Update: after asking lots of questions of the people at Northstar and Swift, I bit the bullet and now am the happy owner of a Swift Cruiser 14.8 in the Expedition kevlar layup, Basalt Innegra, 28 lbs.
I’m happy with the Swift’s seat. I think it’s probably the most comfortable high-back seat available in a composite canoe. Not surprising, there is a huge difference in feel between the seats in the Next and Swift, most of the difference not good or bad, just different. The Swift seat has a sheet of plastic in the backrest that wraps around your low-mid back, is supportive, form-fitting, and has a nice feel. I find myself wanting to sit up straighter in the Swift, which is generally good, and leads to a more powerful stroke than the more leisurely posture that feels more natural in the Next seat. In some positions, if not wearing a PFD, the top of the plastic sheet digs into my middle back a little. It’s relatively easy to adjust to a position that it’s not an issue. Interestingly, to stay comfortable for many hours, I find myself wanting to sit cross-legged for a change in position. Again, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though I do feel the need to change position more frequently in the Swift than the Next. The seat pan isn’t as long as the seat on the Next and so doesn’t support your thighs as much. This also has the effect of putting more weight and pressure on your butt when feet are extended out front and up on the foot rests. Sometimes I find myself wishing there was slightly thicker padding on the seat pan. The way the sheet of plastic in the backrest bends at the bottom to nest in the seat pan isn’t elegant. In the future, an improvement would be for Swift to switch to a molded plastic insert rather than starting from a flat sheet of plexi. They could roll the top edge back to be gentler against your upper back, and shape the bottom for a more graceful intersection with the seat pan. Adding an inch or two of length to the seat pan might be worth the extra few ounces in offering more thigh support. But those criticisms aside, the Swift’s seat is very nice and I’m not disappointed in it. Of course, it’s miles ahead of traditional bench seats.
I didn’t get the optional feature of the seat being on a track for trimming and so far haven’t felt the need for it.
The system of seat straps works fine. One strap goes around the thwart behind the seat, and doubles as the strap to hold the seat in a lowered position during transport. So far, I haven’t had any issue with straps loosening or slipping. Old Town could easily have incorporated a way to hold the Next’s seat in a closed position and why they didn’t is a head scratcher.
There are openings at the bottom of the seat pan that allow water to move along the bottom rather than building up at one end or the other.
There is small removable lumbar support pillow. It’s connected to the seat by a short cord so you won’t lose it. You can position it at nearly any height up the back which has a vertical strip of velcro. I find myself not using it 90% of the time. When I recline the back to a more leisurely position, I find the lumbar pillow nice to fill the void created between my lower back and the seat back. When sitting in a straighter posture the lumbar support pushes you out away from having comfortable contact with the backrest. I suspect that some further design improvements to the back could make the addition of the lumbar pillow unnecessary.
It handles like a dream. It’s straight tracking, but still turns when you need it to with good technique, including some heeling. Near me on the Grand River in Michigan, I had attempted a 20 mile stretch several times in the Next and always gave up. It is a wide stretch with nearly no current, and often headwind. It includes going out through the choppy Grand Haven channel, facing down huge motorboats, and out around the pier into Lake Michigan. I did it my first go in the Swift: 90 degree day. 5 hrs 45 minutes of continuous paddling without setting feet outside the boat. It was a pleasure and I could have gone further. That really put the comfort of the seat to the test.
I really like the 23.5 inches between gunnels at the cockpit, and brace my thighs and calves there in a way not possible with the wider Next. I’ll be trying a pool noodle on each side to see if that adds a little extra comfort.
In our 3 acre pond, my wife and I raced, her in the Swift, me in the Next. I couldn’t keep up with her.
People had been emphasizing weight to me in choosing a new boat, especially compared to the 59lb Next. I don’t portage much so weight was low on my list of considerations. People would, for example, suggest how much more I’d use my boat if it was lighter and easier to throw on the car or trailer. What no one said, and I didn’t think of until after getting the Swift, is that where the weight really matters for those of us who portage little, is that you’re pulling that much less weight through the water with each paddle stroke. That in my view is the most important reason to want a lighter boat. Strangely, no dealer, no manufacturer, and no paddler mentioned this in all the conversations about what to look for in a boat.
In our pond, yesterday I was pushing things with leaning into turns to see where the point of no return was – and found it. It was the first time swamping the Swift. I found that it was impossible to keep it upright. It just wanted to roll with the lightest amount of weight applied to one side or the other, whether upright, on its side, or upside down. There was no way I could get back in. I suspect that I couldn’t have held on anywhere to keep it upright to bail it out, and am a bit concerned about ever needing to do so in a more urgent situation in waves or current. I did manage to get on top once, straddling the top, with the entire canoe mostly underwater, but upright. The air chambers front and back took on water even though the plugs were tightly fitted. I’m going to need to figure out what’s going on there, and whether there is going to be anyway to bail out or re-enter it when it is swamped and I’m solo. The Next is certainly much easier in this regard.
My paddle is 260cm which I feel is a good fit for both the Next and Swift.
I was hoping that the Swift would be something I’d feel comfortable taking down some of our Michigan rivers that have occasional rocky sections. I’m not worried about having scratches, but honestly I’m not sure the hull would be up to many hits or scrapes along sharp rocks and am reluctant to find out. It’s pretty tough to find pictures of anyone in a Swift other than in rock-free waters. The Next may still need to be my go-to boat for those conditions.