Solo canoe: creeks, bayous, swamps

I’ve been using my 16’ Penobscot to solo canoe on the little creeks, bigger rivers and swamps of Southeast Texas and Western Louisiana. I’m thinking of getting a dedicated solo boat, but I’m not sure. I do some overnight solos. No whitewater, of course, but some of the creeks and rivers do really move along, and you need to be nimble to weave through the openings in the ubiquitous logjams. A smaller boat would be more nimble and lighter, important on portages. But wouldn’t it bottom out more easily on partly submerged logjams and small creeks? I’m really confused. Also, I don’t like open water, but I often (often!) have to cross it to get to the water I do like.

I find the Penobscot wanting on the really small creeks and on the spots where a very long portage is required just to get to the water. Should I get a solo boat? If so, which one?


go for it
I think you’re right in that the lower the volume of the boat the easier it could bottom out in shallow water BUT all boats are not created equal and your Penobscot (I had one…they are great) is more of a shallow vee hull so the middle bottoms out more easily than a shallow arch hull which most boats have now.

Anyway…tons of great solo choices for you…the no brainer would be a Bell Yellowstone Royalex becaue it’s much hotter (efficient) and more maneuverable than your tandem yet it can take a beating…and will easily handle any type of water you come across…open water or whitewater.

There are lots of other good choices…depends somewhat on how much weight will be in the boat, but you can’t go wrong with a Yellowstone or Bell Wildfire as a creek solo. You don’t need to stick with Royalex…a tough kevlar boat can handle all kinds of abuse and they generally paddle nicer than Royalex (a bit more efficient).

like Meatloaf
you took the words right out of my mouth.

I personally havn’t paddled a Yellowstone, I hear they feel very different from a Wildfire, but not too bad.

I mean it is the difference in a Cadilac and a Lincon, comes down to personal preferance and choice-by-use. Wildfires are PHENOMINAL and I am sure I would love a Yellowstone.


p.s. I am sure one of the next posts will contain a Mohawk 14 solo. I am just placing the bet.

I think a Yellowstone or Wildfire would
be good choices for east Texas and Louisiana, but in defense of the Penobscot, it won the solo cruising downriver class on the Nantahala at least twice, and neither the Wildfire nor the Yellowstone could run dry enough or fast enough to do that.

Also a weight inventory of camping gear is needed. A Wildfire or similar boat can hold a week of camping gear, with some discipline, but there will be some sacrifice in ability to handle open water waves or maneuver through trees.

Given that portage weight is an issue, I suggest confining the choice to glass/Kevlar boats.

Solo choices
You haven’t mentioned your weight or height, making suggesting something tres difficult.

That said, don’t eliminate 13 footers out of hand. The Mohawk solo 13 is a fine little hull and is as wide as Bell’s Yellowstone.

Mohawks’s 13 and 14 don’t compare well with Yellowstone, but then they cost lots less.

Composite is almost always better than ABS and can be much lighter at twice the price.

Dont angst over the perfect hull
Down south I have done the Buffalo in a Swift Heron, Bell Merlin and Swift Raven as dedicated solos. I always seem to hit the Buff after flood.

Have done the Loxahatchee in a Flash.

Just downsizing the mass will give you more manuevering room.

My fav bayou boat is a wood/ dacron boat and last March I had the pleasure of going on Cane Bayou with a fleet of solo pirogues.

And I have a Mohawk 13. Though its a Florida boat I dont seem to have it with me in Florida. Its a very good performer for the price. The Bell Merlin is more than twice the price and it does not paddle twice as well as the Mohawk.

what canoe
This will tell how old I am but living in SC I used a 20’ Jensen solo in fiberglass. I was able to complete with the current on the Santee Copper River as well hidden creeks. The draft of this boat is laid out over a longer area and there is hardly any dragging.

for all the good tips. I have seriously considered the Yellowstone. But in royalex that’s 44 lb, and would that feel that much lighter than my 58lb Penobscot on a long portage or while hauling the boat over one of the notorious log jams of the Upper Neches (water too deep to stand, banks to steep to get out)?

I’m 6’1’’ 200 lb.

One option might be to get something really tiny for creeks, and keep the Penobscot for bigger water and overnights. But maybe those tiny boats won’t work for me. Solo 13 does seem like an option, partly for price-point.

As for materials, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to scrape a $2,000 composite boat across a log. And yes, as mentioned in this forum, sometimes you can’t help that down here. I’m inclined toward royalex, but I could still be persuaded to consider composite.

I’ve looked at some used pirogues, and I like the down-home indigenous factor, but they’re just too heavy, and I don’t think they would do as well in the moving water I frequent.

Thanks again!

44 vs 58 lbs
Go pick up two gallons of water. That’s the difference. For me, it’s significant.

Pirogue don’t have to be heavy
Last one I build was about 41 # for a 14 footer. Like any boat you can build them to have any two of: Strong, light, cheap.

I’m essentially your size
I’m 6’2” & 200 lbs +/- I have an older Bell Wildfire Royalex which is only slightly different than the current Bell Yellowstone Solo. Both boats have differential rocker (more rocker in the bow than stern) – the YS has reportedly has more of a “skeggy” hull from amidships back if I understand it correctly. Both track fairly hard – the YS more so.

People have disagreed with me on this point and that’s fine, but I find an empty Wildfire RX too small for my hulking mass and it’s a total slumbering slug with a full load of tripping gear. I’ve owned one for 5 years now. I’ve done both day floats multi-day trips with mine and found this boat much too small. My wife on the other hand is considerably lighter and shorter and her WFRX fits her very well. In my humble opinion that’s clearly a boat for a small to medium size paddler – not for a large person.

Then there’s the issue of differential rocker (DF). There are many solo canoes (and tandem canoes for that matter) by various builders with DF, from the Bell YS to the We-no-nah Vagabond, the Swift Osprey and Shearwater, Hemlock Falcons & SRTs, it’s a long list. To me differential rocker makes sense in a lake boat or a boat used on large rivers. DF aids with tracking and in that regard it could be considered more efficient (since fewer course corrections are needed) than a symmetrically rockered canoe. For creek/small river running DF makes a canoe a LOT less nimble and maneuverable. DF makes for a “sticky stern” and that stickiness is exacerbated when the paddler weighs more – since the boat rides deeper in the water. Even when heeled to the rail the stern of a YS is still in the water under the weight of a 200 lb paddler.

A better choice for creeks and small rivers for a larger paddler is a boat with plenty of rocker at both ends - without DF. I’d say (among others) an older Mad River Guide (similar to the current MR Freedom Solo) or a Nova Craft Supernova would be better choices. Both of these canoes are considerably more seaworthy in big water than the YS as well.

Just some thoughts - Randall

WildFire, Yellowstone and paddler size

– Last Updated: May-28-07 1:04 AM EST –

Bell's RX WildFire and Yellowstone came out of the same 1/2" thick Fiberglass mold. It hasn't changed much. Bell dropped the WildFire name due to contractual agreements having to do with WildFire and FlashFire coming home to Placid boats in NY.

WildFire was designed by David Yost to safely tote a 220 lb paddler and 125-150 lbs gear and food on a far north trip including class 2 water.

Now I will grant that the RX version is a half inch narrower than the composite version due to the thickness of the RX. The seat also seems a little low; but if someone that size finds the hull tender, the problem is with them not the boat.

Yellowstone's differential rocker was my suggestion; reasoning as follows: Folks buying a $1K RX boat are more likely to be at intermediate level. Those committed enough to pop $2.5K on a carbon/kevlar composite are more likely to be relatively advanced paddlers. Let's skeg the stern to help folks track.

Yeah, maybe it would have been better to do Merlin 2 in RX too and keep WF's rocker, but it would not sell as well.

I just paddled Wild at the Adirondack Paddlefest without burden. I was amazed how big the 14' X 30" hull is. At 5'9", shrinking with age like a fading flower, I much prefer FlashFire, 13' X 29" even tripping rivers with the odd class 2 drop/riff with 100 lbs of burden aboard.

Cross strokes are lots closer, and I don't have to take a step to bury the rail.

Interesting Charley
A few points to discuss a bit more and a question:

As to DF, yes I can see how some paddlers might enjoy that sort of tracking aid, especially those just getting into soloing – even in a river canoe. I follow the logic on that and see how unit sales could be increased with that sort of marketing strategy. I certainly didn’t mean to be critical of a marketing decision you made several years ago Charley. Personally I just don’t enjoy DF in a river canoe because I like to spin and play around with the currents – and I don’t find tracking to be a chore. I also think a Royalex hull is an appropriate hull for small rivers and creeks with lots of obstacles. The sticky stern of DF reduces maneuverability & the fun factor too much for me. It’s just not my thing in a river canoe, so I brought it up as a point of view. For me a Guide or Supernova are better choices.

I don’t find the WFRX hull tender, but for those do there are other somewhat similar solos, but more staid - with greater initial stability. A Wenonah Vagabond for instance might be a better choice for some.

I have read where you’ve said before that DY, the designer of the WFRX was a 220 pounder and he designed that boat to use on a week long trip. I can believe that, but my experience has shown that particular model loaded like that rides WAY deep in the water. Design intensions aside - 220 lbs and a week’s gear… groan… I spent a long week up in Maine with a loaded WFRX some years back, that was the last time I ever thought of taking that hull tripping. But as I’ve often said when this topic comes up: people do disagree on that point.

Question: My information on the differences between the WFRX and the YSRX came from what you had written a little while back here at this forum. So I misunderstood? I thought you had said that the YS was more skeggy. Can you explain what the differences actually are then please? Sorry to be so dense – guess I’m just left scratching my head. I do understand the differences to be slight – exactly what differences are there? - Randall

vive la difference
The differences between Bell’s RX Yellowstone and RX WildFire are the names on the laft rear nameplate. Same mold, same boat, with the caveat that they may have altered seat height.

I’ve often regretted the skegged RX boat - I’d like a symmetrical version for my own use, and, with tighter insides, it’d fit me better.

On differential rocker, most WW boats
have it, and obviously it does not inhibit our spinning, edging, and general fooling around. Some whitewater boats are ridiculously asymmetrical, with big differences in front/rear rocker, and they are often the most fun.

And I’d like one pumped up a tad for my hulking mass! ;^)