NORTHSTAR PHOENIX SOLO CANOE
Review by Cliff Jacobson
The Phoenix is a slightly larger version of the no longer manufactured Bell Wildfire/Yellowstone solo canoes. Its extra volume (I judge about 15 percent) is carried more forward and aft than in these smaller, earlier boats. Performance in waves is impressive: unlike the aforementioned smaller canoes which tend to run wet through big waves, the Phoenix bucks quickly over them. Even with nearly 300 pounds in the belly, this boat runs dry in two foot high waves. Really! The Gunnel beam is a narrow 26 inches, same as the Wildfire/YS, so those who come from these narrow-waisted boats will quickly feel right at home. I weigh 132 pounds and when I first paddled the Phoenix, I thought was too large for me. But with a good load it's just right for my size. Empty, it responds instantly to your commands. Empty or loaded, the boat remains sporty, controllable and always fun-to-paddle.
I recently paddled the Phoenix 150 miles on the upper Missouri River. We encountered high winds, quick currents and some unexpected big waves. My total load, including my weight, was about 265 pounds* (no portages; we carried ice and went heavy). The boat barely drew three inches of water and it never lost its lively feel. I think it will easily accommodate 300 pounds without complaining. Like its predecessors, the Wildfire/YS, the Phoenix will pivot on a penny without the need for extensive leans. I rate the boat competent in high Class II where big waves and quick turns are the rule, even with 265 pounds aboard. Add a full spray cover and I'd trust her in low Class III.
Some have suggested that the Phoenix isn't fast. Well...I find it fast enough. In practical touring it keeps up just fine with similar but smaller cruising canoes like the Wildfire/YS, We-no-nah Argosy, Mad River Slipper and its ilk. Speed wise, it's not a We-no-nah Prism and it doesn't pretend to be. It's spade card is its "versatility--FreeStyle play on a quiet pond, Boundary Waters touring or long haul expedition whitewater. The Phoenix does it all, with grace, predictability and fun.
Layups: I wanted this boat for whitewater tripping so I chose the new IXP layup. At 42 pounds (on my scale) it weighs more than the other layups but it's much more substantial. Northstar claims it's as tough as Royalex. We'll see. Note: I selected wood trim knowing that it is heavier than aluminum. No matter: I gotta have "pretty"!
Wind: One look at the comparably high-sided Phoenix and you may think it will be a handful in wind. I found it wasn't. Paddled empty (but well), there is minimal concern. Add a light camping outfit and the boat cruises easily. There is no serious tendency to spin into the wind.
If you want a do-it-all solo cruiser that's at home in the BWCA and well beyond, the Phoenix is a great choice. It does everything well except go "real fast". But good paddlers shouldn't have any trouble keeping up with their friends in typical tandem canoes. Oh, did I mention that this canoe is absolutely gorgeous?
Important: Be sure to order the Phoenix with the HIGH seat drops. Sitting low, with your armpits in the gunnels--or kneeling beneath a dangerously low seat (foot entrapment!) discourages control and defies smiles. In moving water, you'll want to be on your knees in this boat. You simply can't ring out top performance sitting on a low-mounted seat.
*Northstar rates displacement at the 3-inch waterline at 260 pounds; 360 pounds at the 4-inch waterline. Recommended optimal load is 170 to 350 pounds. This canoe will carry a lot! Gracefully!