Help me decide between Wenonah Spirit II and Kingfisher

Hi all,

I want a stable canoe that my wife and I can fish out of. My wife and I are both on the larger side. 5’10, 200+pounds. In our Esquif Presage, she is not having fun when we go out on the James River or local ponds because every time she shifts her weight, the canoe feels tippy. We actually did tip once when drifting under a tree and she saw a spider. I was tying a lure and next thing I knew we were in the water.

Anyway, I am going to sell / trade the Presage and get a Pocket canyon for my own solo use, and I want to get another canoe for leisure. I want to buy local, and weight is a concern since I am 60 and am looking to ease up on the heavy lifting after two hernia surgeries.

So with weight and local availability as criteria, I have narrowed my choices down to the Wenonah Spirit II and the Wenonah Kingfisher. Appomattox River Canoe carries Wenonah and is an hour away. The Spirit II in Tuff-Weave Flexcore weighs 58 pounds and is 36" wide max and 17’ long. The Kingfisher is 16’ long, 40" wide and 51 pounds in the same layup.

So between those two canoes, it seems like the Spirit would be more maneuverable and less stable, and the Kingfisher vice-versa, is that a good assumption? Are the differences significant?

I would say that we will be on slow-moving rivers with occasional class I riffles (James River in Central VA) and ponds and small lakes. The James can be rocky and the canoe could be scraped on the bottom sometimes.

For camping, I’ll take the Pocket Canyon and my wife will take a SOT kayak. It’s really just for fishing and leisurely afternoon paddling that I am looking at the Wenonahs.

Thanks in advance for your time and advice,

Eric Zwicky
Richmond VA

HI Eric. If you look at the reviews section you will find reviews of both Wenonahs. If you look at the Wenonah website you can see ratings for the characteristics of their boats…both are rated 8 for maneuverability and Spirit is rated 9 for stability while Kingfisher is rated 10.

Given your intended use plus the favorable reviews of both boats plus the significantly lighter weight and greater stability of the Kingfisher…that seems like the best choice for you.

You might also consider the slightly lighter layup to save a few more pounds unless you plan to ram rocks for fun (I imagine that you wife might not consider this fun).

Thanks Tom. The Kingfisher was my first choice, then I looked at the reviews here, and one or two of them alluded to it being a bit more cumbersome than the Spirit II because it’s so wide. But I am still kind of swayed toward it. I got distracted by the good reviews of the Spirit, and even on the Wenonah site it quotes a magazine review that says “if you could have only one canoe to serve all your needs for the rest of your life, the Spirit II would be one of the very few candidates.” So that got my attention.

I am also thinking about one of the lighter layups. I am going to call Wenonah and describe the types of water we’ll be using it on, then I’ll go for the lightest layup that will hold up to those conditions.

At the moment, ARC has in-stock the Kingfisher in Ultra-Light layup, and at 39 pounds that would be awesome, but only if it would hold up. But they can order whichever canoe in whichever layup I want.

I’ll see if I get any more replies here, then I’ll also call Wenonah and get their opinions.



Tuff Weave is an appropriate name for that material and is only a few pounds heavier than Kevlar.
But unless you run into rebar like I did and gouge it to the cloth with my CF canoe, the resin should be the only thing you are beating up.
The best way to stop that is use Keel Easy strips.
So, get the one you like most.

I have a Spirit II in Kevlar, and its a great boat. Mine must be the flexcore, but its 30 years old, and I don’t think they called it that then. Mine is set up for sit and switch paddling with aluminum gunwales, bucket seats, a foot brace in the stern and a sliding seat in the bow. The longer length (17’) and the sliding bow seat make it easy to adjust the trim. I have seen a lot of couples in shorter tandems where the boat is way out of trim. Even a wide boat like the Kingfisher is going to seam tippy if it is out of trim. I don’t think you should assume that the wider boat is always more stable – more to it than that.

The Spirit II deserves it’s good reviews. I recently had it out on the Connecticut River for a camping trip. The river starts off shallow with twists and turns, but eventually opens up. We did put a couple of new scratches on the bottom, but the boat paddled great – even with a load. It carries a ton of gear, so it would also be an option for you to take camping. It does get blown around in the wind, but the Kingfisher probably would too.

Paddle both, and I think you will end up with the Spirit II. My favorite picture of us in the Spirit II from the Conneticutt River trip.


And one without gear from a few years ago.


Eric Z I hope you can get your wife to read this…
Capsizing is usually caused when the bow paddler gets her or his head outside the boundaries of the gunwale. I am assuming that is what happened when the spider appeared. Shrinking back is normal… I’d advise to be more head aware in the future and maybe you can look to avoid dangling things from trees in the future. Both of you that is. Bow paddler turning around to look backward is another cause of oopsie.
Realizing that you are not going to come to love spiders or any other hanging from tree animal or bug real soon ( I am not a fan of hanging snakes) there are a few things you can do.
Lower the seat… That lowers the center of gravity. If your wife is in a SOT already for sure she notices that the higher the seat the more tippy the boat feels.
Move the seat back. That gives your head more room to maneuver in.
Breathe… The next time you are out and feel nervous notice if you are holding your breath… If so focus on your breathing, not the outcome you fear will happen.
I agree with the other Eric… Often the boat is not the problem… its paddler behavior… That said a seventeen foot boat with seven extra pounds isn’t needed if you are just daytripping… We have a fifteen foot tandem for that purpose in our stable.

The heavier the boat and the older you get the less you use the boat on a daily basis…We have neighbors who, seven years ago , bought a fiberglass Old Town Stillwater for the same purpose you are asking about. Its a wide boat very stable, It was cheap but boy was it heavy… Now seven years later they dread moving it the forty feet from rack to water.

Thanks Kayamedic, String, and “other Eric” for replying.

There’s no way I’m going to show my wife where I posted on the internet that she is “on the larger side” :).
I appreciate the advice about optimizing stability, and it’s good info to have, but the Presage is going in any case. It’s too heavy and I am going to replace it with a Pocket Canyon for solo (or maybe a Wenonah Argosy, but that’s going to be a different thread), and a lighter tandem for me and my wife, which is the one I’m considering in this posting. Fishing and “pleasure-boating” is one intended use, but it would be nice to know that we could do a camping trip in it if we decided to. And maybe our friends or kids borrow it some time.

As I wrote in my reply to TomL, the Kingfisher was my first choice until I looked at the “choose-a-canoe” page on the Wenonah site, and read the reviews of the Spirit II and Kingfisher on this site. Several reviews allude to the Kingfisher being somewhat more difficult to control. Plus, the Spirit II has a sliding front seat, which would allow us to adjust the trim. And its reviewers (including other Eric) seem overwhelmingly quite devoted to it.

I’m still on the fence, but whichever one I get, it will be in a light layup.



Well, I know and have paddled with some of these posters and their advice is spot on, however; you have to deal with a beginner whom is uncomfortable in a canoe. Been there, done that, myself. I went in the other direction. We bought a 42" beamed, “Hog” of a canoe. My wife learned to get comfortable in a canoe and as the years passed we upgraded to narrower tandems, then to solos.

Different strokes for different folks. Some folks will get comfortable in a narrower boat eventually. But some need to first get comfortable CANOEING, and then gradually work up to narrower hulls. My wife was the latter. Had I pushed her into hulls that felt unstable to her, she probably would have quit paddling. Instead, we’ve now been paddling together for 33 years!

Yup. Ideally you test paddle both with your wife and let her choose…while being honest with yourself about how comfy you are lifting the boat. I was surprised at how favorable the reviews were for the Kingfisher and you would definitely appreciate the 6 or 7 pound difference every time you lift it. There’s a used one on the east coast north of you. Of course everyone loves their spirit Ii and I’ve never heard a bad word about the boat so if you are comfy with the weight…it’s also super stable…and better for going UPSTREAM on the James.


@kayamedic said:
That said a seventeen foot boat with seven extra pounds isn’t needed if you are just daytripping. We have a fifteen foot tandem for that purpose in our stable.

I have seen so many husband and wife teams in shorter boats (15, even 16 feet) that look like they are doing wheelies. The husband is usually heavier, and he is in the stern. The wife is lighter, and she is in the bow. The net result is a boat that is out of trim. The bigger the weight differential and the shorter the boat, the worse it can be. The simple solution is to put the heavier paddler in the bow like mixed racing teams do, but that is often not an option.

The effect doesn’t seem to be as bad with a longer boat, probably because the bow paddler is a litter further forward to start with. The sliding bow seat lets you push a smaller paddler even further forward, and that can have the added benefit of getting them into a narrower part of the boat so it is easier for them to get the paddle out over the gunwales. Me with my daughter many years ago in that same Spirit II:

The bow slider is petty far forward, and the boat is a little out of trim, but not too bad. There was a huge weight differential between me and my daughter back in those days - probably 150 pounds. It might not be the same issue with you and your wife, but it is still something to consider. If the boat is trim, and you can save a few pounds with a shorter boat I agree with Kayamedic - go for it. I still think if you paddle the Spirit II, though, you won’t mind a few extra pounds.

^^ “I have seen so many husband and wife teams in shorter boats (15, even 16 feet) that look like they are doing wheelies. The husband is usually heavier, and he is in the stern. The wife is lighter, and she is in the bow.”

Our situation is the opposite. I am around 200 lbs, my wife is around 225 (OK I fudged earlier). She is always in the bow, and this makes us a bit front-heavy. Maybe the sliding bow seat of the Spirit would let us get her as far back as possible and help in that regard.

Also, TomL wrote of the Spirit II “…it’s also super stable…and better for going UPSTREAM on the James.” This is a real consideration, as many of the places we like to go involve paddling upstream a ways, then drifting back down to the launch.

Thanks again to everybody for your input. I really appreciate the advice and expertise. Leaning at this moment towards the Spirit II in the next-to-lightest layup. Still have lots of time to weigh options though.


If you’re looking at a Spirit II, take a look at the Northstar Northwind 17 as well. The NW has a little more volume in the bow than the Spirit, and our experience is that taller or larger folks find that the additional room makes for a more comfortable boat. If you do the NW in the White/Gold layup, it’s in the mid 50 lb range, and price should be about the same or a little less than the Spirit (don’t get me wrong, I love the Spirit too, but under your circumstances, the NW 17 is worth a look).

^^ Thanks for the heads-up! But my local shop is Appomattox River Canoe in Farmville VA and they don’t carry Northstar canoes. I like to support local businesses so I will be buying from them. Plus, I can try before I buy.

I have a Spirit that has been my go-to canoe for just under 35 years and has been paddled in everything short of class III ww. It came with a bow slider and I modified the stern seat to an extended slider so I could come farther front to trim the canoe empty with a 100# weight differential. A 25# difference is nothing to a stock Spirit, bow or stern heavy. Seat both back and paddle away. Several of my bow partners are 30-40# heavier and there is no problem with the slightly bow down attitude. It not even an inch. As stated above, the longer the canoe, the less effect a given weight difference has on the canoe. The Kingfisher and the 18’ Champlain were made for big people and to be stable. They are not pigs to paddle like the 40" wide and 14’ long canoes often pushed as the solution to stability issues. The Kevlar Flexcore Spirit II is a good choice for a light durable canoe. If you were a bit closer, you could borrow my old Spirit and paddle it for a bit. Its been loaned out to Scout troops and made several trips to Algonquin without me; no one has dumped it or broken thru the Kevlar hull. (its an old cross-rib construction). By all means paddle both with your wife, it does not matter which construction you test paddle ;performance and stability are the same.

OK Eric, the boat you really want is also best for your needs…the Spirit Ii. Do not worry at all about the 25 pound weight difference as plaid paddler said. I can tell you that my Bell Northstar felt best when my black lab was in the boat…with about 450 pounds total and slightly more weight in front than rear, and the Spirit II is bigger than the Northstar. Your load is actually on the light side for a Spirit Ii. You also have the option of getting a sliding bow seat to adjust your trim…something to think about. You don’t need it but maybe you want it for peace of mind. It would add a little weight.

I do a lot of upstream paddling on rivers. When you go upstream you need as much efficency as you can get (not a Kingdisher!) but you also need a boat that handles predictably and turns easily. Spirit II should be perfect.

Most people have some intuitive feel for how a faster boat has an advantage going upstream, but I’ve seen that a lot of people don’t particularly think about why, and so it helps to see an actual example showing why.

If one boat cruises at 3 mph and another cruises at 4 mph:

On still water, the faster boat gets you to your destination in 0.75 the time of the slower boat. That’s pretty simple.

Going against a 2-mph current, the actual travel speeds of the two boats are 1 and 2 mph, so the faster boat gets you to your destination in 0.5 the time of the slower boat - twice as fast. That’s a huge difference.

Going downstream with a 2-mph current, the actual travel speeds of the two boats are 5 and 6 mph, and now the faster boat gets you to your destination in 0.83 of the time it takes in the slower boat, which is the smallest difference of these three situations. This shows exactly why it is that when going downstream, there’s only a small benefit to having a faster boat, but when going upstream, the difference in paddling speed can be pretty important.

Yep, great reminder from GBG. When we lived in Ann Arbor my normal after work paddle was 2 miles upstream on the Huron River and then 2 back, on the relatively slow section between Argo Pond and Barton Pond. Driving my Merlin Ii at a relatively fast 4-4.25 mph against a 1 mph current you’re looking at 40 minutes upstream and a bit over 20 back. If Barton Dam was open you needed an efficient boat just to approach the dam!

Perhaps more importantly I have been pushed to a stop many times by swift current when you are traveling upstream and fighting for every inch and going side to side across the river looking for a way to make progress. On the Huron there was one spot upstream of Delhi Rapids where there is a rock wall across the river except for one spot about 6 feet wide where the water rushed through and dropped about 4-6 inches. I used to run that upstream in my Merlin Ii (with my black lab) where you needed to charge in from one side at full power and also be prepared to steer the boat a bit when it hits the strong current. On that spot you need a fast boat that also responds to steering inputs.

I actually saw a father and son run that drop upstream in a Spirit Ii one time after they saw us do it. It took them a few tries. Their boat was Royalex…yours would be even more efficient.


I was out of town for three days and am just now reading the last couple of replies. Thanks guys, I think you have helped me make up my mind. Spirit II seems like the best choice for us.

Thanks again,