Canoe Choice

After 17 years of sea kayaking I am thinking about buying a canoe for some inland river trips here in South Texas. Mostly day trips with some short camping trips. I have not been on the rivers, but base on others info I would describe them as shallow with rocky bottoms and gravel bars. Some class I and II rapids (at normal flows) with long flatwater sections between the rapids.

Based on the information I have acquired I am looking at 3 solo canoes, Mohawk Odyssey 14, Wenonah Argosy, and Bell Yellowstone Solo. Pretty sure I only want a Royalex hull for the rivers I will be paddling.

If you have any comments on the relative performance of these canoes that might help me choose one over the other or if you know of any other models I should put on the short list I would appreciate hearing from you.



canoes should be an option. Dave Curtis is the best builder around. Placid makes a couple of nice double blade canoes as well as the traditional wildfire and Flashfire. Bell Merlin II for a do everything solo. I am not a fan of Wenonah boats but certainly others will sing their praises.

I didnt mention Royalex boats. Im not sure you need that durability at the expense of performance.


– Last Updated: Jan-25-08 4:40 PM EST –

I know lots of people say the Bell Merlin II is a do-everything solo, but most of the Class II I've run would swamp my Merlin II in a heartbeat. It is NOT a boat that rides over waves especially well (the ends are pointy, not full, and the sides are quite low), but it IS a really nice flatwater cruiser.

As far as the Royalex vs composite issue, I know there are whitewater boats which are composite, but isn't it true that most "ordinary" composite boats are not likely to survive a solid impact with a rock? I know that none of my composite boats can take a hit without nasty damage. On the other hand, I've noticed that for simple scratching against rocks, a good fiberglass boat holds up better than Royalex (the scratches don't go as deep).

The original poster and I have already talked about boat comparisons, but I'll mention anyway that as one who paddles and dearly loves BOTH the Bell Merlin II and the Mohawk Odyssey 14, I can say that the Odyssey 14 will run rings around the Merlin II when it comes to maneuvering in strong current. On the flats, the Merlin II wins, but given the choice of only those two boats on a river with both rapids and flatwater, I'd go with the Odyssey 14 every time.

Royalex vs Composite
I was limiting my choice to Royalex based on info from someone who has canoed a lot on the rivers I expect to paddle. Being that I have never canoed before I fully expect to hit every rock possible for quite a while. These rivers have a lot of shallow spots so I would expect a lot of unexpected groundings and some dragging.

Maybe composite with skid plates would be an option to take the shallows if I think I can develop enough control (and judgement) to miss the rocks.


Hmmmm #2

– Last Updated: Jan-25-08 5:42 PM EST –

Not sure that he needs to forsake performance for durability?
How much performance does he need for his intented purposes?
The guy is talking about day trips & overnights on shallow, Texas rivers!

Why does he need a composite/high dollar Rapidfire, Wildfire, Flashfire, or Hemlock for that?
For the extra performance of going perhaps half a mile per hour faster than he would in any of the boats "he" mentioned.

I'd say he is "most definitely" on the right track; considering Royalex boats. Furthermore, I'd say he's also right on the right track with some of his proposed selections: Wenonah Argosy, Bell Yellowstone Solo, and Mohawk Odyssey 14.
He might do well to also consider the Wenonah Vagabond, and the Mad River Freedom solo (without all the IQ system gee gaws) too. Any of those boats will do just fine on those Texas rivers. Any of them will haul all the gear he could possibly use for a day trip, overnight, or multi overnight.

I currently own a Hemlock SRT, and a Royalex Bell Wildfire. I have previously owned a Bell Flashfire, Mohawk Odyssey, and Wenonah Vagabond. I am seriously considering purchasing a Wenonah Odyssey; if I can ever find one to test paddle.
So I have had some experience with most of all boats mentioned.

Additionally.......he could purchase "any 2" of the boats he mentioned for the price of one Hemlock, Flashfire, composite Wildfire, or Rapidfire....and still have money left over.

A rookie canoeist doesn't need a $2,500.00 to $3,000.00 composite canoe to bang their way down shallow, class 1 & 2 rivers in Texas.

That is not to say that the high dollar boats aren't nice ones; they are.

I personally think that the Bell Yellowstone Solo would be a "very good" choice.


These folk have a very good reputation
and know the rivers you want to paddle. Contact them and they’ll help steer you right. They don’t handle some of the canoes you mention, but its a good place for information:

Going to TG
hopefully in next couple of weeks to test paddle. I talked with them and they have an Argosy for me to try and they said they might have some other ideas as well.


It may be the best river shop in Texas.
Other than Canoesport in Houston, most don’t carry much in the way of canoes anymore. But, I wouldn’t buy from Canoesport unless I knew exactly what I wanted and why. Not the most gracious folk in the business.

Price check on aisle 7…

– Last Updated: Jan-25-08 6:58 PM EST –

20 minutes of web surfing resulted in these prices:

Mohawk Odyssey 14 $902.00
Wenonah Vagabond $999.00
Wenonah Argosy $999.00
Bell Yellowstone Solo $1,100.00
Mad River Freedom Solo $1,149.00
Bell Merlin II $2,449.00
Placid Rapidfire $2,495.00
Placid Flashfire $2,545.00
Placid Wildfire $2,645.00

Taxes, delivery fees, or travel costs to get to the closest dealer that would handle these boats was "not" taken into consideration.

You may find some of these boats on sale for lower prices. You may find older models that are significantly lower. Then again, you may not.

Try it before you buy it.

Good luck,


P.S. Whatever you buy; tell the dealer you want a hat thrown in (for free) with the deal. I got lots of free hats!

Good used solo canoes in Texas
are sort of like finding Hen’s teeth. Even then, they don’t sell, which is great for those of us who recognize how good and useful they can be. A Royalex Vagabond sat on a local dealer’s showroom floor for over a year, not selling until a guy asked me about Old Town Pack canoes and I suggested he look at the Vagabond. Never been in the water and sold for $600. Texas ain’t a canoe state.

Let’s start with a few things that set perimeters.

How tall are you?

What do you weigh?

Do you intend to Kneel? Maybe you cannot kneel?

Would your rather sit?

Do you want to sit low, as in a pack canoe?

Do you wish to use a single stick or a double blade?

Answer those Qs and we’ll have a starting point.

TG Very Good Start

I think you are right to go with royalex for our hill country rivers, anything west of I35 really.

TG’s is a great place to start, particularly since you are just learning with the canoe. They are a family run place that will treat you like family. They are right on the San Marcos River and have the best selection of boats that I know of in the state. I was in there browsing before Christmas. Dwayne has always got good information and can fix you up with trying out boats, or discuss boats you found on Craigslist or at a garage sale. They can probably give some paddling pointers too. I’ve bought two boats from them and always appreciate how they treat me. They usually have a good selection of Wenonahs and a smattering of Mad Rivers, Old Towns and even a few Bells. They do lots of repair and customizing work as well. Good folks to know.

Good luck,


Answers to basics
I am 5’8" and 160 lbs. As to the other questions I really want it all (if I can have it). Since I am used to using a double blade I want to start out using that. However one of the reasons for choosing a canoe over a SOT kayak is that I want to learn something knew like single blade technique. I was assuming that I would be paddling kneeling in rapids and paddling sitting on the flatwater sections. Maybe that is not the proper way to be doing things. Would paddling kneeling with the single blade and paddling sitting with the double blade be a more reasonable combination? I have no idea how to answer the “sitting low” question. What are the pros and cons of the pack canoe position? If it is just an increased stability choice I would just have to see how I feel in some canoes before answering it. I do paddle a 17ft 20.5 in wide sea kayak in some fairly rough conditions so I do not think stability will be a big issue. Of course I have never paddled a canoe so it could be more of a problem than I think.

Sorry to not have direct answers but I am in a very early learning stage. If the combining of single and double blades is not practical please let me know. The same thing for mixing kneeling with sitting. Do people normally double blade from the sitting or kneeling position?


Royalex is quieter when scraping across
rocks in the shallows. I hate the sound of composite boats grinding over rocks - especially when it’s my boat.

Royalex vs. Kevlar or Expedition Kevlar
I agree with everything so far, and am thinking at your height and weight the Wenonah Vagabond is a sweet little canoe, as is the Mohawk Odyssey 14. I’d make a choice based on what’s available in your area which indicates there is probably a market for that model and you can re-sell easier. The idea of starting with a used boat makes sense in the event you don’t like it. I would definitely steer you away from Kevlar or Expedition Kevlar during your learning curve. ON the other hand, there’s a Yellowstone Solo White Gold for sale in Oregon for $500, so bargains do come up from time to time. As for expedition kevlar, it is gut wrenching to hit a jagged rock at 8 mph with a full load and watch the side of your $2500 canoe cave in. In my case it left a grapefruit size soft spot in my hull that feels kind of mushy. It’s above the waterline so I’m not worried about it but I still wish I’d been using a $900 Royalex boat that day. On the other hand, if you can start with a $500 composite that’s one different.

guideboatguy is either a demolition
derby paddler or has unusually bad luck in choosing rock targets. I have had even conventional construction composite boats clobber rocks with only superficial damage. I have also seen Royalex boats get their bows permanently crumpled from a hard hit. And the actual loss of material from the bottom of a boat dragged over sharp limestone gravel is probably greater for Royalex than for composite. That’s what you expect for a softer (vinyl) versus a harder material.

That said, you’re certainly going to be happier in Royalex while doing your first trips. You might have added the Mad River Guide (now, I believe, the “Freedom 14”) to your list.

Mad River Freedom
I think it is now the Freedom Solo (14’6"). I like the dimensions and rocker numbers. Mad River website lists it at 55 lbs. That is heavier than I wanted. I was trying to get something at least under 50lbs. If I can find a dealer that has one I will try lifting it and see how it feels.

Do you think 55 lb canoe is easier or harder to deal with than a 55 lb kayak? I can handle my 55 lb kayak with a shoulder carry ok, but it is just at my limit of getting it up on the car by myself. Getting something lighter was another of my main reasons for looking at caneos rather than plastic kayaks for the river.


Kneeling vs Sitting
You can use a double-blade paddle from either a sitting or kneeling position. If you adjust the seat up high and angled forward for kneeling, sitting for any length of time will require the use of a footrest. However, if you want to paddle sitting, you will find that a footrest makes it much easier to do a decent job of it anyway.

When I started out in a Wenonah Vagabond, I used a double-blade paddle and soon added a footrest. When I gave up the double-blade and switched to kneeling, I would occassionally sit and use the footrest to take a break, but I’ve never added a footrest to the three canoes I use now, because kneeling is the main way I use those boats. I usually rest my knees one at a time every once in a while by paddling with one leg extended. A footbrace would be handy for resting the legs, but I haven’t felt a really strong need for that.

Many Wenonah boats have seats which quickly change height and angle. The seat on the Mohawk Odyssey 14 adjusts in a few minutes by using spacers, and by mounting the seat above or below the hangers, so you probably won’t be messing with adjusting it in the field, though you could easily enough.

Based on your intended purpose for getting a canoe, I don’t think sitting on the floor of a pack canoe is logical. I’d recommend you try kneeling, as that’s the single biggest step you can take to improving boat control. If you find that you can kneel comfortably for an extended time, that’s probably the main method you will use. If you are not really comfortable kneeling, sitting on an seat that’s angled for kneeling with your feet against a footbrace works really well (it “locks you in” better than sitting on a flat seat), and in that case you can easily switch to kneeling for brief periods, like for rapids.

Freedom Solo

– Last Updated: Jan-26-08 1:42 PM EST –

Have owned Mad River Guides(still have one of them), and have also owned a Freedom Solo.Sold it; don't think the Freedom Solos are as well made as the Guides were. Have a lot of seat time in a Guide; one of my favorite multipurpose canoes.

That being said, I can assure you the Freedom Solo will be more affected by wind than some of the other models mentioned. On the other hand, the Freedom Solo is a more manueverable boat than some mentioned,in particular the Vagabond. But then, the Vagabond will track better than the Freedom Solo & it is lighter weight.

Do you want a lighter, heavier, harder tracking, more manueverable, less affected by wind, wind not a concern boat? There is no perfect boat for all conditions/consideration. That is why test paddling & comparing boats is important. Unfortunately for you, that may not be possible; so at some point you may have to "settle" for what is available in your area. Keep your eye on solo canoes for sale in your area.

Is a 55 lb kayak easier to load than a 55 pound canoe? I don't know; I don't kayak. I can't wait to hear answers on that one.........


P.S. I know that guideboat guy; have seen the way he treats his canoes & his guide boat. He's most definitely a "rock basher". All of his boats look like crap; particularly that composite guide boat barge he has. Stay out of his way, or you might get mistaken for a rock & get run over. No boat control whatsoever & a lazy paddler to boot. Heck! about half the time he's paddling backwards; what does that tell you?

Hi Eric!