Thanks everyone for all the help advice and opinions.
I agree, a classic used specimen like a royalex VT Explorer or OT Penobscot, or Dagger Reflection would have been a great decision, and maybe “better”…but there were issues with each.
The Dagger seller removed the listing from Craigslist and never returned my texts.
The best Penobscot sold. Others are $800-$1100 and needing repairs. Many sellers don’t have any more pics or know anything about them including the layups. No solid options here now.
The royalex explorer was mint…but I just really don’t think I want woods gunwales. And it was only $200 cheaper than new…
Lastly I was committed to going to Portland already.
We poked and prodded a new Esquif prospecteur 16…and really liked it. Unfortunately, there was no demo available. I was nervous it was going to be too squirrely a boat for us newbs, but I was pretty set on buying it if we didn’t like the Explorer after paddling it.
We saw the Northstar B16 and boy howdy was it pretty. But expensive and given all the other stuff we needed to buy, the price was prohibitive. Also, (this is surely my naivete talking) but the IXP layup that’s supposed to be as tough as royalex, felt a lot like a much thinner composite and did not inspire confidence. It did really make me want to get a Northstar one day tho…
And lastly we paddled the new Explorer 16 side by side a heavy plastic Penobscot 174. The OT felt like a submarine…solid, sturdy and good at going straight, but a little like an old buick or caprese classic…I liked it though and figured a 16’ royalex would feel better even.
The explorer felt lively, like it wanted to play. A bit awkward at first with the shallow V and the shorter length, but it felt like a boat we can grow into as our skills increase. It was easy to solo from the bow seat and fun to turn and spin and seemed to start and stop on a dime. And it was NEW and red. And discounted itself along with combo discounts on all our other gear.
So…we bought it.
The seats and thwarts were loose and wobbled quite a bit but I tightened them down and they felt much more solid. I think the Esquif prospecteur felt a bit more rigid in the store and maybe put together a bit better and more solid, but was about $300 more…and we didn’t get to demo it.
All in all my wife is ecstatic, and I’m pleased. I dream of a shorty solo esquif and a longer asymmetrical composite northstar or Wenonah one day…but for the foreseeable future my new ride or die is a Mad River Explorer 16.
*Edited to add:
This is what we came home with:
-MRC Explorer 16, red T-FORMEX
-2 Bending branches explorer plus paddles (54"+56")
-1 Werner Journey paddle w/ fiberglass blade and CF shaft (58")
-Astral Ringo PFD for her (same cut as the women’s Layla. It’s just marketing.)
-Solquist Edge PFD for me (already owned it)
-3 dry bags (including the Ortlieb 85L duffel!)
-Inno cross bar rack for vehicle
-Level Six thin rubber collapsable boots
-Astral Loyak shoes.
-odds and ends.
Now to go venturing!