Even before I paddled Swift’s Keewaydin, I heard what a lovely ride it is. Organizing a pickup date by phone, longtime Swift enthusiast-turned-employee Brian Duplante confided, “That’s my favorite canoe to paddle.” It wasn’t a hard sell, but genuine passion for the design.

Swift Keewaydin 16 Specs
Length: 16’
Material: Kevlar Fusion
Weight: 36 lbs
Width at gunwales: 32”
Optimum load: 300–575 lbs
Capacity: 950 lbs
MSRP: $3,095 base model / $3,180 with kneeling thwart

A few days later, tying down the canoe on site at Swift’s Oxtongue Lake location on the edge of Algonquin Provincial Park, owner Bill Swift Jr. added wistfully, “It’s a honey of a canoe.”

Complete in Swift’s two-tone white and silver Barracuda finish, I couldn’t help but agree—the Keewaydin is a thing of beauty. At 16 feet and just 36 pounds with dynamic lines, the Keewaydin looks as energetic as the north wind it takes its name from. I couldn’t wait to get it on the water.

First, however, I peeked into what was formerly Swift’s manufacturing facility, now their repair shop. Just big enough to work on a few canoes at a time, the simple space highlights the humble beginnings of this family-owned business.

Now surrounded by a rental fleet a thousand Swift boats strong, the buildings erected by Bill Swift Sr. in 1961—the original Algonquin Outfitters location—look like they haven’t changed much. In 1984, boat manufacturing began onsite to meet AO’s rental demands. Back then it was a franchise, making Sawyer designs.

By 1989, the Swift family was looking to branch out. To design lighter and more efficient canoes for their own operation they called in prolific designer John Winters, who dreamed up the Kipawa model and the Swift brand was born.

In the 20,000-square-foot South River factory where Swift now manufactures, they make 29 canoe, kayak and pack boat models and take pride in melding traditional design with high tech processes.

Unique to Swift canoes is its Carbon Kevlar Trim (CKT), where gunwales and hull are fused together as a single piece, adding stiffness and structural integrity, as well as a pretty finish.

“By volume, canoe gunwales are the heaviest part of the canoe. By using CKT we can reduce the weight by four to six pounds,” explains Swift Jr.

Released in 2012 and designed by David Yost, the Keewaydin 16 is now Swift’s most popular retail model. Swift Jr. attributes this to its versatility—great for daytrips as well as lightweight tripping.

On the water, the keyword for the Keewaydin is efficiency. The Keewaydin cuts through the water and chop rolls underneath the hull with little effect.

Swift Keewaydin 16 | Photo: Geoff Whitlock

Its asymmetrical hull tracks nicely in open water, yet our bow paddler was able to pull the boat around tight corners, ideal in winding and twisting streams. Swift Jr. says this is thanks to its differential rocker—two inches in the bow and half that in the stern.

On an evening solo paddle on Lake Ontario, I found it responsive and more manageable than many other boats of its length in wind and waves.

A kneeling thwart and significant tumblehome allows for comfortable cruising, without needing to reach out far over the gunwales.

Thanks to Swift’s distinctive curved and angled cherry seats, “You should feel as comfortable a few hours into the paddle as you did when you first got in,” says Swift Jr. The bow’s sliding seat also allows for on-the-fly trim adjustments.

While the Kevlar Fusion lay-up we borrowed offers the highest strength-to-weight ratio of Swift’s materials, the Keewaydin comes in a variety of lay-ups, ranging from 33 pounds in Carbon Fusion to 58 pounds in Gold Fusion with aluminum trim. Swift also manufactures 14- and 15-foot solo versions, as well as the Keewaydin 17, which Swift Jr. confesses is his personal favorite.

v13-iss3-Canoeroots.jpgGet the full article in the digital edition of Canoeroots and Family Camping, Summer/Fall 2014.Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

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