Canoe Terms & Definitions


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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.

Kevlar Canoes : Souris River vs. Brand X – Epoxy does it best

It’s been a while since I’ve laid out a small dissertation about the differences in kevlar canoes.  As years go by and the markets change, people who know the differences are a fading group.  I will change all that right here.  All kevlar canoes are NOT the same despite looking similar to one another.

Souris River Canoes hulls are all made with kevlar cloth, a few other layers of cloths including polyesters and fiber glass and most importantly: epoxy resin.    All Brand X kevlar canoes are made with kevlar cloth, a few other layers of different cloths and important for you not to miss:  vinylester resin.

The resin used to hold the cloth in the shape of a canoe is first and foremost, the most important part of the canoe.  A canoe could be built out of newspapers or old sweatshirts but the only way that is possible it to use resin.  The type of resin used, along with literally the “cut of the cloth”  defines the canoe’s overall strength and durability.

I’m going to cut to the chase.  Epoxy resin is much tougher than vinylester resin.   Epoxy resin used in a Souris River Canoe is a heat-cured epoxy.  After the canoe has been laid out in a female mold with wet epoxy resin, they wheel it into a big oven and bake it for several hours.  Baking epoxy to cure it makes it runny and it seeps into the multiple fibrous tendrils that make up every kevlar fiber.  When it cures (dries – although technically not the same as curing since drying means a solvent evaporates and curing is a chemical reaction that leads to a hardened, non-liquid, state.) it becomes inert “plastic” but not before it bonds all those fibers together to make them more of a single piece of material with kevlar reinforcements running throughout.

Brand X uses vinylester resin which is a resin that costs far less than epoxy.   It too, makes a plastic with kevlar reinforcements running throughout when applied to a kevlar cloth.  However, the process by which it cures, while still a chemical reaction, is different than epoxy.  Vinylester resin used in Brand X kevlar canoes is cured at room temperature or about 74 degrees F.  That means, they wet out the kevlar in a female mold,  and once saturated with the excess resin scraped out with squeegees, (just like Souris River) the canoes are allowed to cure (dry) at room temperature overnight.  The next day, they beat the mold off of the hull with a rubber mallet, install the gunwales, seats, thwarts and yoke and out the door it goes.

At this very point, the two canoe brands have severely parted ways.  Inherent with epoxy resin, when it is done curing, it is done curing.  It does not age for lack of a better term.   What that means is the Souris River, after 10 years of paddling, when you go to do a repair on the canoe (yes, they’re tough, but nothing is as tough or heavy as aluminum, eh?   You may need to fix something once in a while), that old epoxy resin is still the same as it was the day it came out of the over 10 years ago.    So, when you take out some new epoxy resin to do a repair, you are bonding apples to apples – the same stuff.  Doesn’t make sense without the following comparison in the next two paragraphs.

Inherent with Brand X kevlar canoes, the room-temp-cured resin first, did not soak all through those kevlar fibers in each strand bundle that is woven together to make a cloth.  When curing at room temperature, that vinylester  resin doesn’t have a chance to soak in because it begins to cure and thickens before the soaking begins.  That means it ends up encapsulating the fiber bundles.  Well, that means, too, that less resin is needed and it makes the canoe lighter.  It also results in the canoe not being as tough.  If you rip the resin coat off the fiber bundle, water can enter into those fibers through capillary action.  Once that happens, an entire region in a canoe can delaminate from other fibers in the cloth or the foam core floor they use in Brand X to keep the floor of the canoe from flopping around.  It’s a diamond shaped looking thing with ribs running up the sides.  The foam ribs also support the sides of Brand X canoes because they are not as tough with the lesser resin saturation inherent with vinylester resin canoes.

But, it doesn’t end there.  Vinylester resin that has been air-cured continues to cure into perpetuity.  It’s really not done curing, it’s just not sticky any more.  What this means is that this resin gets more and more brittle with each day.  The resin is susceptible to UV radiation and that ages it.  Now, to be fair, epoxy resin is affected by UV as well but in a different way.  It does not become brittle.  It sloughs off a little at a time.  But, unlike vinylester resin, you can reapply epoxy with great results and a paint roller.  Not only is vinylester more brittle in the long run, it is no longer the same vinylester resin it was when the canoe was first built.  This means than when you put your foot through the side of a brittle vinylester resin canoe and need to repair that, the company Brand X will tell you to go to the local Fleet Farm and buy some polyester resin and the MEK  (methyl ethyl ketone) hardener or organic peroxide which might be the same stuff.  I don’t know, I’m not a chemist but over the years, I have spoken with several regarding the advantages and strength of epoxy compared to vinylester and those advantages are very significant.

At the molecular level, vinylester resin links to itself with a relative few bonds when compared to epoxy.  Less link ups means less strehgth.   Epoxy resin is noted for having  many, many cross-linked bonds to that which it is being glued together.  For that reason epoxy provides a substantially stronger bond of materials and is also noted for it’s ability to bond non-related materials, such as a copper penny to a piece of wood.  Vinylester resin may bond those two together, but then it will let go at the most inopportune of times.   The cross linking of molecules in epoxy also give it the ability to flex repeatedly without falling apart or cracking.  The whole focus about Souris River Canoes is their ability to flex under duress to minimize damage caused by driving it up on a rock.  Brand X, with their foam core bottom can be damaged significant when one drive them over a rock 4 inches below the surface and invisible.    Souris Rivers just slide over it with no exposed kevlar fibers resulting from the impact.  As you recall above, exposed kevlar fiber bundles in vinylester resin are like tiny hollow tubes that can suck up water and cause delamination at that area.  It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, you end up with a soft spot that needs your attention or it can continue to spread.

Putting a patch on an older Brand X canoe using their recommended method of applying cheap polyester resin to a piece of fiberglass or kevlar  patch and sticking it onto the canoe will,  more often than not, result in that patch letting go in six months to a year.  But it usually does not all let go.  Nosiree – only half lets go and the rest stays stuck to the canoe so you have like an “air brake on the wing of a 747”.  Or, you could consider it a water scoop since they usually let go against the direction of travel.  In my opinion, polyester resin probably has it’s place somewhere out there in making fiberglass bathtubs with a thick layer of gel coat, but it’s a worthless product for working on canoes.    It is also hard to work with as well.  It’ll say on the container of resin to add 2-3 drops of hardener.  Well, which one is it?  2 drops or 3 drops?  Depending on the ambient temp and humidity levels, 3 drops could turn the resin in your pot into a smoking, toxic mess that smells like burning styrofoam beer coolers.  (been there, done that – an wow, does it get hot!  Epoxy will do the same if you put too much in a con)

Epoxy on the other hand is more precise in it’s requirements for hardener and those different hardeners can affect cure time.  West System 205 hardener can set up in 9-12 minutes, but their 207 special coatings hardener can go to 6 hours before hardening the resin mix depending on temps.  West System epoxy mixed with either hardener achieves full strength over 7 days.  It’s will be dry to the touch and usable before that, but that is when final cure is complete.  Polyesters continue to cure (and change as a result)  forever.    Now, I mention West here because that is what I recommend for repair work mainly because I know it well and have used if for 20 years with excellent success about 99% of the time.  There are other marine epoxies out there that are quite good as well, but I just never had a reason for changing.  They are all expensive.  Note: Souris River does not use West System in the building of their canoes.  They use a purer form of resin with two hardeners injected into it at two different temps.  Then it is applied by hand in a 94 degree F room and then wheeled into a large oven to be heat-cured.  West System has additives to make it cure for repairs without the baking-part required.  If I had to be heating up resin and baking it, that would be a pain for me and everybody else who doesn’t have a canoe-sized oven.

So those are differences in Souris River Canoes vs. all the other canoes out there.   Sure, there might be a garage-outfit somewhere using West to make a canoe a year, but in the professionally, hand-crafted, production realm of canoe building, SR is the only epoxy kevlar canoe builder of which I’m aware.

More on Hull Shapes and Design in future posts.

 

Canoe Definitions

tumble home on a a canoe
Tumble Home on a canoe looks like this

Definitions of Canoe Terms

Gel coat – silica sand in a vinylester or polyester resin base which is applied to the canoe to reduce abrasion in kevlar or fiberglass canoes.  Adds weight and sometimes cracks up on impacts.  Gel coat is on everything from canoes, to speed boats, to shower stalls.  Makes a nice clean, smooth finish but also hides serious flaws and sloppy workmanship.  Avoid canoes which have gel coat on the inside – too heavy and who knows what your getting?

Royalex –  (extinct)  Trade name for an ABS plastic foam sandwich material which in the canoe world, has a vinyl color on the outside, a thin layer of harder ABS plastic next ( whitish-green color), ABS closed-cell foam next (grey, foamy looking) ABS plastic layer (whitish-green again) and the inside layer of vynil color.  It comes in big sheets, is heated in a oven and then sucked into a vacuum mold the shape of a canoe that comes down from the ceiling to pick it up.  It cools rapidly in the mold which splits open and drops the newly formed canoe to the floor where it is trimmed and gunwales and seats installed.

Polyethylene (P-tex) – available in linear or crosslinked design.  Linear is just one sheet of tough polyethylene which has been formed to make a canoe using heat.  Incredibly tough, but makes a cheap, bathtub-like canoe which usually needs the support of a keelson (long pipe or tube that lays in the keel in the bottom of a cheap canoe) and other aluminum tubing to keep its bottom from flopping up and down in the water.  Cross linked polyethylene canoes are usually formed from poly pellets in a heated, rotary mold which spins and rocks as the first layer (outside layer) is dumped into the mold and melted into a canoe.  Then the middle foam layer is added and finally the inside layer of pellets is added. Whole thing then cools and out pops the craft.  These are heavy and indestructible canoes and about the same price as lighter weight aluminum canoes.

Cloth Layup Canoes – canoes which are made from essentially some sort of cloth that comes off of a big roll.  Layers of cloth is cut into a rough shape, laid into a female mold and resin is pour in on top of the cloth and then squeegeed  thru the layers using paint rollers and rubber squeegees. These canoes are made out of various blends of cloth including but not limited to kevlar, carbon fiber, fiberglass, duralite and tuffweave  (both proprietary cloths made by different companies as a less expensive alternative to more expensive exotic cloths like kevlar, et al.)

four sheet construction
This is what four sheets of cloth would look like. They are laid into a female mold and wetted through with resin. The resin hardens, the mold comes off, and the result is a cloth-layup canoe. Could be kevlar, fiberglass, polyester, or old T-shirts. The cloth gives the shape and reinforcement, the resin seals out the water.

 

Vinylester resin – a two-part resin used to hold cloth layup canoes together in the shape of a canoe.  Generally thinned out with liquid styrene to make if flow more easily at room temperature.  Cures at room temp.  Bonds to fibers at about 500 PSI .

Epoxy Resin – a two part resin that holds cloth into shape of canoe.  Applied under heated conditions and requires heat to cure it in its purest form.  Bonds to fibers at 2000+ PSI

Skid plates – A “shoe” or covering made from kevlar felt material.   It’s a thicker cloth that acts more or less as a sponge to hold a larger quantity of resin in one place for the canoe to use as guard in the bow and stern areas which take the greatest abuse on any canoe.  Skid Plates or Bang Plates save the bow and stern from abrasions received while landing the canoe or pushing off from shore.  The bow and stern take the most abuse since the entire weight of the canoe ends up on a little strip about 1/2″ wide by 4″ long if you slam into shore.  The bows of  kevlar and plastic canoes without a good skid plate don’t last long in these situations so you see a lot of “wet foot” canoeing where paddlers jump in up to their knees to save that delicate bow or they install the skid plate themselves.  A few companies build them right into their canoes.  On other canoes, it’s up to the canoe owner to install or have them installed if needed.

Skin-Coat hulls – are made of,  in most cases, just the resin that’s been squeegeed thru the cloth layup of the canoe when it was built. The shine you see on a skin coat is resin which cured making a duplicate of the female canoe mold.  Many major companies make skin coat canoes because they are the lightest in weight.  Unfortunately, the resin doesn’t provide a lot of abrasion resistance and rocks literally can tear into the bulky/coarse weave of kevlar cloth as the canoe passes over them.  When you flip over most used,  skin coat kevlar canoes and examine them closely, you’ll see that there are fibers about 1 mm long sticking out along the scratch.  To prevent fiber tear-out in kevlar canoes, some builders apply a thin layer of fiberglass over the kevlar.  Fiberglass is easier to repair, holds up to abrasion much better and ultimately protects the main cloth (kevlar, carbon, etc.) from excessive damage.

Flat Canoe Bottom
Flat Canoe Bottom – Feels secure, but can tip suddenly when canoe is leaned to far.

 

Shallow-arched bottom of canoe

Shallow-arched bottom of canoe- feels tippy and jittery but can lean over much farther than flat-bottom without rolling over completely.

 

cantilevered canoe bottom
Cantilevered canoe bottom – unsettling feeling when canoe is not fully loaded.  It feels tippy with a light load and will either “dump” to the right or left and then stabilize.  More suited to white water for leaning the canoe over to maneuver quickly.

The best canoe bottom is a combination of flat and shallow-arched shapes.  Then it has good initial stability and the ability to lean over without rolling (secondary stability).

rocker
Canoes with “rocker” can turn and maneuver. Non-rockered canoes don’t turn easily and travel faster through the water because they are not pushing that upside-down “hump” you see in the exaggerated diagram.

 

tumble home on a a canoe
Tumble Home on a canoe looks like this – the top sides of the canoe hull in to allow for more comfortable passing by of your hand on the lower part of the paddle.

I don’t care what anybody says.  Tumblehome does absolutely nothing for the canoe’s stability.  It exists to allow your bottom hand clearance when holding the paddle.   Also, tumblehome promotes sloppy paddling technique as you are able to keep the paddle in a “sweep” stroke position as opposed to as perpendicular to the water as possible.

So there you have it.   More information than you probably need, but it’s free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Buy a Canoe – Considerations

Souris River Skeena
Souris River Skeena

How to Buy a Canoe

Here is information to help make the right choice in buying a canoe that’s right for you.  I’m not recommending specific models or hulls because I don’t know who you are or what your skill level is.  I am pointing out details about canoes in general which could help you make a better choice in canoes.  Hopefully, it’ll help you wade through the marketing murk of buzzwords and fluff that’s prevalent on the net.  If you are like me, a practical view to canoe buying is what you want and there are a lot of impractical recommendations out there that are just plain confusing.  Read this first, check out the definitions, and then let the “experts” tell you what they think you need.  It’s always nice to walk in with a little bit of knowledge under your hat.  Happy Paddling!

Basic Considerations when buying a canoe

For the most part, canoes can fall into three different design categories:  performance, whitewater, and general purpose.  Without a doubt, there can be all sorts of variations and exceptions to this general description I’ve laid out, but the intent here is to hopefully offer a clearer picture of what’s out there in canoes.  I’m not comparing brands, but instead am laying out the differences as they currently stand with some details you might need to consider when shopping for the right canoe. My focus is on the population of general paddlers both new to the sport or seeking to upgrade their old canoes. The following info is for selecting a general purpose canoe or a canoe that would do well with recreational uses such as fishing, wilderness camping, sightseeing, or recreational paddling.  Performance and Whitewater canoes, while exciting to consider, generally are lacking in the necessary design features for the majority of general purpose paddlers seeking to get out on the water safely and comfortably.  Those paddlers interested in racing and whitewater canoes will need to check out other resources on the web.  Thanks!    -JB-

Canoe Differences –  Understanding the Three Basic Hull Design Differences
Performance Canoes –  Flatwater racing canoes are designed to be stiff and go fast in a straight line.  Predominantly kevlar construction, performance canoes are most often made with a diamond-shaped or oval foam mat sandwiched between a few sheets of kevlar in the bottom of the canoe to prevent the hull from shifting while being paddled so no kinetic energy is lost in a flexing canoe hull. This means that the most possible effort and power by the paddlers is put into moving the canoe ahead with the canoe absorbing very little energy from them.  All energy goes into making the canoe move forward. Typically, these types of canoes are traditionally difficult to turn (no rocker), narrow, somewhat tippy feeling, and offer very little freeboard (canoe sides sticking out of the water when canoe is loaded).  They are commonly paddled with the “sit ‘n switch” technique where both paddlers pump the water with bentshaft paddles on opposite sides of the canoe, switching sides simultaneously (HUT! = switch sides now!) after a preset number of strokes.   To turn the canoe, the paddlers literally “bull” it around on the water.  It’s not a pretty technique (in my opinion) to watch,  but a racing canoe does fly down the lake while doing this technique.  The sides (freeboard) of a performance canoe are built deliberately low to avoid catching crosswinds which aids in maintaining a straighter course on the water for a faster finish time. It is not uncommon for racing canoes to take on some water over the sides on rough lakes.  Rockerless canoes also tend to slice thru the upcoming wave instead of rising up and over it.  That does result in faster travelling because the distance from point A to B is shorter by cutting through the waves (in a straight line) and not rising up and over them.  This can, however,  be a problem if the canoe bow is 20″ high and the upcoming wave is 24″ high.   A sidenote: If you are a big guy, sitting in the bow of a racing canoe for more than 1 hour can be maddening.  Usually, they are so narrow that you’ll need to “stack” your feet on one another because they won’t fit side by side in front of you, plus, your knees will rub together for the entire trip.  I find them to be very confining and a pain to fish from.Summary:  Performance-oriented canoes tend to be best suited for racing paddlers who don’t mind getting wet and paddle best with other “stroke-knowledgeable” paddlers who can “team” paddle.  In other words, the bow paddler needs to know how to execute at least three specific maneuvering strokes  on command from the stern paddler to make this canoe turn, especially in a cross-wind situation.  Loaded down performance canoes become real dogs on the water because they are intended to be paddled hard when empty which “lifts” them up on the water, minimizing the amount of canoe hull surface that touches the water.  This, in turn, reduces drag and increases speed.  If you don’t maintain marathon speed with a lot of strokes per minute, the canoe settles into the water and slows way down. Then it feels like you are ever-so-slightly, pushing against a wall.

 

HULL DESIGN and its most important factors to considerHull Shape – For a general purpose canoe, you’d be best off considering a canoe with a stable hull design on the water.  The majority of folks who are replacing their heavy old aluminum canoes aren’t seeking a tippy, hard- to-turn, narrow racer.  They are simply seeking a canoe that did exactly what their stable aluminum did only with less weight.  Narrow is seldom better, and really wide and short will be stable but slow and hard to paddle.  You need to consider buying a canoe that will not limit you to certain areas or activities.  You need a nice mix of features and characteristics.

Rocker
Aside from handling the canoe on land, you’ll need to to consider your ability to control the canoe on the water, first and foremost.   Nobody ever drowned while carrying their canoe on land and a good canoe needs to be judged buy the way it takes care of its paddlers on the water.   A good canoe will have the proper mix of  tracking and turning built right into it’s hull.  A good, general-purpose, canoe will allow the stern paddler to turn the canoe from the stern position into a crosswind without being forced to make a 1/4 mile-long arc on the lake just to turn the canoe around.  If you’re fishing, a canoe that won’t maneuver is ridiculous!  A good, general purpose canoe needs to have a bit of  rocker that starts from the center of the canoe and not just on the ends of the canoe.  A good canoe with 1-2″ of rocker from the center of the canoe  will also tend to hold its position on the water while you are padding in the wind.  To determine the amount of rocker, take the easiest step first:  ask the salesperson.  If that’s not effective, you can flip the canoe upside down and look down the length of it to see if it has a slight “banana” shape to it  Another way to test it is to set in on a level, firm surface and push down on the bow or stern to see if the opposite end rises and falls like a rocking chair.  This may or may not be effective on plastic canoes with a more flexible bottom. 

Nothing can be more annoying and inefficient than a canoe which needs constant correction as the stern slips off course in an angled following sea – the wind hits you at an angle from the back and the stern goes with it usually forcing the stern paddler to constantly reach out with a draw stroke to correct the course of the canoe. All canoes will do this to some degree depending on the force of the wind.  Non-rockered canoes will have this happen and when they get blown off course a little, and, because they can’t correct easily by slightly turning the bow, the problem grows as they paddle the non-responsive canoe even harder to correct and fly WAY off course.  This event leaves less-experienced paddlers in the wrong canoe with the perception that the canoe “really blows around the lake easily” and it was not a good experience for them at all.   Canoes which are rockered only on the ends turn poorly at best and are not worth much of your attention overall.  You might as well have no rocker and be paddling a performance canoe.  They’ll handle about the same.

Stability –  If the canoe is “tender” (tippy & jittery feeling when somebody so much as scratches his ear or swats a bug), it’s not worth much as a general purpose canoe.  A good canoe will have the right amount of flatness in the bottom combined with what’s called  “shallow arching” in the ends.  A flat bottom in the canoe makes it stable when sitting loaded or unloaded on the water.  The shallow-arching contributes to the canoe’s secondary stability.  If you lean it over, the canoe fights your tipping over into the water, hence, this “early warning system” tells you it’s time quit goofing around and get back to the center of the canoe.  If the canoe is flat-bottomed from end to end, however,  with no shallow-arching, that’s not good either.  This hull will feel very stable in most situations with the exception of rough water.  It can tip over suddenly without warning as its paddlers do something dumb.  A shallow-arched bottom throughout the canoe will make the canoe feel tender whenever it is paddled without a load. That doesn’t mean it’s going to tip, but you’ll feel the need to be pay attention to the canoe and your partner’s movements all the time in a shallow-arched hull.  Generally, canoes with shallow-arched bottoms will stabilize when you load them up and the canoe rests on its maximum wetted surface from chine to chine (where the side of  the canoe meets the bottom).  In summary, your best general purpose choice is a canoe that offers a combination of both flat bottom with shallow arching.

Freeboard –  If you are not racing, sufficient freeboard is a big consideration.  Many canoes out there were built by designers who (I think) have watched “On Golden Pond” too many times.  Lakes can and do get rough!  Canoes with low sides (no freeboard) are great if it doesn’t get windy out.  How can you predict what the wind will do when you are 2 miles from shore?  If the waves never get higher than three inches then everyone can feel all warm and gooey inside.  However. the reality of canoeing is that many paddlers haul some kind of a load, be it people, the dog, camping/hunting gear or some combination thereof and the wind can come out of nowhere.  If the canoe you are in has low freeboard, doesn’t turn worth a darn (no rocker) and you get caught in rough water broadside to the waves, your experience for the trip might not be too pleasant.   Taking on water over the sides makes a difficult-to-turn, performance canoe go much slower with WAY less stability and even less turn-ability.  That’s a problem.  There’s nothing worse than the feeling of the ship going down into cold water especially when it can be prevented by paddling a better canoe design for one’s intended use.  For general purpose padding, avoid canoes with low freeboard like the plague and you’ll be much happier in the long haul.  Some low-freeboard, kevlar canoes will generally have only 4-6″ of remaining freeboard with a normal load.  Canoes which offer 8-10″ of freeboard are a much better consideration and keeping the water in the lake is usually preferred by most people.  The argument FOR low freeboard is a silly one about catching wind.  If you are not racing and instead, are out paddling for recreation, catching the wind is always much better than catching the water.  A good general purpose canoe should be keep its paddlers high and dry 99% of the time.

Durability – Some people are tough on canoes and simply need more durability. If you are looking to lighten your canoe carry weight, you may need to make some changes in the your overall handling  of cloth-layup canoes to make sure you don’t destroy your investment’s bow.  If you are accustomed to ramming shore at 20 MPH with your canoe, you would fall into the “tough” class of paddlers and should only consider aluminum, plastic, or epoxy-resin cloth lay-up canoes.  If you consider yourself tough on canoes, stay away from cloth canoes made with vinylester resin and gel coat or plan on making repairs to chips and cracks.   Overall comparisons of canoe construction materials are as follows:    

Aluminum canoes take a beating, take dents, last just about forever, are heavy and noisy in the water.   If you are located right on the water, they make a great general purpose canoe.

Plastic canoes such as royalex and polyethylene are very tough, limited in their hull shapes, tippier overall than aluminum and cloth layup canoes, tend to slip in the wind more easily, require more correcting strokes while paddling, and are heavier than aluminum,  but quiet on the water.  If you are located on the water or like to bash down rivers where you’ll be carrying very short distances, these are a good choice.

Cloth Layup canoes (canoe made out of kevlar cloth, fiberglass, duralite, tuffweave, carbon fiber, etc.) can be (but are not always) less durable, sleeker in design, both substantially lighter (OR heavier) than plastic canoes, and are quiet on the water.  Cloth lay-up canoes come from two schools of construction design with the primary differences being in the type of resin used to build them and the type of stiffening system used to keep the bottom stiff.  If you’d like to read more about these significant differences, click here.

 

Here’s what you should find out before you buy that canoe:

1. Is it stable overall or does it have better secondary stability?  If the answer is better secondary stability, then the canoe will feel tippy.2. How much freeboard is there with a load of two regular-sized paddlers and 200 lbs. of  gear?  It’s far better to have 8-10″ of freeboard when loaded than a paltry 4-6″ like some canoes provide.  Also note that the canoe depth spec’s have nothing to do with the amount of freeboard that will be remaining in the canoe on the water.  A 15″ deep round-bottom canoe may settle in to the water further resulting in the same amount of remaining freeboard that a 13.5″ deep canoe may have with identical loads.  A knowledgeable sales person would know how deep the canoe settles in with an average load.

3. How much rocker does it have and is it from the middle of the canoe or just on the ends?  1-2″ is nice for turning. Rocker only on the ends the canoe isn’t worth a heck of a lot compared to rocker from the center.

4. How is the bottom arched?  Various canoe’s bottoms will range from flat, to flat in the middle with arching towards the ends, shallow arched, cantilevered (looks like a flattened out letter “V”).  Flat in middle with arching towards the ends is desirable for good general purpose canoes.  Cantilevered bottoms never know which side they want to rest upon when the canoe is paddled without a load so they can tend to shift suddenly from one side to the other which can be unsettling for some folks.

5. How durable is the canoe in rocks or if it gets dropped accidentally and lands on or runs over a rock?  Does the canoe have skid plates?   Aluminums can dent and puncture if the rock is sharp enough but are the toughest overall with no need for skid plates.  Depending on where you are paddling and how tough you are on the canoe, skid plates are usually a must or at least a big plus for anything other than aluminum canoes.  Some manufacturers build skid plates right into each canoe automatically so you don’t have to do anything except paddle the canoe.   Most plastic and cloth-layup canoes do not offer built in skid plates to the general canoeing population so you need to buy and install your own after you buy your canoe.  It’s not real hard but it is an extra expense and pain, so getting the installed by the dealer (for an extra fee) or buying a canoe with plates already built in is a major plus.  Gel coat on cloth-layup canoes hold up to abrasions better than regular skin-coat hulls but “spider-web” crack on impacts and also adds weight.  Canoes made from plastic can usually flex without damage.  Foam core kevlar canoes can experience substantially more damage while crossing over an obstacle with the canoe – the foam crushes under the weight of it’s load and a rut and/or cut is formed.  Flexible rib kevlar canoes will act like plastic canoes, receiving minimal damage depending on the type of resin used in their initial construction.

Summary
For a good general purpose canoe, consider stability, weight, durability, and control on the water.  There are a lot of canoes out there some better than others in all different price ranges.  Hope this info helps you out!

Complete Sheet Construction in Souris River Canoes

Complete Sheet Construction in Souris River Canoes

The actual hull of every Souris River Canoe is made out of 4 complete sheets of material which vary depending on whether the canoe is Kevlar or  Carbon Tec.   That’s four complete, intact sheets of cloth with no scarfed-in (think “bandaid”) little pieces here and there.  So, you have one sheet of fiberglass on the outside, one sheet of kevlar next, then a sheet of polyester cloth, then a sheet of kevlar on what becomes the inside of the canoe.  All of these sheets are complete.  They are not one or two big sheets of kevlar with the sides of the canoe made out of 17 foot long by 2 foot wide pieces put in later to form a seam along the chine of the canoe.  After flexing the side of a scarfed-in canoe hull, you will see a seam appear as their vinylester resin loosens up.  There is no way to repair that.  You’ll never see that type of damage appearing in Souris River because there is no sheet glued in there to begin with. Plus, there are three sheets of cloth over the top of each flexible rib in a Souris River.  At the generous overlap, you end up with SEVEN SHEETS OF CLOTH.  You will absolutely never find that with any foam-core Brand X kevlar canoe out there.  That’s just not how they roll.

four sheet construction

Unlike all other manufacturers who use colored or clear gel-coat (resin with silica sand in it) on the outside and inside (some, not all do the inside) of the canoe, Souris River’s workmanship is completely visible to the casual observer.   When you look at a Souris River, you can see everything through the clear epoxy resin .  Gel coating which is never used by Souris River easily hides minor (or even major imperfections – just spray it on thicker) in any canoe hull.   Most people don’t realize that gel-coating gives that perfect showroom shine and finish to every canoe while covering up any imperfections. Gel coat also adds considerable weight and does absolutely nothing for the strength of the canoe.  It also allows the builder to take shortcuts in construction which the buyer cannot see.  One of the major short cuts is using up leftover scraps by overlapping layers in the hull of the canoe.

Many other-brand canoes are made using overlapping layers of cloth in the sides of the canoe.  It’s always more profitable to incorporate waste pieces whenever possible and use gel coat to cover it all up.  Unfortunately, vinylester resin ages and becomes brittle.   The vast majority of canoe builders use vinylester resin and overlaping cloth layers. It is not unusual to see a 5 year old kevlar canoe begin to separate right at the chines of the canoe (round part where the side meets the bottom).    Basically the two flaps of cloth separate from each other (delaminate) due to repeated flexing of the side of the canoe against the unbending, unforgiving stiffness of the foam core bottom.  See the cut-away illustration below.  The only way to repair damage like this would be to install a really long patch on the outside of the canoe just to seal the water out.  Not only would that repair be unsightly, it would not do much for the overall strength of the canoe in that damaged area.

traditional foam core kevlar caneos lay up

To prevent this weak point in the canoe (in the red circled areas) and other places throughout the canoe, Souris River uses complete sheets of material in every canoe built.  You will not see overlapping at the the chines of Souris River Canoes anywhere in the main hull body.  Now, an overlap is visible in the ends (stems) of the canoes because that’s where the sheet of kevlar ends.  You can actually see the overlap clearly and it is not in a high stress area of the canoe.

Why doesn’t every builder avoid overlapping?  The answer: cost and increased difficulty in manufacturing.  In order to make a better canoe with no overlapping layers, Souris River Canoes cost more to build as each canoe ends up with more waste pieces which don’t get used in any canoe. Building canoes in this fashion is not only unusual in the canoe industry, but also demands extra skill by Souris River builders.  Four complete sheets of various cloths makes a really strong canoe. This practise is also better than simply gluing several pieces together and that’s how Souris can build a canoe that can survive wrapping around a bridge abuttment.  Not that one would strive to do this, but wrapping a canoe does happen.  It’s much more difficult to cause a complete sheet of cloth to tear apart than several smaller pieces of cloth glued together in overlapping layers.  And, in all Souris River Canoes, a lack of gel coat means our customers see every last detail in the canoe, so the workmanship needs to be of a very high standard.

Due to the lack of gel coat, upon really close, visual observation in the right lighting, one may see what is know as “pin-holing” (to the canoe building world)  in the finish of a Souris River.  It’s normal to have pin-holing or porosity in the outside layer of a any “skin coat” canoe which is a canoe that is not covered with an outside layer gel-coat.  Porosity does not effect the canoe’s performance and generally means nothing.  Expect to see it somewhere in varying degrees in every Souris River canoe.   Souris Rivers quite possibly offer the best skin coat layups of all the canoe makers.  Their overall finish is excellent considering the difficulties and care that is required to build canoes that won’t be hidden or smoothed out by a layer of clear or colored gel coat.

Why not apply gel coat to make a perfect finish?  It’s simple. Gel coat only flexes so far and then it cracks. When it cracks, it gets water inside of the cracks and sometimes falls off in larger chunks as a result.  Repairing gel coat is a ROYAL pain! While gel coat offers no worthwhile strength to the canoe, it does add substantial weight and would crack off in large chunks on a hull that can flex.  In striving to build canoes for nature’s harsh reality, Souris River chose to forego the absolutely perfect showroom finish. While it’s nice, the vast majority of Souris River owners actually use their canoes a lot! Only very few stand on shore admiring that showroom shine of their canoe with a magnifying glass.  We feel that with Souris River Canoes, high quality function, design and a great looking canoe are what is important. If you need to impress your neighbors at the microscopic level with the paint job, get a car.

One Tough Canoe

Souris River Canoes are simply tougher than the average kevlar canoe. Here’s more proof.

When you ask the question about how Souris River Canoes are different from all the other kevlar canoes, I’ll first define the other guys. These other kevlar canoe brands would include but are not be limited to, Sawyer, Old Town, Wenonah, Mad River, Bell, Swift, Novacraft, Sawyer, Clipper, Scott and any other canoe that uses vinylester resin and a sheet of styrofoam used to stiffen the floor (called a foam core – Old Town used to use parkay balsa wood in stead of foam). The foam is usually sandwiched between 2 sheets of kevlar cloth or some derivation of cloths – could be fiberglass cloth, kevlar& fiberglass combined, carbon fiber cloth, spectra, etc. Regardless of the cloth used, the foam core offers stiffness but not a lot of strength. This is not a flaw and is intentionally designed into those kevlar canoes because to several of the above named canoe companies hull efficiency means stiffness as it pertains to making the canoe go fast on the water and not how it holds up to impacts on the rocks or obstacles. Souris River, on the other hand, regards hull efficiency as good speed on the water, with excellent seaworthiness in rough water and incredible durability to get you out of a sticky wicket for when that time comes. It appears to me…and I may be wrong…that the other guys worry more about winning races and selling “sizzle” to paddlers. Hard to win a race if your canoe is full of water OR broken in two. And for those of you who proclaim that this will never happen to you, all I can say is, HA!

Below you can see what happens (in most cases) to a Souris River in a catastrophic event. In this case, a Le Tigre kevlar, Quetico 17 was almost chopped in half by a very large tree. This type of folding in half backwards is very similar to what happens in a whitewater wrap. In a WW wrap, the canoe gets folded in half backwards around a rock as the river current forces it around an unmoveable object. You can pretend that the tree is a rock in a river and the canoe is folded around it because of the water current. Looks the same and the end result is the same. Most foam core, non-epoxy resin canoes would be turned into two shorter canoes in this situation.

Tree on Canoe
Tree landed across this Souris River canoe.  Ouch.

 In the following photo, you’ll see how the above pictured canoe looked when it actually arrived at Red Rock to be repaired. The owner had pulled it straight so he could haul it on his car all the way from Illinois. Upon closer inspection, the canoe’s hull was not broken through to the inside from the tree. In fact, it pretty much popped back to really close to it’s normal shape. What does that mean to the guy who is stuck out in the woods? It means that with just a teeny bit of duct tape this canoe could have been paddled home safely. If you choose to believe for one second that every kevlar canoe can do this or even that an aluminum canoe can perform like this, then I’ve got some swamp land in Florida that you might be interested in buying.

Souris River Quetico 17 in LT kevlar
Souris River Quetico 17 in LT kevlar

Not a really big deal…

This canoe needed to have the gunwales replaced. Unlike epoxy resined kevlar, they don’t pop back to their normal shape. The aluminum stretches when it bends. They were slightly cracked on the worst side. As far as the hull, there were several stress marks and exposed fibers within the cracks of just above the chines (when the side meets the bottom). I removed the flaked fiberglass at the edges of the cracks with a sharp knife so the patch would be less bumpy. This allow me to completely wet out the entire damage area with resin. Because the damage did not actually go through the hull, I used 10 oz. fiberglass over the damage on the outside and a sheet of kevlar cloth on the inside for reinforcing. As a result, the outside damage was sealed up, reinforced and pretty invisible. The kevlar reinforcing patches on the inside were more visible but will eventually “brown-up” like the rest of the canoe and become much less visible.

To make the repair, I used West System Marine Epoxy Resin. And, despite what competitors say about the “danger” of epoxy resin, I feel absolutely fine. No dizziness, no pain, and no extra hand grew out of my forehead. I also wore rubber gloves and didn’t lick it when it was still wet. Like anything else, common sense applies. Some of those kevlar, foam-core, canoe salesman will say anything to try to turn you away from an absolutely better product.

Here is the finished repair the next day. Of course, since it was required by Mother Nature that we be rained on for at least six weeks, the photo was thus shot in the rain and it makes the gunwales mottled looking in spots even though they were brand new and otherwise satin finished.

repaired kevlar canoe
Souris River Quetico 17 in Le Tigre Kevlar

Looks like a Souris River Quetico 17 in Le Tigre Kevlar. You can see the long narrow patch under the front thwart (cross bar right behind front seat). When I was done the repair was unremarkable, which is the way they should be. Oh, I’m sure somebody will make some remark – somebody always has to be cute and make a remark.

To see how I do a repair like this, with all the steps and necessary parts, click HERE. The repair process is always pretty much the same. Only the damaging technique changes. Another reason that this canoe held up so well in this extreme situation is because of it’s full sheet construction.

 

Souris River Quetico 17 compared to a Wenonah Minnesota II

Souris River Quetico 17 compared to a Wenonah Minnesota II

While standing on our beach of Jasper Lake, we are always asked to compare Wenonah canoes (usually MN II’s) to Souris River Quetico 17’s.  Our usual response is that there is no comparison if one is seeking a real wilderness/recreational canoe vs. a kevlar racing canoe. Then we also hear the myth about needing a canoe that it 18’6″ long “for  ‘serious’ wilderness tripping”.  Well, if you study the specifications below, you should see that although the Wenonah MN II is longer, it is also narrower and has a smaller overall payload capacity. 

I had the opportunity to take side by side photos of the two different brands/models  of canoes to help illustrate why a Souris River Quetico 17 is a better canoe for the vast majority of paddlers out there today.  Normally, I’d  just tell you verbally, but thru the wonders of the internet and my digital camera, I can now show you.  The differences are profound when someone actually points them out to paddlers with lesser trained eyes for canoe hull details.  All canoes are not the same, and they all have their purposes and markets.   If I’ve done my job correctly, you should see and understand what makes these two canoes so different and why one may be better for your needs over the other.

Canoe
Model
 SRQ-17  Wenonah
MNII
Length  17’3″  18’6″
Bow
Height
 20″ 20″
Stern Height  20″ 16″
Width 35″ 35″
Center Height 13.5″ 12.5″
Bottom Shape See 1 See 2
Rocker 1.5″ 0″
Max Payload 1100 lbs. 950
lbs.

1. Sharp V entry to shallow arch to flat bottom in center for 6 feet or so to shallow arch to sharp V exit
2.  Sharp V entry to shallow arch, to slight flat region in center 5 feet or so to shallow arch to sharp V exit

Note that while the MN II is longer than the Quetico 17, the payload is considerably less.  Based on my observations,  the MN II has a narrower footprint on the water than the Quetico 17.  Although it is about the same width in the middle by the carrying yoke, the MN II follows a racing-oriented design and becomes much more narrow as you head towards either end of the canoe.  While it is unlikely that you would ever take a canoe trip with your canoe loaded to maximum capacity (I don’t recommend it), you can pretty much infer that a smaller maximum payload canoe will settle into the water deeper than a larger payload canoe when both canoes are carrying equal loads.  This means you’ll have less freeboard (canoe sides sticking out of the water at the carrying yoke in the center) and could run into more problems than you bargained for in rough water.  Regarding rough water, I occasionally hear people who tell me that they will only paddle in calm conditions so that low freeboard and difficult turning on water really isn’t an issue.  If you believe that you can choose your wind conditions when you get out on the water, you’d be better off owning a boat because your dream-world won’t safely support a canoe.  Because the MN II has a zero inches of rocker, a shallow arched bottom,  and a very rigid hull due to it’s foam core construction, it is a very fast canoe when paddled by two, more skilled paddlers with no significant load.  However, when you load it and a Quetico 17 up with the same amount of camping gear and people the MN II travels at about the same fast clip of the shorter Quetico 17 but its freeboard decreases and turning it becomes more difficult which all canoes experience.

 

The MN II is on the left and the Quetico 17 is on the right.  Notice how much more narrow the Wenonah is compared to the Souris River. Compare air chamber widths as well.  It’s gunwales are straighter – the Souris River’s gunwales have more bow to them as well.

Q-17 vs MN II
Q-17 vs MN II

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The MN II is on top and the SR on the bottom.  Just another angle to depict the differences in widths.  If you’ve had the opportunity to paddle the MN II from the front seat, you’ll note that your feet won’t fit side by side – it’s tight up there and not really accommodating for bigger guys.

bowwidths

 

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The MN II in a vertical shot.  Notice how knife-like the hull is.  This canoe cuts thru incoming big waves like a hot knife through butter.  And that is not always good when you are not racing.  It is a Eugene Jensen hull designed to go from point A to point B in the straightest line.  That includes from side to side AND up and down.  Straighter equals faster in a race.   With the 20 inch bow cutting into the 24″ wave, it is not unusual for the front guy to get 4″ of water in his lap.  If traveling without gear, this is not a problem except if you hate getting wet like me.

mn2hullshape

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The Quetico 17 is wider both fore and aft from the carrying yoke and less knife-like in the bow.  This canoe climbs up and over the waves even with a big guy in the more ample front seat due to the sharp bow entry into the water followed by the hull then flaring out into a shallow arch.  When plunged into a wave, the bow pokes in and then the wave gets under the flared area which starts about a foot ahead of the bow paddlers feet, and begins lifting the canoe up and over. Going up and over is not going to win a race from a speed attitude, but it does help you get to your destination in really rough water with your canoe sitting higher and drier.

quethullshape

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The MN II two in their most popular kevlar layup uses a foam mat in the bottom which is sort of diamond shaped. It’s called the “foam core” and you’ll find this (or some derivation of it) in virtually every brand of kevlar canoe out there except for Souris Rivers.  From the foam core, Wenonah builds these ribs which run up the sides of the canoe as you can see the one in this picture.  There’s the SR Quetico 17 right behind it with the Flexible Rib System and flat-topped gunwales. Souris River uses a flexible rib system.  The floor is designed to flex on demand – that is when you drive the canoe over a rock or obstacle.  It does not move or flop up and down with wave action like you can see in cheaper plastic canoes.

depthcomp

This is the same rib as on the left, but I’ve circled a stress mark where the upright foam rib meets the edge of the foam bottom on the canoe.  While this MN II was used and in nice shape, just about every rib showed signs of cracking in varying degrees like you see above. This is caused by the side of the the canoe being flexed for whatever reason.  The most common activities that cause the most damage to this hull is lifting the canoe to your knee just prior to placing it on your shoulder. Also, setting it down too hard or dropping it when rolling it off your shoulders causes this as well.  The chine (where the side of the canoe meets the bottom) hits the ground a few too many times and this crack becomes a leak in a difficult place to make a lasting repair. The foam core in the bottom does not move, but the side of the canoe does.   Vinylester resin becomes more brittle with age.  After repeated flexing caused by bumping into objects and just ordinary handling, this area can be a weak spot that seeps water and because of the joint involved, it is harder to fix.  If the canoe has gelcoat on the outside (gelcoat = vinylester resin with silica sand and pigment), it’s even harder to repair and do a nice job.  Gel coated canoes will sometimes show cracking on the outside of the canoe right along the foam core line.  You’ll never see this with a Souris River Canoe.  They never use gelcoat.

Because of Souris River’s Flexible Rib System, you just don’t see this type of flexing damage occurring.

stessmarkmaincir

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In this shot, you can see that the Souris River is wider throughout the canoe especially fore and aft of the carrying yoke.  It’s also 15″ shorter in length but because of its shape, it has increased wetted surface (the canoe’s bottom surface that rests on the water and is supported by the water). As a result of increase wetted surface, the Quetico 17 floats higher on the water and has a greater payload capacity than the MN II.  What this means is that when both canoes are loaded with equal weight, the Wenonah will settle deeper into the water and have less canoe sticking out of the water (freeboard).  The Wenonah has zero rocker which means that if you are not as skilled a paddler or do not have a front paddler who knows how to do a sweep, draw, or cross-bow-rudder maneuver,  you’ll have a miserably difficult time turning the MN II into a crosswind.  As a result, you may find yourself stuck broadside to the wind and waves.  With inadequate freeboard in this situation, you may get uninvited water in your canoe. This extra, unplanned weight from the added water will make your canoe sit even lower and your problems can grow quickly from there.

Note: Because the Wenonah was set up with a different style yoke, I just placed a wooden yoke over the right spot on the canoe for comparison purposes.  That’s why it’s sticking out on the sides and laying on top of the gunwales.

sidebyside

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Souris River’s seats are more beautifully finished.  While this does not make the canoe float better, it was something that I noticed when taking these photos.  One thing is for certain – after selling thousands of Souris Rivers over the last ten years, we do know that the rivets (that hold the angle bracket upon which the seat rests) through the side never loosen up because the epoxy resin never breaks down.  If there was ever a seat/rivet breakdown in the outfitters’  Souris River rental canoes, we’d be the first to hear about it.

sourisseat

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This is the way the seats are mounted in the Wenonah.  The angle brackets are internally riveted into the upright foam ribs.  Wenonah installed little reinforcing plates just under the rivets to make the mounts stronger, but we do know for a fact that these rivets can pullout and their holes in the kevlar can enlarge as various big folks paddle these canoes. Now in all fairness, it doesn’t happen all the time, but I do know outfitters who gripe about this rivet pullout in these canoes fairly frequently.  Chances are good that if it’s your private canoe, you may never experience problems with the rivets loosening up in your Wenonah.  But, if they do loosen up, how do you fix the foam rib?

wenonahseat

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This is a stern shot of the two canoes.  Here you can see the low 16″ stern of the MN II and the 20″ stern of the Quetico 17.  You can also see how straight-lined the MN II is compared to the upsweep in the Quetico 17 behind it.  That the rocker that allows you to turn the canoe from the back with less reliance on a skilled bow paddler.  Rockerless canoes like the Wenonah are made for racing.  Their straight-tracking design is based on “sit & switch” style paddling where each paddler strokes an equal amount of strokes on opposite sides of the canoe using bent-shaft paddles. The Captain of the canoe says HUT! to signify to the guy in front to switch to the other side simultaneously.  This makes the canoe scream down the lake.  It also requires a really straight tracking canoe.  They really steer by bulling the canoe around in the water.

Canoes with rocker require a different skill by the guy in the back.  While both paddlers stay on the opposite sides, the stern paddler steers by using a J-stroke, a draw stroke, or some derivation thereby.  The bow guy just paddles straight ahead.  The stroke goal here is 15 to 30 strokes per side and then switching to opposite sides when someone (whoever has tired arms) say to switch. In this case, the bow paddler’s main job is providing power and paddling straight ahead unless otherwise directed by the stern paddler.  The bow guy also watches for rocks and slows the canoe’s contact with shore.

sterns

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For another perspective, here’s the back seat of the MN II.  It’s narrower than the Quetico 17 below.  Now if you have the skinny butt of a marathon paddler, this will probably fit you a reasonably well.  My derriere just barely fits in this puppy and I know many folks who might need a little butter to squeeze in between those gunwales.

wenseatwidth

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The back seat of the Quetico 17 is wider than the MN II.  Most people can just plop down with little difficulty.  A wider higher seat is also nicer if you hunt ducks or fish.  You need to be able to swivel your butt to the side of the canoe.  The added height of Souris River seats is possible due to the excellent stability of the Quetico models.

 quetseatwidth

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Now if you look at the two canoes in the side by side shot up above, you can see that the Souris River is a higher volume canoe.  You can also see that it is not “tubby” when compared to the narrower MN II.   Technically, it is a bigger canoe with different properties.  It moves at a fast clip on the water and hauls a big load.

The MN II is a retired racing hull that was cleverly marketed as a wilderness tripping canoe thereby eliminating the need by Wenonah to design and build a new canoe mold.  This had to have saved them a lot of money while increasing their bottom line.  Being a capitalist pig myself, I see nothing wrong with making good business decisions and compliment Wenonah on the job they’ve done.  Wenonah has many happy & satisfied customers.   But as a rapidly increasing numbers of paddlers are seeking canoes that keep them higher & drier, are easier to control with increased durability and without the weight, Souris River Quetico 17’s are becoming the new norm in kevlar canoes for those seeking a good general purpose canoe to be used for large variety of uses.  To prove this point to yourself, try to find a private person who owns a Souris River Quetico 17 and is selling it used in search of different canoe type and hull.  With the exception of us and various other BWCA outfitters selling used Q-17’s, you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Canoe Weight – Buy the steak…NOT the sizzle

After almost 30 years of outfitting, it appears that the first remembered aspect of any wilderness canoe trip is generally the portages. Portages on a new canoe route remain the unknown challlenge. You can see it the little red, dotted line on the map and you know it’s gonna be a long one. Stare at the map as hard as you want, you still have no idea of the terrain until you start lugging your stuff over the portage.

When you hit the trail, you can encounter everything from black stinky muck that threatens to suck your shoe right off your foot, to hard, round, coconut-like rocks that test your ankles to see if you truly are a desk jockey, to slippery sloping tree roots, or a combination of all three. The most memorable moments (for myself) come from watching those who are improperly packed and carrying too much stuff in silly containers such as 5 gallon pails or 60 quart coolers with dry ice (gotta get all that fresh meat and milk in because a whole 5 days with less than perfect food and booze is just not right), garbage bags or even in little loose pieces. From what I can see, it appears that about 80% of all visitors to the BWCA pack and plan pretty much like I’ve described. My personal favorite is when they decide to cross a 210 rod portage (2/3’s of a mile) with three or more fishing rods (tips facing forward) with big long Rapalas hanging off the end of the rods and the treble hooks dancing wildly until they become a tangled hazardous mess. Top all of this off with a 70+ lb. canoe with a duct taped, old lifejacket for yoke pads and I can see where this excercise in poor planning can really make a lasting impression.

But while getting a lighter canoe is not going to solve all the packing/lugging inefficiencies, it does burn less calories so the improperly packed can declare at least one modicum of improvement in overall effiency and not feel completely spent at the end of each land-based maneuver. In other words, you’re not as tired because a really good kevlar canoe gets you there faster for the same amount of effort and is a lot easier to portage.

Interestingly enough, I remember Brand X kevlar canoes running ads on the radio in Ely, MN back in the early 80’s when I was guiding a lot. All the ads could sputter over and over was how easy the Brand X canoe was to carry on the portage. “They are so light on the portages. You gotta have one because the portaging is SO much easier.” Never once did I hear how the canoe actually handled on the water or how the canoe would survive after you hit an obstacle like a rock located 1.5″ under the surface in the middle of the lake.

People who could afford these expensive, super-duper, kevlar, Brand X canoes ran out in droves to buy them with “making their portages easier” first and foremost in their thoughts. Little or no thought was given to how they would handle on the water, or if they’d be tippy, or really suck when it came to turning in a crosswind. Light carrying weight was all that was considered, and everything else was ignored. I refused to follow the crowd and buy a Brand X kevlar way back before I was even selling canoes because I’d heard that those new kevlars absolutely did not hold up at all on the rocks plus they were difficult to control on the water. I was guiding newbies in canoes. Why would I want to make my guiding life more difficult and hazardous on the water just to be able to cross portages more easily?

Still, today, for the majority of our canoe customers, weight is still the number one reason for getting a kevlar canoe. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that for a whole bunch of good reasons, however, many people conclude that all kevlar canoes are the same in all aspects and will handle the same in all conditions. This assumption is ridiculously off base and people sometimes find out that they bought a light kevlar canoe that doesn’t act at all like a “normal” canoe (say a Grumman) should act and are quite disappointed not to mention $2400 poorer.

MY POINT: Weight can still be one of your top motivations for buying a kevlar canoe so long as you absolutely consider how that particular canoe handles based on your paddling ablility, your intended payload, and the conditions in which you’ll be paddling. If you are used to paddling a Grumman or other aluminum and end up with a Brand X racing hull, you may not like that kevlar canoe one bit especially during high winds. Don’t assume even for a second that all canoes handle even remotely the same. Before you plunk down the cash, really talk to the dealer. Ask a lot of questions about what can be expected of this canoe and how it should handle regarding stability, turnability, and remaining freeboard when loaded.

If the dealer tells you that low freeboard is good in a crosswind to keep the canoe from blowing you off course by allowing the wind to pass over, you must ask yourself where do the big waves go? When your canoe is barely sticking out of the water and the waves are 14″ higher than the center of your loaded canoe and hitting you broadside, where might they end up and how might that affect you? Ask how the canoe tracks (goes straight) and how hard it is to turn into the wind. Ask about the freeboard when loaded and the initial stability. If he keeps turning the conversation back to hull stiffness, paddling efficiency and top end performance, chances are good that he doesn’t understand what you are looking for and probably doesn’t really give a rip because he’s not listening to what you need. He’s telling you what he wants to sell to you.

Top-end performance sounds exciting but it’s like buying a Porshe to drive on winding country roads. With it’s tight suspension, high horsepower and highway tires, it might be a bit hard to handle on gravel and you’ll end up putting it in the woods. In my opinion, your first consideration regarding a lightweight canoes should be safety-based. It has to accomodate both on your own paddling ability and on the fact that you are on the water with your canoe much more than on land. Nobody ever drowns on a portage or by putting a canoe on top of the car.

SUMMARY

Getting a lightweight canoe is definitely the way to go. I’ve become totally spoiled by the kevlar canoes. However, if you’re not a racer, getting a lightweight kevlar canoe with racing characteristics may not be the best choice for you.  Buy the steak, not the sizzle.

Canoe Stability – If it’s got great secondary stability, what good is it, really?

Sure, you can get used to anything but I have to ask why anyone would choose to buy something that requires the first 15 minutes of using it to get used to it?  I keep hearing this regarding tippy canoes.

“It’s a little tender feeling when you first get in, but after a while you just forget about it.”

“The initial stabilty is a little shaky feeling, but the secondary stability is excellent!”

“It feels pretty stable after we load it with gear.”

OK – here’s a rhetorical question: If drinking or eating something that tastes awful requires you to develop an “acquired” taste to enjoy it, are you a better person after you learn how to like it or just a little dumber, poorer, and have a bad taste in your mouth?   You shouldn’t have to put up with something that’s disconcerting until such time as you “learn” to enjoy it, particularily a canoe. Cigarettes, martinis, fois gras, cigars, raw fish, and onions (I hate ’em) – now these are examples of acquired tastes for us all to strive to achieve, but not canoes. The first five minutes of sitting in a canoe, should be enough to determine if you like the way it feels. It should feel like a pair of old slippers, the Barco Lounger after a long hard day, the wind thru your hair while out riding the hog…

If learning how to get used to a tippy feeling canoe is an acquired trait necessary for handling that specific canoe every time you use it, you need to get a canoe that’s better for you.

Heck, Souris River even makes a tippy feeling model. If you want a canoe that needs a load to feel stable, and when it’s paddled empty it requires your continual, semi-constant attention, get the Souris River Wilderness 18 and most Brand X kevlar canoes on the market. You’ll get to pay attention it all day long. Think of the fun.

When I hear the sales pitch drivel with Brand X about “secondary stability” and all the “blahbitty-blah” used to explain why that particular lake canoe feels jittery plus why that’s a “good” thing, I just shake my head. Pass the fois gras, please.

Until the Souris River Quetico’s came out I’d always heard that it’s not possible to have good primary stability AND good secondary stability all in the same canoe. Oh, sure, you can’t lay a Souris River Quetico over at a 45 degree angle, but you can lean it over pretty far without rolling it over completely. That’s all that really matters because mishaps can and do happen. To me, the word “forgiving” is very important because, like everybody else, I do dumb things on occasion and having a canoe that will catch me when I fall is very important to me as well as to our retail/rental customers whether they realize it or not.

Every canoe can tip over in the right (and wrong) hands and decreasing the odds of tipping is what a good hull design is all about. On top of the safety aspect, I just like the feel of a comfortable, stabile canoe on the water. If you can spend the bulk of your day on the water not being too concerned with the canoe as it sits there, that makes for much better time paddling, fishing, shooting, etc.

Souris River Queticos derive their stabilty from their flat bottom

flat bottom in canoe
flat bottom in canoe

 in the center of the canoe and their secondary stability from the shallow arch

This is a shallow arched bottom
This is a shallow arched bottom

that’s more towards the ends of the canoe under the paddle-stations AKA seat-regions.

Here’s how these two different shapes react with water or even a hard flat surface.

A shallow arched bottom, even when tipped, still has a sizeable portion of canoe being supported by water which is depicted between the red lines on the next image.

This is a shallow-arched bottom tipped
This is a shallow-arched bottom tipped

As long as there is a relatively flat section of canoe resting on the water regardless of being tipped, the canoe resists going over completely and gives you more time to realize that you need to make changes lest ye be dunked. This is an example of secondary stability and how it actually acts on the water. The larger the distance between the red bars – the greater secondary stability that the hull will have.

A flat bottom by itself is not a good thing. When tipped over to it’s chine (the area where the canoe’s side meets the canoe’s bottom – like a rounded corner), it offers almost no wetted, flat surface for support as you can see in this image. The distance between the red bars is smaller and more like trying to balance on a tight rope. When you do begin to go over, you’ll do so suddenly unless you are really quick, incredibly balanced and have great physical wherewithall that allows you to recover deftly. In other words, you’ll need your spider powers.

Tipping a flat bottom
Tipping a flat bottom

The next drawing depicts what a Souris River Quetico’s shape is like when looking at it from straight on. It offers the stability of the flat bottom in the center, the shallow arching in the ends and what we call a sharp “knife” entry in the stem which is the very end of the canoe’s bow (or stern). All Quetico’s are shaped like this but the Quetico 16 has a bit less flatness in the middle of the canoe because that’s how the design lines played out. It has an ever-so-slightly tender feel attributed to having less flat area in the bottom center region. To put it in greater perspective, the Souris River Wilderness 18 only looks like the green knife entry with the red shallow arched part throughout the length of the canoe. The flat blue part in the drawing does not exist in that particular hull.

What a Souris River Quetico looks like from head-on
What a Souris River Quetico looks like from head-on

The next image defines where the flat and arched areas are in a Souris River Quetico.

Stability regions in a Souris River Canoe
Stability regions in a Souris River Canoe

So there you have it. A canoe without stability is a like a hotdog without ketchup. It tastes OK, and you could get used to it, but that ketchup makes it all complete. It may not be the greatest analogy but I do know that tippy canoes and tippy-feeling canoes are no fun. You really need a canoe that has good combination of primary (flat bottom) and secondary (shallow arched) of the two. Personally, I think the Souris River Queticos where designed by Keith Robinson using a little science, a touch of art and a smattering of luck.  These are outstanding canoes and their stability will serve 99% of all paddlers very well.