We need a 400 mile canoe

We are selecting the best canoe for the James River 400. We want to acquire the boat locally (Virginia) to show folks how they can buy a good boat and go out and enjoy the James which is America’s Heritage River.

The brands thwe can choose from are Nova Craft, Esquif, Mad River, Old Town, Bell and Wenonah. If you could chose your best canoe from this lot which would it be?

The trip is 400 miles ranging from small stream rock gardens, poling in shallow water (sitting or standing), Class I-II ledges and chutes, flat water, and the last few days will be on Chesapeake Bay from Jamestown to Virignia Beach. Oh, and portage 2 dams on the Jackson and 9 on the James, total about 3 miles.

We’re looking to paddle tandem, but still be able to go solo as the crew size ebbs and flows. We’re carrying a full range of camping gear, food, water testing equipment and brochures. We will be able to re-supply weekly so fresh food is on the menu (and a couple of ice cold beverages AND the Pusser’s Rum!)

If you chose just one canoe which would it be?



too many unknowns
Questions, to eliminate some of the possibilities:

(1) Is this a race that you’re trying to win? If so, against practiced racers? Or are you trying to have a good time, and finish the trip?

(2) How much do you want to spend?

(3) How beat-up do you want the canoe to be when you’re done?

(4) How much whitewater versus protected flatwater versus open water? In combination with the questions above, this question affects whether to get a plastic or a composite boat.

(5) On which kinds of water would the solo paddling be done? If it’s to be done on the Chesapeake, that makes a big difference, because a good wind will blow most tandems-paddled-solo around.

My opening bids are Old Town Appalachian and Bell NorthStar. But it depends.

– Mark

Hey Andy, where do we find details on
the trip? Sounds like something a 64 year old could still manage to do.

Two Good Boats For This Trip
My paddling buddy and I did a 400 miler from Riviere De Loop to the Penobscot Bay on many streams/rivers/lakes like you are describing. We did solo canoes, OT 158 and MR Explorer. Did quite well with both. Here’s a link to the trip:


Both boats were set up tandem but were poled, paddled and sailed as solo’s.

Hope this helps.


if you want a fast canoe
that is not too expensive and you if can paddle good enough to run a boat that is not exactly made for it through class 2+,

my choice would be Wenonah’s Sundowner 17

-way faster than a Rogue or Spirit or NC’s Prospector.

Less seaworthy, though. But you would have a chance to win…

Old Town Penobscot
Would handle all you ask of it.

I second that
A 16 for solo and the 17 for tandem.

If the two paddlers are light weight the 16 would naturally be easier on the portage.



Thanks DougD
Great trip reports, very enjoyable reading, wish I could have been there.

website being posted soon, stay tuned…

in the meantime you can get a flavor for the trip by checking out www.JohnSmith400.org and www.JamesRiverAssociation.org and www.BateauFestival.org these are our partners on the 400. As soon as I get the new web site launched I’ll post it.



Make sure the rear paddler has excellent footrest. jj.canoe.com get in your knees to make narrow boat more stable in ww

Mad River Horizon 17
I paddled it earlier this year on a river clean up and I can solo it pretty good through class II rock gardens and ledge drops. It would handle the Class III’s just fine bouyancy wise as long as I don’t have to turn abruptly in the rapid. Weighs 66 pounds which is not terribly onerous, considering I’ve just weighed my cargo in at 160# which includes the water testing equipment and a full camp, and carrying stuff the kayakers can’t fit in their boats. I’m hoping to test drive a Penobscot pretty quick. It is probably a little more solo friendly wouldn’t you say?

BTW, it looks like I’ll be paddling this trip pretty much solo. So far everyone else is either OC1 or K1. I’m kinda relieved, since it’s a long way to go with someone sitting 12’ in front of me day in and day out. I much prefer solo, but I still think I need a 16 - 17 footer to carry the weight and the speed.

Wenonah Solo Plus in Royalex
the best and speediest compromise.

what makes you believe that
Did you read the OP?

Camping gear?

Stand up for poling?

with a Solo Plus?

Good one…