Bought this canoe (Royalex) from a outfitter. Needed some bow and stern area patching which I did. Bought with the intent of using it in the BWCA. Took it out to test the water before our trip. Seemed very unstable. Initial stability was not the best and didn't really feel any secondary. This was mind you, with just myself and my son, no gear. I decided to see just how easy it was to tip it and leaned over till we went in. Did not feel any secondary stability kick in, but rather just rolled over and in.
We then decided to mimic a load and put 2 large Chevy 3/4 Ton tires with rims in. One on either side of the center thwart. Made all the difference in the world. The tires added right around 80-100 pounds of weight. Still not as stable as my old Alumacraft Explorer, but a night and day difference from loaded to unloaded.
Took it to the Boundary Waters with no problems what so ever. Even had my sons friend in the canoe and the primary bowman. Did not come close to tipping once. Handled the big waves with ease. Extremely fast in the water, tracked better than average. Even though this canoe was marketed at a racer, (don't know about that one), I personally think it is much better suited for a good pack boat.
Have since taken it out without a load, just people for fishing, and what it really comes down to is getting used to it.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”.I bought the Kevlar version of this boat in an end of year sale in the Boundary Waters. I needed a tandem that I could carry myself easily. LOL-5'2". I went 16 days to the Boundary Waters with a partner who wasn't as much into paddling as I was so I often paddled it solo, sitting on the center thwart. I was faster in solo then most of the tandem paddlers. It hauled all out gear with room to spare.
I regularly take out non-paddlers and have never had an accidental dump. It is my second Wenonah and I will soon have to buy a third. I love their boats because they are light and VERY easy to paddle fast.
I paddle it on rivers, mostly class 1, big lakes - sometimes in big waves, and in the Bays of the Gulf of Mexico. I have the tractor seats and they allow me to paddle the longest without back strain of any seat I've been in.I use this canoe different than many of the other reviews for the Sundowner. Wenonah sells this canoe under their racing section of their web page. I bought it for rec-racing, and this is no rec racing canoe. We own a lot of canoes and have been paddling/racing for years.
Overall we are disappointed in this canoe from a racing standpoint. Wenonah claims it is the fastest Royalex hull made. I don't think they told the boys at Old Town they were having a contest. In Class II or under waters where there are lots of rocks or shallow water we use the Sundowner and have been passed by quite a few Old Town Penobscots. The Sundowner has a lot of flex to its hull. Good for hitting things, but bad for speed. Wenonah should take this canoe out of the specialty racing catalog and put it back in the regular catalog as a general river tripping canoe. The Sundowner is a well designed canoe, that handles well, and fun to paddle. But if you are looking for paddling ease, and won't encounter shallow rivers a fiberglass or Kevlar canoe will perform much better.
Unless you want a Royalex Wenonah I think there are better options. If you are just getting into rec class racing don't be misjudged by Wenonah's write up on this canoe. It is not nearly as fast as they say, and you will probably be disappointed as any good designed fiberglass will be faster than you. If you want a rec class canoe the "Jensen" is the way to go. That is an awesome canoe.I bought my 17' Sundowner about 3 years ago. It's the regular Kevlar version with plastic tractor seats. So far I've used it for several extended trips in the Adirondacks ranging from four days to two weeks, day paddling on Long Island and I've sailed it a few times with a home made rig I've also added eight tie downs to the floor, which we've found very helpful when tripping. I weighed it when we first got it and while I don't remember what the number was, it was actually several pounds LESS then the advertised weight. The two other boats I considered were the Wenonah Spirit and Minnesota.
I've found Wenonah's fit and finish to be a notch or two below Mad River's, but they cost less and I've found them to paddle as well if not better then a comparable Mad River boat. I love the aluminum gunwales and plastic tractor seats. Zero maintenance and they are very, very durable. When used for day trips unloaded it has too much freeboard and tends to get knocked around by waves, but put a load in and it turns into a tractor-trailer. You can go through anything and it becomes incredibly stable. So stable I'm able to stand freely and walk from stem to stem, on TOP of my gear. Once up and running it trucks along pretty well I'm able to keep up with almost anyone over a distance. It’s not the quickest turner when loaded. So it's not my first choice for tight river work but it did well on the canal from Middle to Lower Saranac. This canoe loves to be used. The freeboard that is such an asset for hauling loads and seaworthiness is a liability when sailing. She reaches and runs very well but when sailing to windward the extra freeboard makes coming about a little too exciting for my taste. As with any canoe she’s best paddled if you want to sail get a sunfish or a proper sailing dinghy.
All and all we are very happy with the Sundowner in Kevlar I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to canoe camp on lakes or big fast rivers. I don't see the reason to get one in Roylex this boat is for camping on lakes not white water If that’s what you want look at the Spirit.I bought a new 17' Sundowner kevlar cross-rib Sundowner and used it a lot last year. I found it has much more primary stability and a little more secondary stability than my prior canoe which was a Discovery 164. I have used it in the BWCA and found that it can handle loads very well. It tracks straight, glides well and seems fast. It feels solid as a rock with and without a load. I have had it in big chop and it is stable, but it tends to pound when into the wind when payload is light. The kevlar cross-rib design weighs 53 pounds. The cross-rib has a gel coat, and with other structural differences, weighs 13 pounds more compared to the ultra-light kevlar version. However, it is stiffer, tougher and costs $450 less.
At first, I was reluctant to get the bucket seats (front seat slides) because I prefer the look of a traditional cane seat. After a season of use, I am glad I have the buckets, because they are much more comfortable, and add a little back support. I also appreciate the sliding front seat because my wife is much lighter and I need her far forward for proper trim if I don't have gear to balance the load. I picked the 17 foot size because it seemed to be the best compromise between load capacity and weight. The only negative is the canoe doesn't turn with ease, but that is probably the price one must pay for an efficient, tripping canoe designed to go fast and far!