Wenonah Argosy & Wilderness

Conrad, Joe and I spent a fun afternoon test driving the Wenonah Argosy and the Wenonah Wilderness, courtesy of Appomattox River Company in Farmville, Virginia.

The build quality on these two boats was excellent. The vinyl trim is neat and trim. I’m not fond of the vinyl deck plates, but they work. We didn’t have scales to check weights, but informally both boats are easy to handle on and off the truck.

Here are some pictures http://tinyurl.com/yq5yc6

This isn’t a “review”. We only had a couple hours on the lake and that’s not nearly enough time to really get to know these boats. We liked both canoes, for different reasons.

Argosy is faster and turns better than the Wilderness, no surprise, but not quite as stable. Not a whole lot of room for packs and barrels for extended tripping, although our friend Robin does fine on 8 day trips in his Argosy.

Today our paddler weights were 220, 200 and 180. The Argosy acts like it could handle another 50-60 pounds no problem. One paddler commented it’s faster than the Royalex Rendezvous and turns better. The Argosy requires a little more attention to steering, just because it’s a playful, nimble boat and likes to turn. It reminds me of the Swift Osprey in that regard but the Osprey isn’t as fast.

With double blade and 40 strokes per minute fast cruising the Argosy ran between 5.2 and 6.2 mph. I was paddling with the wind abeam to eliminate tail wind or head wind. Winds about 10 mph with a 5 mile fetch put up minor waves and ripples and didn’t affect stability at all. If I was just doing day trips and weekenders on bony, Class I-II rivers I’d love to have the Argosy. Even with bags I don’t think the Argosy could make it through Class III wave trains and holes. The bow is just too sharp.

There is a fairly significant bubble designed into the chines which enables good knee placement for kneeling. Four position seat acted well. Thwart behind the seat is a pain in the back. I don’t have a clue why the builder continues to ignore paddler feedback on the mid-thwart issue. If I had an Argosy I’d take out the seat and mid-thwart and put in a sliding bench seat. In my opinion the Argosy is much faster than the MR Guide, and turns just as well. Doesn’t have quite the same volume as the Guide, but the Argosy has more volume than a Bell Yellowstone Solo, which is not nearly as fast as the Argosy.

Wilderness is more comfortable and stable than the Argosy, more room for gear, tracks well, but turns only moderately well. With double blade and 40 strokes per minute fast cruising it runs about 4.6 mph. The mid-thwart is too close to the seat and the seat is too far forward pitching the bow down and kicking up a wake. Trying to push the boat beyond 4.6 mph just sends up a bigger wake and no appreciable gain in speed.

Even with bags this is not a Class III river runner. It doesn’t turn well enough for technical river running but certainly will get a capable paddler through average Class I-II water with no problem. Comments from our paddlers were “sticky stern” and “weight not distributed well”. IMHO if I added 60 pounds of gear to the current seat arrangement the boat would turn sluggish and stubborn in the turns. Repositioning the seat and trimming the load will correct that I think.

It’s unclear whether the Wilderness has 1-1/2 inch rocker in both bow and stern, but my guess is that the bow has 1-1/2 and the stern has next to nothing. It will carve turns nicely.

IMHO turning and manuvering the Wilderness is not going to present a problem to 90% of the paddlers who would choose it for touring and tripping. I liked it enough to put one on order. It’s not as fast or as easy to paddle as my Swift Shearwater, but the Wilderness is Royalex and I travel on bony rivers. If I was planning 400 miles on the James or a 4-week trip on the Missinaibi I’d choose this boat over anything else in my quiver.

Today was a four hour round trip for me and I am delighted to say that it was time well spent to get to try these two boats. I’m hoping Joe and Conrad will chime in with their impressions.


Argosy and Class 3
When you say that the Argosy wouldn’t make it through class 3, what do you mean? What sort of carnage would result?

Reason I ask is I am leaning towards getting an Argosy for learning some class 1 and 2 stuff, but there is one river in IL I want to try running that is rated class 2-3. It is the Vermilion River in IL, the one that is part of the Illinois river system, not the Vermilion that is part of the Wabash basin. I think that the class 3 rating might be because of a lowhead dam that has a runnable chute, but has killed before. This is a hazard that I would always portage anyway.

Are either or both these boats ok to sit in as opposed to kneeling?

River rapids classifications
Here’s a link that shows generic descriptions of rapids…scroll to the bottom and read the main text.


Lots of rivers are classified Class II-III, but the whole river isn’t that way. The James River here in Virginia is a good example. It is 400 miles long and rated Class II-III(IV). There are miles and miles of Class II rapids but only one Class III-IV that I wouldn’t attempt with an open canoe such as the Argosy.

If your river has only one or two Class II or bigger then the easy and safe thing to do is walk your boat around, especially walk around the dam. That corny old saying is true; nobody ever drowned on a portgage.

Both are good to sit or kneel
The 4 way adjustable seat especially makes sitting easier, just lower the seat to the bottom position and sit and enjoy. I would prefer foot pegs to brace against if the water was rougher.

Confused on speeds
You have the shorter Argosy (14-6) reaching 6.2 mph and the longer Wilderness (15-4) only 4.6 mph. From the Wenohah website they both look to have around 29-30 in waterline beam. That seems backwards to me. At around 6 mph you

Also it seems really fast. I paddle a 17ft (15.5 waterline) 20.5 in wide kayak at about 60 strokes per minute and only do about 4.25 mph. That is not sprint, but speed I can maintain 3-4 hours.

Am I missing something? Am I just a terribly inefficient paddler?


Confusing speeds

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 9:51 AM EST –

There are several posters here on p.net who can explain in detail why some short canoes go faster than some long canoes. It has to do with wetted surface. The Argosy is nearly 3 inches narrower than the Wilderness and 10 inches shorter, thus lower resistance. Just as importantly, the Argosy has a narrow bow and stern so the entry and exit is enhanced. The Wilderness has more width in the bow and stern and in the body which creates more wetted surface and more resistance.

One advantage of a longer boat, sometimes, is the longer keel will help keep it on track and allow more power and less steering in the stroke. With a single blade the Argosy tends to wander off course every few strokes and requires more corrective stroke which is less powerful. The double blade overcomes that simply because a power stroke on the right is compensated by a power stroke on the left so almost no correction is required for staying on course.

The Wilderness has a longer keel so will stay on track much better, but because of the bow resistance and greater wetted surface the overall speed is lower.

It may be your stroke isn't as strong as it could be. Mine wasn't either until I studied Greg Barton's forward stroke. It adds a lot of speed and reduces boat bobble. He has a video/DVD that is very helpful. Probably the best way to learn, for me anyway, is to take a stroke clinic with a good instructor. I get my training from Bob Foote and Karen Knight with at least one clinic every year.

Paddle blade size and shape also affects speed. A narrower touring blade such as the Werner Camano is good for all day cruising. A larger blade such as the Bending Branches Day Breeze will move the boat further with each stroke but will wear out the motor faster.

Not asking about rapids
My question was what would happen if one were to try to run class 3 in the Argosy. You said it “wouldn’t make it.” I wanted to know what exactly would happen? Capsize? Sinking? Destruction? A guaranteed swim?

Thanks for the insight into the new Wilderness. I like the size and would love to try one and I’m surprised that the Argosy is faster…but I was also surprised at the Argosy’s speed when I tried one.

It also sounds like Wenonah keeps improving in terms of efficiency in their Royalex boats. I remember that my Royalex Rendezvous was quite fast if you put some muscle into it.

Thanks for the early season feedback on a new boat!

Sorry for mistake
I looked at the Wenonah website and thought they listed both Argosy and Wilderness as same waterline beam (29.75 in). I can not get into the Wenonah website this morning to find out if I read something wrong or if they have it listed incorrectly.

Are you saying that the max waterline beam of the Wilderness is 3" wider than the Argosy or do they have the same max waterline but the Wilderness is 3" wider at some other point.

Thanks for posting the info. I am hoping to get to test an Argosy next week. Your reveiw makes me much more excited about getting in the Argosy.


Arogosy faster than Osprey?
That’s surprising. I haven’t paddled either boat, but I was under the impression that the Osprey was pretty fast.

It’s not surprising that the Argosy is faster than the royalex Wildfire/Yellowstone, because my royalex Wildfire doesn’t seem that fast.

I’d like to see a speed comparison of the same boats using single blade paddles, but that would be comparing the paddler’s technique as much as the boats.

Thanks for the comparisons.

I paddled an Argosy in their heavier kevlar and was surprised at the cruising speed…it hummed along with some of the Wenonah character and it could also turn very tightly at low speed. I used to own an Osprey and it handled more “sweetly” in my opinion…leaned more smoothly and turned more easily and elegantly under all conditions, and I think they are close in speed but I would have guessed that the Osprey was a touch faster when you honk on it. The Argosy does “hit a wall” a bit when you whip it while the Osprey has a “softer” wall that you can drive through. I think the Osprey has considerably less volume so I’d expect a bit more performance.

Both are way cool boats.

Vermillion, Argosy, musings, etc. …

– Last Updated: Jan-28-08 9:30 AM EST –

When you could (emphasis on WHEN -- at lower, runnable levels only!) run the Vermillion in an Argosy, there is only one spot that would rate as high as class II -- Wildcat. You could run Wildcat in the Argosy but during your learning process you'll likely be swimming or at least bailing. (I swam it the first time in my WW boat). It is a fast straight pour through drop with a squirrelly fast wave train below. So, I'd advise trying it first during the warmest months. And you definitely should not be screwing around trying to run the shoot on the dam breech. Walk it! (OK, I see you already said that, but doesn't hurt to reinforce it to others. I saw a couple guys in rec/touring kayaks "run" it -- both pearled, burying their bows with loud "thunks" into the rip rap below and both swam out unhurt...)

You would encounter some class I on Stony and II on Big Pine. Both runnable (but not much playing) in an Argosy (doable range on BP from about zero to 2.5 feet on the Rainesville bridge gage). If you really want to learn whitewater in a canoe, I'd advise getting a dedicated WW boat outfitted for WW. I would not mess with any boat in WW too much without bagging it out, and putting in a saddle and thigh straps (suggest finding a cheap, used, and fully outfitted one). The Argosy just is not the boat for that. But it would probably be decent for all the local stuff you would encounter in central IL. I'd prefer something shorter with more rocker myself, but there are few options in the less than dedicated WW category. That is how I ended up with the Flashfire. I am a little puzzled why no boat makers have attempted to get the best features of the Flashfire in a royalex (more affordable) version. I realize the material may force some compromises, but still think there is an untapped market there. I am hoping for Esquif to do something along this line in a twintex model.

Exactly what would happen…

– Last Updated: Jan-28-08 1:20 PM EST –

I do not own an Argosy, but I am certainly interested in paddling one in the near future.
If I like it, I may purchase one.

I have paddled "similiar" canoes(Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone Solo, Mohawk Odyssey, Mohawk Solo 14, Wenonah Vagabond, Mad River Guide/Freedom Solo).
No, they are not the "same" boat; the key word is similiar.

There is no exact answer as to "what will happen" if you start running class 3 rapids with an Argosy. There is a "probable" outcome.

On sheer drops; the bow will probably submarine because of the boat's length, and it's lack of rocker.It will take on a large amount of water; it will be very difficult to steer & a capsize may occur.

On large standing waves; the bow will probably slice through the waves because of the shape of the bow, the length of the boat & its lack of rocker. Water will come over the bow (and probably the stern too); the boat will take on a large amount of water, the boat will become difficult to steer, and a capsize may occur.

The boat was not designed for class 3; it was designed for class 1 & 2.
Does that mean that "nobody" can run a class 3 rapid in a Wenonah Argosy. NO! I'm sure lots of highly skilled paddlers could. Would the Argosy be the boat of choice by highly skilled paddlers, for running a steady diet of class 3? NO! Are you a highly skilled paddler who has spent a lot of time running class 3? If you are not, it would probably be a well reasoned decision to walk the class 3s if you are paddling an Argosy.

The fact of the matter is; the boat was not designed for whitewater. My boat of choice for running class 3 is a Mohawk Probe 12II; 12'2" in length, with 4.75" of rocker. Compare that to the 14'6" length, with 2.25" bow rocker & 1" stern rocker on the Argosy. Could a Probe 12II be used in the Boundary Waters? Yes, it could; but it was not designed for that application, and would be a giant pain in the ass.

I think a steady diet of running class 3s in an Argosy, is going to ultimately result in a damaged or destroyed Argosy, and a damaged or destroyed paddler.

I'm betting the Argosy will be a decent, fun to paddle boat on class 1 through class 2+, and that is why I'm interested in "checking one out".


I’ve never heard that one, but…
… I’ll surely remember it. Very catchy. “No one ever drowned on a portage.” Of course, I don’t hang out with a bunch of adrenaline-charged risk-takers, so I doubt I’ll ever have to justify the safe approach.

WW Argosy
In my earlier comment, I used the Big Pine as a class II river that could be run with an Argosy. BP is pretty straight forward, bigger wave class II water with very few obstacles. Little manuvering or rock dodging is required. I ran it cleanly a couple times in my Yellowstone with no prior whitewater experience so I’d expect similar results in the Argosy. And a lot of people have run it in less capable canoes than the Yellowstone.

But, in a Yellowstone or Argosy, I’d be much more reluctant to tackle class II on the Saint Francis or sec. III of the Wolf. I just wouldn’t. Last fall I ran the Wolf with a very accomplished paddler who ran Sec. III quite smoothly in a Yellowstone. But this guy had many years of experience on the both the Wolf and in the Yellowstone. And he did have the Yellowstone outfitted with bags, saddle and thigh straps.

So there is a world of differences within class II. A river ranked class II can have one class II drop on miles of river while others are on-the-edge, continuous class II for miles. The Yellowstone and the Argosy would likely be fine for a beginner on the former but a challenge

for even a very good paddler on the latter. Some of the comments Bob made about class III can easily apply to some class II water.

Again, if we restrict the comments to what you are likely to encounter around central IL the Argosy is going to work for just about any water you paddle. I’d say the same about my Wenonah Sandpiper.

Thanks, Gremmie.
That’s very good info. I definitely don’t want any part of that dam or any other, I will always portage any dam even if it has a chute.

I don’t really want to get into whitewater in a serious way, but I’ve always wanted to see what the “other” Vermilion was like. I know lots of pretty inexperienced people run that river and do fine, but I want to have a better idea of what to expect and what boat(s) would be my best bet. And I definitely want to try Stony sometime when it is runnable, as well as Big Bureau and Big Pine.

Thanks for the reply. That helps.

Sounds good.
Try some different boats out. Do the creeks on your list. Add Big Sandy, the Mazon, plus more of the great rivers in Indiana.

If you want to test paddle the Argosy, give Ron Thompson at Morton a call. He had one in stock a while back. You’ll have to check: http://www.rivers-end.org/canoesetc/

I’ll throw more comment in…
I have a Wenonah Sandpiper. I’m using my Sandpiper to answer your questions about the Argosy because there are some similarities. My reading of the Wenonah Website leads me to believe that the Argosy might be a great replacement of my Sandpiper someday, and I think the comparisons are relevant and the limitations similar.

My Sandpiper does beautifully on almost everything I want to do, but I know what the limitations are. I know that if I go over small ledges, I’m fine, but if I take a big ledge or significant drop, my boat may nose dive and take water over the bow, and as thebob said, that may make it very difficult to control. I may take a swim in a few places that the other boats and paddlers handle just fine, and I know for sure that I have taken swims with the Sandpiper on runs that I have done successfully with my old Perception Swifty.

I still take my Sandpiper on rocky rivers. I still take Class I and II rapids. I’ve even done one that thebob later said was an itsy-bitsy Class III. I don’t remember if I was actually successful on that one or not! lol!

I just prepare myself for the bow sinking down into the waves and big haystacks, knowing I’ll take on water. I also prepare myself for the relatively flat bottom of the Sandpiper to roll over on some drops instead of rolling with the flow as a boat designed for WW would be better for.

I accept the limitations because this boat is a boat that is so well suited for almost everything I do, and I don’t do much whitewater, and when I do, it is mild. The Sandpiper is also great for my flatwater creeks and rivers and my swamp paddling when quick, narrow turns are needed to go around cypress trees, knees, and sometimes fast current in the creeks and bayous when there are a lot of trees and strainers to maneuver around. It’s a do-all boat for me, and I think the Argosy might fit that bill for me as well.

Take paddler size and weight into consideration when evaluating this boat. I’m not sure about the Argosy, but the Sandpiper is not designed for large paddlers, and it WILL make a difference in handling.

Good luck and have fun!