solo canoe that runs with sea kayaks


After a decade of happiness with a Bell Wildfire in Kevlar and fiberglass, I am thinking of getting a new boat. I paddle with sea kayaks and sprint-training kayaks in the rolling waters and treacherous traffic of New York City, and I would like a boat that is fast and, more importantly, rescuable. Here are the detailed requirements.

(1) As seaworthy as the Wildfire and a little faster. The kayakers are starting to catch up to me (I like to paddle hard, and I can often use the currents to my advantage, but they are learning my tricks). I need to be able to deal with four-foot swell and steep wakes.

(2) Rescuable, meaning primarily that it has bulkheads or can take float bags. I am also interested in other deep-water rescue equipment, if you have advice. Swimming to shore is not an option when shore is a mile away and a barge is coming.

(3) Paddles like a true canoe. I like to both sit-and-switch and kneel-and-C-stroke, so I need a seat that is fairly high.

(4) Symmetrical. Strongly asymmetrical boats feel (to me) sluggish in the stern. I prefer the liveliness of the Wildfire, which lets me paddle class-3 whitewater and twisty rivers in New Jersey. But symmetrical boats are hard to find, so I am pessimistic that this requirement can be met.

(5) Less susceptible to wind than the Wildfire. My speed goes way down when the wind comes up. I am considering a fabric cover (and I know about Cooke Custom Sewing). I am also considering a decked boat, but I know of only the Bell Rob Roy, the Kruger Sea Wind, and the Clipper Sea-1. Anybody know of others?

These are the boats I am considering at the moment: Bell Magic, Bell Merlin II, Wenonah Prism, Bell Rob Roy, Kruger Sea Wind, Placid Boatworks RapidFire. I have rented the first three for a few days each and liked, but not loved, them all. (Magic is asymmetrical; Merlin II is too much like the Wildfire; Prism felt unresponsive.) I haven’t been able to test-paddle a Rob Roy, which is my current best bet (assuming I can get a seat hung from the rails).

Any suggestions appreciated. I am especially interested in boats from small shops or custom builders, since I am familiar only with the larger companies.

– Mark


Depending on your size, a Peregrine or Kestrel might work nicely for you.

Not personally tested, but …
I read that the Swift Osprey is a tremendously seaworthy solo that has a fair turn of speed and exceptional manueverability (asymmetrical though). Faster with less rocker (and less seaworthy?) would be the Hemlock Peregrine. Bag it and cover it and I bet it would work pretty well even in semi-extreme open water (not surf !). I row (weird, I know) a Swift Shearwater that has a terrific snap-on cover that fits well … haven’t got bags for it yet … don’t know if I ever will. I’d take it on almost any open water … but getting out and in through large surf is still plenty intimidating. Good luck. I’m interested in reading others suggestions. I bet most will suggest the Rob Roy … a cute and capable little devil. I lust after the Sawyer Loon personally … but it’s more of a flat water canoe than a hyper-seaworthy, rough water specialist that you seem to be looking for. And ofcourse … there’s always the SeaWind … but I don’t think of it as an ideal day boat … but more of an expedition sea canoe. Would rather have a Clipper Sea-1 in that category … fast and capable, but long. Shawn

P.S. Self rescue ?
Just curious … how is your self rescue capability with your Wildfire? It seems like you would have to have it “bagged to the max” and have a wet suit / dry suit and fins … in order to be able to thrust it up high enough to drain water and be able to scramble in. And what keeps it from rolling over when you do? Just asking is all … I’d like to see a video of your technique in rough sea conditions.

Wenonah Voyager?
The Voyager doesn’t meet your listed requirements, but since you mentioned trying a Prism, I’d suggest comparing the Voyager. I have a composite Wildfire which I love paddling and recently got a Voyager. Before getting the Voyager, I’d briefly demoed a Prism. Although I haven’t compared the two side by side, the Voyager was more responsive than I expected as well as faster than the Prism. Not surprisingly, it is more work to accelerate than the Wildfire. This was on day paddles with minimal gear so the total weight in the boat was about 150 pounds, much less than it is designed to carry. It is certainly a very different boat than the Wildfire, but is closer in feel to the Wildfire than I would have guessed. Reviews all mention difficulty in the wind; I haven’t tried mine in windy conditions yet, but will probably need to get a cover.

I paddled a RapidFire last month …
and liked it a lot. It was with a seat on the bottom and double blade, but they were building one with a high seat for a single blade paddle while I was at the shop. Might be worth a trip to LP to paddle at the shop.

The Voyager will do the job.Keeping
up with sea kayaks was why I got mine. It needs a wind cover for decent handling though. 17’ of straight keel make quite a weathervane.

Try a Sawyer Shockwave solo…
if you can find one somewhere.{company went out of business again} I used to have sea kayaks,but had to switch to canoes,because of bad back & legs. I am a speed freak,and like to paddle fast. I have GPSed my Shockwave,and max speed with a kayak paddle is 7.2mph. Easily cruises at 6.0 with a kayak paddle. With a single blade I can max 5.6mph,but easily cruise at 5.0mph. The Shockwave is a hard tracking,stable boat,that is nearly wind immune. I have been looking at a Clipper Freedom,and it is similar in size to my Shockwave,but no local dealer,factory order only,so I can’t try one out. Have also been looking at a Wenonah Advantage too. Paddled with an Advantage paddler,and he seemed to have no problem keeping up with me,although the wind was giving him some trouble. BTW the Shockwave is NOT for sale. The last time I posted mentioning it ,I got 4 offers to buy it.

Happy Paddling billinpa

Clipper Sea-1
I think that if you really want the speed (nearly, if not actually) that the Voyager or Shockwave offers, but without so much windage and with more security in habor and ocean conditions, you better resign yourself to a long, covered design like the Clipper Sea-1 or the SeaWind or Loon. If you could sit lower and go to a double-bladed paddle … well, there’s the Rapidfire or any number of conventional sea kayaks. But it seems you prefer a single blade (with good ergonomic reasons, no doubt … but the high seating position required compromises alot of other boat parameters. Windage IS a bitch !)

rescue in canoe

I can self-rescue with paddle float and bilge pump in small waves. You’re right that I can’t get enough force (without fins, which I hadn’t thought of) to empty the boat by lifting it. The paddle float takes care of the rerolling problem. I’ve never tried it in realistic conditions, but you are probably right that it would be impossible or time-consuming.

As for what is “realistic”: the only time I’ve capsized on New York waters was on a very calm day; I was ogling people jogging on shore from water only a few feet deep; I forgot to “never turn your back on the sea” and a big wake got me; oglees became oglers. Among the lessons learned was that you can’t predict when you’re going to capsize just from water and weather conditions; stupidity has to be taken into account.

I never cross the Hudson alone, and I haven’t gotten up the courage to try the Battery (lots of ferry traffic and accompanying wakes), even with a rescue-competent friend. But I want to do both.

Two people in sprint-training kayaks can rescue me by each grasping a gunwale and lifting to drain the boat. One person alone cannot; the kayak is too unstable. I haven’t tried to drain the boat with the bilge pump and see if he could help me re-enter without the paddle float.

All in all, I get by with caution and luck. I want my boat to help me do better than that.

– Mark

Cover, bags and/or ballast
Any canoe you choose will ofcourse be safer with a cover (to keep out splash and accidental inflows … momentarily at least), airbags to decrease the swampable volume and ballast to greatly increase the angles of heel that are survivable without capsize. All you have to do to picture in your mind how much a difference ballast makes is to look at the loaded and unloaded stability curves Sea Kayaker magazine publishes with their kayak reviews. Ballast is a HUGE stability factor. Granted, it slows you down a little … but greatly increases stability in really rough conditions. I use as many as six 2 gallon water bags distributed along the hull floor or (even better) hung from the gunwales filling the chine area (adds to the rotational inertia of the hull).

a few comments

– Last Updated: Aug-18-06 11:46 PM EST –

I'll address your requirements point by point:

1. There are several boats that are as seaworthy as the Wildfire, but faster. The Wildfire will cruise at a comfortable speed, but I wouldn't consider it fast by any stretch of the imagination.

2. You can add flotation to any boat. Adding flotation bags to a canoe is pretty simple - just install bag lacing, buy the bags, and put them in the boat.

3. Most boats will meet the requirement that it paddle fine either sit-and-switch or using traditional strokes, although how well they do that is a matter of personal opinion. The seat height could be an issue, and the type of seat in the boat could be an issue. It's typically less comfortable to kneel with a pedestal-mounted sliding bucket than it is with a bench seat, although it can be done.

4. Symmetrical and fast? Forget it. All of the faster boats are asymmetrical. You'll have to decide which feature is more important to you.

5. Yup, you'll want either a decked canoe or some sort of cover if you want to reduce wind resistance. One paddler I know uses flotation bags, but not a cover. He says that with the bags inflated, he gets close to the same effect as he would with a cover. Something to think about.

Specific boats that you mentioned, and some that you didn't:
-I took a very short paddle in a Rapidfire and I wasn't impressed with the speed, plus if you put a high-mounted seat in it, you might have some stability problems.
-The Magic is an excellent boat for adverse conditions, IMHO.
-My impression is that the Rob Roy gives up a little bit of speed compared to the other decked canoes.
-The Sea-1 is a very large boat that will handle a ton of gear without being fazed. Efficiency is very good. I don't think it will do a very good job of meeting your requirement that you be able to kneel in it. The problem is that you will want to be able to use the rudder, and that's kind of difficult if you are kneeling.
-Kruger Sea Wind. The best rough water decked canoe on the planet. It loves bad weather. Don't know if you would have much luck kneeling in it, as it is designed for use with a rudder.
-Wenonah Prism - a good general purpose boat, but I think you'd be disappointed in it considering the intended uses.
-MerlinII. It'll outrun a Wildfire and is pretty seaworthy.
-Magic. I'm a bigger paddler, so the extra size of the Magic suits me just fine. I think it's an excellent bad weather boat.
-Sawyer Loon. Very efficient medium-volume decked canoe that is quite seaworthy, but is no longer in production. I think it's faster than the Sea Wind (but not by a lot) and is plenty seaworthy. But like the other decked canoes, I doubt you'd enjoy kneeling in it. If you don't need the expedition-size capacity of the Sea Wind or the Sea-1, but want a decked canoe, but the Loon should be on your short list.
-Wenonah Advantage - fast, but probably not seaworthy enough for you.
-Grasse River Classic XL - may want to take a look at one, but I'll leave it to other folks to say whether it will be a good boat for you. It's definitely fast enough.
-Wenonah Voyager - fast, but you'd want to paddle one to see if it would suit you. Some folks find it a bit twitchy without a load, and it does benefit from a cover in the wind. You'd want to try one to see if you feel comfortable with one in your water conditions. It's also a strong tracker, as are some of the others, so it's going to have a completely different feel than your Wildfire.
-Hemlock Peregrine is probably one to put on your short list. There are some Peregrine owners in the crowd, so I'll let them talk about it should they feel like it.

For what it's worth . . .

what boats come to mind are…
Wenonah’s Voyager, the Shockwave, and Bell’s MerlinII or Magic. I haven’t paddled a Voyager yet…but am itchin’ to, but would fill up both bow & stern with airbags, secure them, and find something for covering them…as I would with the others as well… Other than the [potential] windage problems…those are my traditional open canoe choices. No experience with any of others mentioned…new ideas are interesting though.


Osprey or Shearwater. Both boats have lots of flare throughout the length of the hull and are very seaworthy. Reasonably fast, pretty good in wind and I have used them in coastal marine environments. Better than my Magic or Merlin II in the rough stuff.

decked canoes
I have had a Bell Rob Roy for a couple of years . Its a nice boat and you can put a

spray deck of sorts on it . I picked one up and you have to use duck tape , which I

don’t like , and have never used it . In wind and waves it is a little difficult to handle,

but is still fun . The Sea Wind is a different thing , I got one this last spring and have

yet to use it . It got a little scraped up in shipping , easy enough to repair the gell coat ,

but it is a bit on the heavy side . Putting it on my car is a dread so it sits in my garage .

If your interested in the Sea Wind let me know .John

I have both a Magic and a Sea Wind
My observations:

The Magic won’t handle breaking waves well but I’ve had it in chop that would have caused me to feel nervous even in my NDK Explorer kayak.

The Sea Wind handles chop really well and breaking waves are less of a concern due to the partly closed deck and high coaming. I have the spray deck for it but have not used. I’m a new Sea Wind owner and have only had it out once-but it was a trip on Lake Superior.

In winds, the Sea Wind is very easy to control due to the rudder. The Magic is suprisingly good in wind but I wouldn’t want to be far off shore on a windy day.

I use the Sea Wind for great lakes paddling and paddling where I don’t have to carry it. And, I use the Magic for everything else.


test-paddling a Sea Wind

If you’re anywhere near NYC, I would love to test-paddle your Sea Wind. I doubt I would end up buying it, so I would be happy to pay you modestly for the test paddle. If you are willing, post in reply and I will figure out how to get in touch with you privately (is there a way to forward another user one’s contact information, without making it available on the public net?).

In some ways it’s an attractive boat, but the weight and the seat put me off. However, Mark at Kruger Canoes offered to build me one in a lighter, non-28,000-mile layup without some of the heavier gizmos, and I’d guess the weight could come down to 45 pounds. That would be fine, but the boat is still made for sitting-and-switching in a straight line for many hours in a row.

– Mark

a few replies

Thanks for the reply. Here are a few responses, with more incorporated in a general reply to the group.

Adding flotation: I have outfitted Royalex whitewater tripping canoes before, but I have never tried gluing stuff in a Kevlar boat. Is it the same deal, with D-rings and nylon cord and an awkward attachment way up in the ends?

One problem is that most float bags are designed for canoes without float tanks (i.e., Royalex boats). So they have a long pointy end that fits way up in the end of the boat. It’s not clear to me what to do with that extra volume in a boat that has tanks. There are a few float bags with blunt ends, but they are small (designed for the ends of tandem canoes). Any advice on bag choice for a solo boat with tanks?

Bags and/or cover: Interesting idea, that I wouldn’t need a cover once I installed bags. I have never understood the mechanism by which wind affects an uncovered canoe so much more than a covered one, but it’s plausible that a few inches of exposed hull above the bags wouldn’t give the wind much to grab.

Rudders: I’m not sure I would even use one. I can handle the Wildfire in beam winds. A strong wind from the rear quarter gives me trouble, true, but I would think the extra length and reduced rocker in the Sea-1 and Sea Wind would compensate.

– Mark

Hmmm … interesting input.
Considering all of the suggestions, the one that stuck in my mind was that the Wenonah Voyager is apparently more maneuverable (when lightly loaded … say, with less than 300 lbs) than the Prism (due to it’s 3/4 inch rocker?) … and so, perhaps it would work for you … even in large swells and boat traffic conditions. It certainly has the speed to keep up with most kayaks. Also, it can be obtained in a light and stiff layup weighing less than 50 lbs. … and is very easy to transport upside down on simple bar racks. It’s inherent problems are it’s substantial windage and weak initial stability when paddled empty (sans cargo).

However, these characteristics can be mitigated to a significant extent by throwing in 50-100 lbs. pounds of ballast (for extra stability) and setting it up for a snap on cover. Because you want to paddle fast (4-5.5 mph) with kayaks with a single blade … I think the Voyager has enough positive attributes to merit testing one in conditions you’d use it in. I know it may seem too long (esp. when compared to your 14 foot Wildfire) … but you’d be surprised how that impression will diminish when you actually have it out on big water.

The problem with getting a Clipper Sea-1 (arguably a better hull for your needs) is that they are made in the Pacific NW (British Columbia) and shipping it across country would add 4-500 bucks to an already expensive canoe. You could probably get an ultralight Voyager (or Hemlock Peregrine) and outfit it (with cover and bags) for about $2500 bucks … even less if you pick one up used. Think about it … it’s fast … and with ballast and cover, secure enough for rough water paddling (with competent kayaking companions). Your boat could act as the “sag wagon” for extra group gear.

consolidated replies

Thanks for all the advice. I didn’t know about’s message boards until this week – what a find! I have lost hours already. Here are my replies to various of your replies.

Ballast: Thanks for this idea; I had completely forgotten about the possibility. I will try it out.

My size: I should have mentioned this originally. I am 6’0", 200 pounds plus or minus five depending on whether there was a Ben & Jerry’s sale recently. When I told Charlie Wilson about the six-foot part and asked about kneeling in a RapidFire, he said, “Fuhgeddaboudit.” So I guess I have to scratch the RapidFire from my list, which is too bad because I coveted it as soon as I saw the specs and the magic word “Yost.”

Swift boats: I have paddled the Osprey and Shearwater briefly. It wasn’t in challenging conditions, but I liked them fine. And I have heard that the Shearwater is amazing in rough seas. But I am not considering any Swift boats, because of the weight (by the time I added float bags, I would be hauling a 50-pound boat). I don’t know why they insist on gel-coating the interior. It makes sense for their rental fleet, I guess, but I have been paddling my current boat a few times a week for 11 years, and I am only just starting to see Kevlar abrasion on the interior. So I don’t think the interior gel is worth the weight cost. I told Bill Swift my opinion once, but he was very unimpressed :slight_smile:

About specific boats:

Added to the “being considered” list: Hemlock Peregrine, Grasse River Classic XL (anybody actually paddled one?), Wenonah Voyager.

Deleted from the list: Wenonah Prism. I don’t know why I wrote that I was considering it.

Still being considered: Bell Magic and Rob Roy, which some of you are plugging. I liked the Magic when I paddled it for a few days, but it’s not as maneuverable as the Wildfire. Everybody who has paddled a Rob Roy has a different story (slow, fast, more maneuverable, or maybe less maneuverable, than the Magic, twitchy in wind, stable in wind, etc.), so I really want to get my hands on one and try it out for myself.

Wildfire (!): Charlie Wilson tells me that it is still possible to buy a carbon Wildfire, and he says “it’s like a different boat” – rounder bottom, stiffer, lighter than my Kevlar-fiberglass version. Maybe…

Grasse River: What is their status? I take it the company exists now with the name GRB Newman Designs. Are they actually making boats? Do they have dealers? I thought Macs Canoe Livery used to be a dealer, but their web site says nothing about Grasse River now.

Sea-1: Has anybody actually paddled it? I am not seriously considering it, since Clipper is so far away and I have no hope of test-paddling one. But it does have the precious deck. (One of the minor considerations in my choice is to have something that looks like a kayak. Some trip leaders in NYC are closed-minded about canoes and won’t let me come along in a canoe. So I figure that a take-apart kayak paddle in a canoe disguised as a kayak will get me on the trip, and then I can switch to single-blading when it’s too late to reject me.)

Thanks for all the information. My current thinking (it changes every day): Abandon the decked-canoe idea. Get a carbon open canoe and put float bags in it, maybe add a cover if needed for wind.

– Mark