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I purchased my Wenonah Prism (with Flex-Core Kevlar hull, gel coat, and aluminum trim all around) brand new in 1998. I will never sell it unless it's to replace it with another Prism with an ultralight Kevlar or carbon/graphite hull. I can honestly say that after 20+ years of ownership, it's been a perfect marriage. I do have some gripes, but it's difficult to complain about a product that has performed so well for so long. My review is not intended to be an objective scientific evaluation of data, efficiency equations, and other measurable values. This is my own personal subjective opinion after 20 years of ownership and use of the Wenonah Prism.
I really do love my Prism, and it's seen a lot of use over two decades. At times I'm a weekend warrior, and other times more than that. I've used it extensively in the backcountry of the Adirondacks - the Saranac Lake chain, the St. Regis Canoe region, the Raquette River, etc. and it has not failed me in any way. Ever. It weighs in at 44 pounds, and my only regret is that I didn't save a little longer as a 20-year-old and buy it with an ultralight hull to keep the weight down on the portages.
My favorite three qualities are:
- Stability - The Prism has exceptional initial stability and seamless secondary stability. It is a highly effective hull design. I've never felt insecure in wind or waves even when loaded to the brim and on some relatively big water in the Adirondacks. I've also used it quite a bit on the Long Island Sound (during calmer days - I'd never take it into a four or five foot wind swell!) and it's handled the wakes of most of the boats that pass very well (gotta watch the massive wakes thrown by the car ferries though!) Interestingly, initial stability actually seems to improve when I've got gear in the boat. It carries weight very well. This is a very predictable hull design, which is a tremendous comfort when loaded up with gear and on open waters. I've fished in it extensively. I can stand in it and paddle with just a little balancing effort. The bow and stern flare perfectly to deflect waves, and the (12"?) center height with a good amount of tumble home makes for comfortable paddling.
Back at camp, I've played around with it plenty of times in my bathing suit, intentionally flipping it over, and I'll honestly tell you that it takes me a bit of intentional effort to capsize. I've never once accidentally capsized my Prism in 20 years of real-world use. This is in stark contrast to my new Swift Keewaydin 14, which I capsized in the first five minutes of ownership! (FYI the Prism and Keewaydin are two VERY different canoes). I was testing the limits of the Keewaydin, and it turned over a LOT quicker than I thought it would, and not nearly with the effort it takes to intentionally capsize my Prism. But more on that later... Granted I am only 160 pounds, but like I've said, stability seems to improve with weight in the boat. Predictable stability is my favorite feature of the Prism. Any canoe will seem tippy to a novice, but anyone even remotely familiar with performance canoes will appreciate the stability of the Prism.
Tracking - This canoe tracks a straight line. If you use a J-stroke, it's so easy to paddle for a mile and not have to switch sides with the paddle. I suppose it should track straight, being that it's 16'6" long and has no rocker, but it definitely does a good job doing what it was designed to do. As a result, maneuverability is the trade-off, but I haven't had any trouble turning. It's only when you compare it to a 14' hull with rocker that you realize what you're giving up in maneuverability, but of course a 14' hull with rocker will generally not track as straight. Doing a 180 in steady wind just takes a little more effort, but that's by fundamental design, so absolutely no complaints from me. I usually use a bent shaft paddle, and it works extremely well with that. Recently I've been using it with a 240cm carbon Werner kayak paddle, and it works well with that also. In retrospect, I probably would have gotten a 260cm Werner (Camano), but the 240 works well using a more horizontal stroke. A shorter paddle would work very well with a vertical stroke if you don't mind getting a little wet.
Capacity - This canoe can handle a load very well. I've never thought twice about loading up a week's worth of gear. I can handle that without a sweat. Again, I'm only 160 pounds, so your body weight may be more of a factor when adding gear. Stability, wind resistance, and tracking even seem to improve with the extra weight.
My only issue with this canoe is a feeling I get with Wenonah in general. I'm not a pro or a competitive paddler, but I use my gear. I use it hard, take care of it, and appreciate it. When I look at the new canoes being produced by companies like Swift, I can't help but wonder if Wenonah is stuck in 1978. I recently purchased a second canoe (one that would be more nimble and maneuverable in rivers), and looked hard at all of the Wenonah solo canoes, but ended up buying a Swift Keewaydin 14. The materials and attention to every minuscule detail with Swift is, in my humble opinion, simply better. I hate saying this. I love my Wenonah. I love the Wenonah company. But when it comes to things like rattling seats that seem kinda cheap, yokes getting bent and stuck on pins, footrests that seen kevlar-taped in place vs. being integrated into the hull construction, the Swift wins in every way. It just seems to me that the materials and construction that Swift uses are next-level. Don't take my word for it - go take a look for yourself. With Kevlar or cherry gunnels and thwarts - or both combined, Kevlar seats that are solid and secure including a genius multi-height seat pod system as an option that's built into the hull rather than looking like it's been taped to the hull with kevlar tape, quick-screw yokes that are solid and functional, ridiculously beautiful emerald, ruby, sapphire, or traditional clear kevlar hull options and multiple carbon hull options, it's hard not to look at Wenonah as old-school and Swift as state-of-the-art. It's not that Wenonah's quality is poor - my canoe has lasted 20 years without a single problem. I wanted to buy a new Wenonah but couldn't walk away from the Swift - and I actually felt bad about not buying another Wenonah as if I was buying coffee from a competitor rather than from my best friend's bakery.
If I won a million dollars, I'd ask Swift to build me a replica of the Wenonah Prism using their carbon construction techniques no matter how much it cost. I wish Wenonah would take a few steps forward. The Prism sold today is essentially the same exact canoe and materials as the one I bought 21 years ago. It's hard to argue with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but isn't that what Kodak said when digital cameras came out?
I hope this review helps you. I also hope that it reaches the folks at Wenonah, and I would be more than happy to bring both my Prism and new Keewaydin up their headquarters so I could show them what I'm talking about. I'd love to see Wenonah around for another 50 years at least!
All this being said, I think the Prism is the most well-rounded solo canoe that I've ever used when it comes to stability, capacity, tracking, and overall performance. I'd highly recommend it. It's an awesome canoe. After 20 years of use, I'd give it 2 thumbs up to anyone considering acquiring one. If I had only one canoe to choose from, weighing all factors, it would be my Prism. If you're on the fence about buying one, buy it. The performance is so good that I doubt you will be disappointed.