Solo Royalex Canoe Question

-- Last Updated: Oct-24-09 3:45 PM EST --

I need some help.

I am a small female and I really want to get a Solo Royalex Canoe for whitewater that can also handle large lakes and rivers.

I am thinking about getting a Bell Yellowstone RX or a Wenonah Vagabond, but don't know which one.

I tried them both out in the little pond at the store, and it seems like the Yellowstone is more maneuverable but the Vagabond is more stable and tracks better. I don't know if this is because of the design, or my size(maybe the Vagabond just needs more weight?)

I like them both but cant decide which is right for me.

Any Suggestions?

your impressions are right. The Vagabond has less rocker and actually to me feels really big and stable. Too big and stable for my likes.

I have never tried it on moving water and suspect it maneuvers more slowly due to less rocker. Seems to me much more of a lake boat.

YS has 2.5 inches rocker in the bow and an inch less in the stern. So it would be expected to be more maneuverable.

The question is how much are you willing to dedicate yourself to perfecting the forward stroke so that you dont mind a more agile boat? That is something you can change.

As for whitewater I would’t call either of them whitewater boats.

Everything Boat
Yes I know neither one is a whitewater boat, I guess im looking for something that works well in open water, but i would like to be able to use my boat for some mild whitewater as well.

Also, what kind of problems do I run into with the Yellowstone being 45lbs below its “optimum load”? ( i am only 115lbs)

Of those two, YS, but …
… in my experience, there is no such thing as a real WW boat that can also paddle adequately on FW. I know that’s not the answer you want to hear.

Any canoe can “get through” or “shoot” straight through easy rapids and even some harder ones. However, a real WW boat needs to be very spinnable and deep, traits that will make it a horrible chore to paddle on long stretches of FW, especially in wind, even for a paddler with a very strong correction stroke. By real WW, I mean harder than 2 and really playing the rapid. For this, you need a dedicated WW boat.

I would only get a Royalex boat for real WW or wilderness tripping. For everything else, I would invest in a light composite canoe. This would mean having at least two canoes.

If, however, you really only want one combo boat and you want it in Royalex, then you should make an honest attempt to parse out how much time you will spend in rapids vs. the flats. Also honestly appraise your FW correction stroke. If the rapids predominate, I would incline toward the more turnable boat, and vice versa.

EXCEPT, if I had a very good FW correction stroke or was dedicated to developing one, I would probably tend toward the more turnable and playful boat even if the alternative boat tracked more easily – that is, with a less developed correction stroke.

Based on my EXCEPTION preference, I personally would prefer the YS for combo use. It is relatively turnable and playful in class 2 (probably a lot more so for you than heavier me); and because I have a good correction stroke, I know I could track it very adequately on FW. Light paddlers even freestyle very nicely in Yellowstones.

YS is a great crossover boat
I bought a used Royalex YS a few months ago and really dig it. I’ve got a real WW boat and a Kevlar Bell Magic and I feel that the Yellowstone Solo is the perfect “in-between” boat. I’ve paddled it in Class III rapids unloaded, and Class II loaded with camping gear. It is pretty wet in big waves but it is maneuverable enough to catch eddies and try some playboating. I’ve had it on large lakes and bays and the main problem is that it’s sensitive to wind from the side or behind.

YS is pretty tippy and I took out the seat in favor of a WW saddle. Kneeling it is very stable and comfortable. You will want to paddle from one side in this boat, switching sides doesn’t really work well unless you are going into the wind or up-river.

Sure it isn’t as dry or maneuverable as my WW boat, isn’t as fast and doesn’t track as well as my Magic, but it’s the boat I like paddling the most.

Video of me running rapids in the YS:

Pictures of my YS in the Rocky Lake set:

115 pounds. Flashfire.

– Last Updated: Oct-24-09 4:52 PM EST –

I didn't see your weight until after my first post.

We all have different preferences, but if I were your weight -- you sylph, you -- the boat I would covet would be the Flashfire. That boat will bring much joy in moving and flat water if you have or dedicate yourself to developing your strokes.

The Flashfire has only ever been available as composite. But it therefore is a joy to lift, cartop, carry, portage and maneuver right into your old age. All you have to do is develop your WW technique, be careful in rocky and WW, and have some money for the initial purchase. The 60 something me is very thankful that the 30 something me always invested in lightweight canoes.

The current situation on the Flashfire is:

-- Out of production at Bell for about six years, so you would have to search for a used one. This would be your least expensive option. Might be able to find one for less than a new Royalex Yellowstone.

-- Out of production at Placid Boatworks since this summer, but they are still showing two in their online inventory.

-- Will soon be produced at Colden Canoe, which is right near you in Buffalo, probably in a high end layup and trim.

The Royalex Yellowstone is based on the Flashfire's bigger brother, the Wildfire. The Yellowstone is probably the Royalex canoe with paddling characteristics most like the Wild and Flash.

Im too poor
I looked at the Flashfire online and thought it seems more appropriate, i just cant afford it. My limit is around $1000.

Thanks for the suggestion though.

So Yellowstone solo is preferable to the Vagabond?

Any other boats in this price range i should consider for an all-round solo boat?

This is a tough one because of your
light weight, your budget, and your desire for Royalex.

I am more of a canoeist than a kayaker, but in this case I strongly recommend that you consider a kayak. Your light weight notwithstanding, you might be able to manage a Liquid Logic Remix XP9. It is quite competent in whitewater, and has a skeg for lake use.

I think that either boat is too big
for you because they are too wide.

Check out Hemlock Kestrel… its narrower for smaller paddlers.

Weight capacity curiously is not the only factor. Reach is also. Shorter arms have a tougher time with wider boats in that you cannot stack your hands for a vertical stroke unless you slide over to one side of the boat.

Wenonah used to make a Sandpiper that was great for smaller people.

Mohawk Solo 13

– Last Updated: Oct-24-09 6:55 PM EST –

Is Royalex and inexpensive:

Never paddled one, but strongly suspect the Yellowstone is a better boat.

There are two used Yellowstone's on the pnet classifieds right now -- one is actually a Royalex Wildfire, which is the same thing before they changed the name.

Mohawk Solo 13
is a decent boat. I had it in Royalite and if I were to have another I certainly would go for Royalex. The reason was wear on the stems and my boat had a dent that I think came from a dock fitting (cleat)

It has a borderline wide reach and is a good boat for a lighweight tripper. I paddled mine down the Buffalo a couple of years ago…water levels were at most a class 2. It was a five day trip.

I got rid of the Solo 13 becaue it was a tad shy on volume to carry gear for the length of trips I do. Replaced it with a Wenonah Arogsy.

A few thoughts

– Last Updated: Oct-24-09 9:06 PM EST –

I'm not going to say what you "should" get. However, I do have some ideas that may help you think about this issue. You might already know a lot of this stuff, but here goes.

I'm pretty sure you can ignore any comments about what constitutes a "whitewater boat". You don't need a true whitewater boat to do a fine job in light whitewater, which it sounds like the kind of whitewater you will be paddling.

Regarding stability, a boat that's more stable is not usually "better" if you want to do light whitewater or choppy lakes. A more-rounded bottom that feels more "tippy" will be much more capable in rougher water because the boat won't tend to try to "match the tilt" of the waves as strongly as a more stable boat. In that regard, the Yellowstone is a much more versatile boat than the Vagabond. If you can paddle from a kneeling position, it's unlikely that "tippyness" will ever be a problem. A boat with a more-rounded bottom is also faster, all other things being equal, but in this case, all other things are not equal, and the Vagabond is a faster boat in the hands of most paddlers.

Forget what the Wenonah catalog says about rocker. Wenonah has not learned how to make a Royalex boat with an amount of rocker that's remotely close to the rocker of the same boat with a composite hull. I used to own a Royalex Vagabond, and it didn't have any rocker at all. It actually had a very noticeable amount of reverse rocker when in the water with a load, as the bottom pooched up a bit. Since then, I've carefully looked at every Royalex and composite Vagabond I've come across, and every composite version has rocker that is easy to see, and every Royalex version has no visible rocker at all. I'd stay away from the Vagabond if you do much light whitewater. When I used to paddle mine in whitewater, the ONLY effective technique for sharp maneuvers was the back-ferry, which was easy with a double-blade paddle but NOT easy with a single blade, since normal correction strokes were often not enough to counteract the "grabby" nature the stems of this boat when ferrying. Turning the boat sharply was not an option, except in eddies. A Royalex Vagabond is a nice calm-water cruiser in comparison to most other Royalex solos, but it is not too good in whitewater. It also tends to cut right through waves, taking on water very easily.

Whether the Yellowstone is too big for you is not something anyone here can answer for you. Personally, I don't find an "under-loaded" boat to be a problem. When I paddle light whitewater, I often use a Novacraft Supernova, a big canoe which can cruise quite nicely on flatwater with a 300-pound paddler on board, but I really like the way it handles in moving water with a light load. I'm 165#, and it's nice to have a boat that's still "light and dainty on the water" and has plenty of extra capacity for camping gear. On the other hand, in strong wind, that extra size is not a good thing. It's wide, but I'm tall and lanky so the width is not a problem. The Yellowstone is a "fairly small" boat, quite a bit smaller than a whole lot of other solo canoes, and though it's probably bigger than what's ideal for you, you MAY be able to handle it without much trouble. In any case, you can be sure it won't become a total slug when you throw in a load of camping gear.

If you compare the Yellowstone to the smaller solos from Mohawk, I think you'll find the Yellowstone to "feel" like a better fit, to respond more readily to the paddle, and to feel a bit less "stuck" to the water due to it's rounder bottom.

My main complaint with the Yellowstone is the differential rocker. Differential rocker is fine for cruising, but for maneuvering, I find the stern to be "not loose enough" to suit me. I also find it to be a real pig during a backferry. However, what is "best" in that regard is personal taste. I often paddle a Mohawk Odyssey 14, which in many ways is less nimble than a Yellowstone, but I prefer it to a Yellowstone because the rear stem isn't "grabby" when I'm doing maneuvers in reverse. I don't say that as a way of recommending an Odyssey 14, because that boat is bigger overall and has a "bigger feel" than a Yellowstone, but the nature of the Yellowstone's sticky stern is something worth thinking about. Some paddlers don't mind it, but some (like me) do. There are probably a lot more paddlers who like the Yellowstone's handling than those who don't.

Unless you’re loaded with gear, you
might consider giving up maneuvers in reverse. I wouldn’t know how to shop for a decent whitewater open boat that is symmetrical. Whether I’m in my MR Guide or my MR Synergy, if there’s any question of backpaddling, I spin instead. The Guide is symmetrical but flat spins well. The Synergy is Swedeform and spins on its broad tail, with some back lean. Neither boat back paddles well unless loaded with gear.

Stern won’t be so sticky for 115
Can’t disagree with anything GBG said, except I would expect the Yellowstone to be significantly more maneuverable for a 115 lb. paddler than a 165 lb. paddler. With a little heel, I bet the stern would break completely free for Justine.

I used to paddle with a lot of small women in 14’-15’ WW boats back in the day when there was such a thing as an open WW canoe. They could cross, reach and maneuver them just fine.

I don’t think the YS is too big for a small woman. In any event, you don’t have to marry the canoe. If you lose interest in it, cheat.

We paddle different waters.

– Last Updated: Oct-25-09 12:55 AM EST –

For me, there are plenty of times, like when snaking between the branches of downed trees, where a couple of backward strokes which make the boat go sideways while "hanging stationary" in the current is really the only option available. On tree-strewn creeks, you usually have to let the fallen trees dictate what you do with your boat. Staying aligned with the current is usually best, but when you can't do that, you find yourself sideslipping to hold position since your boat is in the only place among the branches where it "fits". A boat whose stern gets "grabby" in that situation just isn't as easy or as much fun to handle. In light whitewater with a general-purpose boat, it's normally easier to do that same sort of thing when passing through mis-aligned chutes. If the next chute is maybe 15 or 20 feet downstream and 10 or 15 feet to the side of the one you are just exiting, you can go straight sideways or almost straight sideways (depending on current speed) by applying a few reverse strokes and simultaneously side-slipping or blending it into a back-ferry, but turning or trying to spin will just make it harder to "hold back" against the current in that limited amount of downstream space that's available. I'm sure that in a whitewater boat, spinning in such a small space is a whole different thing. In any case, the Yellowstone doesn't spin exceptionally well, though as noted below, it probably will spin a lot better when paddled by a 115-pounder.

I know you are an expert at paddling big whitewater and I'm not, and I don't doubt the suitability of your preference for spinning when in the rivers that you paddle. I can't back-paddle effectively for any appreciable distance in swift water and will ferry in the forward direction for longer passes whenever possible. However, on the small whitewater and super-twisty flatwater rivers I paddle, the need for very brief bursts of sideways motion is best done without altering the boat's alignment with the river any more than necessary.

Good point!
I didn’t even think of that. Thanks.

Hi Justine

– Last Updated: Oct-25-09 7:43 AM EST –

You tried the boats at Oak Orchard? I agree that's not much area to be able to tell which you'd prefer, but, better than nothing. A friend (also a p.netter) has a Yellowstone in kevlar that she loves, and she's a small paddler like you. She bought a Wildfire (similar to YS) in RX and really likes it, too. I'm a larger paddler, and have a Wildfire in fiberglass and a YS in RX. I do like them both. I took the YS down the Middle Youghiogheny this past summer, no problems (except I dumped it at a surf hole, from laughing). If you want to paddle whitewater of that nature, a YS works fine. It's fine on the flats, as long as you can do a decent j-stroke.

Seems to me the YS (or maybe a RX Wildfire) would be a suitable fit for you, but personal preferences vary. If you buy one and don't like it -- you can always sell it. (And if you can find one -- but used.)

Now and Later

– Last Updated: Oct-25-09 12:34 PM EST –

For your price range and paddling conditions, Wenonah's Argosy and Bell's YellowStone Solo/WildFire RX, [same mold], should be available in good, used, condition. In Buffalo, you do not want wood rails on a RX canoe- it'll cold crack unless stored in a heated garage.

That said, at 115lbs, you'll want to reduce wetted surface and minimize width. FlashFire 28.5" X 13' will fit you much better. There are several in the Buffalo - Rochester area and they turn up on PNet irregularly. Another hull to watch for is a Curtis MayFly 26.5" X 12.5'; only 26 were made, but they were mostly sold in the B-R area and so may be available.

Its colder here than Buffalo
and I even forgot one year to loosen the screws at the stems of my wood gunwaled Dumoine.

The boat was in an unheated but insulated garage (one room has a monitor heater for a workshop) where temperature changes are gradual and expansion/contraction thereby more gradual too.

Never had any cold cracking problem though the rest of the years I did remember to loosen the screws.

So I wouldnt necessarily write off wooden gunwales if thats what shows up on the boat you find.

I paddle those waters too, often in my
whitewater boat, and if I can’t spin, I can get the boat to side slip or back OK. I once tried paddling my Synergy sitting in reverse, to sample the new fish-form fashion in whitewater racing boats (e.g. Esquif Spark and various Millbrooks) and I noticed what you are talking about, that the bow was easier to force from side to side, but the stern just wanted to trail rather than shift. It’s possible that I have not paddled a canoe similar to the Yellowstone that has a problem with stern shifting. I have the Synergy rigged rather forward, so the stern kind of hangs in the air.