I have owned my Shearwater solo 16 with a sliding seat for 13 yrs. and love it more than ever. I have paddled it on everything from flat water to fast moving rivers, even in 3 1/2 ft waves with wind on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. It is a blast to paddle in all conditions. I have taken it on two, week long wilderness trips in Algonquin Provincial Park and found that the sliding seat doubles as a comfortable yoke for long portages. The tumblehome makes it easy to paddle and it tracks very well in wind and waves. It leans well for turns and is very stable. I highly recommend it.
The Osprey was great to turn. Likely due to the rocker. Didn't seem too affected by the wind in comparison to soloing a Dumoine. But I felt the bow swung back and forth too much while paddling lakes. Almost needed a continuous J stroke. Also my feet were very squished under the seat while paddling on my knees. So much I felt if I flipped I wasn't certain I'd get my feet back out from under the seat.
The Osprey is certainty tippier than a Dumoine, but nothing I couldn't get accustomed too. The Shearwater seemed to track really straight. When leaned over a touch it only needed a J stroke every few paddles. It was not as quick to turn though. I thought with the longer length it would be taken by the wind but I found it wasn't affected anymore than the Osprey. Likely due to less rocker.
Very stable boat, lots of room for my feet under the seats. At 165 pounds and just enough gear for 1-2 nights I don't come close to maxing out the weight of either canoe. I'd feel more comfortable with the stability of the Shearwater if I wanted to "pack" one of my young kids along for the ride.
I think I'd have been happy with either canoe really, but soloing alone in the wilderness I figured I'd rather have the stability of the Shearwater and the tracking ability in larger lakes. I'd not take this in serious whitewater though, but really I'd not recommend doing whitewater solo anyways.
As others have noted, it's not fast. I row it with spoon blades (7 ft oars) and a medium effort yields only 4 mph. I doubt I could row it 4.5 mph for more than an hour or two. Light cruising effort in flat conditions gives about 3.5 mph. So a Prism or Magic are about 10-20% faster depending upon wave conditions. I'm guessing that it's the rocker that limits it's speed so much.
It's a great tripper and casual tourer kind of boat. Best suited to large guys (gunwales span 29.5") and large loads ... although does well empty too. Fine large boat ... just not a speedster.
Construction and attention to detail deserves a 10 rating. It's stunningly beautiful and not a flaw anywhere. It has cherry thwarts, bow & stern caps, and seat frame.
My first outing was in Biscayne Bay, very lightly loaded, and with a moderate easterly breeze. I used a carbon fiber Epic 2-bladed paddle and a bent shaft Voyageur canoe paddle. Both moved the boat effortlessly, and it tracked perfectly straight into a quartering wind. It's plenty stable enough to stand in and has very good initial and secondary stability too. I'd say it had better stability than the Wenonah Prism that I test paddled when I was shopping for a solo canoe.
My second outing three weeks later was a fully loaded 10-day, 129-mile solo excursion in Everglades National Park, paddling along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, on tidal rivers, and in open backcountry bays. The canoe had some initial difficulty tracking, and kept wanting to turn into the wind. I attribute this to it being loaded incorrectly and, once I readjusted the load, placing more weight toward the stern, this alleviated the problem considerably. As days went on it tracked even better because I was lightening the load by eliminating the weight of water and food each day.
Fully loaded the Shearwater was still capable of reaching 5.8 mph on my GPS, and it maintained 3.3 mph without much effort at all, mostly using a 2-bladed paddle.
I'm giving my Shearwater a 9 rating, rather than a 10, solely because the washers on all of the stainless hardware began to rust after being exposed to saltwater. This was a minor fix but I had to act quickly before the rust discolored the carbon rails. Perhaps not too many Shearwaters are used in saltwater, or it may not be something any Canadian canoe manufacturer thinks about. Keep this in mind if you paddle one in saltwater.
Overall, this canoe is superb and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a fast, stable, solo canoe for day tripping or excursions up to ten days. You could probably get two weeks worth of gear in a Shearwater if you paddled in freshwater. I brought 12 gallons of water on my 10-day trip, which is 100 lbs of water. Paddling in freshwater would allow you to sterilize the water for drinking, and use it for cooking, thereby saving considerable weight.
The Shearwater is a boat that inspires confidence as it is so comfortable and stable. I use her to fish walleye on large lakes with a heavy chop, and fish blue gills in snakey shallow creeks. She exhibits uncommon maneuverability for and nimbleness for such a long craft. I can turn her within a boat length. The Shearwater is agile, yet tracks well. It has good speed for a boat that is built to carry extended tripping loads. The sliding seat gives a lot of trim possibilities, and the asymmetrical hull is quick and efficient.
The only problem I have is in extreme wind off the stern quarter, it is difficult to trim the boat out. That said, with ballast aft and the seat back as far as possible it is easier to control.
The Swift company has been good to deal with and my boat is a dream come true. I have found Bill to be very personal and a gentleman to talk to on the phone when I have had questions.
I would recommend the Kayak foot braces for your boat, they are awesome and leave tons of room for gear.
If you trip with a ton of gear, and or are a larger paddler who kneels and sits both, and if you fish often and like a safe stable efficient boat ... if longer solo trips are your thing, this is the boat for you! I love my Shearwater!
Paddling the Shearwater for the first time was outstanding and it just keeps getting better every time I paddle it. Plenty of glide, easy to get up to speed and hold at cruising speed with minimal correction. Tracks very well and turns as needed. Not a sharp turn, but plenty responsive for most river work. I ordered the expedition kevlar and skid plates so I can use the boat on the rocks and ledges in my local rivers and I'm not disappointed. After banging through numerous rock gardens over the past few weeks I'm well satisfied that the expedition kevlar and skid plate installation was a good choice for me. The canoe weighs 48# with all the trimmings, but a comparable Royalex boat would be 20# heavier and not as much fun to paddle. The composite hull is stiff and reassuring.
My overall satisfaction with the Shearwater and with Bill Swift Jr. is a 10. If I could get the same strength hull only 10# lighter I'd have been thrilled, but as it is I'm very satisfied, and would recommend this canoe and the Swift company to anyone seeking a fine canoe or kayak. I also own the Swift Osprey in kev light and it is also finely crafted. It weighs 40# which is certainly in line with the lay up and the finish including the sliding seat. Before I made my decision to buy the Osprey and to order the Shearwater I searched the Internet and found dozens of compliments from satisfied customers but could only find one person ever complaining about the Shearwater or the Swift Company, and I thought that was pretty good considering the large number of canoes and kayaks they build and sell each year.
I’ve paddled this canoe in mild whitewater (Class II) and it excels in standing waves, riding high and dry. It handles any lake chop I care to be out in with ease. In river current this big solo canoe actually maneuvers much like a smaller boat, with its raked stems it has a waterline quite a bit shorter than its overall length would suggest. The bow also has a fair amount of flair and is full-quartered which I feel helps with wave deflection and stability in quick water. With it’s differential rocker the stern sticks a bit making it a bit hard to spin and causing some stern gurgle in tight turns – but that feature also aids tracking on flatwater – a trade-off.
I highly recommend the sliding seat, which helps establish trim and is also very handy for transferring weight forward when paddling into strong winds. Swift’s webbed seat frames are unique; they feature angled/curved rails and styles that are well designed, comfortable and attractive. The simple sliding seat mechanism is another exclusive to Swift; it is infinitely adjustable anywhere along its long range and locks securely in place with locks on either side. The seat locks are unfortunately placed on the rear rail which makes them hard to reach while in the boat, but it’s a small matter to move the locks to a more logical position at the front of the seat. The adjustable foot-brace is simple and easy to adjust with one hand.
This boat handles well either kneeling or sitting depending on conditions and user preferences. This is not a particularly fast boat, yet I feel it is quick enough for my purposes most of the time. For a canoe with rather highly rockered bow and large volume it has a reasonably good glide and has quick acceleration from a dead stop. It’s easy to keep it up to an efficient cruising speed. The Shearwater has surprisingly good maneuverability while paddled flat yet it tracks straight with minimal corrective effort. The Shearwater has both high initial and secondary stability – it’s simply rock solid. I have had beginning canoeists in this boat and they were quite comfortable - more experienced paddlers enjoy its playfulness. Along the sides at amidships this hull has a somewhat straight flare from the chines up to the shoulder of the angled tumblehome. These flared sides seem to give this design a little resistance to being paddled heeled over hard on the straight. On the other hand it is easy to edge for turns and it side-slips easily as well.
To sum up the performance of this boat: This is a stable high volume yet is very nimble for a larger solo canoe – it’s a pleasure to paddle.
I cannot say doing business with Swift was as pleasurable. Based on the numerous problems I had during the ten months it took me to get this canoe I must say that Swift’s customer service was extremely poor (with an exception noted below) and the company seems highly disorganized. Swift quality control is very uneven – sometimes great - sometimes dismally bad. Swift did provide me with a loaner Shearwater to use while I waited for them to build an acceptable canoe after I was forced to reject one they built me that had numerous glaring defects. In the end I received a beautiful well crafted boat, but along the way Swift taxed my patience more than any other canoe company I’ve ever dealt with. I can not recommend buying a canoe directly from Swift based on the experiences I had. If you want a canoe from this company I would suggest that you buy through a dealer and let them deal with Swift. If you get a good one these are very fine canoes with great hull designs, but Swift quality is unpredictable – be sure to inspect thoroughly and expect to wait a long, long time.
A more positive note: I was not able to develop much of a sense of trust with anybody at Swift except with an outstanding young employee named Jay Mothersill. Jay made sure I had a loaner Shearwater while they attempted to build one to acceptable standards. He also sent detailed notes to the factory to make sure the second boat they built me was built right. If you must buy directly from Swift I highly recommend that you deal only with Jay. Had it not been for him I would have cancelled my order.
My rating for the boat itself is based solely on the design and the boat’s performance, not on the company’s patience taxing business practices.