Northstar tandem canoe experiences

I have an appointment to test several Northstar tandems in a week & I’m interested in hearing thoughts and experiences with materials
(Starlite v.s. Blacklite) and hulls
(Northwind 16 & 17 & B16 & B17).
The primary purpose is to replace a 33 year old Sawyer Cruiser that has grown to ~70 lbs with something in the mid40s. Much of the use will be day trips on Michigan rivers but the driving use case is Ontario Lake & portage tripping. The day paddling load will be ~400 lbs unbalanced ~60 lbs toward the bow. Tripping, the paddlers will be more or less balanced at ~ 340lbs total with 80 - 100 lbs of gear.

Our current tandem canoes are the Cruiser & a Nova Craft Prospecter 16’ I have also had a Wenonah Jensen 18 (that was my first canoe). I consider these hulls very stable especially compared to a ‘Pro Boat’.

Experience: a friend & I bought the Jensen 18 in 1977. I have also paddled class III whitewater tandem & solo along with a fair number of 1 - 2 week trips including the Missinaibi & Ontario’s White.

Anyway, I’m interexsted in how Starlite holds up v.s. Blacklite and any feedback on the above hulls.


I’ve got a Polaris in Blacklite that I’m very fond of. I have a friend with a Blacklite Trillium that uses it hard… overloading it for tripping and dragging it over things and ramming semi-submerged logs to get over them. He’s had to give the boat a coat of epoxy and add Dynel skid plates…both were fairly easy maintenance chores I think.

Overall I think you’ll find the Blacklite significantly stiffer than the Starlite. I think they are equal for abrasion resistance with both lay-ups having a thin skincoat for weight savings (and some folks including myself might be willing to sacrifice a little weight for the protection of a gelcoat). I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a Starlight boat and I’m sure it’s durable enough for my local rivers and that’s the lay-up outfitters use.

Regarding the hulls the only one I’ve tried is the NW17…I had a Bell Northwind 17. In my opinion that boat is a stable, family-oriented boat with superb handling and seaworthiness but in my opinion it doesn’t feel efficient or happy until it has 500+ pounds in it. I think it will feel a little sluggish compared to a Cruiser. From the reviews I’ve seen the NW16 might feel better with your loads.

FWIW I also like the aluminum gunwales on Bells and Northstars. Light, sturdy, zero maintenance, and rounded/comfy to touch. My Polaris has wood but I had a Bell with aluminum and liked it a lot. One downside of aluminum trim is that it’s noisy when you bump it, I think my friend’s only disappointment with his Trillium is that it’s got a noisy/hollow sound since it’s so light and stiff and his has aluminum gunwales.

Thanks Tom, I appreciate the input. Especially on how your friend’s Blacklite hull holds up to ‘proper usage’ of a canoe. I talked to Gary DeKock at Quiet Adventures last month about his NW17 that he & Linda used & his opinion was that it was too big for most moderate usage.

Just FYI I found the Bell Northwoods (NW18) to be much more sporty and fun than the Northwind (NW17) even lightly loaded plus it still has superb maneuverability where the boat can be totally controlled by the bow or stern paddler alone. You might want to test paddle a NW18 if there’s one available. Of course if you’re hard of hearing and prefer stern like I do then you’ll never hear anything the bow paddler says in an 18’9" boat so you’ll have to decide whether that’s a feature or liability for you.

I’ll see on Monday what Ron has to test.

I’m not really interested in 18’ 6" these days. I can get the 17’ 9" Cruiser through most stuff on the locals (Red Cedar, Looking Glass, & Grand) but I’d rather shorter. And with my hearing I have trouble hearing the bow paddler from a 16’ Prospecter.

@TomL Took a B17 out on the Huron today and didn’t see a need to try anything else. Ron didn’t have any Northwinds in stock but did have a B16 & a Polaris. We found the B17 quick, comfortable, and quite maneuverable. We took some canoe packs along to check fit for tripping & liked how they fit.

Conditions: The Huron was high & quick with some down wood to pay attention to. Temps in the upper 30s with wind and a bit of ‘snain’. In other words fairly normal conditions for paddling.

So now there is a new problem: where does the new canoe sleep?

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Well congrats. It’s nice when you find something so perfect for your needs.

As far as self-inflicted storage problems I may not be very helpful; I just did it to myself again and bought a used canoe that put me one over my storage limit. I’m perfectly happy with my little fleet but a friend keeps sending me links to amazing used canoes.

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The first full paddle in the new B-17 today. Ruth & did the 1/2 Hugh Heward (25 miles from Grand Ledge to Portland Michigan. Possibily the best weather for the 'Hugh" that I’ve seen. Rain stopped well before we started, sun for much of the paddle & the rain didn’t start again until after the last paddle came in. The water was a bit low but we still averaged 4.7 mph over the 25 miles.