experienced solo trippers..

I have an en vie to explore the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetlands in the U. S. The Basin, as we call it is huge and covering lots of ground efficiently is important. I’ve been using my Bell Wildfire but it just isn’t designed for this type of thing. I’m looking for a better solo to do this. I’m an experienced paddler with a background in, Freestyle open canoe, WW, and tandem tripping. I have many many hours in a composite Bell Wildfire. I kneel, use the correction style with a straight, short legs and torso, experienced with lower body hull control when turning. Right now I’m leaning toward a Merlin II but have few to zero opportunities to test paddle, any solo trippers, being down in La. and limited travel opportunities. There’s been a lot of good discussion lately about solo tripping canoes, like the Magic, Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrel, Advantage, etc. I’d like to get some opinions from experienced folks under the following parameters:


kneel with a straight (will not use bent or double)

Day tripping, so no load

Shallow lakes with wind and waves

12 to 18 miles per day at least

Average cadence, not racing style

Good course keeping for efficiency

Some portaging, so kevlight or similar desirable



Out of curiosity
why do you find the Wildfire inappropriate?


Do you know about these sites?


You might check those forums as well.

You didn’t mention your weight, but I think the Merlin II would do just fine for the type of boating you describe, as would, no doubt, a host of other boats. Compared to the Wildfire, the Merlin II will be considerably more efficient, yet still retain decent maneuverability, especially when leaned.

I’ve owned Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin II, Magic, and Wildfire. I always kneel and almost always use a straight shaft.

The Kestrel is the winner if you fit it…the most efficient for covering distance and the lightest boat. Kestrel is quicker/faster than Merlin II and Peregrine.

My buddy has a used one for sale in the “heavy” lay-up…33 pounds.

They will all do the job for you.

I’d avoid lightweight kevlar Bells but you’d be happy with any Hemlock lay-up.

too slow
Too slow, probably. The Wildfire would have been great for intimately exploring a small corner of the swamp, but he sounds like he intends to survey a large part of it, and there’s lots of open water and fairly straight channels.

My thought was that the ideal way to REALLY explore it would be with one of those big fan boats and carrying a Wildfire on deck. Use maps and aerial photos to figure out where you wanted to go, buzz to a spot nearby in the swamp boat and then set off in the Wildfire for the final leg. With the manueverable, light-weight Wildfire, and proper map work ahead of time, this method would give you a shot of finding places where few people have gone before.

But, I admit, bringing a motor into the picture might ruin it for some people. There is a certain artistic purity to covering the whole thing under paddle power, and I respect that. And the Wildfire is too slow to cover that much ground, so that limits him to a fast, straight boat that can only go where all the other boats have already been.

The Kestrel sounds like a good option for you. It is really designed for a smaller person. I weigh 170 and am 5’6" it fits me well. I paddle large shallow bays with lot’s of wind in the Florida Everglades. Great tracking boat but it is also responsive enough for twisty mangrove creeks. I certainly is faster than and more fun to paddle than my old Merlin II.

Hi memphis…
Yep, very insightful of you. The Wildfire is hard to push 18 or 20 miles in one day. The Basin is huge and mostly all water, so camping is a problem, thus day trips; not to mention I’m not chaffing at the bit to spend the night in the Basin. So, long distances are necessary to get any exploration done. There are some known areas of natural beauty but they are far from the nearest put-in and usually require a long paddle. Thanks,


Hi Jim …
See responce to Menphis below. Thanks for the interest.

PS to Memphis…
Hate airboats, out of the question. They ruined too many paddle trips for me. Unbelievably noisy. The pilot and passangers all wear ear protection but those of us in canoes just get deaf. I’ve thought about renting a house boat but that’s right pricey.


Advice and Envy
I have a Merlin II in Kevlight, and it is a nice boat, but I defer to the opinions of those who have also paddled the Kestral regarding the Kestral’s superiority. I like the Merlin II for what it does well, which is move along pretty “lightly” while not being too evolved toward the “straight-line tripper” style. Overall, I do not greatly love sticky-stern boats - I only tolerate them, but that’s why I have OTHER canoes for other purposes. I think the Merlin II paddles pretty darned efforlessly, so if the Kestral moves even better, that’s saying something.

I have looked at air photos of the Atchafalaya Basin, and the place is impressive. I must admit that all those huge scars on the landscape, in the form of tracks in the marshes and straight-cut channels running every which way (is this a major oil-drilling region or something?), represent a degree of destruction I’m not used to seeing, but the place is so huge and there is such a labyrinth of channels, I would love to go exploring there! The river geology is pretty fascinating as well, and it is SO odd to see topographic maps with current arrows pointing in what is obviously the “wrong” direction relative to the the flow that created the place, and it’s awesome to think about WOULD be here if the Corp of Engineers hadn’t been on their toes at a crucial moment several years ago (Hint for other folks: The Mississippi would NOT be rolling on past New Orleans!).

Please post photos and a trip report.

I’ll post there as well. I’ve seen these sites in the past but had problems with using so abandoned them. I’ve actually been posting various groups since about 1997. I used to post on the old rec.boats.touring newsgroup, even before it was a google group.


Merlin II vs Peregrine
I paddled my Merlin II and the Peregrine on the same day and lake at Raystown lake a couple years back, and it was my impression that for lake conditions the Peregrine was a bit faster. That impression seems to be supported by a concensus of paddlers who have experienced both boats here.

I didn’t paddle the Kestrel as I thought that I would be out of its weight range, but I can well imagine that for the smaller paddler, it would be a little faster still.

But as far as the Merlin and Peregrine were concerned, I thought the performance difference was pretty modest.

second on envy and please post
Yeah, second on the envy. I don’t think I made that part clear in my post above - but it probably came through between the lines. You’ve got a great adventure ahead of you.

On rereading your initial post, there seem to be hints that you have some sort of sponsorship? What’s an “en vie”? What’s the purpose of your expedition? Will you be getting into the history? Like gbg, I’m under the impression that the Achafalaya has made a few moves in an attempt to be the new mouth of the Mississippi, and may yet succeed. It would be interesting to hear the story of that.

Like gbg, I trust you’ll give us photos and trip reports. How about a dedicated web page? With the blogging software that’s out there, they are extremely easy to set up. Several people here on the board do this and could tell you how it’s done.

Well, best of luck. I know you came on here with just a simple question, and here I and others are throwing all these extraneous questions at you, so I’m sorry about that. But it’s just that your trip sounds pretty cool and, if you care to talk about your plans on these other issues, I think a lot of people would be interested.

Well Memphis and GBG…
there’s a lot to be said in responce to your posts. For now, just a few words. There is no sponsor, just my own desire to see what’s around the bend. The idea of a journal or webpage is a good one, which had not occurred to me. Maybe! An “en vie” is an old Acadian (Cajun to most Americans) phrase which simply means one has a desire or yen to do something. I grew up in south La. and my family spoke french although like all in my generation, I learned only phrases and idioms. My user name for instance, “Pagayeur” means “Paddler” in Francais Acadie. The loss of the Basin as a natural ecosystem and the French language are parallel symptoms of dizzying change. Don’t know if it’s wrong or right, but one thing’s for certain, it is scary how quickly these things that have existed for centuries can be lost in one generation.



– Last Updated: May-23-09 7:39 PM EST –

As a former resident of New Iberia and someone who learned to paddle in the bayous and swamp around there, this is very interesting to see. Like the others, blog and photo it. It would be interesting to see your route and how you are going to figure out all the details. Water levels will be a big factor as many of the lakes and cuts can get very shallow, or dry. Sleeping will be another interesting aspect. Hammock? Dealing with the Basin is a complex and very interesting story. Tell us more.

Btw, I'll be paddling through the second largest river delta in the country...the Mobile/Tennsaw. Its a bit different, but I'm just getting from one end to the other on my way to Mobile. I'm very interesting in what your priority is in destinations and points of interest you want to see.

I do about six weeks of covering

– Last Updated: May-23-09 8:13 PM EST –

ground solo trips a year..none are day trips.

I have a Peregrine, Merlin II and a Heron for that covering distance touring. About 18 miles a day with four to five miles of portages is average. Thats with about 55 lbs of gear.

The Peregrine is the expediton layup. The Merlin II is an older Kevlite layup. Both will do the kind of mileage you need.

I have not had time to GPS test the Merlin II as it may be in the shop still. I have to check with the repair person. When it is regunwaled (I bent an aluminum rail) it will be suitable for the trips you want to take. I wont be needing it any more as I replaced it with the Peregrine.

I will shoot you an email and a price when I get the boat. We can see each other at enough FS events so transport is not an issue.

I wont be home for a few days as I am heading out on an ADK solo tomorrow morning for three or four days.