Tandem hull for rivers that a small person could manage to solo?

We have a kevlar Wenonah Solo Plus.

I’m around 5’, 7" 120 lbs and can solo it, but it isn’t ideal as it doesn’t seem to respond well to being heeled. Also, it hasn’t got any rocker, which I’m realizing I don’t like.

The boat will see mostly day trips w/ my partner who is smaller than me, a 65 lb kid and a 50 lb dog. Maybe some overnight stuff in the future. Definitely looking to learn up to class II.

Emphasis is on the tandem performance with regard to the above mentioned criteria, but hoping there’s a design that ticks those boxes and will also accommodate me soloing it on occasion.

My partner would really prefer to paddle in a solo kayak, and I realize now I probably shouldn’t have gotten off the rubber Yellowstone solo. Oops. She’ll acquiesce for the next season or two, until the kid is old enough to paddle his own craft, and in the interim I’ll keep my ear to the ground for a Flashfire.

Anyway, all suggestions appreciated. Thanks.

Going against the wishes of your partner eh? Good luck with that strategy.

You are light even for most solos…but there are plenty of light tandems that would be way more fun than a Solo Plus. Do you have some budget target…planning to buy used or new? Will you be able to test paddle? Do you have a weight target for the boat?

The Colden Starfire is an awesome boat with really broad capabilities. I have a Northstar Polaris that would work well for you but offhand I’d suggest you go one size down to their 16 footer. My Swift Shearwater solo could almost take your whole load…I’m around 190 and I’ve taken a 60 pound dog and 70 pound kid in it. There are many used boats that could fit your needs…I have a Blackhawk Combi 15’8" that would fit your needs and Blackhawk also made a Combi 14’9" but they are rare. A Swift Otter would work well for you if you come across one. I think there is a Bell Northstar in the classifieds and that boat would work well for you…you may need to add a third seat or kneeling thwart but that’s easy.

So when your kid gets bigger and you get a Flashfire and your partner is in a solo kayak, where will the dog go?

Well unfortunately I’m going to have to offload the Solo Plus before I make another purchase. Looking for something used, and nothing north of 1k. The most ideal situation would be a trade of course.

I’ve got some projects going on this year, so I might even have to put the whole thing off until the season after this one; not sure yet. In case something transpires organically and/or simply for this season I’d like to have some data points in mind.

I was checking out that Northstar you mentioned… Maybe I’ll put my Solo Plus in the classifieds and see what happens.

As for the Flashfire… can’t swing a medium dog, huh? Blast. Oh well, those boats seem fairly grail-y anyway, and I’d just as soon not get all wrapped up in another quest! Probably the Yellowstone solo I had would’ve fit the bill. Regret the sale.

Frankly it’s getting hard to justify the cost of new boats when there are so many great used boats out there. I saw a few very nice deals on Flashfires in 2017. You could bring your dog in a Flash…the boat will easily handle the weight but might be a bit bow-heavy and you could always resolve that by fiddling with the seat and maybe making it adjustable fore/aft. I know my Wildfire was a bit bow-heavy with a 70 pound lab. I’ve got a Yellowstone and it takes the 60 pound coonhound effortlessly.

I do suggest that you sell the Solo Plus so you’ll be ready to make a move if something comes up. I know there is a cheap and well-used Royalex Yellowstone near Ann Arbor right now…asking $300 I think. There’s also a Blackhawk Zephyr which could be your dream solo boat…I sold my Flashfire because I liked my Zephyr so much.

I’d be happy to look through craigslist for you if you want to give me your approximate location, or you can look around yourself and use this forum to get feedback on boats that you find.

Just keep your enthusiasm up and you’ll get everything you want. If you’re anywhere near St Joseph MI you’re welcome to come over and try a few canoes.

You might consider looking around for a 15 foot Prospector in Royalex. You are in Wenonah country and they made a ton of them. It would be dry enough and maneuverable enough for mellower whitewater. It would be a bit on the large size for you to paddle solo, but realistically any tandem canoe that is capable of Class I-II whitewater is going to be.

@TomL said:
There’s also a Blackhawk Zephyr which could be your dream solo boat…I sold my Flashfire because I liked my Zephyr so much.

I’m 5’6" and 165 lbs and sold my Zephyr because the gunwale width in front of the seat was 28" from outside edge to outside edge and my Wenonah Sandpiper, Bell Flashfire, Bell Yellowston Solo and Curtis Ladybug were quite noticeably narrower in front of the seat for easier vertical shaft paddle strokes for the smaller sized paddler. Taller paddlers with longer arms will have less of an issue with wide gunwales than I do.

TomL, thank you for the offer. I’m in Bay City, but sometimes find myself in K-Zoo to catch a show, and if it ever works out, I’d love to paddle a couple craft and maybe get a pointer or two.

The only way I’m going to purchase another solo so quickly is if I find something too good to pass up. Charlie Wilson has been so kind to advise me here and there over email, and based on our correspondence and my own research, sounds like the Flashfire would be the most ideal strictly in terms of size and fit, although maybe something slightly larger would be a better compromise for my intended purpose of class-II rivers.

Truth is I just haven’t paddled enough to know what the best hull would be application-wise. God knows, maybe I learn to paddle class 1 & 2, get bit by the white water bug and suddenly a playboat is the order of the day.

So for now I think honing the basic solo single-blade skill set is going to end up happening in a tandem, and probably only on occasion.

Will definitely put the Solo Plus up on the chopping block here pretty quickly and see where that takes me.

Thanks for all the responses so far.

Personally, I’m not big on paddling a tandem canoe solo. I know a lot of people around here do it, but to me they are too wide in the middle, too susceptible to wind, and too much work on the flats. You had a Yellowstone Solo, so you know what it is like to paddle a dedicated solo. For those who want to do it, the answer is often to buy a shorter tandem, which might be easier to paddle solo, but is much more likely to be out of trim when paddled tandem. There is usually a sacrifice either way. I think a lot of people who try to find a multi purpose boat end up with one that does neither well.

I think the best general-purpose tandem/solo boat for someone your size that I’ve seen is the Bell Morningstar, but it must be outfitted with a kneeling thwart to make it work.


Take a look at the specs. In my opinion, loading to the 5" waterline is too much. Also, again just my opinion, loading to the 3" waterline is preferable to the 4", but loading to the 4" waterline isn’t all that bad. That gives you an idea that this isn’t a boat for carrying a big load, but for two small adults, a small kid and a dog, you wouldn’t be stretching its capability much, especially if you’ve paddled enough that you aren’t spooked by what the canoe does when that fairly big dog moves around in the boat. I do know a guy who’s about your size who paddles a Morningstar solo (with a kneeling thwart) and it works nicely for him (still not like a dedicated solo boat).

I agree with GBG, the Bell Morningstar is a fine sweetheart of a boat that would fit your needs well…both tandem or solo. There is one in the classifieds but it’s not super close for you.

We’re less than an hour from Kzoo so if you ever want to paddle please just let me know. I’ll send you a PM with contact info.

I also was thinking Bell Morningstar.

@eckilson said:
Personally, I’m not big on paddling a tandem canoe solo. I know a lot of people around here do it, but to me they are too wide in the middle, too susceptible to wind, and too much work on the flats. You had a Yellowstone Solo, so you know what it is like to paddle a dedicated solo. For those who want to do it, the answer is often to buy a shorter tandem, which might be easier to paddle solo, but is much more likely to be out of trim when paddled tandem. There is usually a sacrifice either way. I think a lot of people who try to find a multi purpose boat end up with one that does neither well.

Or multiple boats.

I believe in multiple boats, but I know not everyone has the money, the room or the desire.

Well, I own a Bell Morningstar and it would be a sweet boat when you’re paddling TANDEM. I solo mine, but am more than twice your weight and 6’1" with long arms and torso. I think a Morningstar or Prospector will be much too wide for you to enjoyably paddle solo?

The Starfire, now made by Colden, is a better bet. Sold mine to a friend and he and his wife tandem in it (I soloed it all except one time). Problem is, finding even a USED Colden, Bell, or Placid (all 3 companies made this hull) for less than $1000 will be darn near impossible.

A better bet may be something like a Mad River Malecite. Not as maneuverable as the Starfire, but much better than the Solo Plus. Also not as “Twitchy” and more predictable than the Solo Plus. And MUCH easier to find on the “Used” market.

Another would be the Bell Northstar/ Northstar Polaris. THe Polaris is a really nice tripping boat for smaller paddlers. It can be soloed and also a much better option than a Morningstar, albeit a bit large for a 120lb paddler solo, as all tandems will be. One thing I didn’t like about the Northstar is the differential rocker. Having loved the Starfire, I figured it would paddle like a larger version; it didn’t. It will maneuver just fine, but the Starfire “Spoiled” me!

If you want a royalex hull, look at something like a Dagger Reflection 15 or 16. It will be more difficult to solo than the Starfire and the Malecite, but nice for a royalex boat.

All that said, a solo AND a tandem would be a better bet. You or someone mentioned a Flashfire? If I was YOUR size I would never ever have sold mine. I enjoyed it paddling around our pond, but I was much too big. But what a playful, fun little boat! And my wife paddled hers for several years on the river and never swam after her first paddle, where she hit a strainer. If only I had quit growing when I was in my teens (LOL)!

Good luck, and you really need to try these boats if you can!

I’ve decided to focus specifically on the prospective boat’s tandem performance. If I end up being able to solo it, great. But realistically that isn’t going to happen much anyway, so whatever.

Also I probably shouldn’t put so much emphasis on learning up to class II, as although that’s definitely a goal, the boat will see nearly as much lake as river use.

So that leaves us with an entirely new set of criteria: A good hull for smaller paddlers w/ a minimum/average 450 lb. load that does well in wind and lake chop but would also be suitable for some easy river stuff.

Would a Minnesota II be overkill? I see those pop up in this area from time to time at fair prices.

The part of you waiting to sell before you buy may have you missing the upcoming spring, summer & fall.
Soft edges and rocker… Don’t get sucked in solely by top selling model names, there are some nice old school OC2s, Daggers and a few MadRivers out there, somewhere. Also maybe one or a few Esquif boats(not sure)…would be worth looking at.

I should start a new thread or this could get confusing.

Good idea to start a new thread…sometimes the discussions stray pretty far from the original question/post.

There are lots of tandems that will fit your needs. It’s helpful if you are willing and able to travel to shop for boats. Ann Arbor is a good area to watch and so is Madison.

From your original post your total load with everyone on board is around 350 (on the light side). Are you planning for 450 for gear? Even at 450 you’re looking at something between 15 feet and 17 max, most likely 16 or 16.5 to fit your load, be maneuverable, and cruise efficiently. Boats already mentioned like Morningstar, Northstar, or Polaris would be perfect but also typically well over $1k used.

The seductive part of the Minn II for you might be the speed/glide. It’s a bullet that can easily handle your load. But it has zero rocker so it is not great for turning…it would be harder to turn than your current boat since it’s much longer.

Any tandem canoe that you plan to use for both whitewater and flat water paddling is going to require a significant compromise in performance for one or the other, or both.

You also need to refine just what type of water you are thinking about when you speak of Class II whitewater. Class II whitewater covers a great deal of ground. Some Class II water is relatively unobstructed requiring only a modest amount of maneuvering to avoid holes or obstacles that can be seen well in advance. Other Class II whitewater can be quite technical, requiring relatively precise maneuvering in fairly tight spaces. A boat with relatively modest or even no rocker might be able to negotiate the first type with some side slips and back ferries, but would probably be toast on the second type. Some Class II whitewater might entail relatively short rapids on drop/pool rivers with long recovery pools following each drop. Other Class II whitewater might involve quarter or half-mile long sections of “bogey water”. A swamped tandem canoe on that type of Class II could be in real trouble.

Any tandem canoe that I would consider taking on Class II whitewater would have to have sufficient depth to remain reasonably dry in whatever type of water I planned to take it on, and have enough rocker to provide at least the minimum degree of maneuverability required. My personal bias is that paddling a canoe with more depth and more rocker than ideal for flat water can still be paddled on flat water, although it might sometimes be a little less satisfying and might get you frustrated. Conversely, paddling a boat with insufficient depth or maneuverability on whitewater can get you seriously hurt.

The Minnesota II is a nice boat for flat water and I would take it on moving flat water. I would not consider it for most of what I would call Class II whitewater.

I would pass on the MNII. I have its deeper brother the Odyssey and it is no good for technical class 2. It was designed for a downriver racing scene where there are obstacles that you can plan ahead for. Wavetrain type class 2 is fine. Boulder gardens not… We do run moving water with it and the Buffalo River but its not too terribly maneuverable unless heeled way over on its side . Our dog did not like that… It has the eddy turn radius of a semi. And it is not constructed with rapid bashing in mind with the foam core that stiffens the bottom… Crack that as we did and you have a bit of a mess.
Moreover if you have two perhaps moving and not paddling loads in the middle ( though the kid is old enough to paddle and I would encourage that) the boat is really meant for carrying a load of packs. Its a big sail to solo ( and I have a couple of times but very briefly and only from the center kneeling). When we take ours out just with a paddler on each end ( and no load in the middle ) its long enough to torque and get both ends hung up on waves… This gives one the squirrely gonna get wet feeling. And that has happened to us twice.
It settles down nicely with about 100 lbs of packs that do not move…
Your dilemna is that your 65 lb child is soon going to be way more than 65 lbs…

A nice flatwater boat for calm days ? Sure, the MN II will fill the bill…