Solo canoe for beginner

I once bought a whitewater canoe and took a couple of classes, but gave it up and sold it due to the sheer amount of logistics involved (I wasn’t prepared to spend whole weekends on trips). However there are some slow rivers and lakes/reservoirs not far from home, home, and I’m interested in getting into flat-water canoeing. It will be strictly recreational, not loaded overnight trips. Photography and exercise are secondary goals. I always appreciate speed - it would be nice if I could keep up with my brother-in-law who kayaks in these waters often.

I get the impression that one big decisions is whether I want a low-seat canoe intended for double-blade paddles, or a taller/wider canoe intended for single-blade paddles. Is that a fair statement, or is there a big overlap between these types of boats? I remember using a single-blade paddle was difficult, but I also really enjoyed the challenge.

Also, I specified solo, but it would be a plus if the boat is big enough to use with my wife once in a while - if its performance is similar to a solo canoe when used solo.

I’m comfortable spending over $1000 on a canoe, more if it’s a safe choice and a good quality product. I’m also comfortable buying one sight unseen - I don’t think I have enough expertise to get much out of a test ride. I’d appreciate specific recommendations as well as general advice.

There are very few canoes designed
for double bladed paddling. But, if you can tolerate a long double blade in open environments where it is not an impediment, many canoes can be managed with a double blade. One guy I knew would use a double blade for a 13’ whitewater boat, but while he did well cruising the flats, his maneuvering strokes left something to be desired.

not necessarily double-paddle
I don’t necessarily want to use a double-ended paddle - like I said, I rather enjoyed the challenges of a conventional canoe paddle. I’d gotten the impression that a lot of purpose-built solo canoes (Hornbeck, Placid Rapidfire, etc) are designed for double-bladed paddles, but I realize my impressions are weighted by which companies have the most conspicuous Internet presence.


– Last Updated: Jul-27-09 5:00 PM EST –

How big are you and your wife?

Small tandems can be paddled solo -- center seats are easy to install -- but they'll always be wider than a true solo canoe. They'll also be more vulnerable to wind because of the exposed sail area. Popular tandem/solos include the Wenonah Solo Plus, Old Town Penobscot 16RX, and Bell Northstar.

Do you prefer to kneel or sit?

There are a number of decisions
and choices but first you have to go through your own checklist of your personal preferences.

Dedicated solo canoes (those designed for one person) typically are up to 30 inches wide. Any wider than that with a single blade and you get an element of sweep in your stroke that you dont want.

You can paddle these boats either sitting with a bent shaft (in which case the seat is usually lower) or kneeling with your butt on the seat with a straight single blade.

In essence the same boat can be used and you vary the seat height. This really is a DIY project and dont be afraid to tweak seats.

But your dilemma is that you want to take your wife on outings… That makes the paddling stations in a dedicated solo way too narrow (read she might not like that). And you may want to look at a small tandem. Put a kneeling thwart just aft of center for when you are solo…buy or make a pad out of workshop flooring for comfort and heel the hull a little like Canadian Style. That way you may find that one boat can fill a variety of uses.

The problem with having a canoe for both solo and tandem use is that you are going to have to sacrifice a lot of solo performance to get a boat that you can paddle tandem, and you will give up both performance and stability when you use a “solo” canoe as a tandem.

Most high performance solo’s just don’t have the width and fullness near the stems to jam paddlers into, especially the bow. Canoes that do have enough volume will be wider, fuller, and slower than those that do. Compromise designs inevitably have less volume than dedicated tandems and therefore less stability.

Of course, you can paddle dedicated tandem canoes solo, but then you give up a lot of performance relative to solos.

If you wife is smallish and you are not too big you might look at the Wenonah Solo Plus. I haven’t owned one, but people who have seem to like them.

If you want to use a double-blade you don’t have to have a real low seat or pedestal. A low seat reduces wind resistance if you want to go fast but you can paddle with a double-blade from a higher seat. You may need a longer paddle to reach the water.

Hemlock Eaglet
Set up with three seats. See here:

Fast for a tandem paddled solo, but not scary tippy. Good tandem for light loads. Top quality construction. Expensive.

Sometimes Dave Curtis will have used ones on his used canoe page. Or maybe he will sell his demo at the end of the season.

I second the OT Penobscot
I think it could be OK at Solo and Tandem. Mohawk made and Odysea 15 back some years ago but I don’t know if the new owners make the same quality boat.

I suggest a “majority-of-use” design
From the previous posts, you should be getting the idea that a person who appreciates good performance in their boat won’t be entirely happy paddling solo OR tandem in a boat that’s designed to do both. I suggest you think about the thing you plan to do most often, and get a boat that is made to do it well. I get the impression from your first post that you intend to paddle solo the majority of the time. In that case, choose a solo boat that fits your needs, and on those days your wife wants to come along, rent a rec kayak for her or a tandem canoe for the two of you. In time, if you get as enthusiastic about this as most of the people on this message board, you will have more than one boat.

By the way, single blade paddling really is hard, and frustrating to learn. It won’t be quite as bad with a general-purpose boat or a straight-line cruiser as it was with a whitewater boat, but it will still be a challenge. If you get it in your head that you will learn to use a single-blade, it won’t be terribly long before you are having a really good time simply “being in control” of the boat. Single-blade paddling is a much more intimate way of knowing your boat, and is much more precise in the things you can make your boat do, than double-blade paddling. Nothing wrong with falling back on the double-blade in certain cases though (and for those who choose to only use a double-blade, no hard feelings - this isn’t a statement about what a person ‘should’ do).

I may not have mentioned it
on these forums, but I am absolutely crazy about my solo canoe:

My suggestion would be to get one of these, let your wife paddle it a few times, then get her one, too.

I’ve had mine for 3 months now and paddle (with a double blade, but what do I know? I just have fun) 3 or 4 times a week.

Whatever you get, happy paddling!

Your lucky day

– Last Updated: Jul-27-09 8:05 PM EST –

I have the canoe you're looking for.

And, it's over $1,000.

Sight unseen?

Should we do this by paypal?

Get off to a good start
with a lesson. That does so much to dispel the myth that solo canoeing is hard to learn.

It can be hard if you whack at it yourself but an hour with a good instructor is a wonderful time saver. In that hour you should have the J down well enough to practice alone. There are a couple of hints that make it easier and feedback is a plus.

I have had learners have no idea they were doing an Air J. It does not work in a canoe. If there hadnt been anyone to tell them it might have gone on forever.

What’s up with that 8 rating on the peregrine?

say it ain’t so?

i want to love that boat.

i’m an everglades guy.

…waiting for better news.

The finish is not perfect and the hull
is not as fair as it should be. Same for a couple of others I have seen. But to be fair there must be hundreds of Peregrines and Kestrels out there that I have not seen which may not suffer the same flaw.

You can still have a great time with the boat. I dont give out tens.

My wife and I add up to about 300 lb, and I don’t anticipate having much gear with us.

But I should have mentioned, my brother-in-law is actually trying to sell us his tandem kayak (sit-on-top style) so it may make sense to just get that for tandem occasions, and for me to get a solo canoe for myself. It seems like this might be the better approach? If I go that route, what are some recommended products? I’m not entirely sure about sitting vs. kneeling, but I was pretty comfortable kneeling on the whitewater canoe.

solo canoes
What are some examples of the “high performance solos” you mention? I think it may make sense for me to get a solo for now.

sounds reasonable
Thanks, I think your recommendations seem reasonable. Do you have specific recommendations for dedicated solo canoes, assuming I’m willing to learn to use a single-blade paddle?

(I did take 2 days of classes when I had the whitewater canoe, I like to think I got to the point where it became an interesting challenge rather than just a big frustration.)

By the way, I think my above replies are one reply off, sorry I’m unfamiliar with this message board software…

Look for used boats
Take a look at the pnet classifieds and craigslist to see what is available within reasonable driving distance. There are many good dedicated solo designs. If you find something that sounds good, repost questions regarding that boat.

Composite boats are lighter and more expensive, of course, but have a definite performance edge. That is the way I would go unless you anticipate scraping down a lot of bony streams. But buying high-end composite boats new has become an expensive proposition, indeed.

What is your size?
That will help with solo canoe suggestions.

I’m 5’9" and about 175 lb, are there other relevant measurements?