Canoe Appearance – Could not be less important!


Did you scratch your canoe?

kevlar canoe scratches
5 days in the Boundary Waters

This is a canoe that has 5 total days of renting on it.  It was paddled 5 days and was put into rentals by us when it was brand, spankin’ new.  We needed a canoe and this green Quetico 17 did the job.  Note the scratches.  I can hear you gasping through your computer monitor.   I can hear shock and dismay and you thinking that you would never do this to your own canoe.   OK, OK –  catch your breath.  Yes, you would do exactly this to your own canoe if you actually use it in the rock laden Boundary Waters of MN.  “No!”, you retort.  Well, we could argue back and forth and only the most anal of canoe paddlers would not do this.  It takes zero effort to scratch any canoe and it takes even less effort to scratch a canoe in the BWCA.  I’m going to be pigheaded about this, but I’ve been renting canoes since the mid-seventies and selling them since 1990.  I’ve seen about 5 total canoes that had no scratches in them after a BWCA trip and I figure their owners liked to be wet up to their necks carrying their canoes above their heads to prevent a scratch.  Who the heck wants to do that!    I want to enjoy the lake, the woods and fishing not obsess over touching a rock.  That’s why I only use Souris Rivers.  They are immensely tougher than Wenonahs, Bells and all other-brand kevlar canoes, period.

Despite what many have been programmed to believe from the tight-butted, elitist world of canoe paddlers, scratches don’t mean doo-diddly to a Souris River heat-cured, epoxy resin canoes.  They are designed to flex under duress and  EASILY trump all other so-called “performance” kevlar canoes out there on many fronts from durability to handling on water – the important parts.  And then there is hull design, stability, and comfort, all of which are discussed somewhere in this blog as I’ve been writing about it for over 20 years now.  I know the canoes inside and out and have spent much time in them as well as rented them to countless very satisified rental customers.  In case it is not obvious, my confidence in this particular brand of canoes is unwavering and backed up by a lot of experience.

So, back to the scratches – you can’t avoid them unless you are a little nuts.  You are gong to hit a rock that you simply could not see.  If you don’t you are very lucky or your canoe hangs lonely in garage and looks out the windows, wishing.

Scratched, brand new kevlar canoe
Scratched, brand new kevlar canoe

I’m not writing to tell you how crazy some paddlers are, or how terrible some renters are, or how tough Souris River Canoes are in the BWCA.    All of that is irrelevant and well-known in the business of canoes.   I’m here to talk about “color”.  Canoes of color that is, particularly Souris River Woven Color.

The above is a new, SR Woven Color model.  What that means is that a layer of kevlar cloth has been dyed spruce green and laid just under the final, outside layer of fiberglass that you’ll only find on Souris River kevlar canoes.  Unlike colored Wenonahs and Bells who apply gel coat with color in it which is basically an outer layer of polyester resin with silica sand and pigment of varying thicknesses depending on who was spraying it into the mold, Souris River dyes the cloth and puts in under the final layer of protective, skid-able, repairable fiberglass.  The color is therefore IN the canoe as opposed to ON the canoe.  You can’t crack, scratch, or or otherwise get to the color of that canoe.  The white scratches in the hull are IN THE EPOXY RESIN and fiberglass finish layer.  Scratches rarely reach the color.   A colored Souris River has no added weight unlike gelcoated canoes of other brands.   Just to be clear – Gelcoat all scratches white and looks just like the pictures above.  It also cracks unlike the pictures above.  Now, you know how the color is applied in a Souris River.

Color is SO unimportant.  I almost always advise against a color in a Souris River.  You want to know why?  Look at the pictures above.  That’s 5 days in the wilderness.  You can spend an extra $100 bucks for color and this is what your canoe looks like after a week of real use.  It looks like it was in a war.  Which brings me to a story.

Stretched Kevlar Suit is Bad

Years ago, a couple came in and wanted a green canoe like the one in the photos.  We had three in stock.  The lady insisted we lay out the three Q-17’s – all identical- and she proceeded for 45 minutes of my time and her’s to go over all three with a virtual magnifying glass.  Well, she didn’t have the magnifying glass, but could just as well have held one up.  She was a seamstress and looking for the canoe that didn’t have any instances where the green kevlar “was stretched”.  I told her it was a canoe, not an Armani suit for $5,000, but that left her undeterred.  She said that she was a perfectionist and her husband rolled his eyes.  After 14 walk-arounds and canoe flips, I finally gave up and went back to the office, suggesting she let me know when she “finds the ‘good one'” of the three.

After 90 minutes of looking and comparing, she and her hubby finally found “the one” and came in to tell me with jubilance.

“Yayyy…” I thought sardonically as all of those canoes were equal and beautiful, but I was happy to finally have such an important decision come to fruition.

It was a low water summer with longer portages and WAY more rocks in many areas throughout the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.    While we finalized the paperwork, the couple mentioned that they would be taking their first canoe trip with it into the BWCA within the week.  I asked where they were entering and she said, “Mudro”.  I broke out laughing and she looked at me funny and asked what is wrong.   I responded with “You just dedicated 1.5 hours of your time to finding the best canoe and you are going to Mudro.  Unfortunately, none of your efforts today are going to hold a lot of meaning.  It’s a fairly rocky route.”

She said, with a touch of tone,  that they would “be avoiding the rocks”.  I said, “OK, then.   Sounds like you have a plan.”

After all, what could I possibly know about anything?  I’ll just wait and see.  I continued with my paperwork and placed an order for some gear they wanted to would pick up after their Mudro trip.

10 days go by and here they come with their new canoe in tow on a small trailer.  It was scratched from gunwale to gunwale, bow to stern with hundreds of nasty looking scratches of varying lengths.   In a spectacular fashion, it looked like the US Marines stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima with it and then gave it back to them after they won that battle.   I asked the hubby out of earshot of his slightly scary wife – “So, how did that ‘straight, unstretched, kevlar’ work out for you in your canoe?”

He looked to the floor and shook his head.

My Point In All of This

For many people, the color of the canoe is the important part.  For many it simply HAS to have a particular trim and color “because they are spending a lot of money”.    So,  appearance is their main reason for buying this canoe – not how it handles on water.    I’m here to tell you that the color has NO function other than aesthetics and aesthetics have no value in keeping you alive on water.  (First and foremost – the canoe’s handling on water is the Number One consideration 100% of the time for all paddlers.) Inside all Souris River Canoes, they all look the same.  When you are seated inside them, you absolutely cannot see the color (or if the kevlar may have been stretched).  IF you can see the color while using your canoe, you are HOSED!    Colors, because they are homogeneous in tone on the canoe will always show scratches FAR more than Le Tigre kevlar canoes.  Le Tigre kevlar (same as reg. kevlar but for the little dyed strips), due to the black and gold pattern, show scratches less and refinishes very nicely.  Woven Colors and Carbon Tecs will also refinish well, but on your first trip after refinishing, you look like you were in a war zone again.

Now, if you are buying your canoe to make your car pretty or to impress your neighbors with it hanging in your garage, well, then color is VERY important.   Worrying about getting your “dream color” is downright silly in my opinion.  It’s a canoe.  It’s a Souris River Canoe and made to be used physically.    Should you ram shore like a Viking making a raid with it because of what you read here?   Well, only if you want to be stranded 25 miles from civilization or enjoy spending money on repairs.  There’s a big fat line between normal,  reasonable wear and tear and kicking the crap out of a good canoe.

How does color effect any of the above?    It shows scratches better.

Refinishing Fun – Like Rolling in Flypaper

It’s a slow day today and I decided to go refinish one of our older Souris River Quetico 18.5’s.  It’s a canoe that I have refinished once before and is in otherwise nice shape other than the outside looking in need of a new shine plus I needed to sand off graphite and epoxy that ran when I did a sloppy skid plate repair 2 years ago to meet an overnight time constraint.

Canoe Refinishing
Canoe Refinishing

So, just like every other refinishing job for a Souris River, it’s pretty straightforward.  Sand the parts that are oxidized and all the parts that are shiny using 80 grit sand paper and a palm sander.  I also removed a few clear epoxy runs from my hasty work a few years ago by leaning on the corner on the bump with the sander.  You have to keep the sander moving somewhat in order for the sanded epoxy dust to fall away and allow the grit to make contact with the hard, non-moving surface.  So, I do little circles on the runs being sure to used other parts of the sand paper on my palm sander.  Also note – do not use any other type of sander other than an orbital design.  If you use a belt sander you are going to end up in a whole world of hurt VERY quickly.  To sand a whole canoe takes about 30-45 minutes depending on your desired end result.    Just get it reasonably smooth, take a  “sander corner” pass over the length of the scratches and that’s it.  I then found my favorite brush that served me for 20 years as an XC Ski wax brush, and swept off the canoe.  I usually watch to see the way the wind is blowing and make sure I’m upwind so I don’t breath in the cloud of cured epoxy dust.

At this point, I put on some disposable gloves, grabbed a charcoal-colored foam roller, mixed up 6 pumps of resin and hardener, stirred it up, waited one minute, and dumped some of  it on the canoe.  Then I drove my roller through the fresh epoxy and I spread it around the canoe.  Pretty basic and quick.  I  rolled right along the bottom edge of the gunwale (which was upside down) and
continued up and down the canoe.  Applying resin to a dusty gray canoe makes it go to a pleasant brown with black stripes – or a  typical Souris River Le Tigre Kevlar.  This improves the look of the canoe about 1000% and I would eestimate that about 90% of all lay canoe paddlers don’t even realize the canoe has even been refinished.  Now, that may sound like a high number, but given my experience of the last 40 years of customers, I’ve decided that they are mostly incapable of noticing much at all.  They don’t notice crooked woodwork, canoe straps flapping in the wind behind a car with a canoe on the roof turned sideways on to the road below,  dangerous waters, or where to park their car based upon all the other  “seed” cars in the extremely obvious and easy areas to park in the lot.

kevlar canoe refinishing
This is a 2012 Le Tigre Kevlar Souris River in 2015.   The grey parts are dust from hitting the ground.  I got them out after the picture was taken.

What they DO notice is only on a brand new, shiny, unscratched canoe.  They go home and take a magnifying glass to the finish to look for the tiniest of imperfections (over every square inch) that don’t mean the most insignificant hill of beans to the operation of the canoe.  They also notice the top handle of a canoe paddle as they over-analyze its feel and try to picture using it on the high seas while standing in the store.   They also do notice when THEY are even slightly uncomfortable or getting rained on.  They do notice hunger, sometimes thirst, and when someone else is annoying them but not the other way around.  And that’s about it for 90% of the population of the world.

Kevlar Canoe Refinishing
And that’s a good thing.   The main reason being as I was refinishing this canoe (it’s going back into rentals), I had pretty much the whole thing coated with fresh epoxy when it slid off of my horses – in slow motion (Ooooooohhhhhh-Noooooooooooooo!)- and landed upright in the gravel, sawdust, leaves, pine needles, dog fur, old bits of dusty of kevlar, and dandelion fluff.  It was very special.   I said some bad words.  Actually, I repeated a choice four letter word loudly – and with relish. The whole event was like dropping freshly unrolled flypaper in sawdust.

So, upon the universal battle cry of refinishing gone wrong, plus the big booming noise a canoe makes when it hits the ground, Jackie came running out and helped me get it back on the horses whereupon I proceeded to ruin a t-shirt with an epoxy/dirt blend.   I then grabbed the roller, finished up the last few areas of that didn’t get covered pre-fall and I shot the pic’s of the finished canoe.  For the occasional bits of debris stuck to it, I’ll just knock those off after it cures.  I noticed that the digital pictures allowed me to see the dust that I missed when wiping off the canoe after the fall, so I went back and took care of that as well.  I couldn’t see it with the bespectacled or even naked eye.

So, my advice to canoe refinishers everywhere:  Don’t drop it in the gravel.

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