I also considered your issues…
Over the winter, I purchased a used Wenonah Solo Plus. The canoe ad was on pnet, but I learned of it via word of mouth thanks to Ness, Queen of P-Net photography and all-around cool chick.
The boat is 16.5’ with available seating for two, should you find yourself with a paddling partner. I purchased this one because it is designed for solo paddling, and sufficient to ferry canine and gear. You mentioned “all-around” ability and although I have only a couple of days paddling at this writing, I’ve biked and backpacked long enough to know that with a little outfitting to suit my personal peculiarities (of which my wife will tell you there are many)and my 4-legged cargo, I am going to have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with this tan and green Tuffweave, wood-gunwhaled, cane-seated beauty.
I’m used to paddling kayaks, mostly in the 12-14’ range, so on rivers the 16.5 feet of canoe takes a bit of maneuvering, much like driving my F-150 extended cab in daily traffic. Nothing terrible, some of it character-building, and easy to get used to. I won’t be kneeling, so a couple of footpegs and a seating surface easier on my damaged tailbone will greatly improve the comfort, which is very adequate right now. The paddle that used to be in my 17’ runabout, a square bladed Caviness that is too short, with a shaft parallel to the face, and a wedge insert, will provide a large upgrade possibility.
The boat tracks well, turns slowly and in open water with a headwind, is low enough to not completely suck. I did learn about the benefit of a double blade, although I am proud to say that no double blade has, nor will it ever, be employed as a means of propulsion while I am piloting. I am actively searching for “the right paddle”.
My uses for this canoe are much like yours, I wanted something that I could paddle solo, with my dog, and carry enough gear to go camping for up to a week if I decide to punish myself in that way. With no disrespect to tandems, I would rather stick needles in my eyes than paddle as part of a tandem. I hate to dance too. I’m a function first person, and frugal when the mood rarely strikes. A canoe offered me seating for four when added to my family fleet of two kayaks, plus the dog. For what it’s worth, I assimilated a decade of backpacking and biking sensibility to my paddling, and see the ability to take the boo, a guitar, a camera, and a camp chair along on a paddle as uber-luxury. Add to that the fact that my son and his grilfriend can join us on a day paddle is a nice benefit.
As for why I chose the Solo Plus, admittedly, I did not search high and low for canoes. The Boo is almost ten, and I want to get as much quality time with him as I can. I’m not big on shopping, although I love to visit EMS occasionally and drop a few hundred on gear, or visit the Joe Walsh web site and add some James Gang music and guitar picks to my collection. What I do enjoy is meeting and listening to experts, both real and perceived. I wade thru literature and web sites, visit shops or shows and learn from people who do and know. I was fortunate to have attended Raystown last fall and benefitted from the wisdom of a warm, friendly, funny, and highly eclectic group of paddlers, (nearly all unabashed Canoeists), who allowed me to jump in and out of a few of their prized possessions and graciously schooled me in some canoe basics. This kind of insider information launches you to the head of the class while others assimilate lots of information, good and bad, before plunking down the cash with their fingers crossed. Being at Raystown and listening to canoeists banter for a weekend is like going to Canoe College if you listen. I learned a lot.
As wisely mentioned above, new canoes become scratched canoes pretty quickly if rivers and lake beaching is in your future, let someone else avail you of a cherished part of their fleet. There’s junk out there, so look carefully and ask questions, but go used and quality rather than plastic and cheap. You will pay roughly the same or a little more, but you will have the comfort of knowing someone took good care. If they are anything like Bill and Sandy, you’ll have an adventure, and a nice story hanging in the garage with your canoe all winter.