I wish I had an all-time favorite ...
Posted by: guideboatguy on Apr-12-12 3:42 PM (EST)
... for each of those categories. If I had a justifiable favorite for any category it would mean I've paddled a whole bunch of different boats. However, since quite a few folks are clearly in the same situation but have described what they like about certain boats they have, I'll do the same.
For general-purpose, jack-of-all-trades type of use, the Mowhawk Odyssey 14 works extremely well for me. It's maneuverable enough to be a lot of fun in easy whitewater, and it cruises well enough to be "adequate" for that purpose if it's not the main type of water I'm on that day. Where it shines is in places where manueverability is nice to have but not something which is needed in extreme measure. About 90 percent of my canoeing is solo on small twisty rivers. In that environment, this boat maneuvers easily enough to take the "work" out of getting through the tight spots, but it's not so manueverable that straight-line paddling requires much attention to detail or detracts too much from speed. I really enjoy that boat on tiny rivers, especially in places where getting the boat through a tangle of fallen trees requires all sorts of little zigs and zags while crosswise to the current. On little rivers it never seems like I'm using the wrong tool for the job.
I don't paddle "whitewater" the way some folks here do. I've only dabbled in whitewater of a sort that many here would consider very mild. I'm wanting to do more of that though, and so far I'm pretty happy with the Novacraft Supernova. The hull cross section is very round (much less flat than that of any other "normal" canoe I've seen so far), and the rocker is continuous from each end right to the center, so there's sort of a "bulge" right around the paddler on which the boat can pivot or feel comfortable with any amount of lean. It's not so prone to turning as a whitewater boat, but the design is trending in that direction without really departing from the design of a traditional northwoods canoe. I'm really amazed that it isn't unusually slow on account of that shape too. Anyway, it's a forgiving hull shape in turbulence. On my first Class-II trip, I screwed up an attempt at surfing in a hole and got stuck in there sideways to the current. By rights I should have been thrashed, but the round bottom, non-grabby stems and the lack of a typical (sharper) junction between the bottom and sides of the hull made the boat pretty immune to getting flipped during the minute or so that it took for me to figure out how to escape. All the less-harrowing things I've done in swift water so far have been really fun in that boat.
When it comes to trips where efficient cruising is a good thing and not much tight turning is needed, my Bell Merlin II works pretty well. I can't say I love the boat, but it's nice and I doubt I'll ever look for a replacement. I'm still a little ticked at Bell for overlooking the twisted keel line that's molded into the tail end of these boats. Most people don't notice its effect when paddling, but feeling the effect is how I discovered the defect in the first place. I keep saying I'll fair it out into a more-symmetrical shape someday. A weight of just 31 pounds is a good reason for liking it too.
For real ease of travel where a lot of turning isn't needed, especially on big water where wind and big waves come into the picture, I don't consider a solo canoe to even be in the same league as a good rowing boat. I row hundreds of miles per year, and while canoers usually hate to face strong wind, those are days I try my best to get out rowing. I think bringing up the subject of rowing is more "fair" to this discussion than if someone were to say they prefer a kayak for open-water cruising, because when rowing I'm still in an open boat with all the gear-hauling attributes and the same no-fuss entry/exit manners of a canoe, but none of the self-rescue attributes or extreme immunity to wind that you get with a kayak.