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What are your current solo canoes and how do you like them?

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
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Not tandem canoes, not kayaks, not SUPs, not rowboats, not sailboats.

The topic is to get an idea of what dedicated solo canoes members here are currently paddling and what you think of them.

I have four dedicated whitewater solo canoes: a Millbrook ME (Kevlar/glass, 3 seat combi canoe), Perception Gyramax (poly decked C1), Whitesell Piranha (Royalex), and Dagger Encore (Royalex). They all have different handling characteristics and virtues. Overall, I like the ME best for its combination of slalom speed and acceleratability, highly rockered turnability, wave-spanning 15-2 length, and light weight.

I have five dedicated flatwater-ish CanAm open solo canoes: a Lotus BJX (Kevlar/glass), Lotus Caper (Kevlar/glass), Hemlock SRT (Kevlar/glass), Bell Wildfire (Kevlar/carbon), and a Rollin Thurlow reproduction of a wood/canvas B.N. Morris. Again, very different handling characteristics for different purposes. The one I like least now is the fastest and least turnable, the BJX, because I'm no longer into straight ahead speed. My favorite for lake or river, or lake and river, extended tripping is the SRT. It's deep, capacious, fast enough and very seaworthy in whitewater and waves. For short trips with little gear, or lots of portages, or just to play around with freestyle, I like the Wildfire because it's lightweight and turnable. The Caper used to be my favorite for day tripping, but I've now grown a bit too heavy for it to heel-spin effectively. The wood/canvas Morris makes me feel traditional, elegant, 1890-ish and proud, but it's too heavy at my age to be a practical tripping or portaging canoe.

I also have one specialized "open" canoe: a Huki V1-B Hawaiian outrigger canoe. Even at 22', it's probably my lightest canoe. It's my ocean canoe, fastest canoe, best canoe for paddling upstream, and the easiest by far to self-rescue. I haven't paddled it in a few years, but I'm not sure why. Probably because of my age and loss of interest in ocean and speed paddling.

I paddle everything and all conditions with a single blade. In whitewater, I use straight wood Mitchell paddles. In flat water, I mostly paddle with a variety of carbon and wood bent shaft paddles on lakes, and shorter-than-whitewater straight carbon and wood paddles on twisty rivers.
All my canoes are tandem rigged to be paddled solo … with my dog in front of me. However, my wife paddles an older Flashfire. She uses a Greenland double blade. The canoe has foot pegs and a back rest. In this way she can paddle in the Wisconsin River with me both up and down current. It is nice to day paddle with her, I am glad she has a canoe she enjoys paddling with me.
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2005 vintage Swift Osprey in the EK layup for me. This boat does a lot of things well but, as many others have mentioned, it has a tendency to broach in a tailwind/following sea. It’s seaworthy and the layup is very durable - more than once I’ve thought $@&?/ now it’s wrecked, only to discover a few scuffs on the gel coat. I paddle with a single blade and it tracks well with just a flick of the wrist; I sometimes resort to switching sides in strong winds and it can be a struggle to keep on course in a side/tail wind. With ash trim and factory skids (horrors) it’s probably close to 50 #’s. I wouldn’t dream of selling it unless I had another Osprey and am still mourning Swift’s direction away from the Winters designs. I also have a recently acquired Swift Raven that I have been unable to paddle yet due to an injury (hopefully soon).
Lets see... I have
a 10.5' hybrid carbon/kevlar Hornbeck,
a 12' kevlar Hornbeck (a gift from a friend, holding for my daughter),
a 14' carbon Hornbeck (little used, but picked it up at a moving sale at 1/5th actual value),
a Placidboat Rapidfire (has long been my primary favorite training and solo racing and tripping canoe),
a 15.8 Swift carbon Cruiser (new, still getting used to it), and a Placidboat Shadow is on order for spring delivery.
Oh, and a 16' C2 cedarstrip that is 90% paddled solo.

I began my canoeing fleet with a light thin skin Grumman that I had often paddled while solo tripping, which I still have but have not paddled myself in many years, but is very stable for inexperienced visiting guest paddlers.
I paddle all, except the two smaller bottom seated Hornbecks, exclusively with a single blade canoe paddle.
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At this point I use 3 solo canoes; two are from Placid Boatworks (a Shadow & Rapidfire) and the third is a Hemlock Canoe "Peregrine," The Shadow is the boat I pull out for workouts on the Susquehanna. The other two are for trips; with the Rapidfire being used when it's just me and the Peregrine when I have the dog with me. All three are exceptional canoes and I enjoy using each one.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

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Island Falls Willow 15'. Although I paddle all my tandem w/c canoes solo, this is the only dedicated solo. It is likely my favorite canoe to paddle and at 53#, the lightest to carry between lakes. Shown here at the northern terminus of North Bay, Upper Saint Regis Lake, ADK's while attending the WCHA assembly this past July. tempImagecZKiwy.png
I have an SR Tranquility which I find fantastic for BWCAW/Quetico, which I find fast and stable even in white caps. I also have a Swift Prospector 14 Pack I use for Adirondack paddling. I like the Swift, but may change it for something in Royalex or T-Formax, so I don't have to worry about protecting it, but it is very comfortable and stable.
I have a Royalex Mohawk Odyssey 15 that I use for bony rivers (wish I'd gotten the 14)--though truth be told it doesn't get much use, an old Swift Osprey that I think is a Kevlar/Fiberglass mix (it's proven to be pretty durable) that I greatly enjoy and am not afraid to use and abuse, and a Hemlock SRT which I also greatly enjoy and will likely be my primary solo.

On my solo wishlist: Swift Raven for long expeditions where I anticipate canoe abuse, and a Blackhawk Ariel, mostly because I love the look.
I'd also like to get a whitewater playboat to help develop my ww skills--any designs similar enough to the SRT that my ww practice could translate to wilderness tripping in the SRT (recognizing that unloaded play and loaded backcountry tripping are very different)?

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I have three solos now, down from five (six actually). My canoeing preferences have changed from years ago. Back then my go-to canoe was a Wenonah Advantage for doing fast laps around local lakes or long days on bigger water. I had a Clipper Sea-1 decked canoe for canoe tripping or day trips on big water and a Clipper (Dagger) Genesis for making runs on Class 2/3+ whitewater. But I don't paddle whitewater (or big water) any more and found I wasn't getting out and putting the Advantage through its paces like I used to.

So nowadays a Northstar Firebird is my go-to canoe when I'm out solo canoeing, mainly because I enjoy exploring slow streams and swift water paddling. The Firebird is a great functional freestyle canoe and can make navigating shorelines and marshes a fun adventure.

I enjoy paddling a Curtis Lady Bug now and then as well. My spouse uses it when we both go out for a leisurely canoe around the perimeter of an interesting pond or small lake or marsh. The Lady Bug is just about as much fun as the Firebird, and because of the Bug's heritage and provenance, a joy in itself.

The third solo is a Hemlock Kestrel, which I enjoy using for day trips on lakes and for short canoe tripping adventures. (I haven't done an extended trip in many years.) The Kestrel is fun to paddle sit-and-switch with a carbon bent shaft paddle as well as kneeling with a straight shaft paddle. My spouse uses it if we're going out for a day trip on a lake and there might be a bit of wind because the Kestrel is fairly seaworthy and tracks much better than the Lady Bug. If I had to choose only one canoe to keep, it would probably be the Kestrel because of its versatility.
Oh Boy, here we go!
My current collection of solo canoes, fastest and straightest tracking to slowest and most maneuverable:

GRB Classic XL
Sawyer DY Special
Souris River Tranquility
Northstar Phoenix
Bell FlashFIRE
Hornbeck "Lost Pond 10"
Old Town H2Pro

Subject to change without notice.
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As for full-on whitewater solos, I have owned many and paddled more over the years. My three all-time favorites would probably be my Royalex Mad River ME, my Clipper Viper 12 (composite version of the Mohawk Viper 12), and my Dagger Ocoee.

My favorite flat water solo is my Wenonah Advantage.

Some other boats that I would characterize as river boats, although not whitewater playboats are my Curtis Dragonfly and Bell Wildfire.
Currently there’s 3 solo boats in my racks.

The first solo I bought was a Caribou S in Duraflex. Love it and have used it on a few bigger trips, the Hayes and Dubawnt Rivers as well as a bunch of shorter trips. Water levels had been high for the last several years in my neck of the woods so it’s still in excellent shape.

I picked up a used Clipper Prospector 14’ in Duraflex a couple of years ago. It had been rode pretty hard but it makes a great beater boat and it’s great for messing around in rapids and shorter river trips. Unfortunately I don’t have much time for that kind of paddling.

My newest solo is a Mad River Monarch. I’m turning a new leaf with this one. Being a down river guy, I never thought I’d be into flat water tripping but I’m blown away with how well it travels in wind and waves and it’s given me the itch. Lake Superior, Athabasaca, and Reindeer are all on the to do list now.

Water levels are at record lows in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba right now and will probably be that way for the next few years so I’m feeling the need to add a plastic solo to the list. I’d love to find a Raven, but most likely I’ll have to settle on a modified Esquif Pocket Canyon or 15’ Prospecteur.
Soloized Old Town 15’ 50 Pounder- my favorite canoe I own so far…

14’ skin on frame pack boat I built a few years ago- I don’t care for the pack sit on bottom style, but it’s what I wanted at the time.

I have plans to soloize a 15’ Old Town Penobscot and rebuild a solo 15’ Peterborough Lite Lift later this winter.

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Soloized Old Town 15’ 50 Pounder

14’ skin on frame pack boat I built a few years ago

I have plans to soloize a 15’ Old Town Penobscot and rebuild a solo 15’ Peterborough Lite Lift later this winter.

I rather thought the Pen15 was a dedicated solo from the factory - did they make tandem Penobscot 15s??