Review by Darren Bush
Photos by Aaron Black-Schmidt
The Spirit II has been around for over 30 years with no change to the actual shape of the boat. The reason is simple: If it performs, don't mess with it. Over 10,000 Spirit IIs have been built since 1988.
Some may ask what happened to the Spirit I. Simple. The Spirit of Wenonah was the first canoe Mike Cichanowski, and was built in his garage. The Wenonah 17 carried the brand into their modern lineup of over twenty tandem canoes.
We tested the Kevlar Ultralight model, because why wouldn't we? Most Spirit IIs are built for lake country, and no one I know ever said, "My canoe's too light, can you add ten pounds or so?"
The construction is meticulous. Because the canoe has no pigmented gelcoat, you can see every layer in the construction by holding it up to the light. A diamond-shaped core with hand-fitted ribs makes for an extremely stiff boat. Vacuum bagging provides for a consistent finish throughout.
The Spirit II comes standard with bucket seats. The bucket vs. woven seat debate is one easily decided: sit in one, and decide what you like. The bow seat is on a slider with a quick release clamp so you can easily adjust your trim while underway, should the wind change. Yoke is a standard ash yoke, that is useful for carries, but it really calls for yoke pads. Otherwise, like most canoes, it is painful to carry on long carries. Going from the car to the dock? No big deal, it works fine, but if you're tripping, invest in yoke pads.
The Spirit II paddles beautifully. Sure, it's not as fast as the Wenonah Escape (17'6") or the Minnesota II (18'6"), but it feels snappy and accelerates easily, even with a week's supply of equipage. It felt like one of the fastest canoes in the bunch, and along with the Cronje, consistently pulled ahead slightly if we increased the pace of the group.
It has minimal rocker, and tracks wonderfully and has a nice glide. Empty, it's still stable enough for casual paddling. Loaded, you can tap dance on the end caps. The Spirit II we tested had a foot brace for the stern paddler, effectively providing a way to transfer more power from the paddler to the hull— a very nice option.
What would I change? If it were my boat, I'd probably order it with cane seats, which is an option. It adds a few ounces, but I doubt you'd notice it. I'd also go for black anodized gunwales. They look nice with the yellowish Kevlar, and are available for another $100. If you want a stronger boat and if you're willing to pay a little more, wood gunwales are available. Wenonah builds the inside of the gunwale right into the hull while it is still in the mold. It's literally fused with the hull and therefore stronger than aluminum.
Length: 17′ | Width: 36″ | Weight: 42lbs. | Depth: 14″ | Price: $2,799.00
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|Wenonah Spirit II||Nova Craft Cronje||Northstar Northwind 17||Swift Keewaydin 17||Souris River Quetico 17|