Newb in Nebraska

Hi everyone! I’m about to purchase my first canoe and just found this forum, hope I can get some advice. I recently moved from the mountains of Colorado to south central Nebraska. We are near Harlan County Lake, a 13,000 acre lake with 75 miles of shoreline, almost completely undeveloped. Looks like a great place for some canoe exploring! I’m married with 2 kids, a 10 year old daughter and a 1-and-a-half year old son. We have always been into camping, rock climbing, backpacking, but never any watersports. We’re pretty well kitted up on outdoor gear and am looking forward to canoe camping.

I’m looking at getting 1 canoe for now, than adding another when our son gets a little older. So, I have a ton of questions.

Will a 16 footer work for us for now?

I don’t know of any place near here to buy a canoe. Cabella’s is all we have around here for an outfitter, they don’t have many canoes, seems like mostly a hunting supplier. Guess I will have to order one online, any suggestions of places to shop?

I’d like to stay around $1000 for the whole kit, canoe, paddles, pfds. I’ve got some flexibility there if need be. What else do we need to start out?

Right now I’m between an Old Town Discovery 169 for $750, or a Mad River Journey 167 for $730. I hate the look of the molded seats in the Discovery, the webbing seats in the Journey just look right to me. The Journey though, looks like it sits really low in the water and not much height at bow or stern. The profile of it looks kind of like a rowboat. Would anyone reccommend either of these for my situation? Or would you direct me somewhere else entirely?

Thanks for any help! Looking forward to sharing my experiences!

Don’t worry about bow and stern
height. The Journey appears to have plenty. The original reason for markedly raised ends on Indian birch bark canoes had to do with adding a little strength with extra “monocoque”. In modern canoes it can be just a fashion gimmick. Check out the Wenonah line to see functional ends.


– Last Updated: Jan-22-12 12:53 AM EST –

Between those two boats, the difference is not great. The Mad River has only half an inch less height at the middle, and about three inches less height at the ends. That's not a huge difference, and in the windy conditions lower sides can be an advantage (unless the waves are big). Both boats have a shallow-arch bottom, and probably similar rocker (though Old Town doesn't specify how much rocker the Discovery has). Like you, I'd prefer the webbed seats, partly because they are better for kneeling, which even if you don't kneel much, is a nice thing when conditions make kneeling preferable. Based on all that, I'd tend to go with the Mad River.

Bear in mind that these are "cheap boats", so there's a chance you can get something a whole lot nicer on the used market. Trouble is, you don't live in canoe heaven, as far as having lots of used canoes for sale nearby, so this might be a good start. Still, this is an "enthusiast's" website so you might also get advice to look for something more refined instead. A cheap new boat is sometimes an easier way to get on the water. Watch the used market anyway, and ask us questions about what is available.

As far as 16-footers go, it appears that both of these boats would be rated as 17-footers even though they aren't quite that long, so I think they are long enough. In general, 16 feet is a little short when hauling kids. However, since you plan to get a second boat after the kids grow some, that eventually offsets the shortcomings of a 16-footer. Once you get some experience you will be amazed at how much more storage room there is in a 17-footer than a 16-footer. On the other hand, cheap boats are heavy, and when they are heavy at 16 feet, 17 feet can only be worse! Less weight is actually one of the good reasons for finding a nicer boat on the used market.

Life jackets - we call them PFDs - are expensive if they are good ones, and we all recommend good ones. Good PFDs are comfortable, which means it's easy to get used to wearing them. They also work better when needed (no slipping up in front of your face, that kind of thing).

Reasonably good paddles are "worth it" too, but you won't be able to keep the whole outfit below $1,000 if you get good PFDs AND halfway-decent paddles. Cheap paddles aren't much fun though. At least make sure the upper grip is not undersized. If you go cheap, stay away from wood. There's nothing worse than a cheap wood paddle. However, once you get into the somewhat better range of paddles, there are some really nice wood ones to choose from. That'll be more fodder for questions. I don't know a lot about paddle choices, except to say that in the medium price range, Sawyer and Bending Branches are good brands but those are just two out of several.

You're gonna have more questions soon, so go ahead and fire when ready. There are lots of good folks here to help you.

Nova Craft Prospector 16 SP3
Thanks for the info. I’ve been kicking this canoe idea around about 6 months now, and have been watching the used market. I just don’t see anything for sale in my neck of the woods. The places I’ve found that will ship to me vary from $60 (LL Bean)up to about $200 at some of the independent dealers. I’d rather buy from an independent, and I suppose about $1300 is my max right now. I figured about $250 for 4 good PFDs and 2 paddles.

Big waves are probably not an issue for me at this point, I figure we will be mostly exploring the backwaters and the 75 miles of shoreline around Harlan County Lake. I figure I’ll do most of the stern work, with my wife and daughter switching off at the bow. Whoever is not at the bow will be in the middle with our little boy. Sound feasible?

I don’t realistically see us doing more than sub 24 hour overnighters for a while. So we don’t need a whole lot of gear room. Coming from a climbing and backpacking background, most of our camping gear is ultralight and packs very small.

Another canoe that looks interesting to me is the Nova Craft Prospector 16 SP3. Would this boat be too small? I’ve found it for $795 + $150 shipping. I like it much better than the other 2. I suppose the Prospector 17 would be ideal, but I can’t find any dealers who ship with one in stock. The details look nicer on the Nova Crafts, the seats, the woodwork, the rope tied through the ends… etc.

Prospector SP3, shipping
That canoe might be okay, but I think it might be getting a little small for kids and gear, being less than 16 feet. Years ago I paddled some 15-foot tandem canoes and found them to be a bit cramped and more sluggish in comparison to the same models in the 17-foot length. The Prospector canoes will take a bit more skill to control than the first two boats you mentioned, but they wouldn’t exactly be difficult for two people to handle. In the end, you could learn to do more things with such a boat. I would find out from Nova Craft about the seats though. The description says it has rugged plastic seats, so the boat in the photo must be a Prospector made from some material other than SP3.

Another note on Prospector designs. A few canoe makers have a Prospector, but the different brands vary widely in shape. Some makers take a very liberal approach to what they might be bold enough to call a nearly exact copy of the original. It’s crazy. Also, different models of the same boat might vary according to what material they are made from. I’ve seen reason to believe that Nova Craft does a better job of keeping shape and dimensions similar between the same boats made from different materials than at least two of the other major brands, but I can’t tell you if that’s the case for the model you are considering.

Part of your choice seems to be based on availability. It is pretty common to need to order the canoe you want when getting it new. A few years ago I ordered a canoe from Nova Craft in the middle of March, and it arrived at the local paddle shop in late April, which I thought was a pretty short wait.

That shipping price you found seems pretty good. However, if you find shipping to be a problem - too expensive or impossible to arrange - there’s some chance you can even arrange shipping through people on this site. I’ve done part-of-the-way shipping of canoes for one of my friends here a couple of times, and I know others who have done the same. So for example, if your ordered from a big shop like Rutabaga (Madison, WI) which can get you any boat you are likely to desire, you could probably arrange to get it carried from their shop at least into central Iowa, and maybe all the way across Iowa if you find the right people. Of course the right trucking deal makes things easier, if you can find a way.

Rutabaga is actually where I found the Prospector SP3. It looks like they can truck freight it to a town a bout an hour from me, than I’d pick it up from there. I sent them an email last night asking for some more details, and reccomendations for me. I’m just afraid the prospector 16 it is just too small though. I wish there was some where around here I could go to try some out. I watched some videos of two people in canoes that size, and it looks pretty tight. Can’t picture adding 2 kids.

Check out …
the demo 2011 Old Town Penobscot 174’s on eBay for $489, plus $135 shipping. Triple layer’s are quite heavy, but the 17 footer would probably be better suited for your use.

Penobscot 174
I saw these on the Saco site, 2011 demo models. Does sound like a great deal.

I’ve just about convinced myself that I need a Royalex boat. Our beaches here are sand, no rocks in the rivers either. This canoe will get used a lot, my wife and I are both very excited about getting into paddling! We are already planning trips and we don’t even have a canoe yet! We don’t want to buy something that we will quickly become disappointed in, when we could spend a few hundred more to get something better.

So does anyone have any other models we should consider? Lets say keep it under $1500. For big lakes and shallow rivers with sandy bottoms. 2 adults, an 18 month old, and a 10 year old. 400 lbs total, plus gear for an overnighter or no more than 2 days. Something that will get used a lot. Our house is 2 blocks from the dock. And it has to be something that can be shipped to us. I’ve searched and searched and it looks like 6 hours is the minimum drive to a canoe shop from where we live.


Wenonah Spirit II
Joe at Rutabaga confirmed that a 16 foot canoe would be too small for us. He recommended a Wenonah Spirit 2, any opinion on this boat?

Good all around boat
The spirit II is a good do it all boat and it will handle your load. Do not discount a used tuffweave(fiberglass) or kevlar boat. That type of boat will handle the abuse and with the amount of money you have to spend you should be able to find a good used one. Fellow paddlers will help you out getting the boat to someplace close to you for gas money or maybe even for nothing. There is an almost new kevlar wenonah 17ft boat in the Des Moines craiglist asking is $1900. Do a wide craigslist search and see what pops up.


Spirit II
I agree, the Spirit II is a nice hull and, I don’t see any reason you’d need royalex. The same boat in tuf-weave is ~ 11 lbs lighter. FG composite hulls aren’t fragile …

Good luck,


BTW: I picked up my Wenonah Sundowner 18’ in Tuf-Weave for $750 in very good shape. (this hull would also work for your stated needs)

Okay, so I just read a whole bunch of posts about how bad the oil-canning is on the Spirit II. I guess any Royalex canoe with a flatter battom is going to do that? Should I put my focus back on a Nova Craft Prospector 17? How about an Old Town Tripper 172? I know neither of those are specifically a flatwater canoe, but are all 17 ft+ flatwater canoes going to have oil-canning problems? And is it really a problem, or just something annoying and spooky to look at?

More oil-canning…
The Spirit II weighs 68 lbs, the Tripper 80 lbs. Is the Royalex thinner in the Spirit, which leads to the oil-canning? The weight is one of the reasons I was staying away from the Tripper…

Tuffweave Spirit II
With the water you intend to paddle there is no reason at all to buy royalex or plastic. The tuffweave version of the Spirit II is lighter, and easier to paddle. I have a lot of time in Wenonah Spirits, and have paddled thousands of miles in them. The tuffweave or kevlar layups will hold up fine till you retire from paddling. The Royalex oil canning is not universal. It is more pronounced in warm weather and warm water, the material does get softer as you heat it.

The Penobscot 174 you mentioned above is a good paddling boat; its the same as the Discovery 174 with a few cosmetic changes. But as with all the plastic boats, it is heavy. 85# heavy with the rotomolded seats. Same with the Novacraft SP3; the notation is Super Polyethylene 3 layer.

Buy the lightest hull you can afford; your back will thank you; and you will use the canoe more often if it is easier to carry and load. Pick up an Old Town 174 and then a kevlar Spirit. That will give you the maximum and minimum weights in a 17’ canoe. Then paddle the Spirit vs the Old Town 169 and you will see the difference in paddling efficiency.

Canoes are an item that is hard to buy over the phone or internet. You need to paddle them.

At 17’ i could give you 6 boats that would fill your needs and on paper be within 2" of each other in all the measurements. But on the water with your family they would all feel different. Two would scare you, two would feel great and the other two would be your first choice if you never paddled the two great ones.

Another person could paddle the same 6 canoes and pick different favorites. Its very subjective.

Among the regulars on this site there will consensus on what would be good for you; but our favorite 17’ tandems will be much different. Jack L’s favorites won’t be on Fat Elmos list, and mine might not make G2d’s list.


for the replies everybody! Although I think Kevlar would be great, I’m just not finding anything used near me, and I’m not in a position to drive a long way to pick one up. I just want to get the family out on the water!

I’ve settled on a retailer that I am comfortable with, that can deliver for a reasonable fee, and just need to pick out the best canoe for us. The one that I can afford, that they have available. It looks like it has come down to a choice between

Wenonah Sundowner


Bell Eveningstar.

Any input on either of these would be appreciated. I’ve read about Bell being out of business now? Don’t know if that should affect my decision?

Thanks again!

Kids & New Paddlers in a Sundowner?
Personally, I wouldn’t. The Sundowner is a nice hull for experienced paddlers. No initial stability will probably “Spook” your wife and dump the canoe on occasion. That’s how people end up in powerboats and my friends get heavily discounted “Barely used” canoes! Better to look at the Eveningstar IMHO.

Sundowner vs Eveningstar

– Last Updated: Jan-26-12 1:06 PM EST –

Terry comment about low initial stability prompted me to look up specs on the Sundowner. It has a shallow-arch bottom like most other Wenonahs, which should be good for initial stability, but it is quite a bit narrower than the Eveningstar, and being narrower one would expect it to have a feel that is more "tippy".

Here's another thing related to those dimensions. On their respective websites, look at photos of both boats from above. It's clear that on the Sundowner, the maximum width occupies a very small area at the center of the canoe, and there's a straight-line taper from that point to the bow and stern. On the Eveningstar, the widest part of the boat is created through a very gradual curving process, and there's no straight-line taper toward each end. That means that even if the two boats had the same maximum width, the Wenonah would be narrower overall. That means the Sundowner will be even narrower at the locations of the seats than the difference in dimensions would indicate.

I have experience with that same boat-shape issue when comparing Bell and Wenonah. I used to own a Wenonah Vagabond, and I replaced it with a Bell Merlin II. The Vagabond has a slightly wider maximum width than the Merlin II, but the Merlin II would not even come close to fitting on the storage rack I'd previously made for the Vagabond because a few feet away from the centerpoint, the Merlin II is quite a bit wider. Like the Sundowner, the Vagabond had a straight-line taper from the centerpoint to each end with no curvature at all around the widest point - just an abrupt angle where the taper from one end meets the taper from the other end. Not only was the boat narrower overall in spite of being "wider on paper", but it would bury itself into small waves more severely than any other boat I've paddled (that was also due to another Wenonah "trademark": vertical sides along most of the boat's length). However in your case I think I'd be thinking more about how much room the paddlers have at seat locations and for their gear, and whether the Sundowner might have less stability than you want as beginners, as Terry mentioned.

The two boats also have very different Rocker. Expect the Sundowner to be sluggish at changing course, and the Eveningstar to be more responsive. The Sundowner will track a straight line with no paddler effort, and I'd expect it to be faster, but I think it unlikely that it would be so noticeably faster that anyone other than racers are likely to care.

One more thing about Bell. I heard that one of Bell's small tandem models is a good bit shorter in Royalex than in composite. I can't recall if this was pointed out in their website specs. In any case, if the Eveningstar you are looking at is Royalex, get someone to measure the length for you before you commit to purchase. Actually, the same may be true of the Sundowner in Royalex (I say that because I know for a fact that a Royalex Vagabond is half a foot shorter than a composite one), but it's a longer boat to start with so if it's a little shorter than what the catalog says it probably wouldn't be too short for you.

I don't mean to tell you that you won't like the Sundowner. It might be perfect for you, especially once you get some seat time in the boat. However my first guess is that the Eveningstar, which is less geared for maximum speed and more for versatility, would be a better choice (as long as the Royalex version isn't too short).

When We Lived in Wisconsin…
…we had a couple of friends who had one. We borrowed it a few times when I had left my “Stripper” back in MO. First time we paddled it, we planned on fishing. THAT was interesting (LOL)! I later found it to be a pleasing hull to paddle, however; my better half never “Warmed up” to that boat. IMHO newer paddlers need to feel comfortable the first few years before they want to paddle narrower, more efficient hulls. And some never do go on to skinnier boats, content to be on the water in something they feel comfortable in. That’s been my experience. BTW, Eric, those were very good points!

Agree on width at paddling locations
I agree with Guideboatguy on the importance of the width of the canoe at the paddlers’ locations in regard to the canoe’s stability.

At one time I had a Wenonah Solo Plus which is billed as a tandem and solo canoe (it came with a seat at the center paddling position in addition to a bow and stern paddler’s seat.) However, it was very narrow at the bow and stern paddler positions.

Both my wife and I are on the larger size. We are both five foot eleven, and at the time I weighed 205. The first time we paddled that canoe tandem we dumped. It was on a slight bend, no troublesome currents or obstacles. It was just a matter of our relatively large sizes being out of balance in a canoe that was narrow at the bow and stern paddler locations.

We had paddled Old Town Penobscots (both 16 and 17 footers), and the Bell Northwind (all in Royalex) through much more challenging situations (wind, rocks, strainers, etc.) with no problem.

So watch the canoe width at the paddling locations. It can make a large difference in how “tippy” the canoe feels.

Eveningstar is 16’ 6". I hope that won’t effect things much, because it sounds like it may be the better choice. Stability is definately a huge concern for us.

My son is only 16 months old, and within 3 or 4 years I do plan to buy another canoe. Then we can split up the team. I don’t know that my daughter will ever want to paddle solo, but based on my son’s personality even at this age, he’s gonna want his own boat soon!