Solo Canoe Cruising Speed and Tracking??

I am a sea kayaker and recently got hooked into solo canoeing.

I have a tandem (Novacraft Prospector 16) that I have been paddling solo. It handles great and cruises at about 3.5- 4 mph or so using my GPS, which is faster than I would have thought.

I am thinking about getting a true solo canoe for flatwater…like a 16 foot Bell Magic.

I would assume that the speed and tracking of such a boat would be significantly better than my current boat on flat water, as well as the handling in wind, given its much more slender profile, reduced rocker and ability to achieve a more verticle paddle stroke.

What kind of crusing speed can be achieved paddling solo in a boat like this?

I ask partially because I am considering a long trip on the Georgian Bay and want to be able to get an idea of how well I would keep up with my buddies in their 18 foot sea kayaks (Aquanaut and Explorer).



Follow up
Just wanted to point out that speed is not my primary objective…just curious to find out how the solo will size up. I always thought that a canoe would be much slower than a kayak, but given the speed of my tandem, moderately rockered boat when paddling solo it seems that a solo canoe is a reasonably speedy craft.

I am happy with my prospector but would like a little more speed and better tracking. I can’t really use a hit and switch in my current boat with more than 2-3 strokes on each side so pretty much have to use a J stroke which seems like it limits your speed a bit given the slower cadence.




– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 10:32 AM EST –

Will keep up with kayaks. And it's a sweet boat to paddle. On my list.....

You realize, you'll be the one carrying the coolers don't you? Where in Georgian Bay?


Theoretical Max speed for a Magic is 6mph, but we’ve clocked on at 7.0 on a two wave wash. A rational cruising speed would be ~4.5mph.

Rapid is shorter, but has been clocked at 7.2mph on a two wave wash.

While both Yost designs, the difference in the two is paddler stance and handling characteristics.

Magic was designed around a sitting paddler with a bent single blade. It is a delta shaped boat - fast in shallow water but with the loose stern/ sticky bow inherent to that design. Its differential rocker eases handling predilections.

Rapid is designed around a low seated paddler using a double blade paddle. It is a deep water design - notably slower in shallows, but has more neutral handling characteristics, again augmented by differential rocker.

Single blade or double blade.
From your first and second post, I am assuming that you want to primarily use a single blade canoe paddle.

I have difficulty paddling any canoe or kayak 4mph for very many miles, though I do best in my composite Aquaterra Sea Lion or Sawyer Loon decked canoe, so I can’t help with your question about keeping up with the sea kayakers in the long boat going 4mph or faster.

I can tell you that a foot controlled rudder significantly increases my ease of paddling and average speed when single blading my Sawyer Summersong in a group of others paddling sea kayaks - especially if there’s much wind or waves to deal with. I paddle on one side as long as I want with no control strokes and then switch to the other side for as long as I want and don’t have to lean the boat to turn when I have waves from the side, which might swamp the boat if leaned too far.

Of the solo canoes still in production, my perception is that the Magic and Advantage are both pretty good regarding glide and afficiency, but the Magic is a little easier handling in wind, chop and small waves. I haven’t paddled either in larger waves. I haven’t paddle my Summersong since about the middle of last summer, so my memories are vague.

I’ve never paddled the Rapidfire, but I’d like to try one.

Also, 3 -4 strokes per side, with no correction, is about average for me when paddling sit & switch.

From what I’ve read, you are a much more fit and aggressive paddler than I am, so you will have much less trouble keeping up with the sea kayakers in a solo canoe while using a single blade canoe paddle than I have.

Go get’em.

difference in speed between

– Last Updated: Mar-15-09 7:24 AM EST –

comparable kayak and open canoe is mainly in lower stroke rate of single blade and higher windage of canoe.
Without wind and waves I can keep up with so called sea kayaks in my WNN Whisper solo canoe and single blade paddle pretty well.
RapidFire paddles better IMO than my Whisper when I tried one:
only thing I missed was a sliding seat, but don't know if this will really be an advantage in this design?

Did that Rapidfire have a hung seat,
rather than bottom mounted seat? Or were you sitting on cushions on top of the bottom mounted seat?

hung seat

– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 11:21 AM EST –

designed for kneeling of course,
but for speed (on flatwater) I like to sit...

Thanks for the input. I do plan to use a single blade paddle. May use a combination of both sit and switch and kneeling with corrective stroke.

I plan to keep the Prospector for rivers and tandem use, but this boat will be for open water, fitness, etc. Really looking for something that is pretty fast and a good tracker.

Have not used a bent shaft paddle but probably need to add one to my collection.

The boat I am actually looking most closely at is a used Bell Mantoy. It is no longer made. 15’6. Described as being a bit of a cross between the Merlin II and the Magic which sounds reasonable based on its dimensions.


I have a Valley and a Bell…

– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 5:24 PM EST –

I have a comp. Avocet and Aquanaut and Magic.... Maybe the magic can keep up with the Avocet, but not with the Aquanaut at the same pace.....then again, any boat can keep up if you all are of the same mind....I have to add that i think this way only with unloaded boats.....haven't ever tripped with any of them yet....

Paddle Cadence

– Last Updated: Mar-13-09 4:21 PM EST –

I scanned through the other responses so far and can't add much to it. However, you mentioned that the J-stroke slows you down because of the slower cadence. A slower cadence is not necessary with the J-stroke, though your speed will always be slower than with hit-and-switch paddling.

To increase your cadence, don't drag the paddle during the correction phase of the J-stroke. Instead, pull it from the water just as fast as on any non-corrected stroke, but give the blade an outward turn and a slight flip (just a tiny amount of pry) as you pull it from the water. It takes a good bit of practice for this to become a fluid, easy motion. Okay, actually the stroke will be a tiny bit slower exiting the water than a fast non-corrected stroke, but not by enough for the average observer to notice. Including a "correction flip" at the end of the stroke instead of a more-relaxed "rudder drag" can easily double your cadence if you are one who uses a lengthy drag for correction.

Both techniques have their place, but if you want to put an emphasis on speed, stop rudderinng with the "J" and use a "quick-flip pry" that only lasts a small fraction of a second instead. Using the gunwale as a fulcrum will be necessary with the quick-stroke method (unless the small muscles on the outer edge of your shoulder and arms are a lot stronger and tougher than mine), but if that method was okay for Bill Mason it should be okay for most of us. Actually, I don't pry directly against the gunwale like Mason, since I don't like that little "clunk" on each stroke. I put my hand against the top of the gunwale and there's enough friction that it stays there while I pry against my hand.

By the way, I have no real trouble going 4.5 mph in my Mohawk Odyssey 14, but in my Bell Merlin II, that same speed is downright comfortable to maintain for long periods. If I really NEED to go 5.0 mph or faster for a long distance, I figure it's time to go rowing instead of paddling.

the Canadian stroke.

Once at speed the pivot point moves far enough forward that a very tiny correction is enough to keep course.

At a fast cadence say 60 strokes a minute Canadian morphs in to the Northwoods stroke…a quite horizontal paddle is a feature of the latter.

Both require practice just as your kayaking forward stroke does.

Actually, Not a Canadian Stroke
This may just be a nomenclature thing instead of a disagreement, but I should say I was not describing a Canadian stroke, at least not according to Bill Mason’s definition, but a true J-stroke. By Mason’s definition, the Canadian stroke used a long underwater recovery combined with an upward lift which included enough horizontal componant in the force exerted by the blade to provide correction during paddle recovery. Near the end of the recovery the paddle would practically jump out of the water as the resistance to upward pressure on the blade ceased. The stroke I was describing is a true J-stroke with a very small outward hook, and the pry at the end only lasts in instant. The entire recovery stroke is above the water’s surface rather than being mostly below like with (what I know as) a Canadian stroke. I also keep my paddle shaft very vertical on the power stroke of the ‘J’, and that’s true whether I’m using a lazy ruddering style or the quick-pry style I was describing.

I’m glad you mentioned the change in pivot point though. That’s really the key point that makes the quick-pry type of J-stroke easy to do. If the same effort were required for course correction when going fast as when going slow, the quick-stroke method would not be easy at all.

My Canadian stroke is totally crappy because I have hardly ever tried it. If we meet up at the Ozark Rendezvous, maybe you will show me a bit of what you were trying to explain here.

Canadian stroke is pretty short
no need for it to go behind the hip.

But its true that its a two phase stroke…power and recovery/correction.

In practice its s little flick at the hip and the corner does the correction while the paddle is being replaced to a plant position.

Nothing really goes behind the hip nowadays except the Florida Weed Stroke…

Things have been fine tuned since Bills day…used to be that all canoe strokes were looong…now they are not…like kayak end at the hip.

Charlie, two wave wash?

That brings up a question though

– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 9:48 PM EST –

I always hear this talk of ending the stroke "at the hip", but I've yet to meet a single person who does that (no solo paddlers that is, but plenty of tandem racers who don't do correction strokes anyway). Not only that, but in my own paddling experiments, a correction stroke applied at the hip can only make the boat go sideways when going slowly, or provides only minor correction when moving forward at a decent speed (thanks to that shift in pivot-point location again). That makes sense to me, since my hip is only a little behind the halfway point along the length of the boat, and to efficiently alter the boat's heading with a lateral push, the push must be applied as far from the pivot point as practical. As I see it, ending "at the hip" won't put the correction phase of a J stroke at a location where it will turn the boat much with any degree of efficiency, so more of the lateral thrust gets turned into sideslip instead of turning.

I find that I end the stroke so that my lower hand is a little behind my hip (and yes I know I'm wasting energy "lifting water" that way, but as this whole post is about, I need to put the blade where the correction stroke has some effect). That puts the blade behind me, and when I want more correction for the same effort I carry the blade even farther behind before turning it. They don't mount the lateral thrusters on large ships halfway between the ends, but only at the bow and stern where they have the most efficiency, and people who are making their canoe change heading don't apply sideways thrust near the center, but out toward one end of the boat or the other (again, that's true of the paddlers I've seen).

Someday, I really want to watch someone do their correction stroke at the center of the boat (at the hip) and see them make it work efficiently.

The hand ends at the hip
so for most soloists in the center you have to add two feet for the trailing corner of the paddle.

Letting your lower hand go back farther than the plane of your body makes arms come more into play…and those muscles are weaker than torso muscles

I think the more appropriate term is to have hands end at hip. For most solo boats then the J stroke will still be five or six feet from the stem.

One point is that the stems in solo boats have less pressure than on tandem teams. Most solo maneuvers depend on breaking an end free. Getting way back or front means adding pressure way back or front unless you are blessed with gorilla arms.

I think there is a lot more here involved. For example a hanging draw (an axle ) in a solo boat works better if that turning force is applied just in front of the pivot point… not way up front.

Same for running pries…just in front of the pivot point will do for solo.

I agree that most people doing a J stroke hang on to the correction way too long. A quick forceful flick is all that is needed.

Air J anyone?


– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 11:01 PM EST –

The hand ending at the hip clears that up. I'm glad I'm not "stretching the rules" too much by having my lower hand stop where it does, and that I'm not misunderstanding the physics either.

I'm still not up on a lot of the terminology. I'm not expert but I do get plenty of compliments regarding boat-handling, yet I do various turning strokes that I don't even have names for. I'm also sure there are maneuvering tricks I don't know and haven't yet seen.

Riding two big waves in a row?

– Last Updated: Mar-12-09 10:24 PM EST –

I figured he was talking about riding the the crest of the second of two waves in a row, like maybe a boat wake. I've hit 12 or 13 mph in the guide-boat when riding big wind-driven waves. Obtaining bursts of 9 or 10 mph is much more common. That's why big waves are fun.

I own a couple of “fast” solo canoes…
a Wenonah Voyager and a GRB Classic XL.

Before my current medically imposed hiatus from any fitness paddling, I could maintain 4.8 to 5.0 mph on flatwater (lake paddling) in the Voyager and 5.0 to 5.2 mph in the Classic XL. Those speeds are empty, never timed either when loaded.

One last thing, I don’t know that I’d feel particularly comfortable in water as big as Georgian Bay with the Classic XL, but I think a loaded Voyager with a cover could handle it and keep up with many sea kayaks.