Submitted: 04-08-2008 by Jimmy
I am by no means an experienced or even advanced intermediate paddler. I am a solid two or three times per year river rental fleet "rear power and tiller man”, and this is my first good quality boat. My other canoe is a Ram-X 17', so for both reasons please take this review for what it’s worth. Also, I am going to try and refrain from using the jargon found in many reviews, partly because I would like this to be useful for other novices trying to choose what to buy, but mainly so I don’t come across as more knowledgeable than I am.
I picked up a once-used burgundy royalex 17' Sundowner with ash gunnels and caned seats from e-bay for about half the cost of a new one. It is gorgeous. I was fortunate to be able to rely on advice of a colleague who IS a good paddler; his royalex Sundowner is the only tandem (two person!) boat he owns. Still, I have to admit I was a little concerned about dumping my wife on our first outing, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to go to Wenonah’s racing webpage to find it.
The first trip last fall was with one of my 12 year old sons. Neither of them can sit still. The best description I can come up with is that the boat felt “wobbly” - it didn’t threaten to dump us, but did, hmmm, respond quickly to us moving around. I was not really comfortable. HOWEVER, after about the third trip out, I completely got used to that, found a good solid position to kneel (the deal also came with two Bell kneeling pads), and started developing a somewhat functional j-stroke. That’s when I began appreciating how easily we could paddle even upstream, with not too much effort.
After about 7 outings I am now very comfortable in it, and am extremely happy with it. I even tried some solo Canadian stuff that I saw on Youtube (sitting in the middle but on one side, so the canoe almost tips over) - it was pretty ugly. I couldn’t make it do anything I was trying to - but I didn’t dump. For normal solo paddling I am able to move it along decently.
Here is the kicker: We spent spring break in Florida and paddled the Myakka river (there are a number of reviews on this website). In short, the place is lousy with gators. It’s a little like bison in Yellowstone or boobs in a Las Vegas show - after the first 8 or 9, you get used to them; they become no big deal. On the second leg of the trip, my wife, my daughter, and her friend loaded up in the Sundowner and I took the aluminum rental with my two sons. My wife has about as much experience as me, and my daughter and her friend almost none. We came around a bend where I knew a big gator hung out, so we kept to the opposite bank. He was in the water, maybe 20 feet from us as we floated by. We didn’t, however, see the other gator that was on - yes - the bank we were hugging, until he started madly darting through the brush trying to get away. He was about 2 feet from the Sundowner as it went by. The girls started screaming, and both of them shifted quickly in the boat away from shore, but toward Mr. toothy. This would have been a really inconvenient place to tip over. My wife kept cool, and shifted herself toward the little gator, even sitting on the gunnel (edge) to counter-act the teenagers. This is called grace under pressure. The boat did not go over. Afterward, my wife said that she actually felt quite a bit more stable in the Sundowner than she had in the wide 16' Grumman.
So, for anyone who is concerned about initial, final, etc. stability of this boat, I will describe it as “enough when you need it”.