Before we talk about the Nova Craft Canoe Ocoee, let me first take you back in time to 1993. I was lined up for my instructor course’s final run at the top of Chalet Rapids. I had the option of running the course director’s then new Dagger Ocoee or doing my solo exam run in a 17-foot Prospector.

All I’d heard for the past 10 days of the course were the instructors talking about how edgy the Ocoee was. How it was an advanced paddler’s boat. And it was then. At the time, the hot boats had been the Dagger Genesis, Impulse and Prophet and the Mohawk Viper 11—all very soft and forgiving by comparison. I admit it—I was afraid of the Ocoee. And with a pass or fail run ahead of me, there was too much at stake.

Nova Craft Canoe Ocoee Specs
Length: 11’3″
Width at gunnels: 25″
Width at waterline: 27″
Depth at bow: 21.5″
Depth at center: 15’5″
Depth at stern: 26″
Rocker: 5.5″
Capacity: 500 lbs
Royalex: 38 lbs
Royalex Plus: 44 lbs

Two years later I picked up a well-used Ocoee and learned to paddle it. As my skills improved, I learned to love it. It was the right boat at the right time.

By ‘99, in Rapid’s first open canoe shootout, all the intermediate open boaters wanted to be in the Ocoee, but most admitted they were still uncomfortable with its abrupt transition from primary to secondary stability. Like most flat-bottomed, hard-chined boats, the Ocoee doesn’t like to stay level; it wants to be tilted one way or the other. And that takes some getting used to.

The Ocoee set the standard for front surfing and technical paddling. Advanced paddlers love slicing across currents and truly carving deep into eddies. The Ocoee was also the first production boat that allowed advanced paddlers to offside tilt and engage outside edge to pivot turn an open canoe.

One of the best things about the Ocoee is how much you can play with its shape. I cut the top down, removing some of the Ocoee’s prominent sheer—the swooping up at the bow and stern. Then I narrowed the gunwales, rounding the bottom and sharpening the chines, making for faster and sharper carving.

Want it even faster? Andrew Westwood did. For slalom racing he played around with the shape, drawing the bow radically narrower than the stern. Westwood’s race boat was shaped like an arrowhead.

For creeking and rodeo (it was called rodeo then), Mark Scriver, Paul Mason and others sawed a foot or so out of the center and bonded the bow and stern back together. This modification was so successful, designer Frankie Hubbard ran with it to design the Pyranha Prelude—now the Esquif Prelude.

[ Also read: Boat Review: Pyranha’s Prelude ]

Nova Craft offers their Ocoee in either a Royalex or Royalex Plus, or what we used to call Royalite and Royalex. You have three gunwale options: vinyl, ash trim or bare hull.

Instructor Gail Shields, whose Bell Ocoee was used to build the Nova Craft mold, says she hasn’t been babying her lighter Royalite version and it’s holding up very well. She opted to install her own gunwales and Mike Yee Outfitting to create a hot rod of a canoe, weighing in at a crazy light 39 pounds. In fact, she needs the extra weight of nylon airbags so the boat will be legal in the rec class at ACA slalom events.

So, should you try Nova Craft’s version of this 20-year-old design? I think so, and so do Rapid readers. The Ocoee was voted favorite solo open boat of all time in our 2012 best boat survey. And if you still don’t think you’re ready for an Ocoee, no trouble, in the meantime Nova Craft makes a fantastic Prospector.

This article was first published in Rapid‘s Summer/Fall 2013 issue. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here , or browse the archives here.

Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Rapid. For the record, he passed his solo instructor level in the Prospector.

Gail Shields on the river with the first production Nova Craft Ocoee. | Photo: Brian Shields


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