looking for a used solo canoe

Hello all. I am where so many of you have been, and I’m looking for a bit of guidance. After a long summer of paddling a Penobscot 16 Rx, usually by myself, I accepted that I should be in a solo canoe. The Penobscot is destined to be that “first canoe” that I’ll likely blather about in the future, so it will stay with me. But I’m 5’6", about 145 lbs, and a narrowish solo just sounds so much more appropriate than paddling a tandem heeled over all day every day, especially when I rarely even get out on the water over night.

For now, I’ve found that I really enjoy getting in any water I can find, often a little river near my home in Vermont. I will often get out for a few hours, paddling upstream until I can’t because of time or skill or strength of riffles (really like messing around in the riffles and seeing how far I can navigate up them - hours can be spent on this), then paddling back down. Ponds and reservoirs aren’t uncommon for me either, and the lake is nearby… I’m sure it will go much further than this - weekends, longer trips… faster water for sure.

I would definitely describe myself as a beginner, but a fast learner with a penchant for obsessing over my pastimes, and pretty athletic and adventurous. I’m getting to be OK with what I consider to be J and C strokes, but I’m sure that when I take lessons I’ll realize otherwise. I like to kneel mostly, with a rest for my knees from time to time. Sit and switch is fine sometimes, but other paddling styles seem more interesting to me. Heeled over is fun…

So, after poking around and around in circles on the internet, I think I could be very happy with a 13-15’ canoe, beam under 30", I’m guessing 1.5+" rocker, acceleration and nimbleness trumping top speed and initial stability… I could go on, but I’ll stop. Oh, no rock bashing yet, and I’m handy and like to work on the things I us, and I like to go on the light side, so maybe a stronger kevlar layup? I dream of a wildfire or something of that sort, but many do, and I’m sure that there are other more reasonable options. And if my barn full of skis is any indication, there will be more than one solo canoe - I just need a reasonable starting point, not perfection.

Suggestions? Advice on where to look for a used boat? I don’t see a lot advertised locally. Thanks for reading my life story.

right now I did a search
on www.searchtempest.com and did not find anything currenly for sale with your parameters. That is not to say that your request is invalid… just watch that website. Its a a composite of several search engines.

That said if you want a true experience re trying out solo canoes in the 13 to 15 foot range that fits your style the Adirondack Canoe Symposium might just fit your needs.

I know, sounds like a shameless plug but there are about 50 solo boats there. Many are of different makers, and all are available to try out if you ask the owners. That you are amenable to kneeling opens up vast horizons.

Can you wait till July?


used intermediate sized solo
I have a comprehensive listing of solo boat dimensions, in production and “heritage”, that may help on the search. email charliewilson77@gmail.com for an electronic copy.

At your size and commitment/aggressiveness there are a few to consider. I think you probably want something under 30", 28.5-27.5. Rocker is a bugaboo as it is really a drafting convention. 1.5 " to Winters is 2.5 to Yost. 0 to yost is 1.25 to Wenonah?? So it goes.

28.5" Touring Canoes, preferably differentially rockered and with waterline length to width ratios 6.5-7, would include Colden’s Nomad, Hemlock’s Peregrine and Swift’s Kee. 15 with lots of NLS models including Bell’s Merlin II. 27.5 Touring canoes include Hemlock’s Kestrel, Placid’s RapidFire and Swift’s new Kee 14, with fewer “Heritage” models available.

Narrower Sport canoes, L/W ratio ~ 6, with more and symmetrical rocker are very few indeed, Colden’s FlashFire and a couple NLS BlackHawk and Curtis bottoms.

Living where you do, i.e. guessing as to used availability, I’d look for a MRC Liberty, Curtis Vagabond or LadyBug and hope for a Bell Flashfire. The Adk Symposium would present an array of hulls to try and put that pesky J stroke behind you.

Thanks kayamedic…
I didn’t know about that site. I will watch it closely.

The symposium looks like a blast and something I’ll do if it works out. I’m not sure that I can wait that long, but maybe I won’t find anything before then anyhow. I’m also afraid that if I start trying all those beautiful boats I might get it in my head that I should hold out for the ideal, which may be unrealistic considering availability of used boats and finances. At this stage it might be more realistic to purchase something that reasonably fits the bill. Then I can learn what I like/don’t like, get more paddling experience, more money, and fine tune my parameters for my next (inevitable) purchase. I also can’t shake the idea of building my own sometime in the future…

In the classifieds right here
there is a Wenonah Rendezvous kevlar in Vermont.

I’ve not paddled one but my understanding is that it might fit your criteria.

Rendezvous likes to be
upright. Heeled over its a bit …iffy. The hull shape is widest low. However its a boat to consider.

I agree with those who recomend a narrower canoe. I would add shorter also. A Flashfire ,if you could find one would probibly be the ultimate. I think most solo paddlers paddle too big a boat.I have perswaded many solo paddlers to try smaller boats and they like them. At your size/weight you could go even smaller than a Flash,but that’s slim pikkin’s in that size range. also almost all the solo padlers I know started with a hard tracking boat before they knew how to make it go straight,and then later wish for a boat that will manover easier.

My 2 cents,have fun,Turtle

different for composite
Your description is correct for the Royalex version. The composite version has the bubble significantly higher up the side and is a much more responsive boat. I would never own another royalex version, but would be happy to get my hands on a composite one.

I was actually thinking of
a FreeStyle student who wanted to heel his composite Rendezvous to the rail.

He got very wet several times as it turtled. Eventually he got a WildFire.

might wanna check out where Dave

– Last Updated: Feb-26-14 9:11 AM EST –

Curtis will be hangin' for events this spring. 14' info isn't up yet. Ditto on the previously mentioned...

LDC has been
at all the Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous in the past so I expect he will be there again, along with others in the industry like Charlie Wilson and Dave Yost


This is great! Thank you to all who have replied. It’s refreshing to see my interest mirrored back and amplified so sincerely.

There seems to be a fair consensus that a sub-30" beam would be optimal. That is more and more attractive to me, especially when I throw into the equation that even for 5’6" I have short legs. I imagine that narrow would make for comfier kneeling and better control.

What’s more, I tend to favor compact, light and nimble over roomy, tough and straight-line when I choose gear, cars, tools, etc. - something of an efficiency and skills nut. So narrow, closer to 13’, and less focus on tracking than turning. I bet something like a Flashfire would be a nice find!

I suppose that puts the Rendezvous out of the running. Too bad - a Vermont purchase would be nice. It would also be really nice to make it to the Western PA event…

Thank you all once again… and please do go on if you want to - I won’t stop soaking in the info!


Yep, Flashfire would match your desires
for nimble, sporty and a vehicle for skills development.

Another good option is a used Curtis Lady Bug, which is very similar to the Flashfire, but a bit tamer. Lady Bugs are rarer than Flashfires.

I’m 5’6" and 160 lbs, own both and both fit me well.

Wenonah Sandpiper is tamer than the Lady Bug, but I’ve come to greatly appreciate it since acquiring it last summer.

Of the above, the Flashfire is the only model still in production.

Even though the above three boats are technically better fits for you, don’t pass up a chance for a Wildfire, which is a bit larger.

A Blackhawk Zephyr would also provide you with endless hours of amusement.

Even a Bell Merlin II or Curtis Vagabond would be viable options.

Good luck and have fun with your search.

Another option
I also have a Mohawk solo 13. They are more common and cheaper than Flashfires. A little wider,slower,and less responsive and refined than a Flash,but a good,fun paddle.I use mine a lot for creeks and such. They were only made in Royalex/Royalite. My Royalite one is app 38#. I beleve they have been used for freestyle student loaners.

Have fun,Turtle

An answer and a lament

ANSWER: For your size in composite, a Hemlock Kestrel or a Bell/Placid/Colden Flashfire. The Kestrel will track easier; the Flash will turn easier.

LAMENT: So many of the answers, mine included, recommend hulls designed in the early 80’s to early 90’s plus some that are mid-to-late 90’s tweaks of earlier designs. This is evidence of two axioms: FIRST, that physicists, mathematicians, artists, musicians and canoe designers often do their best work in their earliest years; and, SECOND, that it’s dang hard to stay in business designing, manufacturing or selling open canoes.

You might want to take a look at the Millbrook boats website and see if anything catches your eye. I was thinking their 13’ solo might be a possibility for you. It would be a new boat, not a used one, but the prices are a lot better than the competition.

Sub 30" and maybe 13-14’ish
…sounds right to me the more I look around and read comments. Like I said, kneeling, 5’6" with particularly short legs. Mohawk sure does have the price down to a pretty amazing level, but at this point waiting for something a bit narrower makes sense to me. And I would like to try composite.

Regarding millbrook… the closest that I saw is the Flashback, and that looks pretty heavily rockered compared to other possibilities. Think I’d be going in circles.

As I read more I can see “not too picky” turning to “picky”. But please, keep the suggestions coming!

“The Fade” Not True

– Last Updated: Mar-03-14 12:28 AM EST –

Three solo designers have addressed smaller paddlers. Pat Moore with his Reverie 1, Phil Sigglekow with KittyHawk and Shadow 11.7 and David Yost. Yost drew and stripped the StarLight for Sawyer, the MayFly and Vagabond for Curtis, the Vag all in the 80s. He drew FlashFire for Bell in the 90s. Vagabond was copied as Hemlock's KestralFlash, Flash moved to Colden canoe and DY drew SpitFire and RapidFire for Placid boatworks in the first decade of the new century. He has now revisited the Vag/Rapid concept, a narrow solo tripper for compact folk, for Swift with the Keewaydin 14.

DY's earlier boats were arched, his later ones feature more elliptical bottoms, improving speed and stability and often differential rocker, improving tracking and maneuverability. He has recently included stepped bow rocker.

No one comparing MayFly and SpitFire would prefer the older boat; Spit is faster, more stable, tighter tracking, more maneuverable and has easier reach across the rail. Similarly, RapidFire is a significant improvement over Vagabond/Kestrel in stability, speed, tracking, maneuverability and reach across the rail. Since Kee 14 has yet to emerge from the mold, it's hard to say, but DY wanted to increase forward efficiency in exchange for a little less speed, i.e. less drag at recreational speeds. Chances are pretty good he has achieved his goal, he usually does. The little Kee wil be available in pack canoe trim and with a kneeling seat for those who fit it kneeling.

So it isn't like Lord of the Rings, where the old work is presumed better. More recent small canoe designs all improve on earlier variants, there just aren't very many of them. That is due to two trends; the public's tendency to take McDuck's advice and "Super Size"themselves, and sloth, most paddlers preferring the double blade kayak paddle for its short, flat, learning curve.

Not entirely clear on your point
The Placid Spitfire and Rapidfire are undecked kayaks designed to be double bladed from a bottom seat. They are not the kind of solo kneeling canoes for use with a single blade about which the OP is asking. Yeah, I know, some advanced paddlers CAN kneel and single blade a Placid boat, but let’s be serious about the primary design intent of those “pack” hulls, which is not that.

So there’s ONE (?) DY kneeling/single blade solo canoe design this century, a Kee 14, which is not yet even on the market. I think this proves the point.

From about '78 to '98, but mostly in the 80’s, DY, Galt, Moore, Siggelkow, Winters, Deal, Kruger, Henry, and whomever at Old Town were designing dozens and dozens of interesting flatwater solo kneeling hulls – many of which are still popular and being reprised or copied by other builders.

The OP might also look at the Millbrook Souhegan, which some members here own.


– Last Updated: Mar-03-14 12:30 AM EST –

Placid's SpitFire and Rapid Fire are canoes that happen to be rigged and sold for pack canoe usage. They have been and can be ordered in kneeling format. Joe adds an 11 oz carbon belly band to reinforce hanging a seat from the rails, a kneeling thwart or kneeling seat is fitted and the boats are ready to paddle. There is not one item in either hull design that favors sitting low with double paddle over kneeling with a single. [I did not mention Pb's Shadow because it is too low and narrow for kneeling, and, at 16 ft, has great gobs of skin drag.]

As we were discussing solo canoes for smaller folks whose legs barely touch the ground, many solo designers were not mentioned because they didn't do the smaller boats we were discussing. I did sin against Jim Henry. His Swede form Pearl was an excellent solo for smaller folk when the strange saddle was removed and a kneeling thwart or seat hung. And, Bob Brown designed the KittyHawk for Phil at BlackHawk, I should have mentioned him too. Mike talked about canoe size series but never did a full set.

The solo canoe "bump" was a short one, because the American public doesn't seem interested in long apprenticeships, as alluded too above. That said, Ted Bell has commissioned two new solo boats in 2013/ 2014, at 30 in wide and 14.5 and 15.5 long, both address average to larger paddlers, and Swift has a newish, 2012, solo in the same size range, the big sister to their 2014 "compact person's" boat. Four new solos in three years isn't bad, but only one seems narrow enough to fit our OP and none are likely to be found used anytime soon.