comparing wenonah and hemlock

-- Last Updated: Jun-30-14 11:48 PM EST --

I'm looking for a solo canoe. It will be a fishing platform used while kneeling/sitting. It will be used primarily on flat water, so tracking is more important than turning. It would be nice if it could handle rougher water as in semi-protected shore areas of the ocean (i.e., large bays, etc.). I'd like one that could take a passenger a short distance over small lakes (a mile or two) in a pinch, also.

I've been comparing the wenonah vagabond, the similar but slightly larger wenonah wilderness, and the hemlock srt.

Part of me wants to get a solo canoe with a lesser center depth, simply for lighter weight and ease of portability. I think that this might be a mistake, though, as larger waves might be a problem. From experience, the old town guide 147 with two people was pushed to its limits on sheltered salt water. also, this might present a problem kneeling comfortably.

So, my first question is, what are your thoughts on the center depth? the srt is the deepest at 14.5"

second, it seems that a major difference between the wenonah and hemlock is the width and lengh. the srt is 15' (in between the two wenonas.

i wonder if the wenonahs would be more stable. i think that the added width would help, but the lesser depth would not. maybe the wenonahs would have more primary but less secondary stability. any ideas?

lake/pond use would be primary, light salt water use would be quite a bit lower on the list, and i could see using it in a river maybe once or twice. 45 lbs is my maximum.

i like that i can get the wenonah in fiberglass, and store it outside, whereas the hemlock seems like it would have to be stored inside.

The cost is quite a bit less on the wenonah. this is appealing.

for now, i still have the old town 147 for a passenger, camping, etc. I'll probably get an even larger craft for this purpose some day, so the solo canoe doesn't have to do everything.

finally, the wenonah wee lassie looks interesting also. the main drawback is the lack of center depth at 12". i wonder if this would be an issue in regards to waves and kneeling comfort. i also doubt a passenger could be in it for any period of time (which isn't too much of an issue). this doesn't come in fiberglass, though (does anyone know of a very similar canoe made of fiberglass?)

so, any thoughts? thanks.

Hemlocks all have a gel coat
on the outside… They can be stored outside upside down.

The hull shape cross section is quite different. The SRT was designed to deflect waves down as opposed to letting them ride up the hull. It has outstanding secondary stability as do all Hemlocks.

Look at the cross section of the Vagabond. Its wide point is relatively low… Tip that boat and you find the widest point passes under you more quickly than the Hemlock ( with the wider point higher up). After that tipping point any more heel can result in you going in, which is a concern on the ocean. Not so much a concern on lakes.

The Vagabond has a lot of bow and stern overhang and its waterline length is under 14 feet… The SRT is a little longer.

My Argosy has a tucked in tumblehome also and is a terrible ride in confused seas on the ocean… even in the little microchop in Casco Bay.

A few thoughts
First of all, I paddled a Vagabond for a few years, and on quiet water it was pretty nice. It’s reasonably fast too. However, it handled steep waves very poorly. Most Wenonahs, the Vagabond included, are quite a bit narrower within the front and rear one-thirds of the overall length than the specified width would suggest, at least when compared to more traditional canoe shapes. That’s because the taper from each end toward the middle is very “sharp”, composed of straight, rather than curved edges (as viewed from above). Another result of this design is that the widest part of the boat is THE center, not a large zone including the center. Combine that attribute with a hull profile that is straight-sided for a lot more of its length than it is flared, and you get a boat that “spears” the waves and does nothing to keep out splashes. I don’t want to bash the Vagabond too much, but in waves, it’s totally out of its element. I’d expect the same problem with the Wilderness, but probably to a lesser degree since it’s a bigger boat.

Unless you have huge feet or you are not too comfortable kneeling, you shouldn’t need extra hull depth just to accommodate kneeling. In a shallow-hull boat, you’ll probably have to raise the seat a bit from the stock position, so that the rear seat frame is snug under the gunwale. That’s what I’ve done on two such boats (one being the Vagabond, the other being a Bell Merlin II).

As to hull depth and seaworthiness, hull depth isn’t the only factor that matters. I already mentioned that the Vagabond is terrible in waves, but I have two rowboats that are roughly canoe-shaped that have a hull depth of just 12 inches for most of their length but the stems are higher, and they perform very well in big, steep waves. On a related note, using the depth of a small tandem canoe as a gauge regarding what depth you need for your solo canoe in rough water is not proper, because in a tandem canoe, the weight is concentrated at the ends, so the ends can’t easily ride up and over waves. If you are alone in a solo canoe, the ends will ride over the waves much more readily, and you won’t have the same need for extra hull depth. Finally, a bit of flare and volume in the ends does at least as much for the boat’s ability to ride over the waves as extra hull depth. Extra depth helps of course, but it’s not the whole story.

Relating width to stability is tricky too, as you probably know. Much is made of the value of secondary stability, but sometimes a boat with slightly better primary stability is just “simpler” to deal with, which can be nice when fishing (I’m not advocating a wide barge, but just saying that between two “good” designs, the wider and/or slightly-flatter hull might be preferable sometimes).

With any luck, someone with experience paddling the Hemlock in waves will chime in and put some perspective on it all.

maybe the hemlock kestrel instead
thanks for the replies so far. since depth isn’t as much of a factor as I thought it to be, maybe the kestrel would be an even better choice. I’ve read that the SRT is very trim sensitive, whereas the kestrel is not.

Wave height will be somewhat of an issue, even if the canoe is only used on the local lake, since there are plenty of powerboats kicking up wake.

Good observations. Some things to
watch for when evaluating Wenonah hulls.

My experience
The SRT is a great moving water boat for experienced paddlers, but for what you want, a Kestrel or Peregrine would offer more initial stability for fishing and track better. They also have less freeboard to be affected by the wind. My wife has been very comfortable in our Kestrel. Many find the SRT tender. If I was considering a canoe purchase and a Hemlock canoe was one of the options, I would always choose a Hemlock. You can’t beat Dave Curtis’s integrity and the quality from his small handcraft shop.



– Last Updated: Jul-01-14 9:57 AM EST –

I'm not an experienced solo paddler, but I've had a Swift Osprey out in starting-to-whitecap conditions on a local lake and felt comfortable.

I have demoed the Peregrine and Kestrel, and liked them both. At 5'9", 150lbs, many solos feel big to me for daytripping but the Kestrel felt great. Still, I might choose something a bit more stable if fishing was the primary mission.

How big are you?

Charlie Wilson posted the "knee widths" of several popular solos a while back. Being able to brace yourself solidly can make a big difference in stability and control.

A knee width chart comparison would
be interesting. Perhaps, though, it would need to be knee width versus kneeling height. I use a 6" kneeling height in my slalom c-1, and the available kneeling width inside the hull is less than 24". Actually I kneel with my knees closer than that. Yet this apparently treacherous racing boat is rock steady. It’s as steady as any of my solo boats, or more so.

Now we have to get personal
ie… your height. The Kestrel is better suited to smaller people. Yes you can fish in it if you have sufficient ballast. Beachcamper may chime in. She trips in Kestrel on the Gulf of Florida.

The reason for sizing boats to height is to minimize the sweep component of a forward stroke… If you can reach over the side and get a vertical stroke so much the better. Without heeling the boat.

I need more room and trip in the same open water as her but in Peregrine. Depth of hull is not so much a factor for me as I use a spray skirt.

You do have to consider personal comfort level. With a narrower boat there is more need for loose hips and independent upper and lower body movement. Wider boats give you more latitude. Coming off a Guide 147 you really should if possible demo boats…

The Gulf of Mexico at the FL shore has choppy waves one to two feet from crest to trough and yes breaking as the water is shallow. Whitecaps and 20 mph the norm. Peregrine does fine and the skirt keeps out the occasional roller I would prefer a deeper boat ( and have same) for a roller type wave pattern as in the Gulf of Maine.

I see mention of the Swift Osprey… It too handles bow waves very well as the bow is very flared. But Tommy here can report how sensitive it is to following seas. He has one. I don’t.

Old post on width

my specs
Thanks for the link regarding width. I found out a few things. I like the idea of “Canadian style” paddling in theory, but I wouldn’t want to do it.

I paddle the guide 147 from the rear, and haven’t ever even considered paddling it from the center, given it’s wide beam.

I stand 5’6", and weigh 160. This is with “generous padding”. My ideal weight is closer to 140.

I wouldn’t want to kneel exclusively for paddling, and wonder if the kestrel is too tender to for sitting. Thanks for the replies so far, they’ve been very helpful.

Vagabond vs Wilderness
"…I don’t want to bash the Vagabond too much, but in waves, it’s totally out of its element. I’d expect the same problem with the Wilderness, but probably to a lesser degree since it’s a bigger boat…"

I’ve owned a Vagabond and currently paddle a Wilderness. I agree with your observations regarding the Vagabond and waves but the Wilderness is a completely different boat on active water and bigger lake chop. Its much more sea worthy than I was expecting. I’ve had mine on some pretty big stuff on Yellowstone lake and just recently on Jackson lake in the Tetons. The boat has done well enough that I’m now investing in a North Water spray deck for the Wilderness to help mitigate the windy conditions I often find myself in here in Wyoming. I would never consider paddling a Vagabond in such conditions and I’m quite a fan of both the Vagabond and the little Sandpiper.

Is it the case that Wenonah plans for
wavy lake conditions mainly by deepening the ends, but without a lot of attention to flaring the hull?

A lot of Wenonah’s I’ve seen are just sort of straight up and down, or with a sponson bubble on the side, like the Rendezvous.

The Kestrel would be fine
for you in theory… While you can lower the seat, kneeling is the best option and with a low seat of course you can’t.

However gear firms it up nicely…

But you really have to try to see if you are comfortable making that quantum leap.

Back up a little…
While you are getting all this great info on solo canoes from people who have the knowledge, we need to point out that your stated objective of carrying a passenger “in a pinch” is probably not a reasonable expectation.

I can’t think of any dedicated high-performance solo canoe that I would attempt to paddle with another person on board for more than a quick trip across a shallow pond. Even then, I would expect to get wet.

I have heard of people going two-up in things like the OT Pack, but I wouldn’t consider that even close to the class of boat you are seeking. There are several small tandems that can be paddled solo pretty well, but they are more than a handful in the wind and waves. Do-able, but not the ideal.

This is why we tend to have multiple boats. By all means - if most of your paddling will be solo, get yourself a solo canoe. But you will also want a tandem for other uses. Lots of decent tandems on the used market. Solo canoes…not so much.

I have a Hemlock SRT
It is my primary canoe of my many since I got it five years ago.

I have written a detailed review of it in the reviews section of this site.

I personally favor deep canoes. Part of that is my strong whitewater background before I became interested in flatwater solo sport canoes. Solo whitewater canoes are at least 15" deep. In flatwater, I find the security of a deep hull in waves, especially when laden with gear, outweighs any extra windage cause by the hull depth.

However, you will not be fishing from a seated position in the SRT – unless you are a member of the Wallenda family. Or, at least, I won’t.

The SRT and Kestrel are much different boats. Conk, a poster here, has both. You can also just talk to Dave Curtis. I have always found him to be very honest and helpful in helping potential customers decide between his boats.

Socrates took Hemlock.

“In a pinch”

– Last Updated: Jul-01-14 7:38 PM EST –

I was going to address that earlier, but decided not to since it sounds like the OP has enough paddling experience to know the difference between what's do-able and what should be avoided, and he did finish up his post by mentioning how his current tandem fills a need, and a bigger tandem is likely in his future. Still, two lightweight people can make a good solo canoe fly, and for such people, short tandem "utility trips" in a solo work fine. I've done it lots of times. I weigh about 165, and when I've carried a passenger for short distances, it was always someone who weighed less than I.

Also, one time on the Wisconsin River, Rena was unable to make progress downstream against a strong headwind, so we towed her canoe and both of us paddled my Merlin II. I kneeled using the seat and she kneeled right behind me using the rear thwart, and we tossed some of our minimal gear up into the bow to help provide better trim (other gear was left in the towed canoe). Being that we were "in a pinch", it worked great. The miles flew by, and during that trip, that boat traveled at by far the fastest speed it ever did into such a strong headwind.

Very few people my age carry less than 60 or 70 pounds of extra weight that they didn't have on them when they were young (often it's a lot more than that), so for average people, your advice is probably spot-on. For lighter folks, tandem paddling of a solo canoe "in a pinch" works far better than I ever imagined it would.

well, then the SRT is out

– Last Updated: Jul-02-14 1:46 PM EST –

Not being able to sit in a canoe for fishing is a deal breaker. So, I guess the SRT is out of the running. I wonder how the kestrel, with the seat at the factory height, would be for this. I might contact the member mentioned. thanks.

I tried searching this forum using the "search" feature for "kestrel", and only came up with this thread. however, i used a search engine to find another paddling thread relating to the kestrel:

I'm struck by two things: first, it seems that the kestrel is similar to the placid rapidfire. Second, and more importantly, this was said in the kestrel thread:
"I believe it would be inconvenient to fish out of any of the modern solo touring canoes, for they are mainly designed to paddle not to serve as platforms for other forms of recreation. I also think it would be inconvenient to make out in the back seat of a Ford Mustang. However, I believe motivated people have endured both of these inconveniences."
someone else mentioned large fish going under the boat as a potential problem (what's large, though?).

but then, there's this counterpoint:
With the stock seat raised to the rails it was very difficult to handle larger fish in the sitting position. I have added some nylon spacers to move the seat down an inch. that and kneeling when a big one strikes or when trolling in deeper water makes the Kestrel a great fishing platform for me. The added benefit that it's fun to paddle and trip out of is a bonus.

any comments on any of this?

Probably so…
the bow of the Wilderness is noticeably higher but I think the biggest reason it doesn’t spear waves like the Vagabond is the tumblehome/bilge extends farther towards the bow and stern. I haven’t had the two boats together for a side-by-side but I paddled the Vagabond for years and remember it quite well. I believe the Wilderness has more tumblehome than the Vagabond but I’m not positive on that point.

I liked the Vagabond but it was a fair weather boat. The Wilderness has been a pleasant surprise, enough so I owned two of them - an RX model and a TuffWeave. Recently sold the RX as I needed to free up some space.