Novice solo canoe, big guy

I’ve dabbled in paddling in the past with a 12’ OT Stillwater. It was perfect for fishing (I can stand and walk and practically dance in the thing), but I was paddling a bath tub. Now I’m looking for a fleeter vessel, something that can actually move and turn and make me feel like an athlete.

I’m 5’11, 270 lbs and I’m looking for a solo canoe to paddle on lakes and slow rivers, maybe a creek or two if I feel adventurous enough. Something I can kneel or sit in, and cast an occasional line…maybe stand just to stretch out. I will never go camping or long trips so with gear the load should stay under 300 lbs.

My budget is around 1,000, no problem going used and I don’t need a 25lb kevlar/carbon craft. Did I mention I’m a beginner?

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I’m definitely planning on demoing a variety of canoes, but a point in the right direction will be great!

Thank you.

Novice Canoe?
It doesn’t sound from your description of how you would like the canoe to perform, or from how you would like to feel when paddling it that you really want a “novice” canoe. A canoe that meets your use/performance description would generally be catagorized as a touring or sport touring canoe.

In general, a composite boat will handle and respond better than its Royalex (rubber) cousin. There are many boats that would meet the need, but one that comes to mind immediately is the Wildfire. It’s currently made by Placid Boat Works but only in carbon fiber and way above your stated price range. The Wildfire was previously manufactured by Bell and they used to make some in fiberglass. I’ve seen used fiberglass Wildfires for sale in your price range. The performance is almost identical to the current model except that it weighs more and getting it to and from the water will require more effort. Once floating the extra 20 lbs will hardly be noticeable.

There are other boats that would meet your needs, some made by Curtis (Hemlock Canoe Works), Swift etc.

The boat is only part of the picture. Even a clunky canoe can be made to respond with proper technique. The skill of the paddler and that all important paddle, which is the connection between the paddler and the water are even more important. If you want to increase your skill and try out various boats/paddles before you buy, consider attending a canoe symposium. At many events, not only can you try out various boats and paddles, but more importantly, you can get top notch instruction.

In the northeast there are several such events planned for the coming season. An incomplete list would include the Main Canoe Symposium, The Western PA Solo Canoe Rondevouz,The Adirondack Freestyle Symposium and the Midwest Freestyle Symposium. You can Google any of these events for more information.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Paddles and Cedar Strip Canoes

Demo/Rent some 16+/-’ Royalex canoes…OT Penobscot_16, Wenonah Prism…etc. Royalex is a good start to demo with…get some of the basic skills working and start to develop some balance. Used composite boats(per Marc’s) can be nice, but do homework on the specific boat…they are lighter and as efficiency increases…initial stability will decrease.

Here’s a little setup that you might wanna check into:

A foam OC-1(ww canoe) seat/pedestal…you can move it around and…just glue it to a wider (.5"-1" thick foam) base and you have some nice stability…just add comfortable 1)knee pads and 2)ankle blocks(with velcro ankle-bands) and you have a surprisingly supply of comfort…and you can sit anywhere to perfect the trimming. Much easier to judge what boat you like when you’re balanced…:wink:

30-31 inches
There are just three 31" wide solos; Wenonah’s Wilderness, Sawyers, Solo 13 and Bell’s Rockstar. The Wilderness will track better than the others, and, as a novice, that’s where you’ll need the most help from hull design. I’d try the Bell too, but as a new for 09 model, it won’t be available used. The 13 will also be, basically, unavailable. The manufacturer’s web site indicates limited production.

I’m 5’10" 230lbs, Prism is stable and fast, fine for fishing and a boat a novice can handle easily. In fact, I have one for sale in the classifieds section…


So if you buy my Prism, I vote Prism. Mine is also guaranteed to attract pretty woman and fish. You can’t beat that.

As CEW tells us, Prism, like Magic, is a detuned delta hull. Prism has zero rocker, it likes to go straight, and it is quite efficient. If you want something more “turny” look elsewhere.

I’m wondering about the …

– Last Updated: Dec-25-08 9:01 PM EST –

... implication that he should get a boat that's so wide, since the O.P. didn't specifiy a desired width. Supplying the reason for this would be good, since otherwise I don't see the reason for focusing on these three boats as choices. Is this because of the "novice" classification, or maybe because he's a big guy? Novice or not, I'd be inclined to recommend something with dimensions that are more mainstream, where the variety of choices is not so limited, but I might be missing something since I am not a big guy.

With the idea of a boat in which a big guy could have room to move around or occasionally stand, a shorter, dual-purpose tandem like the Bob Special or Pal from Novacraft *might* be good options. Also, Novacraft's Supernova is a very wide solo canoe (32 inches if I remember correctly) which handles large loads very efficiently, but it's not a boat I'd recommend to a novice unless I had first-hand knowedge that the paddler in question wouldn't be prone to becoming overly frustrated while learning to paddle.

Now I remember another boat that might be good, which is the Mad River Freedom Solo, which I think is about 31 inches wide. It has a more forgiving learning curve for a novice than the Supernova (which has similar overall dimensions), and is a darned nice all-purpose solo.

Swift Shearwater
My hubby started out in a used Swift Shearwater and did fine in it. I also started paddling canoes in that same boat. I even took out a total newbie paddling in it on flatwater, and she did fine. All 3 of us are on the “bigger” side. It’s easy to handle, not too hard to turn, and you could certainly fish from it.

I’ve seen some Shearwaters for sale, used.

Good luck in your search. You may also want to consider what’s available in your area from the classifieds or Craigslist, and work from that.

based on his height/size
and the desire to kneel is what makes CEW suggest the 30-31.

Watch the knees big guy.

i’m about your size and have found wenonah’s prism to be an excellent boat for me. plenty of capacity for me and a couple of weeks worth of gear. primarily a touring/tripping solo, but turns decently, is plenty fast, and quite comfortable. i wouldn’t, however, plan to kneel. the tractor seat and footbrace are comfortable and the boat is stable without a bargelike feel.


I thought the Bell Yellowstone was supposed to be essentially the same as the old Wildfire? Did you leave it out because it comes in royalex and you’re saying that royalex is less rigid than fiberglas and hence doesn’t perform as well? Or because they made substantial design changes in the Yellowstone from the Wildfire?

caution about demoing
I don’t have a recommendation about which model to get, but I wanted to mention something about demo’ing canoes. You say you’re a beginner but also that you’re looking for more of a challenge than a OT Stillwater. If I may read between the lines a little, it sounds like you’re looking for a boat that challenges you to improve your skills, that is capable of high performance, that is something you can grow into. Is that anywhere close?

So how is a beginner supposed to figure out, in a typical 10- or 30-minute demo ride, which boat is going to provide the long term potential for growth of your skills? You don’t know what to look for, because you’re a beginner. A boat that “feels good” to you in the first 10 minutes is likely to be a dog when your skills improve. The best boat is likely to feel “squirrelly” to you-the-beginner when you first try it - but then, so will the worst boats, the ones that really are “squirrelly” even for experts.

It would be better if you could find your target models avilable for rent, so you could try them for a whole day, but even then I submit that your conclusions will be of only marginal value.

So, instead of relying on demo periods, I think you would do better to research the reputations of various canoe models and go with the one whose reputation sounds best to you. Not that you can’t demo them also - you can, and should, if at all possible. But I’m suggesting that you rely more on what you read and hear than what you experience the first time out.

W’Fire verse YellowStone
The WildFire is a composite hull 14’ by 30" with 2.5 inches rocker at both stems.

The ABS versions, named both WF and YS due to licensing issues, have lower shoulders and 1.5 inches stern rocker. They track better but do not lift the stems as high when heeled and so are less maneuverable.

The current composite YS shares design with the ABS hulls.

Right On
And the reason for not mentioning the SuperNova is its 2.5 in stern rocker - sounds like fun, but not a good choice for a learning paddler, where directional control is always the issue.

MRC’s Freedom Solo is 30.5 in wide and that semi V will aid tracking but it comes in ABS and catalogs at 55lbs - twice the weight of a CobraSox railed WildFire.

I am completely of the other approach
Hull shapes are what matters and tables of figures give an incomplete picture.

You can get an approximation of fit (and fit does matter for the kneeling paddler…the Shearwater is too big for me…cant get a knee in each bilge and a vertical stroke in) from figures but a test ride is always in order.

How many people buy cars from Internet research only? I am wondering and really dont know.

I have never bought a boat based on Web research and have sixteen of them. All make me happy

Even more reason to …

– Last Updated: Dec-26-08 2:10 PM EST –

... consider the MRC Freedoom Solo as a boat with potential. So what if it weighs twice as much a top-of-the-line composite boat? Most boats in his price range do. Anyway, the O.P. already said he's not looking to upgrade to that extreme. (I also suspect that the version of the Wildfire used in this comparison would about as difficult or more so for a novice to learn on, since he's a "big guy", as the already-dismissed Supernova, but that's just reckoning on my part, based on my assumption that a true Wildfire (a boat I've never paddled) would be more nimble and responsive than a Yellowstone (a boat which I have paddled), but if the opposite is true we can ignore this idea of mine).

yost history lesson

– Last Updated: Dec-26-08 8:52 PM EST –

Okay, this is faintly ringing some bells, but I forget the whole story. Here's the part I remember. Please correct as appropriate.

First off, the difference betwen composites (fiberglas, kevlar, carbon) and plastics (abs/royalex as well as the numerous polythingies and thermowhaties) is that composites are constructed on a FRAME where the material is laid on by hand in LAYERS made up of many individual pieces, whereas plastics are POURED into a MOLD all in one quick step.

As a result, composite hulls can have sharp edges and can be shaped just about any way you want. Plastics, on the other hand, have rounded edges and have certain restrictions on what shapes they can assume.

Composites are made pretty much by hand, so you can't build large numbers of them without training and employing large numbers of people. Plastics are more machine dependant and require less skill on the part of the workers; thus, production can be more quickly expanded.

Also, once on the water, the two materials behave a little differently. If you have two canoes that are shaped identically, the composite version is going to be more rigid whereas the plastic one may have some flex in it.

The Wildfire canoe model was designed by David Yost for Bell canoes using composite materials. It became very popular. In order to sell larger volumes and make greater boo-koos of money, Bell asked Yost to adapt the Wildfire design to royalex material. In so doing, Yost made significant changes, namely reducing the stern rocker, and slightly lowering the shoulders.

Okay, now the parts I don't remember:

Why did Yost make those changes? Was it just to compensate for the construction differences, or did he really intend to create a different boat?
Why give it the same name when the dimensions are different? (presumably to capitalize on the sales success of the wildfire)
How do they act differently?
Which one became so popular in freestyle competition? Wasn't it the plastic one? Why was one better than the other at freestyle manuevers?

[edited to remove incorrect statement saying bow rocker eliminated - in fact, it stays the same, 2.5 inches]


– Last Updated: Dec-26-08 6:21 PM EST –

While roto-molded hulls have a specific weight of plastic chips poured into the mold, both composite and ABS hulls are usually made in female molds.

Composite hulls are laid in one piece at a time, but may include a vacuum bag to before or after resin is introduced.

ABS come in sandwiched sheets that are heated in a large oven. The sheet is pulled into the mold by vacuum, with a hydraulic pusher forcing the material into the stems.

When we speced the YellowStone solo, we decided to skeg the stern to improve tracking. Bow rocker stayed the same 2.5". The thought was that the lower price and performance of an ABS hull would attract less committed and less skilled paddlers, so they'd probably appreciate a hull that tracked better.

The shoulders were softened and dropped to get the thing out of the mold.

The Wenonah Argosy is a remarkably similar hull.
Same waterline length, same 2.5/1.5 rocker, shoulders dropped a little further as per WC trade dress. I imagine composite hulls slip right out of a one piece mold when green.

The original WF is the better FreeStyle boat because it has more stern rocker and carries more volume higher into its shoulders. The stern rocker enhances reverse and cross reverse maneuvers. The combination of stern rocker and fuller shoulders allow both stems to be lifted farther out of the water than the YS. The remainder of the hull in the water is shorter, so skidded turns are faster and the hull carries through greater angles of rotation.

blind shopping
I’m not opposed to test drives before buying – I’m just saying (from personal experience) that if you’re a novice and you’re looking for a boat that will help your skills grow, but you’ve only been in one canoe in your life and you learn that it has a dowdy reputation (Old Town Pack, in my case, Stillwater in his case), you probably are not going to learn much from a short test-drive.

I went through the same thing as the OP when I decided to replace my Pack with a “real canoe”. After much agonizing, I settled on the approach of finding out which models were considered “classic” designs, and then choosing the boat whose reputation best matched my goals. I picked the Bell Wildfire in royalex. After I got it, I went out several times before I began to appreciate it. My initial reaction was that it seemed awful wobbly. After 3-4 trips I got used to that and learned to rely on the secondary stability. A few more trips and I got more comfortable, and I began to take chances with it. That was where it really shined, and when I started to fall in love with it.

There’s no way I would have guessed that from a demo.

Very good!
I was glad to see the details you included in that last paragraph (you have implied those thing countless times, but this is the first time I’ve seen it spelled-out by you). Many people, including some prominant posters here, have told me that the reduced stern rocker of the Royalex version does not detract from overall maneuverability and also that it does not affect performance in reverse. Based on my own test paddles I always disagreed, and your post reasures me that I wasn’t “imagining things” as someone once told me. Still, the Royalex version is a pretty nice little boat, and I wouldn’t mind having one.