Opinions on Wenonah Sundowner 18' for novice and family


I am new to canoeing. We have been searching for a used canoe for my wife and me as well as our two children, ages 2 and 4. I found a 1994 Wenonah Sundowner 18’ Kevlar that weighs 42 pounds and comes with 3 wooden paddles for $1,400. I also found a burgundy 1994 Wenonah Sundowner 18’ Tuf-weave with wood trim and 3 wooden paddles for $1,200. This one weighs 68 pounds. I wasn’t specifically looking for a Sundowner, I just happened upon these two canoes in my area. Both canoes are original owner. The tuf-weave canoe is in perfect condition, the Kevlar one has no damage but has a more worn look to it. Maybe that’s just the Kevlar though, I’m new to this so still learning. I’m planning to use the boat on mainly lakes, and the occasional river in the Pacific Northwest. Basically as a recreation boat for my family. I basically was wondering if anyone had any advice…if this is a good boat for beginners and for families. I’m leaning toward the tuf-weave boat, for the price and the condition, but wanted some opinions. Are these good prices? Is Kevlar the way to go? Should I keep looking? Thank you, your help is much appreciated.

The Wenonah Sundowner 18 is a good boat. Wenonah also made a Sundowner 17 which had significantly less initial stability. The 18 footer is pretty fast and hard tracking. It won’t be the easiest to turn and is probably best suited for flat water use or wide rivers that do not require much maneuvering…

The Kevlar boat is probably skin-coated. That means there is just a coat of vinyl ester resin on the exterior, no colored gel coat. If that is the case, you will see the weave of the honey-colored Kevlar showing through. Skin-coated boats can tend to show more wear because the resin gets scratched and sometimes worn off completely. The appearance can be substantially restored by applying a coat of clear, low viscosity epoxy and/or marine varnish.

The Kevlar boat will not be stronger, If anything, the Tuf-weave boat is probably stronger. But if you are car topping or carrying the boat much, I think you will find that the difference between 42 lbs and 68 lbs is very substantial. And that difference will become more significant every year.

I would have to see them to be certain, but between the two boats I strongly suspect I would choose the Kevlar build.

Thanks for the reply! The kevlar boat is definitely skin-coated according to your description so I think it’s probably in great condition. It seemed like it overall. Is the initial stability of the sundowner 18 good enough for family use? Or would you recommend passing on these? Also does weight of a canoe every affect stability? Like would a kevlar boat ever be less stable than a tuf-weave due to its lower weight?

Also, are the prices $1,200 and $1,400 good for those or would you keep looking?

Thank you for your help.

Some would prefer the Tuff-Weave for added security that the boat would be pretty much unscathed after bashing into the occasional rock. I know one longtime poster here who considers the Tuff-Weave to live up to its name and then some, in terms of impact resistance, but I’m just taking his word for it. I have a lightweight Kevlar boat (not a Wenonah) which I wouldn’t trust to survive the kinds of rock impacts that many people consider unavoidable (with experience gained, more and more impacts become avoidable). I agree with Pete that lighter weight is of great value, but you have to balance that against likely or possible impacts with rocks, as well as your age and experience level (if you are relatively young, you might have years of good boat-lifting capability ahead of you compared to the average old fart (most canoers nowadays are old farts), during which you can refine your skills so that inadvertent collisions become far less likely). There’s often not a clear choice between lightness and durability.

Keep it long enough and the kids can load it.

Go with the Kevlar canoe. The tuffweave is heavy. In 1994 Wenonah made several different Tuffweave layups, not just the flex-core of today. They made cross-rib, center-rib, core-stiffened, and a very heavy extra-stiffened. In Kevlar they also made the ultra-light core-stiffened, the cross-rib, and the center-rib. At 42# an 18’Sundowner is sure to be the core-stiffened, now called ultra-light. The 18’Sundowner is stable enough for your family and big enough to hold all of you. I have 3 18’Sundowners, and a couple of shorter 16’6" and 17 Sundowners. It is a very balanced canoe and easy to paddle. the Kevlar hull should have the sliding front seat as standard equipment and the tuffweave canoe may not have it, since it was an extra on the less expensive hulls. For your kids as they grow the sliding seat is great. when they are small you slide it full forward and the hull is narrow and its easier for them to reach the water and have a vertical paddle stroke. Much less tiring for little arms to hold the paddle close vs reaching way out to the side from a wide adult position. The Kevlar layups are plenty strong to handle the hard beaching and occasional rock impacts. All my Kevlar canoes have survived Boy Scout trips loaded and slid over beaver dams, run onto shore at speed and many many rock impacts. $1400 is not a bad price if the canoe is clean and solid.

I agree with the other posters, when price and condition are close as in this case go with the lighter canoe. Years ago I discovered the hard way about weight, it makes a huge difference, loading,unloading, the lift and carry to water and also any portage.

I only own Kevlar boats, but have damaged one of them a couple times (by running into submerged things - in my case a sign post and a log), but short of running into things, the light weight makes up for slightly less durability.

The Sundowner has a shallow arch bottom to it, as do almost all Wenonah boats. This means that the initial stability will be slightly loose, but firm up as you lean. Overall the Sundowner 18 is a relatively stable canoe (like 7/10 on my subjective scale), probably only exceeded in stability by fishing canoes (10/10 stability) but they are often very wide and paddle like barges or possibly flat bottom boat designs like Souris River canoes (8/10 stability). Many novices prefer the feeling of a flat bottom as it is more settled in the water initially, but performs worse overall and certainly less well in any sort of waves.

Check out this diagram for what I mean:

Overall $1400 with 3 paddles is an OK deal in my book. Its not a steal, but is a fair price if the boat is in good condition. You may offer a little less ($1200?) and see if he bites.

Just be sure to invest in decent PFD’s and make sure your kids wear them! Also, when I was new I found watching youtube videos on proper stroke and boat control invaluable.

One last thought; watch a video on in-water recovery then, without your kids, paddle out in flat water near shore and flip the boat intentionally. Even if you cant get back in and swim it to shore, it will be an extremely informative experience and its much better to do it in a controlled situation than have it happen unexpectedly the first time. Everyone is in between swims, so have a plan for what happens when things go wrong.