Solo Flatwater Canoe for Small Paddler

Hi, I’m a small paddler (5’1", 105 lbs) looking for a new solo canoe to use for workouts and messing around on lakes and small rivers. I have a whitewater (C1&OC1) background but this canoe will be for flatwater only. And While I love going fast, I really enjoy working on technique as well, so developing some freestyle skills is very appealing.

So I guess the criteria would be light weight, responsive, fun to paddle, and narrow enough for my size. Oh, and it would be paddled kneeling with single blade.

And I would really like to be able to bring along a 50lb dog.

Does that sound doable in something like a Savage River Wee Lassie, Colden Flashfire or Swift Kewaydin 14 or should I be looking in a different direction? Since I may not be able to test paddle any of these in NH, your feedback and suggestions would be most appreciated!

Thanks very much!

Hemlock Canoes
Take a look at the Hemlock Kestrel it is designed for smaller paddlers. I am 5’6 and weigh 165 can easily control it in wind.

you will have to make compromises
The boats that are most popular for freestyle are not going to be the best craft for going fast, but I’m sure you know that.

The real kicker is your dog. I frequently paddle with 2 small dogs that collectively weigh 50 lbs. If your dog is reasonably well-behaved it shouldn’t be much of a problem, you will need to make accommodations to achieve proper trim. While I can sometimes put one dog in front of me and one behind, you won’t be able to do that. I suspect a center sliding seat might be the best solution to your dog issue.

I can’t speak to the Kewaydin or the Wee Lassie. I have owned and paddled a Bell Flashfire although I was a little big for it. The Flashfire would be very good for your size and is one of the most popular freestyle canoes. While it is nimble and “quick” I would not call it particularly fast, although it would be much faster than any whitewater canoe you have likely paddled.

I think you might consider the Colden Dragonfly. The Dragonfly was originally designed for whitewater racing in the combined class where the same boat is used for downriver racing and slalom. So it has a pleasing blend of maneuverability and straight-ahead efficiency. It might not spin and heel quite as effortlessly as the Flashfire, but I think you could certainly use it for freestyle. It has a length to waterline width ratio of 7 as opposed to the Flashfire’s 6 and it is 1 inch narrower at maximum beam and 2 inches narrower at the gunwales which should make cross-strokes easier for you. It paddles very well kneeling.

I am sure if you ordered a boat from Paul Meyer of Colden Canoe or John Diller of Savage River, they could fashion a sliding center seat at proper height and cant for kneeling.

Kestrel Option
Thanks for the Kestrel idea. I really hadn’t looked at the Hemlock canoes yet so I will do that now.

I have several of the boats mentioned
Boats often used for FreeStyle accelerate quickly but have limited top speed.

However speed does not equal workout. One of the best workouts you can get is paddling a bathtub.

The DragonFly is a really deep boat and for most doing FreeStyle is intimidating due to its depth. It hits me in the back before fully heeled and I do have FS experience. Its quite a round bottomed craft so for the new to canoe might be intimidating. The Fires are much flatter bottomed

The speed advantage that you might think it has is negated in stern quartering winds. It is trim sensitive and that symmetrical rocker that the bow and the stern has will cause the stern to get pushed around.

The Kestrel is a fine tourer for your size but its skegged stern makes stern skids hard for FS.

Now there is a boat that ought to be considered. Marc Ornstein designed the Illusion for Savage River.Its function is a river tourer… and mit dog.

However he has won the National Championship in FS for a number of years in his strip built Illusion.

Its target market is smaller paddlers.

Ah Yes, Those Pesky Compromises
Yup, I admit that the first boat that caught my eye when I started looking was the Savage River Blackwater; it looks like a fast, lightweight boat! But 17’ seems a little long for someone my size, and I thought there might not be enough other things to do with it besides paddle fast. So I moved on to the shorter, more nimble class of boats.

The Dragonfly is an interesting option that I hadn’t paid much attention to, so thanks for that idea. Love how narrow it is. Do you know what the secondary stability is like compared to a Flashfire?

And the sliding seat set up for kneeling is a terrific thought-didn’t know that could be an option.

we posted at the same time

– Last Updated: Aug-18-16 12:31 PM EST –

The secondary stability of the Dragon is the same as of the Flash but there is way further to go

I have both here on the lake in Maine.

Marc is in NY and occasionally posts here

You can also check if a Loon Works Nakoma or Solitaire comes up for sale or a small Blackhawk Shadow.. All are out of production.

Blackwater and Dragonfly
The Savage River Blackwater is a rocket. I only paddled it once, last Spring, back to back with a Wenonah Advantage. The Advantage has long been one of my favorite go straight and fast boats, and the Blackwater made the Advantage feel a bit sluggish in comparison. But it is very much a sit and switch type of boat and I don’t think it would be very good for freestyle.

The Kestrel is a neat boat. I have paddled its larger sibling, the Peregrine some. But its asymmetrical rocker makes the stern “sticky” so it would not be my first choice for freestyle.

The Dragonfly is deeper than the Flashfire at center, but minimally so at the stems. It will catch a bit more wind and the center depth could be a problem for you if you are short (gunwale in the armpit syndrome). The hull bottom cross-section of the Dragonfly is more rounded than the Fire boats which gives it more speed, but it feels a little less stable as you heel it over. The fire boats have a more elliptical hull cross-section and heel over very predictably and comfortably.

Having said that, I have seen experienced Dragonfly boaters heel the gunwale to the water many times. And there is no law that says you have to heel the gunwale to the water in freestyle.

I was able to get my dog in
Wild without problem… but the Dragon she said no… it was too round in the bow.

From the side Dragon appears to have little sheer.

Sure you can heel it to the rail and some have but for learning…its a bit of a mouthful to grow into. Doesnt quite give me the confidence that a Fire boat does.

There werent many made back then by Curtis( 85) and Paul has put out a few but I have seen but one in FS classes and that owner got a Wild for FS and uses Dragon for touring … as I do.

The dog is the wild card… Pop the puppy up front and you absolutely need a slider especially in the Dragon and somewhat so in the Wild.( probably more in the Flash)

A used Curtis Lady Bug might work for
your desires, but they’re not easy to come by - haven’t been built for many years. Most similar to the Bell Flashfire.

Definitely try Marc’s
Savage River Illusion. It is too small for me, but when I test paddled it rails great for FS and I think it would be ideal for the OP’s intended use. Don’t see any reason why it could not be outfitted with a sliding seat that would adjust for trim.

Assuming no dog
during FreeStyle play the Hemlock Kestral would be a great boat for you. At your light weight you will break the stern free with a solid heel. With the pup it will be a comfortable, good performing boat. Capable of most anything except whitewater play.

I learned my a fair amount of my FreeStyle in it’s larger cousin, a Curtis Nomad. It can be done. When the curriculum was developed most of us were paddling touring hulls.

For EMPHASIS on FreeStyle a Flashfire would be a great choice but I think the Kestral would offer a greater range of performance given your light weight.

Steve is right
but I tried learning FS in a descendant of the Nomad. It was a fine touring boat but frustrated the heck out of me when learning FS. I did not have a full heel starting out.

I pretty quickly got a FlashFire.

The conundrum is of course, where do you start? Its likely you will find yourself with more than one solo canoe like many of us have. Which first?

Flashfire or illusion. If you always paddle with the dog the seat wouldn’t need to slide,just be mounted to the rear or have 2 optional fixed positions… I owned a Savage river wee lassie and while it’s a great boat for some uses, I wouldn’t want a big dog in it. My Swift Kewayden 14 is not very trim sensitive and is narrow, but not an ideal freestyle boat. It does turn way easier then a Kestrel though.

Good Luck

Thank you so much
for all the great information thus far. I am jumping back and forth to check specs on the recommended boats while digesting all of your ideas and suggestions.

The comment about ‘gunwale in the armpit’ re the Dragonfly really hit home with me as there’s nothing worse than being short and feeling like your sitting in a bathtub while paddling (unless you’re looking for a good workout as was also mentioned…)

Between that and the rounded hull that may not be dog friendly, I’m putting the Dragonfly further down on the list. It sounds like the Flashfire, Illusion and possibly the Kestrel could work.

Probably a silly question, but if I went with a sliding seat, would it have to be one of those ‘tractor’ seats or is there a way to make a traditional seat slide?

just saw a used mad river ladyslipper with a sliding seat on craigslist-buffalo.


Yes, A traditional seat
can be made to slide. I promise I’m not a sales person for Hemlock canoes but I have to say their Conk seat is by far the most comfortable kneeling seat I’ve used in 30+ years of paddling.

Agree with others that Flash or Illusion would be best if primary interest is FreeStyle, still think Kestral will do well at it because you will be able to pull the stern free at your weight.

Generally a longer boat is faster than a shorter one of similar design, however…One thing to consider is that a shorter boat will have a smaller footprint in the water and thus offer less resistance for the amount of force the paddle provides. This sometimes makes up for the shortness. My wife in her 11’ Loonworks Button has no problem keeping up with me in my 15’er.

My MR Slipper had 28" gunwales - pretty
wide for a small paddler. Wider than I prefer at 5’6".

Maybe the Lady Slipper is a different boat?

what whitewater canoes have you paddled?
The Dragonfly is certainly rather deeper than you would need for solely flat water use. As for dogs, I have had my two 25 lb mutts in a Dragonfly a number of times with no issues. They usually sit side be side in front of me. But when sitting sideways looking over opposite gunwales their bodies overlap, so it might well be different with a single 50 lb dog.

You said you have come from a whitewater background and have paddled OC-1s. Which have you paddled? Almost any whitewater solo canoe will be at least as deep at center as the Dragonfly, many a bit deeper still.

I might have misread Steve T s remark

– Last Updated: Aug-18-16 7:48 PM EST –

but the Conk Seat is for kneelers who occasionally sit. Paul Conklin is an Adirondack bushwhacker canoeist.

pictures sometimes help sort stuff out when you are subject to information overload.

I have a love affair with Eds Contour Bucket seat. Its not a tractor seat either.
Both are canted forward edge lower than rear. Colden Canoe ( FlashFire) contours to order. I am sure Dave Curtis does too with the Conk Seat

I think you need to enjoy a fall road trip to Western New York.. That is the current epicenter of solo canoes.