Solo Canoe For Big Lakes

-- Last Updated: Jul-21-04 6:10 AM EST --

I'm looking for recomedations for a composite solo canoe for open water.
Something I can kneel in. Something that will eat up some miles, wind and waves but still turn when I lean it.
I've got a CD Caribou SK that does all of that nicely except I have to sit on the floor...yuck.
So that's all I want, a solo canoe that I can kneel in that handles like the 'bou.

Have you
ever knelt where you straddle a pedestal seat? On SOME of the better designed solos thereis a slidding pedestal seat. I will occasionally kneel with my legs straddling the post to allow my sciatic to stretch out. It may not be what you expect but it is not bad. Once you get over the bench/kneel preconception try a wenonah. Any of their solos with the exception of the rendesvous should be good. Or my solo which is a Merlin from the Northwest canoe shop.

Swift Shearwater…
is a large solo that handles big water very well from the kneeling position. That being said, solo canoes in general are not nearly as sea worthy on large bodys of water as tandem canoes. That’s because of their design characteristics compaired to tandems.

The Wenonah Voyager is made for

– Last Updated: Jul-21-04 9:38 AM EST –

big water, and with a cover the wind doesn't bother it too much.It turns somewhat like the Queen Mary though and has a seat.

Solo vs. Tandem Design

What are those design characteristics that make solos less big water able than tandems? I’m not arguing your point, just trying to learn.

BTW, I’ve been very happy with my Shearwater, and am particularly impressed at how it handles wind and waves.

Depends on the weight of the load
it depends on the load you are taking whether the Shearwater or

Voyager are the best for big open water: (too) lightly loaded they

would perhaps be more difficult to handle because of the wind.

I would choose as small as possible a canoe:

bigger than you need just means more work paddling.

A[so Look At…
Wenonah’s Prism and Bell’s Magic. Look at Canoe & Kayak Magazine’s solo canoe reviews on these plus the Shearwater.

Have a Shearwater & Magic
The Shearwater is very seaworthy and handles the bigger load. IMHO it REALLY likes to have a load in it to best handle open water wind and chop.

Magic is far less effected by wind, even when empty. A fair bit faster, lower optimum load rating. Still rather new to this boat so I’ll leave it at that.

Hope this helps.


As you can hear…as is my $.01…a quality solo canoe’s only limitation is the paddler’s limitation…climb in and you can rock & roll all of these boats…they all make a day’s paddle a real joy…


And I agree. I learn every time I take
the Voyager out.

More Shearwater input
My Shearwater has wood gunwales with a fairly large outwale and so it’s very DRY in waves. Because it has lots of bow and stern volume, it is slowed significantly when cutting through choppy water (12"+ chop) … more so than solos with finer “hollow” entry forms. It’s not what you’d call fast (maxes out around the 4 mph range when cruising) but it’s flattish arch and flared sides offer up a very secure ride in big water. With much less than 250 lbs in it, it will be blown around some due to significant rocker. I’d guess that 250-275 is it’s optimal carrying capacity in the rough stuff … though you could stretch that to 300-325 if you had to and were careful. I think it ranks way up there as a wilderness tripper because of it’s superb seaworthiness … but would mark it down a notch as a day tripper due to it’s very high volume, substantial width (29" at outwales with wood)and rocker making it somewhat “loose” in breezy conditions where a zero rocker, narrow hull might track better . When Steve Salin reviewed it in C&K, he said he would choose it over most others as a tripper in coastal waters because of it’s well-balanced, secure performance. To my mind, that appraisal pretty much nails it. If loaded tripping wasn’t being planned, I’d look for a hull that was narrower and faster to cover distances more easily. PS: It’s rocker makes it capable of dealing with river currents pretty well up to Class II … super maneuverable for such a big boat!

The right canoe design for open water?
For me the right canoe choice for lake work depends much on the

conditions one will meet on that lake. Many people mistakenly

consider lake paddling similar with flatwater paddling. What I know

from my experiences, is that for (big) lake paddling, there are some

things really important, things that one could summarize as being

‘seaworthy’… Most of those required capabilities are interactive,

meaning that the paddler should be able to paddle well enough too.

  • Stability.

    Some boats are harder to stay in than others when paddling in waves.

    I have come to prefer canoes that are easy to keep upright in

    difficult waves situations, especially when you are dead tired after

    struggling for hours with the wind. Remember big lake paddling is

    not river paddling where eddies or shores are often available to

    take a rest…!

  • Dryness.

    The canoe should be able to keep most of the water of waves in the

    lake. But you will also have to trim the canoe as level as possible.

    If you do not trim well, you certainly will need a canoe that is a

    lot dryer, which means that it will probably bigger than necessary,

    and as a result of that it will be harder to handle in hard winds…

    Bigger is dryer (in general), but also harder to handle in the wind.

    If you cannot make headway with your canoe, your safety could be at

    stake. Personally I have found that there is limited value in a

    canoe that is very dry but makes progress hardly possible. A good

    compromise is needed for that, and only the paddler in question can

    determine what that is.

    Another important thing is the ability to steer from too big a waves

    – especially a too straight tracking bow can make this more

    difficult than you’d like.

  • Easy course keeping.

    This is an interactive ability of course, as you will have to be

    able to paddle straight and be able/know how to do cross-wind

    ferries. I prefer a canoe that is easy to keep on course, and

    doesn’t want to turn too much upwind (or downwind) when paddling

    with side winds. Also I prefer a canoe that is quick enough to be

    steered away from too big or breaking waves, and can be returned to

    course quickly after a course deviation because of strong wind


    Notice that not maneuverable is not the same as good tracking. Some

    maneuverable designs are easier to keep on course than very hard too

    maneuver ones…

    Also the ability to easy paddle and steer with big waves and hard

    wind behind you without dangerous broaching (and instability)

    effects is very important.

    (I sometimes paddle with kayakers along the coast here, and a lot of

    them complain that they don’t like paddling downwind at all for that

    reason… I have a hard time explaining to them that this may be a

    design flaw of their boat too…)

  • Consistent speed.

    This means that you can maintain a decent speed in all kind of

    conditions. High speeds are

    irrelevant, as lots of times you will paddle in wind an wave

    conditions that make high speeds impossible. Many high speed designs

    can be paddled nicely in wind an waves, but will slow down so much

    in that situations that their speed advantage in good

    conditions is too marginal for my taste.

    I would prefer the Osprey.

    Dirk Barends

outstanding points
i paddle my bell rob roy on the gulf of mexico, which is really like a large lake…maybe even flatter than the Great Lakes on most days.

the ability to safely travel downwind on a large waterbody is very important. i’ve found that trim can help a lot in good designs.

as for the big, dry boats, i agree. there’s a balance. there’s also a rocker factor when going downwind. you should be able to keep the fine bow entry from plowing into the wave ahead.

there are plenty of boats out there that are up to the taks. the real question revolves more around the paddler than any well-designed boat.

The Voyager’s a fine boat, but…
for my two cents I prefer it’s larger volume sibling, the Encounter. I find the Encounter without rival in big open water. It is my favorite for challenging the November waves down at Assateague (I enjoyed the boat so much, that last November (when my paddling buddies no-showed) I took the fully loaded boat on a four day backcountry exploration that included over 28 hours of solitary day and night paddling). The boat simply laughs at waves and it’s performance improves with a load. On windy days I simply add 100-200 lbs of sandbags and trim the boat for the conditions, but the hull will easily contain a much larger load. While not as fast as the Voyager, (I find the Encounter’s speed fully loaded to be roughly equivalent to the Magic), I find it a far more stable platform. The boat paddles well from a seated position, but it’s volume will also permit me to straddle the pedestal seat and very comfortably paddle from the kneel (I paddled most of the above 28 hours from the kneel as kneeling provides an even greater degree of stability and control).

I would encourage trying the hull both emply and loaded to see if it’s appropriate for you.

Tandem / Solo design

– Last Updated: Jul-22-04 5:51 PM EST –

Generally, a tandem canoe is going to be larger in almost all aspects (Beam, depth, stems, etc.) compared to a solo canoe.

A lot of experienced canoeists use only tandem canoes for solo paddling on large bodies of water. I think the reason may have something to do with the wind and waves. If the wind is so strong that you can’t paddle the tandem yourself and still make headway, then the waves will be getting to the point that you have to get off the water anyway. I believe the well designed tandem will give you a stability / safety advantage over a solo design. Of course you give up some speed / paddling ease when you paddle the tandem by yourself.

I have an older boat
The Swift Heron. Its 15 feet and long enough to make good time and sheds waves easily. Its not terribly deep but sufficiently so for what I carry. I dont like boats that ride high on the water; too much sail area.

I would think more about paddling skills than the boat, though I find any solo more than 27 inches wide at the gunwales make me heel it, which I really dont want to do when making time.

Add a spray cover if speed is of the essence as well as dryness.

You can double blade a solo too.

What is a big lake? I havent taken mine on Superior yet…the biggest lake I have been on has been about 20 miles across… Im not happy when the waves go over six feet so I quit then, the boat keeps me dry. My head fails first.

I find the Raven bobs and weaves on six foot seas without taking a drop, but its so slow as to be miserable. The Shearwater is similar in size but again too big for me. I might get an Osprey if I needed to (I hope I dont) but find its not as quick as my current boat;though it is more initially stable so it sells. (My boat is so initially unsteady that it requires kneeling and isnt for the faint of heart=no sales, early market retirement)

I too have an unskegged CD Caribou…I still get spooked at over six foot seas in that too!

Consider . . .
a Dagger Reflection 15 w/center (solo) seat. Great for solo lake paddling, with added advantage that it’s also a tandem.