Performance Solo for the Light Paddler

-- Last Updated: Aug-31-09 5:09 AM EST --

I'm concerned about the windage / seaworthyness / performance of solo canoes in open water when lightly laden and paddled by the lighter paddler (say a total load < 150lb / 70kg).

I’m concerned that when lightly laden … top end open-water canoes like the Bell Magic and Wenonah Voyager might just bob around like corks and catch a lot of wind… making them less suited to coastal / big lake paddling than smaller, more rockered solos like the Argosy or Yellowstone Solo.

Paddler weight / laden weight

– Last Updated: Aug-31-09 6:45 AM EST –

I'm not at the extreme end of the paddler weight spectrum (6' tall, 130lb = 182cm and 60kg)... but I'm still concerned that the supposedly more sea-worthy craft might be less than ideal for me for coastal day-paddling around my favourite haunt of St Davids, or for a crossing to the Farne Islands.

Edit: just found this other, tangentially related post from someone who says "I am 5', 125 lb"...

"I started paddling in a Merlin II (15'). Next came the Wildfire (14'). Then the Flashfire (13'). Finally the Loon Works Solitaire (12 1/2'). I find, contrary to the concept that a longer boat will go faster, that I am able to paddle more efficiently, with less effort, and faster for longer periods of time, with a smaller and narrower canoe."

Interesting. See

Yup You’re Right
A bigger volume boat will float higher with any given load. In the wind that can leave you with too much sail and not enough keel.

I go 180 lbs and find for unloaded touring the Voyager needs more weight while the Magic and Osprey are just about right.

At your weight boats like the Rapidfire and Kestrel would be worth considering as well as the two you mentioned.

Solo vs. Tandem

– Last Updated: Aug-31-09 9:14 AM EST –

Followed the Kestrel link and found these useful pages:


Following the links to the Rapidfire and to reviews proved even more productive: I'm already keen to talk to the manufacturer... but not sure this craft would even be an option in the UK as I can find no trace of an importer :(

Not sure how any of the above would compare with (say) the Argosy or Yellowstone Solo (though I'm having enough trouble seperating that pair).

On a related note... am I also right in thinking that for a dad (130lb/60kg) and daughter (40lb/20kg)... a solo (with dad near the centre of the boat) makes far, far more sense than a tandem?

Assuming a tandem only really makes greater sense when daughter reaches 12-14 years old....

solo/tandem; Kestrel

– Last Updated: Aug-31-09 3:59 PM EST –

A solo could handle the weight of you and your daughter. I regularly take a 75-pound dog in my S&G Osprey. Seat is mounted aft a bit from standard to keep trim(still playing with it when photo was taken).

It might be a bit crowded once she decides she wants to help paddle, or that she wants to sit on her own seat. The nice thing about canoes is that it's fairly easy to move or add a seat as needed.

If you wanted a tandem, I'd consider one of the narrower tandems like a Bell Northstar or Wenonah Solo Plus. They're not bad to solo unless the wind really kicks up. Paddling from the kneeling thwart with a small child in the bow seat works well.

I just demoed a Kestrel a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed. At 5'9", 160 it felt like a small sports car to me. It wasn't that it turned like a more rockered boat -- tracking was excellent -- but it just felt good to be paddling something that was no bigger than I needed. It'd probably be a great tripper for someone small.

At your weight I'd think it would be a much better choice for open water than the Yellowstone Solo. My only concern would be that it might be a bit narrow for your leg spread when kneeling. Dave Curtis, the builder, is great to talk to about boat choices, and Charlie Wilson, who posts here as CEWilson, has written extensively about sizing and choosing solos.

The Peregine was also nice and would be a good choice if I was carrying a load, but it didn't peg my grin meter like the Kestrel.

I’m 5’11’, 220 lbs
Also more of a river paddler, and at my weight, I find the Yellowstone Solo to be rock solid.

Don’t find wind to be an issue, but again, I have 100 lbs on you.

When my daughter was younger, she would paddle in the front on occasion – not something I would want to do for an extended distance, but it was fine.

You’re right, Argosy is a very similar boat. I like them both. Hope you can find some to paddle.

Kestrel and Rapidfire
I use my Hemlock Kestrel on coastal trips along the Everglades Coast and Biscayne Bay on the Atlantic side of Florida. My weight is 170 and I am 5’6" with day trips an additional 10 lbs aboard, the canoe is unaffected by winds in the 15-20 knot range. I can still control the boat without effort. I’ve had it out in higher and gusting winds to 25 knots and felt that the canoe was solid and no different than when I paddle the same waters from my touring kayak. It is not as fast as my kayak but it is fast enough for long trips and very efficient. My last trip it was overloaded to almost 300lbs aboard and with the help of a Cookes custom cover it did not ship water when crossing the larger bays in small craft advisory winds. It was also still very responsive which was amazing to me.

My friend was using the beautiful Rapidfire and she weighs 95lbs and is also 5’6" with a full camping weight on board whe was not able to control that canoe in the higher winds we were in. When I tried it with my weight it was not a problem and was fast and responsive.

Kneeling SpitFire or Used Curtis MayFly

– Last Updated: Sep-02-09 1:23 PM EST –

The next step down in size from RapidFire/Kestrel is finding a used Curtis MayFly, [23 were built], or getting Joe Moore at Pb to make a kneeling SpitFire, which requires a double carbon bellyband to reinforce the hung seat. At 12 feet the 95 pounder will sink more footprint in the water than with 15 foot hulls of similar width, increasing controlability in wind.

MRC Liberty?

– Last Updated: Sep-03-09 2:46 AM EST –

I double posted a question asking where the Mad River Liberty fits into the picture: for the other posting and responses see

ps. Sorry about the double posting: had technical issues getting the post to appear.

Coastal, big lake paddling
That’s what the OP specifies as the paddling environment.

I’ll leave it to others to comment on whether pack canoes are good for that environment. Of course, they are used sitting on the floor with a double blade. I suppose one could kneel in a narrow, shallow pack canoe in coastal and big lake waters, but that would be too exciting for me even if I were less than 150 lbs.

Short, light kayak seems like an excellent choice.

For a kneeling canoe, the Hemlock Kestrel comes immediately to my mind, too.

Hemlock has an original Mike Galt Dandy on their used boat page right now. I’d consider that.

Pack canoes in open water…
My understanding from asking around is that an accomplished lighter paddler (perhaps me as I’d like to be in 18 months time) might do nicely in a shallow pack canoe so long as he/she had a deck for shedding the wind and and staying dry in a wave train.

Maybe I’m underestimating the challenges… but my instinct with canoes, as it was in my youthful kayaking days, is for any lighter and less physically powerful paddler to have a narrow, light craft that is technically challenging rather than a more stable, dryer craft that catches the wind.

I should also, at this point, declare a tangential consideration: on gentler days I’d like to paddle with my growing daughter (currently approaching 5, weighing less than 20kg) on more sheltered waters - for which the craft being discussed here sound ideal :slight_smile:

You can always add some ballast
I am 6’, 160 lbs. and own Bell Merlin II and Wenonah Voyager models. I paddle each of these successfully unloaded (Merlin is easier) on very large lakes (but am strong paddler and will move between sitting and kneeling). I have at times added some ballast (rocks or water jugs) front and back if there was siginificant wind/waves.

The Voyager is probably too much for you. I love the Merlin for all-around paddling for smaller people if you want a 15.5’ model. By all means get one of the shorter models discussed, but don’t think that you can’t paddle a longer boat because of your weight. Consider width as well: the Merlin is narrow (a shorter but wider model may be even tougher for you to displace enough). You could also consider the 12’ Bell Bucktail and Wenonah Wee Lassie models(but I have not paddled these ones).

Lake Champlain Crossing
A group of us, 220-165 lbs, crossed Lake Champlain from Port Kent to Burlington in a pretty good blow in 15’ by 27.5" wide RapidFires; the two sister waves 3’ tip to trough. Nobody was remotely at risk.

For a 95 lber, Rapid and Kestrel have too much flotation, she won’t sink either hulls footprint in the water, they being very similar Yost 82 and 05 designs.

The Dandy is a pretty widely flared hull. While immensely seaworthy, our petite 95 lber won’t be able to reach water over the rails at center and it is also bog slow.

Wenonah Advantage
I’m 6’3", 180lbs and i paddle an Advantage. I’ve noticed that the boat handles much better in the wind with more weight. If i add my dog or a kid to the boat, it travels in more of a straight line. I love this boat, but its tough to handle in the wind. Decking would probably make a big difference.