The seat could be nicer and it benefits from a footrest, but those things are easily added - and who doesn't modify a used canoe? I actually do use the water bottle carrier - gimmick or not.
Nice composite canoes tempt me, but what a great solo canoe this is!
Other than the fact that I get a few more scratches on the bottom with the Prospector, it is faster and more stable than the OT Camper, as well as easier to solo. It is much faster and a more stable than the Fisherman, although more effected by the wind - and pretty much makes up for the lack of comparable maneuverability when leaned aggressively for tight turns (which is easy, due to the wonderful secondary stability of the Prospector).
Compared to the Old Town Penobscot, the NC Prospector gives up some speed and some tracking ease. The Prospector is a little better in secondary stability - but not much. It is more effected by wind than the Penobscot, since the Penobscot has a lower profile and very little rocker. But the Prospector is much drier in the rough, due to it's rocker, it's fuller stems, and higher profile - and easier to turn, also due to it's moderate rocker.
If I had to limit myself to one tandem canoe in the ~$1400 and under price range, it would be a tough decision between the Prospector and the Penobscot. The Penobscot is the better flat-water boat, but the Prospector is better for the rougher stuff. I consider them both to be among the better, if not the best, all-around Royalex canoes - with each leaning slightly to opposite ends of the spectrum but considerable overlapping in their range of suitability. Both boats can be poled easily (the Prospector, more easily climbs drops because of it’s rocker), and both can be paddled solo with relative ease. Both are well-constructed and show little or no "oil-canning." Fortunately, I don't have to choose. I do believe that you can cover most general tandem canoe needs with these two boats - as long as you can stand the weight.
Weight is more of an issue here, since my Prospector is the "standard" (heavier) Royalex lay-up. Wouldn't have been my first choice if I was buying new at list price, but mine was left-over stock and I got a great deal on it. This heavier (74lbs) lay-up has shown to be really tough though. Although the bottom is now pretty much covered with surface scratches and a few small dings, it seems to be holding up to my rough treatment with no sign of any damage that might need attention. It as taken some practice - but I find that I can lift and carry the boat by myself pretty well, so long as I don't have to carry it far. The contoured Nova-Craft yoke really helps in that.
My wife and I are still "novice" paddlers, in my estimation. We haven't done anything bigger than higher class 1 tandem, so I can't speak to tandem whitewater performance. But we find the Prospector to be confidence-inspiring and easy to handle in tricky river current. We are learning tandem eddy-turns, peel-outs, back-ferries, and such with no real difficulty in this boat. I have done some cl2 water solo with paddle and with pole, and find it well-suited for that. This is now my primary poling canoe and will likely remain so until I replace it with a lighter composite. I'm not sure if we will go with a composite Prospector at this point, but that is highly likely.
I really like the Nova-Craft seats. They are comfortable and easy to maintain/repair - and they are quiet (no squeaking, as we've seen with the seats on several other caned or laced canoe seats). I also like the fact that Nova-Craft puts grab loops through "tug-eyes" on their boats. And the yoke gets not one, but two bolts on each end into the gunnels. Great construction. Built to last. Although I know it saves some weight - I would prefer not to have the simple individual seat drops, but would rather have "truss style" drops for added rigidity. The Nova-Craft seat drops are more substantial than those that came on my Old Town canoes though, being heavier rectangular stock rather than simple round dowels. Recently, I added a kneeling thwart in the place of the standard thwart ahead of the rear seat - and eventually, I will replace the stock seat drops with truss drops. So my Prospector might be a couple pounds heavier than stock, but I think it will be worth it.
So - if you plan to spend most of your time on moving rivers cl1+ to at least cl2 (and probably a bit higher) the NC Prospector is easily up to the task. Probably one of the best all-around tandem designs for moving and twisting water. Not so much for lakes and other big flat water, although competent there as well (especially with a load). I give this canoe a 9 - only because of the seat drops and because the Nova-Craft Blue Steel composite version should be every bit as good or better in every respect (except the higher price) - with less than 2/3 the weight.
We bought a used fiberglass Malecite last year - a '97 model, I believe. Ours has the third (solo) seat option and "eggplant" color finish. For a couple our size (165lbs and 120lbs) it seems the perfect fit for light cruising. My wife and I had only been seriously paddling canoes for a little more than two years when we got the Malecite, and we immediately found it to be very easy to manage and confidence-inspiring, in spite of it's apparent (from the reviews here) reputation of "tippiness".
This boat tracks easily, yet it also turns easily when paddled tandem. I find it to track well, once you get it moving, when used as a solo too - and although it takes a little more effort and some edging to do so, it turns well enough when paddled solo so long as you don't have to make quick maneuvers. At 35" wide and 65lbs, it is definitely best used as a tandem, but it makes a passable solo if you are fairly limber and not in a hurry.
I have also poled the Malecite upstream on class one streams. It is very easy to stand in and goes against the current with ease compared to my royalex Nova craft Prospector. But it is not as easy to turn nor as dry as the NC Prospector, nor is it quite as steady when edged to the gunn'l to spin it around. But if the water is relatively flat, not very twisty, and not too shallow and boney - the Malecite is a much nicer upstream ride than the Prospector, or even our Old Town Penobscot.
I like that the Malecite has a low profile - especially when I'm fishing on a breezy lake - and I find the shallow profile to be much less of a problem than one would expect, even when the wind kicks up fast rollers of a foot or so or when taking on big boat wakes. I like it's efficiency and glide (it easily beats our Penobscot), although I am aware that similar boats of newer design may be a little faster. I like the classic lines and wood features (ours has wood seat frames, gunn'ls, and decks).
Everyone who's paddled it likes the stability - even those who weren't used to canoes.
The fiberglass lay-up with gel-coat finish seems tougher than I expected. While there are plenty of surface scratches on the bottom after 13 years of use, the gel-coat does not seem to chip or gouge easily. The seats are hung on truss-style hangers and since the hull is fairly shallow, there isn't much drop to them. I would say that this adds to the strength and stiffness of the boat - which there seems to be plenty of. All the woodwork and fasteners seem to be holding up very well, with routine yearly maintenance of the finish.
The floor does "oil can" slightly when paddled tandem on moderately choppy water. I don't know if it's enough to have any significant effect on efficiency, and it is very slight - but noticeable. I suspect that is due to the flattish areas in the shallow "vee" hull. The hull doesn't flex at all at the keel line - only in a small part of the flat areas on either side.
It would be interesting to compare the Malecite side-by-side to, say, a Bell Northstar. I suspect the Bell might be more efficient and maybe more maneuverable. But I doubt the difference could be great. We have clocked our tandem speed by GPS on a flat windless lake and find it pretty easy to maintain about 4.5 mph with a light load, even with our sloppy technique.
At ~65lbs, this Malecite isn't overly heavy and certainly not too much weight for me to deal with for the foreseeable future - even when loading/unloading it by myself. But as I approach retirement age, it would be better if this boat weighed about 20lbs less. And that is the only reason I would seek to replace it with something else. While I might go for something like a Black-Gold Northstar - if I found another used Malecite in kevlar, I wouldn't hesitate to grab it and probably hang onto it until we wear it out.
In short - while maybe no longer the cutting edge in canoe design, the Malecite is one sweet ride that isn't likely to get boring. It's a great all-around design for anyone not looking to haul a big load or to tackle more than class 1 water (although I'm sure that more advanced paddlers could take it far beyond that).
As mentioned already - the finish could be a little better. Mine has one slightly noticeable run. But this paddle is not furniture and is meant to be used - and you will eventually have to touch up the finish anyway. I doubt that many will ever match the original quality of the finish in their touch-up or re-finish.
My only complaint is that I would prefer the grip to be oiled instead of varnished - but I can always do that myself.
BTW - Ray is very helpful with sizing and delivery was quicker than advertised. His price is more than fair, considering the quality of wood and craftsmanship.
Make no mistake - this paddle is in no way comparable to a custom ottertail from the likes of Ray Kettlewell or other well-known paddle makers. It is laminated wood with a very utilitarian finish, and does not have the graceful shape and fine edges that make the better ottertail paddles such a joy to use.
The grip is too large and IMO needs reshaping for comfort. I used the roller end of a bench sander to give mine that "football" end with a concave grip area. Then I sanded and refinished the whole grip with Danish oil instead of varnish (my preference for comfort).
Although it is plenty strong, the paddle is quite light. And the blade has a plastic tip guard, which is good for use in waters that may be shallow in places. But the blade is also pretty much flat with blunt edges - so it doesn't knife silently through underwater recoveries or give an easy silent catch like a well-shaped ottertail paddle should.
For those on a tight budget or looking for a spare or loaner paddle - or one that you won't be afraid to abuse, this one is a great deal, especially at a sale price and especially if you have the ability to customize the grip to your liking.
In spite of what one might expect, we found the Camper to be better on rivers than on lakes. It turns well and sideslips easily, but straight tracking requires more attention to technique - and with a light load, the boat is easily pushed around by the wind. We found it best used on the nearby shallow class 1 river, where it handled tight turns well and slid easily through riffles and mini-rapids over shallow gravel bars.
The Camper also made a pretty good poling platform on that same river. It's very easy to learn to stand in and tracks well upstream when trimmed heavy to stern, and compared to the Nova Craft Prospector that we replaced it with, the Camper glides easier over extreme shallows and carves a turn with less "offside lean" when poling (though not quite as easy to turn with paddles). But it lacks secondary stability to tackle the rough stuff or the turbulence found under even class 1+ drops and the powerful eddies around wing-dikes, when poling upstream.
For the average novice paddler, or for anyone not interested in anything above class 1 and calm lakes, the Camper should serve well - but I find a boat that relies heavily on primary stability to be too limiting. Of the boats that we have owned, for flat water, I prefer the Old Town Penobscot, and in rivers with any excitement to them, I prefer the Nova Craft Prospector. We also have a Wenonah Fisherman that does as well as the Camper in extreme shallows while also providing good secondary stability and easier flat water tracking - although it's a bit slower and doesn't track as well going upstream while poling.
In short - the Camper is a pretty good class 1 river boat and pretty good for fishing and such on small (windless) lakes - especially for novices who are intimidated by a livelier hull. Easy to carry and car-top while still very durable. And good-looking, as well. But for anyone that might want to get into more exciting waters with comfortable control, I would advise to skip to something designed to lean more toward secondary stability and take the time to get accustomed to the "tippiness".
I believe these numerical ratings should reflect how well the manufacturer's design fits it's intention, the quality of construction, choice of materials, and it's ease of use - without comparing boats of different performance categories on the water. I give the Camper a 9, because Old Town could pay a little more attention to grain quality in it's wood seat frames - not a big deal.
Although it is slow compared to the average width canoe, it paddles easier than other boats in it's class (flat-bottom rec canoe) - notably (since I have one to compare), the 16' OT Camper. It tracks well when paddled tandem and not bad solo either if you do your part, while still quite easy to turn.
Wenonah advertises this boat as "relatively flat bottom", and I would put emphasis on the "relatively". It doesn't handle entirely like a flat-bottom but it does have a very shallow draft and lots of initial stability. Rocker is minimal (listed as 1.25") but it is definitely there. What you get is a very stable boat - easy to stand in even on moving water - but very maneuverable and easy to paddle, although not with a lot of speed or glide.
I have taken this boat down river through 1 foot and larger wave trains with surprising ease. It is a darn good poling canoe for shallow and twisty streams. It's shallow draft, exceptional maneuverability and surprising secondary stability make easy work in such conditions - so long as the current isn't too pushy. Upstream tracking is a bit lacking when compared to my Penobscot, but one can compensate in suitable flows by resisting the urge to advance too quickly.
I mention the Fisherman's secondary stability because Wenonah only talks about it's primary stability (which it has in spades). While it's not the boat to go around standing on it's gunwales, I can easily and predictably balance it high on one side (due, I believe, to it's soft chine) to carve aggressive turns, quickly side slip or negotiate a narrow passage while standing with my pole.
This is not a boat to cover large distances on lakes or for anything above easier class II. It is easily pushed about by a stiff wind (though not as easily as my Camper 16). But if you expect to spend a lot of time on tight-twisting channels in not-so-pushy water or extremely shallow water - the Fisherman just might be what you want.
I give it a 9, because although I think it's a good design and Wenonah does a great job of putting it together, and even though the Fisherman in royalex is pretty easy to carry as it is, I would like to see them use a contoured carrying thwart like those on Nova-Craft canoes.