfisher available. Leaning towards the Spirit – would that make a good beginner canoe for above use? (Seems a little long/big, which intimidates me a little bit, but that’s probably because I am only used to carrying around bicycles…)

    Thanks in advance for your help!

Quite a laundry list:

– Last Updated: Sep-13-12 12:15 AM EST –

You want a boat to tote four, then three adult folks, but solo too? That means some size 17-18.5 ft which will not solo well.

I suggest a used composite hull, whatever to start with as long as it's 17-18 feet. Lighter, better paddling; RX hulls are so damn heavy and needless unless you are running rivers, which you're not. Think of the difference between 40 and 80 lbs, remembering that posted RX weights are usually dishonest.

There are multiple reasons to go with single blade paddles, but, maybe better to start with kayak paddles where directional control is a given.

I usually advocate spending all one can stand on paddles; more important than the hull. Maybe $125 each will do on starter double blades; the best are ~ $500. Later, you'll find single blades are drier and less stressful. Decent single blades start ~ $125 ea too, the better running upwards toward $500.

I've a written primer on single stick tandem canoeing, email for an electronic copy.

Asking the near impossible…
If you’re really wanting to carry up to four adults or adults and larger children, you’re running up against the limitations of most canoes. Yes, there are a few out there that are advertised for three or four people, but they are expensive and not easy to find used. And you can just about forget about having a canoe that will even come close to handling that many people and still be pleasurable to handle solo. What you probably really need is to forget about carrying everybody in the same boat and just find two decent used canoes or tandem kayaks. That way both boats would be reasonable in size and you’d be able to handle one solo if you wished, and you’d be able to have one, two, three, or four people paddling with no problems.

On the laundry list
Actually, I didn’t really expect it to do everything in the laundry list. I want it to do at least the two adults+ 1 kid thing well. If my family takes to it for small trips where we take turns, I could get something else as a solo boat. What I really want is for the canoe to do OK at two adults + 1 kid, and also be OK for the two beginner adults to learn.

So, is the Spirit II RX reasonable for that?

I can’t seem to find any used kevlar canoes around, and new ones are pretty pricey … otherwise, that would be a much nicer weight from my point of view.

The Spirit II is a good family canoe. If the Royalex version is the same length as the composite ones (17’) it is probably the best length for what you want to use it for. Biggest disadvantage will be the weight since you need to car top it.

The Spirt II was our first family canoe
It will serve you quite well for your intended use. If you could get your hands on one I’d go for Tuff Weave layup. But when you’re buying used you can only be so choosey.

Get the Spirit II and start paddling now

– Last Updated: Sep-13-12 9:27 AM EST –

Most of us canoeists started with a tandem canoe for general family use. The Spirit II is well-regarded for that purpose. There is no perfect canoe. And the longer you dither about a purchase, the longer you will miss out on entering the sport for yourself and your family.

I started with a 16' Royalex Mad River Explorer in northern California and did all sorts of lake, river and bay paddling in it with family and solo. The downside of Royalex is weight. You will like a 50 lb. or less canoe much, much, much better as you get past 40.

The downsides of a 17' tandem for solo are the obvious: the size is really too long, and the weight again. But you have to start somewhere.

Kids, and most adult paddlers, usually like to be in their own boats -- in charge of their own "driving" and destiny. However, many spouses are not interested in the physical act of paddling and prefer to be a passenger, so a tandem is better for this situation.

All said, the Spirit II is a very reasonable place to start, other than getting a much lighter composite canoe of about the same size. If you or you kids really want to continue on in the sport as solo paddlers, then it will be time to consider a second craft. Or third. Or .......

get two
around my area, you can get a used 15’ aluminum canoe for $250 to $350 - at those prices, buying two wouldn’t be too painful, and you could always resell them for about the same.

hard to come up with a canoe that will hold four and then be good for two or one - two boats would suit you better. obviously, if you spend more, you could get two composite boats.

a cabin in the sierras sounds like snow country to me - if you are going to just leave the canoe outside at the cabin, aluminum is a good choice; if you do get a royalex boat and it has wood gunnels, there is a potential issue with “cold cracking” - just look at any manufacturers website and they’ll likely have a section on how to deal with that (back out the screws that hold the gunnels on)

in this age of the internet, people forget the good old library - if you have acess to any reasonably sized library, you will likely find instruction books on how to canoe – well worth the time to find and read. there are some “how to” videos you can find on you tube also.

Family Canoe
Spirit is a great boat. However I agree with not getting Royalex unless you can leave it at the water. It is a pain to transport and the added effort might discourage use. You mention possible solo paddling, 16 ft is a good size and can still carry 2 adults and 2 kids without gear. Look for a used Mad River Malecite or Vermont Canoe Encore. Decent 16’ tandems that can do solo, they are not intended for big open water though. I also agree about the good paddles, they do make a difference and they will be good for your next boat when you upgrade!

The Rx Sprit II is not that heavy
Seriously, it’s just not. Simple-to-learn technique is your friend. We’re not talking about guy who is looking to do Adirondack or BW portages here.

I don’t mean to be hard on the poster above. But I seem to keep reading more and more here about how unmanagable and heavy basic Rx canoes are. It’s just not true. And I’m no Charles Atlas either.

Ok, rant over. Thanks for listening.

I agree
Sounds to me like a pair of aluminum canoes would be the ticket. You expressed a desire to transport whatever you buy, but used aluminum canoes can generally be had cheap and are perfect for your application provided you’re willing to leave them at the cabin. They last forever and don’t require any special storage consideration, and if they grow legs some time when you’re not there it isn’t the end of the world. Heck, for that matter you could stick them in the cabin for security.

Just buy used.
What Charlie says about composite boats is right on. But I also agree with Glenn. If Composite boats are not common in your area, don’t wait for one to get started. You can buy a used royalex boat for a moderate price (usually not hard to find a nice tandem for ~$700 here) and sell it again in a couple years for about the same, if you take reasonable care of it. Then if you decide you really like canoes, you can shop for a used composite or save for a new one - while paddling all the while.

The Spirit II you are looking at would do what you want (3-up on easy water) and so would the Kingfisher. Spirit II will be more efficient, but I wouldn’t rule out the Kingfisher if you miss buying the Spirit II.

Also agree with the plan to get the used tandem and then look for a solo. If the older kid shows more interest in a kayak, that will make it easier to fill that niche - since used kayaks seem more plentiful than used solo canoes. Another benefit of the kayak is that it can be car-topped on it’s side with the appropriate rack system, so it doesn’t take as much room. Should be pretty easy to carry one tandem canoe and one kayak on the roof. You can do that with the 52" cross-bars that seem to be the most common size on the used market.

Composite == Kevlar?
Thanks for all the answers. As I mentioned in the original post, the used market here seems to have few canoes, and they are either Royalex or Aluminum. In any case, many of you mentioned a “Composite Hull” as preferable due to lighter weight. In this context, is composite same as Kevlar? If I look at the Wenonah site where I’ve been doing most research, I see Royalex, Flexore, Kevlar and Kevlar Ultralight, and the Kevlars do seem lot lighter.

Since it looks like over time I would have to buy two if the interest keeps up, would a Fisherman in Kevlar be a better choice? There is a used one available in a store about 30 miles away for not too steep a price, but I wasn’t sure if it would do two + 1 kid (kid and wife together are about 250 pounds, I am another 190 or so).

Thanks again for all the great advice!

Not the Fisherman … It’s only 14’
That’s is far too short for your use. I’d stick with 17’. Also, Wenonah makes (or did make) a Tuff Weave layup, which we’d also call a composite. It’s not as light as Kevlar but it’s not as expensive either.

composite boats
Composite in the context of boat design refers to one constructed using one or more types of synthetic cloth and some type of resin, which holds the cloth layers together.

Fiberglass and aramid (Kevlar) are two of the most common types of cloth used but there are quite a few others including carbon fiber, polyester, Spectra (polyethylene fiber), and Dynel.

Clarion’s right. I had one. Nice little tandem for a smaller couple not in a hurry. Too small for much more than that - we sometimes had a 10 lb dog on board. A 20 lb dog or kid would have not been a problem. Beyond that is probably stretching it for a couple totaling about 280 lb.

The Fisherman can be paddled solo - but not really any better than a longer and narrower tandem.

royalex vs aluminum
For a “first canoe” that will be used on lakes, a decent used Grumman is not a bad choice. I see them going for around $300-$350 pretty often, in good shape. There isn’t anything really wrong with the design for lake use (in fact, some people - especially new paddlers - might prefer having the protruding keel on lakes), and construction is good. And you should be able to get about what you paid for it if you decide to sell it - pretty much regardless of age.

A used royalex canoe in good shape will usually run 3-400 dollars more, and won’t hold that value for more than a few years even if well cared for. Once they start showing their age (even if just from the hull #) they’ll slide gradually into that $300 or less range.

The RX canoe will have to be stored out of the sun and weather to preserve it’s value, but the aluminum canoe won’t suffer from anything less than heavy snow loads.

That’s not to say that I would always advise aluminum over royalex - but it’s something to think about.

Checking out a Kevlar UL Sundowner 17’
Someone just advertised a Kevlar UL Sundowner, I am going to go check it out tomorrow. Stored indoors, and says no gouges, nicks etc.

Anything special to lookout for? From the description on the Wenonah website, it looks like it should be somewhat similar to the Spirit.

Thanks in advance!

Yes, similar.
Compared to the 17’ Spirit II the Sundowner 17’ is a bit narrower at the waterline and has an inch less height at the bow and stern.

A little faster and slightly less stable than the Spirit II, but still user friendly. And the Kevlar cored model comes in at around 40 lbs.