Solo Cruiser advice


First, I’ve been hangin’ out on these boards for 6 years now. I don’t write often but do contribute when I feel I’ve something to absolutely correct and helpful to say.

Second, I’ve been paddling since I was about six and I’m now 44. I live in Northeastern Oklahoma and regularly access boney little streams, small bodies of water, and the occassional large river in my MRiver Explorer. It’s a rock solid boat that I liken to an SUV. It’s not fast, agile or fancy but it’s performed damn well over a wide variety of circumstances. Exactly what I bought it for.

What I’d now like is a fast solo that can dodge the hellish and constant OK winds, perform well in chop, and have speed. My intentions are to use this boat to travel up river on large rivers; 100 yards to a half mile across, or larger lakes. I’d like to able to paddle it with a J stroke or sit and switch, bent shaft or my beloved Nashwaak beavertail.

I’m a bigger guy, around 250. This boat will be (primarily) for day trips, but as I love camping out of a canoe it will likely be pressed into some double duty.

Test paddles are extremely difficult in this part of the country, I could test bass boats for the next ten years however.

Primary candidate: Savage River Otegon

Secondary list: Wenonah Voyager, Bell Merlin II, Placid Rapidfire.

So paddlers of great wisdom, please advise: What boat is best for my purposes? If I missed it on the list (Say a Hemlock canoe…very tempting) please let me know and ‘sell’ it to me.

I hope to buy in the next couple of months and am not a fleet guy, I want to get the boat I need the first time out if possible.



solo boat
I think the Wenonah prism would be perfect for you.

I second
the prism , or maybe a bell magic . voyager is a good choice but its primary stability is a bit twichy ,the wenonah encounter might be a good option for you being a bigger guy, the merlin II might not be the best choice for you and your camping gear. I am sure you will get other good opinions here .I would test paddle before you buy , especialy since you are new to solo canoes.

Voyager for speed
and the Encounter if the Voyager is too hard to handle in your OK winds. The Placid Rapidfire is a sit-on-the-bottom pond boat and you are pretty big for its low volume. It also is limited to a kayak paddle if you want to make time.

The Grasse River XL solo is another to look at for your usage. Better choice than the Bell by far. We see far more of them in the races up north and only a few of the Savage River models, though that could be due to lack of dealers more than the boat’s speed. Many write favorably about the Savage River boats, I have no experience in them,only paddling with them.


– Last Updated: Mar-01-06 5:31 PM EST –

I'm about your size and have paddled all of the boats on your list but the Rapidfire. I'd go with the Magic.

It's been a few years since I was in an Otegan, but I'm pretty sure it would be too small once you add gear. The best bet would be to e-mail Savage river and ask them if it has enough capacity. I do remember that it is relatively unaffected by the wind. Initial stability will seem a bit tender for you until you get used to it.

Bell lists the MerlinII as having the same capacity as the Magic (if I remember correctly). I haven't spent that much time in my wife's MerlinII. It is pretty efficient and handles wind and waves just fine. I think Eric Nyre posted something a while back that showed folks over about 180-190 lbs. getting better speed out of the Magic than out of the Merlin. I seem to recall from reading Canoe&Kayak reviews that Steve Salins, who was around 220-230 at the time, was a bit more comfortable in the Magic. This was back when C&K did real boat reviews instead of just describing the boat.

The Voyager is fast and will handle a large load. If you get one, I'd recommend also getting a spray cover to help reduce the effect of the wind.

The Prism is also a very good boat, but always seemed to me to be a bit of a compromise design. It's about as efficient as a Magic.

The Encounter falls into the same range as the Magic and the Prism efficiency-wise, and will haul a huge load.

Plaidpaddler knows the Grasse River boats better than I do. I paddled with one once. I'm not the world's fastest paddler, but the guy in the ClassicXL dropped me at the 22 mile mark without even breaking a sweat. He just paddled off down the river like I was parked on the river bank.

The reason I recommended the Magic is because it is very well-mannered in wind, waves, and chop; will haul a reasonable load; has very good cruising efficiency; and can easily be paddled using either sit-and-switch or traditional style paddling. Having said that, I'd be happy with any of the boats people are talking about.

Actually, as far as paddling style is concerned, you can use either style with any of the boats. It's just that folks tend to favor sit-and-switch with the faster boats 'cuz you get more speed and it's more efficient.

Oh, yeah - if you are planning on kneeling at all, forget the Otegan. I have small feet and I could barely get them alongside the seat.

.38 special
from Northwest canoe shop. It is a bigger solo. It is basically a blown up Merlin with no rocker etc. Al at northwest canoe shop will make you one or sell you the plans and you can make it your self. I built a merlin from Als shop and have had great success with it.

I like John Dillers boats but I agree that the Otegan would be a little small for your needs.


rapidfire if you double blade
This boat will haul 540 lbs of paddler and gearwith six inches of freeboard and its made for a big paddler if they sit on the bottom. The boat is narrow enough that kneeling may raise your CG enough so that you dont feel stable(which is why the Placid Boatworks website advocates the optional kneeling seat for smaller paddlers), though given the conditions you present, wind may be an issue and you might want to sit.

I am not a smaller paddler and am contemplating one to go along with my Merlin II but I already have a sea kayak. The Rapidfire does have the speed of a sea kayak and is ideal for open boat lovers with yakking friends. It is definitely not a pond boat but an adaptation of an Adirondack Pack Boat. I tried heeling it to the rail and it has outstanding secondary stability.

However its not easy to buy a boat sight unseen and something I would never do.

Thank-you all for your advice
C2G…nice to have input from someone about my size. Baldpaddler, I generally research everywhich way I can before opening my yap but I had no knowledge of the Merlin .38 and Northwest Canoe. Their website is a bit lacking but dang that is a beautiful boat!!! I really am intrigued by it…what additional work does a stripper (boat, c’mon guys) require? Also, does anyone know anything about Grasse River? I thought they were gone but I did find JJCanoe still sells their stuff and states they’ve re-organized as GRB? I’ve got lots to think about. May just have to find a way to get to the North East to play in some of these…

Thanks to all!

Grasse River is still around
Their website has been down for a couple of months, but they are still building boats. J&J Canoe is a great place to deal with. If you want someplace closer, there is a dealer in Davenport, Iowa that used to handle Grasse River boats. It’s Rowable Classics Their website is oriented towards rowing craft, but they used to handle strip-built Grasse River boats as well. I’ve dealt with the owner on three or four occasions and alwys found him to be a good guy to deal with. He actually has two canoes that I used to own, so you know he has good taste LOL

Additional work?
Depends on how much you want to paddle and how much you want a work of art. Not being nasty or snide. Once my Merlin was built all I have to do is put on a little touch up spar varnish( I spar varnished everything except the seat and painters) Repair is fairly simple dependiing how bad the smash up is, and weather you want to have work of art or get up and go paddling.

I have seen the Canoenut repair a hole the size of quarter where a scout threw a pack into astriper and punctured it. I can not tell where the repair was! I had a nasty encounter with and I beam and opted to just put a little glass over the bad area and I am still paddling.

Please be aware that I only used 4 oz and 2 Oz on my merlin. Al Gustavson only uses 6 oz so his boats would be much tougher.


Nothing Snide

Nothing snide or nasty inferred. They are beautiful and I can certainly go the extra mile for a good aesthetic. It sounds as though they might be a bit more delicate than the norm but that too is a manageable quality as I’m a pretty careful guy.

I was kind of wondering what the annual plan was. Currently I take off the gunnels and deck plates and gunnel guard everything at least twice a year, I rub the body down with 303 two or six times a year depending on usage and how motivated I am. What am I looking at with a stripper? A gentle spray coat of spar var a couple of times a year? I honestly don’t know what the process with a boat like this. They certainly are beautiful and light. I’m truly looking for a fast work-out boat that has a certain beauty and a teensy bit of utility if push comes to shove. The Classic XL and the .38 seem to fill the bill. I’m still not discounting the more traditional choices…just shooting for as many facts as I can get.



With consideration to your mention of
"double duty" to camping, I would suggest that you also check into a couple of tandem/solo models like the Solo Plus and the Escapade. I can paddle our Escapade upriver easily for a mile or two, with a 250# load, and only myself paddling, from the stern. I’m no super paddler, and this speaks for how efficient a design the Escapade has. A drop-in box seat with foam on the top and rubber on the bottom works from behind the center thwart for solo use. You can use traditional paddling, use a kayak paddle, or even sit into a side to do some acrobatics. You won’t grow out of it. Happy paddling, in whatever!

For fast I would have to say go with the Classic Xl. It seems to be the fastest Stock class boat out there. If I was going to buy a fast stock class boat My first choice would be the Classic in wood( ease of repair ) Then the Advantage in skincoat kevlar. When I get the chance I will build another stock class solo, either a 38 or a Merlin strtched out to 16’8". If you use the heavier glass on the outside you will be able to get a fairly solid boat. Remember that most of the down river racers of the 70s were glass boats home built.(or so I have been lead to believe).

I have never pulled the gunwales off of my canoe, or my sons. We do store both th ecedar stripers in the garage so they are put away and kept dry. Living in NC we don’t have too much of an issue with freezing.


Oh My God
Those Placid boats are sweet! How can I sneak some money out of savings???

Great thread too.

Just a Reminder
Sawyer Canoe is back in the game, though I personally haven’t seen any of the new ones around here yet.

I have several friends with old Sawyer solos and have gotten quite a bit of paddle time in two models (Summer song and Autumn Mist, as I recall, though the names had worn off or been removed for repairs). They were both sweet boats and might well fit the bill for your needs. You’re a bigger fellow than either myself or the folks who own the boats I used, but they were used for camping and carried pretty much all they needed to with enough to spare to handle reasonable waves and wind.

Just a thought. They’re classic designs. Might want to check them out if you get a chance.

I have both Magic and Summersong…
… and am about the same size as Bo36, or even very slightly larger. The Summersong is a beautiful boat, but the Magic is far superior, especially for a larger person. It’s not only faster, but will actually turn without heeling the boat hugely. Two hunderd and fifty pounds is pushing the Summersong to the limits and if you add any camping stuff…

I really don’t want to put the Summersong down, but David Yost did learn a thing or two in the ten years between the two boats’ design. I’ve never paddled an Autum Mist, but I understand that, while it is suitable for larger paddlers, it isn’t the sweet boat the Summersong is – or the Magic, for that matter.

I paddled the Prism and thought is was more stable than the Magic, but not as nice to paddle. I suspect it’ll haul a larger load than the Magic, though, as will the Encounter. The two boats I ultimately focussed on as I made my decision were the Magic and the Voyager and I don’t have any regrets for having chosen the Magic.

I’ve paddled several of the boats mentioned in this thread and I don’t think you’ll go far wrong with any of them. Don’t obsess over it: It’s all good!

c2g - what’s an otegan?

“It’s been a few years since I was in an Otegan”


Big water solo
250# calls for a big boat and the best big solo boat for big water is the Encounter. As a solo the sliding pedestal needs to be set back a couple inches to accomodate 250# with and empty boat. Set up correstly as a tandem it is a rocket ship.

solo boat
I paddle with a dog and our total load is a bit over 250. Of the solos I’ve owned the ones that I think would work for you are the Merlin II (it will handle the load easily but you may be cramped…it’s not that big), a Hemlock Peregrine (it’s a bullseye for the way you plan to use it - big slow rivers and big lakes), and Swift Shearwater. The Peregrine is significantly roomier than the Merlin II and that may help you, and it will also handle a bit more weight…it will handle 300 pounds easily whereas you’d be overloading a Merlin II a bit if you loaded it with camping gear.

The Shearwater gives up a touch of speed to a Peregrine but it’s a sweet boat with very nice cruising speed (it’s a missile compared to your Explorer) and it’s roomier than even the Peregrine and it can handle the most weight of all and with an adjustable sliding seat you’re guaranteed to be able to get the trim right regardless of your load. Merlin II/Peregrine/Shearwater all handle super well, but Shearwater will turn tighter and more gracefully than the others and would handle your creeks best of all. Get Expedition kevlar if you get one. Actually a Peregrine (in either lay-up), Merlin II (in white gold or black gold), or an Expedition Kevlar Shearwater - will all take tons of abuse.

If weight is important then the Peregrine is the winner; even in the “heavy” lay-up it’s around 40 pounds or so…significantly lighter than a Shearwater which is rated 47 pounds I think.

If you get into super big wind the Peregrine will take on water and sink before the Shearwater; the Shearwater has a bit more depth and volume and rocker and so a larger safety factor in big/scary water.

I didn’t like my Magic but I never paddled it with a dog; maybe it wanted a load. To my taste the boat takes too much muscle to initiate a stroke and doesn’t have as much of an effortless feel as the other three boats above. The previous owner told me that it “likes a bent shaft” and I later concluded that I agreed, but preferred a boat that was just as happy with a straight shaft paddle. I dont think you’d enjoy it with your Nashwaak as much as the others.

solo canoe
If you want to beat the wind pick a boat you like and add a cover [I use a Cooke Custom Sewing canoe cover]. The best defense against wind I have used!