I was a bit dubious when talked into trying this little boat out. My prior experience with my XXL 6'2 frame in a 12 foot canoe was less than pleasurable. But, I gingerly climbed into the little boat and pushed off figuring it would be a submarine or a tub? It was neither, it is a pleasant little boat. The shallow arch hull emphasizes secondary more than initial stability. It turned predictably and didn't spin like a top as I thought it might at that length? It has just enough rocker to make for easy, predictable turning while not so little that the stems "Dig in" with a heavy load.
As I gained confidence that my size would not sink the diminutive canoe, I began testing it's limits. I took it out into some significant boat wakes on the Chattanooga riverfront and it handled them like a champ. I could lean it almost to the gunwale and it felt reassuring.
A few months later and I was in the boat again, this time having bought it. I've had it on both ponds and rivers now and it excels on both. Most folks look at the 12' x 32" specs and think it would have to paddle like a pool toy or spin like a top. But the narrow (for royalex) stems and shallow arch seem to overcome the width to length issues? You wont win any races in it, but you will enjoy paddling it if you don't plan to be doing any 20-30 mile per day slogs.
Now, I've already explained that I'm a big, tall guy and it suits me for day tripping even in winter with extra gear. I would also have no problems doing an overnight in this in summertime. But, also, my much smaller wife also likes the boat. She's tried it sitting from the seat and using a double blade and kneeling with a single and she prefers to use a double blade in it. And the friend whom I bought it from is also a small guy and found it enjoyable. He too used a single blade. So "Size" doesn't seem to be a big issue on enjoyment or useability? I've had close to 400lbs (probably top end for the boat) with gear. My friend and wife as little as a 130lb load. While it would work with a double blade, I think kneeling with an Ottertail paddle is the perfect way to enjoy this little boat?
If you are looking for a nice, small boat to toss in the back of your truck or sling over your shoulder for small rivers and ponds, I highly recommend it. It is a unique little boat that I think I will keep for a long time
I had decided upon a Nova Craft Bob Special and called the late Lynn Lyon at KC Paddler whom asked me a few questions, gave his opinions, and told me to research the Wenonah Prospector 15 for a few weeks and if I was still "Sold" on the Bob he would sell it to me. Well, unfortunately, this "Exceptional" man had passed away when I called him to order the boat. With some work, I found another dealer whom ordered the last royalex Prospector 15 to leave the Wenonah factory.
The boat was a "Blem," and upon delivery the only thing I noticed was that the the vinyl skin was somewhat "Pebbled," like a golf ball in some places. Fit and finish was impeccable, but I do not like aluminum seat hangers and had requested they enclose wooden dowel seat hangers to replace them with.
After paddling it solo from bow seat with some ballast in the opposite end, I noted it balanced and paddled better than most 15-16' tandems I've paddled. But, since I plan to use it mostly solo, I experimented with different seat positions and settled upon a position 1' aft of center and putting a wing nut on the yoke to make it removable.
I'm VERY pleased with this boat. It responds consistently to paddle stroke lightly loaded or laden with tripping load. One of the points Lynn made was that the Wenonah Prospector 15 had just the right amount of width in the stems to allow for ease of paddling without being so narrow it will "Bury" in large waves. I wouldn't use it in "Serious" Whitewater, but Class I or II wave trains and drops on Ozark rivers are the kind of environment this boat thrives in. Stems seem to have the "Perfect" height to keep most of the water outside the boat while not being so high as to catch as much wind as most "Prospector" hulls? Wenonah did well with it's design!
The width is a bit much for an averaged or small paddler, unless you can lean it and paddle it "Canadian" style. And I would expect it to be a handful in the wind for a small person with no load. But I've had it in a few of those 20+ MPH wind days and found it manageable; more so than most Prospectors IMHO? It's a perfect river boat for tandem day trips or overnights and big guy river tripper. And really nice boat for photography on the river. Turns easily enough, but not so much that you have to focus on the boat when you want to pick up the camera.
I expect the composite version would paddle even better? Very pleased with this boat.
It has just the perfect amount of rocker to turn with a little lean and a stroke, but it doesn't spin 180 degrees if you put the paddle down to take a picture. Stability solo is rock solid. I could imagine it could be a bit "Wobbly" with seats toward the stems? If I were to use it tandem I would probably put my stern seat closer amidship to alleviate that?
I've only dumped this boat once, and that was by going down the wrong line into a "Hole" in a Class II in high water. Otherwise, the bow is plenty voluminous and just enough flare to hold itself above Class I-II wave trains.
I've been paddling since the '70's and have paddled a LOT of boats. I cannot imagine selling this boat unless it was to replace it with another boat with the same specs. Tough to find a better solo on the river IMHO. Sure, some want those skinny little boats that paddle faster and try to spit you out when you hit a squirrely eddy line. ME, I want to swim when I want to swim, not when the boat dumps me out! The Reflection 15 is my all time favorite river boat.
The Starfire can be paddled tandem by smaller paddlers or like I paddle it, a large guy solo boat. The Starfire has 3" rocker, so if you are looking for a boat to paddle lakes, this is probably not what you're looking for? If you are not proficient with a paddle, it will wander about looking for someplace else to go. But it turns, ferries, and moves wherever you point it and it just feels like it wants to please?
The depth is just perfect for a couple smaller paddlers or a large solo paddler. Low enough that the wind doesn't bother it much, but deep enough for some waves or some Class I rivers with wave trains. The stability is predictable and the more you lean it, the harder it pushes back. It's a good boat to paddle in the wintertime when you need a "Predictable" boat to keep you dry.
Even loaded off center, it's easy to paddle. Once, with the seat in the center position, I loaded my wife after she'd capsized her boat. I pointed it upstream and prepared for a tough slog to ferry it upstream and across. I was pleasantly surprised that it easily slipped across the river even with the boat bow heavy and off balance. I've also found that unlike most boats I've paddled on my home river, MO's Current River, I can easily check out a line and if I don't care for it I can turn it around and ferry across to a line more to my liking before turning it back downstream.
The only downside I've found is with photography. I like to take pictures and this boat likes to wander if the paddle is out of the water. Of course, it's easy to nudge it back on track when you put the camera back up.
As for the layup, I have the Black Gold with built in skid plates in the stems. It's very tough, and it is easy to sand down and slap a little epoxy or clear coat to make it look good as new. I have toyed with getting a different solo for when the river is running low because every rock that reaches out and touches this beautiful boat makes me feel like I'm kicking my dog!
I've never given a boat a "10" in a review until now. This boat deserves it. If you want a straight tracking flatwater boat, you won't rate it that high. If you are wanting something to run Class II and up, this isn't the boat. But if you are a large paddler that wants to paddle it primarily solo or are a smaller sized couple paddling tandem, I don't think there is a better river canoe out there?
Of course, Bell doesn't make it anymore and used Starfires are difficult to find. Most folks who paddle one won't part with it until they quit paddling. But Colden Canoes now makes this David Yost hull and they certainly are beautifully done.
Nice, contoured yoke, but I removed it to install a center seat and I have set mine up to paddle solo or tandem. Holds a LARGE amount of gear with plenty of freeboard. With too light a load those stems are very prone to catch wind.
Rivers and maneuvering are where this boat shines. If you paddle a lot of flatwater, you better have a good forward stroke. I had a bit of trouble with the stern "Skidding" around tricky spots, but noted that loading so I had a little more weight in the stern solved that problem.
As for the material, it seems very tough. More resistant to abrasion than other composites or royalex. I bought this boat for roughly 50% of what it retails for so I have not felt the need to "Baby" it. It has come through a couple hard knocks on ledges and rock as well as scraping on Ozark streams pretty much unscathed.
As for paddling it solo, it is a BIG boat. I don't recommend it unless you are a big guy and enjoy paddling Prospector-type hulls and haul a big load. If you are small with narrow shoulders......
If you are looking for a Prospector type hull to paddle primarily rivers tandem and occasionally solo, this would be a darn good choice. It is dry, maneuverable, and stable. I've been very happy with this boat. I would give it a "8.5" if that were a choice. I'd give it a "10" if it had a bit less rocker and a bit lower stems. But nothing's perfect!
I've paddled class II on the upper Buffalo, and this is the upper limit for this boat. If you paddle this type of water frequently, you probably should opt for a boat with a deeper bow and mid section, or you will need to dump the water that will spill over the bow. Class I with only the rare to occasional class II is more this boat's forte. I feel the initial stability is good and secondary excellent. The only time I've come close to dumping this boat accidentally is when hitting a strong upstream eddyline. I've leaned this boat to the rails without a brace, just to see how good the secondary stability is. I did dump it when I took it a bit past the rail, but that was without bracing.
Speaking of braces, this boat can be ordered with foot brace, which I would recommend. I didn't order the foot brace, but am fortunate that my 6'1" frame and size 11.5 feet makes the thwart in perfect position to serve that purpose. If I was a little shorter, or had smaller feet, this wouldn't work.
Tracking is fair when paddling the flats, but this boat is more suited to rivers, than lakes. If you need a boat for long stretches of flatwater, I'd look elsewhere. I have thought of possibly adding a second thwart to reduce the flex of the boat, which you notice only when entering, exiting, or paddling very hard. This is the only reason I give this boat a 9 instead of a 10. If only they could use Wenonah's Tuffweave, it would be the perfect solo canoe for the class I to occasionally II rivers I paddle.