Basswood Falls 2 – The Revenge

Sometimes, (well, all the time) it is better to take the portage.

This is an actual, true canoe story (Late July 2010). It’s for whoever wants to read it, but I especially like to dedicate it to all of the naysayers, internet experts, and “in-your-own-mind afficianado wannabes” of all things canoeing/Red Rock related. So many of you elitist internet opiners purport to “know” so much about Souris River Canoes and claim that I do not, this story’s for you. I invite you to drink it in, epoxy resin and all. I am particularly amused by those of you who go through our website with a fine tooth comb and pick on details which have been evolving since 1998 or so. I admit that some of my older stuff is not up to date and may vary from my current way of doing repairs and discussing the differences between canoes, canoe construction repairs and etc. However, for the most part, it’s pretty close to being right on the money.   I enjoy the opportunity to, yet again, demonstrate why one would want to own a Souris River Canoe in kevlar over all the other less worthy canoes out there.   No matter how you choose to pick at my writings and opinions, if you don’t paddle a Souris River Canoe for wilderness/boundary waters use, you might think/believe you’re in a good canoe as long as the weather is nice and nobody screws up in a big way.   Change the weather or contribute boldly to the “screw-up factor” and you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle in the middle of nowhere. Now just to be clear, a Souris River may not always be your saving grace either so don’t be stupid intentionally, but based on what you are about to see and read, I remain convinced that it absolutely can’t hurt to own one.

Here is a case of one of our rented Souris River Quetico 17’s that took a little trip between upper and lower Basswood Falls, Summer 2010. What is it about those falls…?

From what I could glean from our rental customer was that he and his son were crossing a fairly quick moving stretch of not-too-deep water trying to get to the other side of the river for the benefit of a shorter portage on the Canadian side of the river. They were between Upper and Lower Basswood Falls.  As they were crossing, the lad developed a limp wrist (or something) and his paddle turned broadside to the swift, but flat current. My guess was that the water then pushed suddenly on his paddle blade which see-sawed the blade under the canoe using the canoe’s side as a fulcrum. The kid, upon noticing his paddle being sucked under the canoe fought back. He reacted by pulling on the paddle handle in a pry which caused the canoe to lay over on it’s side and dunk the upstream gunwale below the water’s swiftly moving surface.   The canoe filled instantaneously with water as it acted like a big scoop catching the flowing current. This resulted the canoe suddenly ejecting the paddling duo and their associated contents up into the oncoming current as the canoe pulled away.   It was heading broadside downstream towards Armageddon…The end of days…

And, Armageddon struck quickly.  It consisted of a large, unmovable rock sticking out of the water and it was determined to cancel this canoe. The canoe agreed with the rock and wrapped right around it in the blink of an eye. Nothing like 5 MPH water to flatten out an obstacle – or a canoe.  The sides splayed out like a candy wrapper as the canoe went from being a curved vessel to a large, flat-in-the-middle, piece of kevlar which caused the yoke to complete rip the bolts through the wood where it is attached on each side of the canoe.  That had to make for some nasty tearing/popping noises. From the looks of the nine cracked ribs (two of them rather badly) and the stress marks below the seat and along the rivets of the bow seat, I’ve concluded that the bottom of the canoe met the bottom of the front seat with the help of the water and the rock.  If the front seat had not been there or if it had given way, the canoe might have turned inside out.

Our misfortuned paddlers were able to wade in and peel the canoe off the rock.   Remember, (and don’t forget it for a minute) they were in the middle of nowhere and their kevlar canoe has just wrapped around a rock like a piece of foil around a chocolate bon bon.   In most situations, this is bad, very-very-bad. Bleak.    Definitely not good.

After our guys waded out and peeled the large kevlar candy wrapper off the rock and dragged it back to shore, it had no wooden yoke in the middle because the sides of the canoe flattened outwards as the water pushed it against the rock. For a short time, the canoe went from 35″ wide to 58″ wide with not much remaining freeboard. In order to make it look and function more like a traditional canoe, they took a rope and tied it around the outside middle of the canoe and pulled the sides back into normal. Presto, chang-o! The canoe came back into it’s normal shape broken gunwales, cracked ribs and all.

The canoe looked canoe-like. They set it on the water with their MacGuyver-esque rope-fix.   Wouldn’t you know it: it floated and paddled just like a regular Quetico 17…WITH NO LEAKS!!!!!!!!

They paddled it for three more days in fact. Out of the woods and back home to Red Rock. Not too many foam-core, kevlar canoes or aluminum canoes or plastic canoes that could actually do this. In fact, an outfitter just last year was posting pictures on one of those canoe bulletin-boards of a Brand X kevlar that suffered the same initial fate as this Souris River. Only it was carried home as a pile of styro-foam and crap. Their rental party got out of the woods by begging for rides and then they had to buy the styro-crap-pile from the outfitter. Our party paddled their Souris River Canoe out in one piece… proudly. And now it’s back in rentals. I don’t know about you people who actually retain the ability to reason and think, but this type of story always sells me on Souris River Canoes. All the rest of the styro-crap out there is just that – styro-crap. Based on this type of experience, I wouldn’t personally own styro-crap.   And, I haven’t even talked about how Souris Rivers handles on the water compared to stryo-crappers.   A trip just came in last night with the two rental customers raving about what a great canoe the Quetico 17 was for them. When you hear it over and over from countless customers, it must be true.

The adult responsible in Basswood Falls II – the Revenge was all upset for a number of reasons of which I guessed might have included the possibility of having to buy and take home a rather destroyed canoe.  I mean, it wasn’t really suitable for additional rentals when he brought it back.   I didn’t get too excited.   This wasn’t my first canoe repair rodeo with a seemingly destroyed Souris River Quetico 17.  I figured out the cost to fix this canoe back to canoe shape and charged the guy’s card an additional $833 for the damage. Ouch – that was an expensive rental for him but if it were a styro-crapper, I’m pretty sure it would have ended up a lot worse. Good thing he was in the Souris River. It was so much better on SO many fronts.

One of the first things a canoe expert will always notice about the strength of a canoe is whether or not the seats remained intact after a whitewater wrap. It is not unusual for them to tear out partially or completely. NO rivets pulled out of the kevlar in the sides of this canoe. I’ve yet to see the rivets ever pull out of a Souris River with one exception and that canoe was driven into two ash trees while falling off a truck roof at 30 MPH. One rivet pulled out in that case… and there was other damage…a “smidge”. Trust me (and I know some of you believe I’m making this up for vast personal gain and all of its trappings and benefits), epoxy resin is substantially stronger than the cheap stuff used by every other canoe manufacturer. I don’t care if you disagree with me – I got MY proof right here – and for the umpteenth time. The resin is what holds the kevlar cloth in the shape of a canoe. Strong, high-quality, epoxy resin (epoxy – not vinylester resin) won’t let the rivets pull out of it in most situations. Yes, I’m sure there is some extreme test that could be applied to make my statement wrong and I’m sure some self-appointed internet afficionado will pick apart every letter I type here to point out my untruths and my lack of footnotes referencing supporting articles by intelligent elitist canoe snobs…(oops! Drifting, drifting…pull back, pull back!) And yet, I am completely aware that there are many outfitters who will tell you naysayers about how “some big feller sat too hard in front of a Brand X and the rivets pulled right through the sides” – no whitewater needed, just a big butt. But, you naysayers – you are right – I’m embellishing beyond belief just to sell a canoe… and so you can sleep at night: all the images are photoshopped. None of this actually happened. I drew in the broken gunwales with my stylus and Wacom tablet. It was an episode of Lost they didn’t play.

Another interesting point in this particular wrap was in the external damage that ensued when the outside met the rock. Nine ribs were cracked inside from being bent backwards. Some of them had mutiple breaks. On the outside, there were about 3 areas where the fiberglass outer layer and first kevlar layer were cracked (rather severely) right down to the polyester layer beneath. The polyester layer and the internal kevlar layer was not cracked but stress marks from severe bending were obvious on the inside. You could see how far the bottom flexed (far). In areas of damage, I reinforced with fiberglass tape, kevlar or both in combination.

Another detail that a canoe expert might notice is the absence of where the additional pieces of kevlar were spliced into the sides of the canoe, over the foam on the floor, etc. and how they separate when folded in half backwards. An expert would also notice that all four sheets used in a Souris River Canoe tend to hold together without tearing apart because the Souris River is made up of 4 complete sheets. There are no seams in canoe except for the very ends. (Gotta end somewhere, eventually) Beginning from the outside there is: one fiberglass cloth sheet (for scuffability and sliding over rocks – kevlar doesn’t slide well) , the next layer kevlar cloth, the next layer is polyester cloth, the final inside shieet is kevlar cloth. Four intact, full sheets, bow to stern, gunwale to gunwale make this canoe a survivor. Check it out for yourself. Look at all the pieces the other guys use to glue their canoes together. Side strips, floor sheet, reinforcers, etc. Are joints stronger or weaker than non-jointed materials? Do you want your parachute cord to be knotted together here and there or would you prefer one continuous strand for each strand (from your shoulders to the chute) as you are desending to earth? Sure, they are strong knots, but if you didn’t need them, why put them there? Less splices is better for a lot of reasons, strength being one of them. Enough with the canoe blather…


Still looks like a canoe. Minus the carrying yoke.
kevlar canoe repair

Broken gunwale, crinkled sides, in-tact seat rivets.
kevlar canoe repair

Gunwales never hold up to this kind of bending.
kevlar canoe repair

Other side broken gunwale. If you bend one side, the other side bends as well due to the thwarts & yoke (cross-bars & yoke) for those of you not familiar with proper terms.
kevlar canoe repair

Center of canoe where thwart should be. Note the cracks which are in all the ribs.  Despite that, the ribs still supported the bottom as this canoe remained seaworthy even after this horror!  I’d like you to name a “foam-core” canoe that could be smashed like this and then still paddled home.  Nothing? …..yeah….that’s what I thought….
kevlar canoe repair

Hard to shoot in pictures but the sides wanted to stretch outward with no rope holding them together.
kevlar canoe repair

Another deep crack – no leaks!!!! All those scratches are what the canoe looks like normally after one summer of rentals. This canoe was put into rentals at the beginning of June. Most others around the middle of June.
kevlar canoe repair

Big crack below front seat, stress mark along the rivets that hold seat bracket in place. Not what will happen to the scatches after I recoat the canoe with West System 207/105 epoxy.
kevlar canoe repair

Ribs that have been repaired inside. The gunwales were already replaced in this pic as well.
kevlar canoe repair

Note the repair under the shine
kevlar canoe repair

Another crack gone. Note the lack of scratches. SR’s refinish beautifully.
kevlar canoe repair

This was the same crack as above where there was stess mark along the seat bracket rivets.
kevlar canoe repair

Symmetry has been restored. And a new yoke…and new gunwales…and new endcaps…
kevlar canoe repair

Here I recoated with West 207/105 hardener/resin mix. That is AWESOME stuff.
kevlar canoe repair

Humpty Dumpty is back together again and since this repair has been on the water now for at least 15 days. The scratches are all back.
kevlar canoe repair

All these repairs resulted in maybe a pound of added weight due to resin being applied.  This canoe rented for the rest of the season and was sold for $1800.  The guy who bought it used if for two seasons and came back later to tell me that it was still performing magnificently and had been on several major canoe trips with him.  Epoxy resin canoes (only Souris River) hold up where other canoes have difficulty mainly because of the superior resin.  Epoxy blows vinylester resin out of the water.

Basswood Falls 1

Basswood Falls I

Why I’m Such a Souris River Canoe Fan (an essay in words and pictures by Joe)

Every now and then, as a BWCA outfitter for well over 30 years, I get to experience a customer who just can’t figure out that there is massive inherent risk in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and dying is a reasonably strong possibility for all who enter. As It type, I can feel the some readers begin to vibrate as their hairs stand up bristling on the back of their necks. Just because they may have never encountered a problem for their measly 5-14 day, big BWCA adventure, doesn’t mean that bad (stupid) things can’t/won’t happen. If one can’t figure out that falling off a log, slipping on a rock, cutting your thumb/shin bone with an ax/knife/saw, pouring boiling water on your leg, starting the woods on fire, getting a hook in your eyebrow, and getting hit by lightning are all distinct possibilities that could occur due to lack of experience & bad luck, I can’t help that guy. The BWCA is a harsh, rocky, slippery, jaggedy, uneven environment and that’s just the first 10 feet of the first portage. It can get rougher and tougher when you factor in the wind, waves, rain, cold temps, hot temps, and other idiots in the woods. (Incidentally, those of you who live in Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and pretty much every other state; you have absolutely nothing over us in the area of rough, rugged, rocky, unyielding terrain. And yes, a Souris River Canoe will do fine in your neck of the woods. I had to say that because I’m constantly hearing about how “tough” and “special” the rocky terrain is everywhere else on the planet regarding “challenges” a Souris River Canoe might face.)

So, after all these years, I still find myself incorrectly concluding that my customers are getting smarter, because I do have many “with-it” customers who sometimes surprise me at how well they really perform. This is despite the fact that most of them pilot a desk or do things totally unrelated to the BWCA and outdoor living for the other 359 days of the year. Some, however, look like they’re gonna be fine, but then, their actions bring out my cynical, old-canoe-outfitter side. All I can do anymore is relish in the fact, that unlike other outfitters, we only outfit Souris River Canoes. There’s a reason for that and it goes WAY beyond our being SR canoe retailers. While some may have concluded that I am simply biased and prone to making outrageous claims in the many pages of, I believe that this true tale might drive home, why I’m such a Souris River Canoe fan. I won’t waste any time on any other canoe. For the safety of my customers and the performance that I know and understand about SR’s, all the other canoes are simply pretty toys with a great marketing plan. Too strong? I don’t think so…

The Event

One of our rental customers brought back a canoe that he rented for 6 days or so. It was a Souris River Quetico 17 that was in fine shape when it went out, but for a zillion scratches, but we all know that scratches on a Souris River are relatively meaningless. I went out to look at the canoe and to move it into the canoe return area so some crazy fool doesn’t drive over it in the yard with his Prius.

When I got outside, I spied the canoe….ooooooh…..not so good. I went up to the guy and his friend and he suggested that I may want to look it over. I didn’t have to look really close. I found it to be reasonably obvious. In fact, I’m pretty sure my dog could have identified issues with the canoe, and he’s a desk pilot, totally. Sleeps under a desk in a foam cup, day-in, day-out. That’s those dang wiener dogs. Lazy little guy. He’s more like a bratwurst now and getting that stinky, old-dog smell. BUT, I’m sure Rex would have noted the unsual shape of this Quetico 17. He’s been around a lot of canoes.

The Cause

I didn’t even get angry. I’m noted for having “Incredible Hulk-like” tendencies when I witness potentially brazen stupidity exercised on our rental gear, but this day was different. I calmly asked him for details. He said that the canoe went down Basswood Falls which is about 8 miles slightly northwest from Red Rock. Knowing that at least 5 people have died in the upper Basswood Falls in the past 8 or so years, I inquired if it was an accident. I mean, surely nobody would choose to end it all by choice. Who would do that? These are ferocious falls and I can think of many better ways to die. In fact, having the word “Falls” in the name is really an indicator as to why you should take the portage with your Le Tigre kevlar Souris River Quetico 17 that weighs a paltry 43 lbs. Other reasons for not intentionally going over the falls would include the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere with everything you own and need to survive – in your canoe. Walking home is not an option – at all, period. One final reason for not taking the falls would be the fact that you are in a rental canoe. Do you really want to buy the canoe and pay for recovery costs as the outfitter may have to hire a dive team to go risk their lives to peel somebody else’s canoe off a large boulder? I think these are only a few of the reasonable questions that need to be entertained by anyone who experiences an urge to commit a “moment of shear stupidity”.

Nope, rational thought on the part of the customer gave way to – I’m not exactly sure what. The guy had the foresight to have his partner take all of their gear down to the bottom using the nice portage that is there. Then he got in the canoe and SHOT THE FALLS!!!!!!!! Still, to my own surprise, I did not have that shirt-tearing-off-my-back feeling with my skin turning green. (Ever notice how the Hulk’s shorts always get bigger and never tear off as he expands? He goes through shirts, but never shorts. Very odd.) I didn’t have to utter the warning, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”, or anything like that at all. I calmly asked him what thoughts guided him in such a decision and he honestly and with humility, shook his head gently, looked at the ground and replied, “…a moment of shear stupidity.”

I went, “Ooooohhhh!”. Still no green skin. I think it was because unlike a lot of customers who do moronic things to our gear, this young man was neither defensive nor a jerk. He didn’t try to tell me that he received the canoe “in this condition”. Yes, some of our renters ACTUALLY think they can pull this off – “Hey man, that’s how we got it. Those folds and dents where already there. We pointed it out to the lady at the front desk when we first signed for it.” Or, in the event that they destroy the rental canoe, “Quick! Just cover it up with a little dust and Joe will never notice.” Plus, another factor that made it less shocking is that I’ve developed a great deal of confidence and skill in canoe repair over the last several years. It looked bad, but I felt very up to the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again sans “all the king’s men”.

I asked him if the side of the canoe met a large rock because the gunwale was pretty wiped out and the rivets were broken out at the rear thwart. He said he didn’t know because he wasn’t in the canoe. It went on without him and disappeared under water. Meanwhile he was testing out his lifejacket and probably meeting up with a rock or twenty along the way. Astonishingly, he did not have an apparent scratch on him and he wasn’t limping. My guy Curt here wondered upon seeing the canoe if the man changed his mind about running the rapids about halfway down. I’m thinking he wanted to get out after about the first ten feet of roaring white water. In any case, we were very fortunate that we didn’t have to bring the guy home in a body bag. Had that been the horrible case, ironically, his last ride in a canoe probably would have been in a Souris River since those are the only canoes the Lake County Sherriff’s department and Rescue Squad paddle. So bear that in mind as the “woodpecker of shear stupidity” tries to drill it’s way into your brain. Your last ride home will most likely be in a Souris River, not some crappy Brand X canoe. It’s pretty likely that you, of course, may not see much. This guy was incredibly lucky and it seems that there are more unlucky people than lucky ones out there based on the current body count for Basswood Falls.

Anyway, the guy went on to apologize for the canoe and increasing my workload. I told him I’d have to charge him for repairs and just over $600 would cover it. It was far cheaper than replacing the canoe and he noted that the canoe did not leak despite some major damage to the sides and a ripped out rear airtank. He also said that it handled very well and they paddled it as you see in the first picture for three more days. They were able to finish out their trip despite a crooked-on-top canoe. They tied the rear thwart in place and pulled the gunwales out a bit because I could see from minor stress marks to the ribs that the canoe was severely crushed inward which is not the usual way for the ribs to flex.

Tremendous current with a billion gallons of unyielding water and pressure. Sure, we can do that! It’s a rental canoe!


Ouch(!) was my first impression of the canoe. It’s a Souris River Quetico 17 in Le Tigre kevlar. Pretty banged up. Also note: the seats are intact. Most other brand kevlar canoes will experience some degree (or complete) rivet pull-out even without going through rapids upside down and sideways. I’ve yet to see an SR in which the seats rip out when all hell breaks loose. It’s called epoxy resin, for those of you who think SR’s are just like all other kevlar canoes. SR’s are in the highest class of kevlar canoes and all by themselves at the top. It’s lonely up there.canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

It took the hardest hit in the back air tank. Looks like the end of the canoe was wedged between two rocks and then the rapids took the unwedged end and tried to pry the two rocks apart. I’m thinking the rocks didn’t move. The gunwales sure did, however.

It doesn’t look so bad here due to lens distortion working in the damage’s favor. But you can see the important part – the bottom of the canoe is still in perfect alignment. Any bending/flexing in the parts that are really critical simply pops back into it’s resting shape. Let’s see any Brand X do that! Oh, that’s right – the foam core snaps in two or cracks down the middle in other kevlar canoes.
canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

There was damage like this in several places along the canoe. The outer fiberglass layer was damaged and completely broken, but the two bottom layers of kevlar remain intact and more importantly, un-leaking!
canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

See how the patches turned out?

canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

Symmetry at last. It’s amazing what new gunwales will do to a canoe that naturally wants to spring back into shape.
canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

Here’s the final canoe in the sun. Patches,
new gunwales, airtank re-built, and back into the
woods it went for another 20 days of rentals.
Nobody has shot the rapids with it again.
That’s good, because “you wouldn’t like me
when I’m angry.”
canoe repair - souris river kevlar canoe

Come stay with us at Northwind Lodge – Click Here

Why Some Canoes are Wrong for a Lot of Paddlers

I met a guy in our store who was buying a packsack. He was building his cabin over on Farm Lake which is not too far from here and he started asking me about Souris River Canoes and how they handle on the water compared to Wenonahs. I replied with my usual experience-based answers and descriptions regarding Souris River Quetico 17’s along with details of our many outfitting customers to whom we rent specifically Quetico 17’s for various and similar reasons. I also included our retail customer stories of how they often paddled alongside Wenonah Minnesota II’s. I pointed out how I’ve had numerous customers tell me about watching the Wenonahs hiding behind islands waiting for the wind to die down in even a moderate chop while the Souris Rivers just carry on. I indicated that the smarter Wenonah paddlers do this because at one point or another, everyone who’s ever been in a Wenonah Minnesota II has experienced or will experience water coming over the side, or bow, or stern, of that canoe when it’s loaded down with ordinary camping gear. I also told hime that it’s pretty much a “given” that not everyone will admit to having experienced, but it does happen frequently. I know this because I’ve now heard the same story relating to Wenonahs in rough water about 200 times. Eventually, everyone who paddles a Wenonah will notice two things once they are on the water: 1. most Wenonah hulls are difficult to turn in all wind conditions, and 2. most Wenonahs do not have much remaining freeboard left when hauling even a moderately sized load. These details about these canoes that are “great on portages!” are what inevitably stick in people’s minds AFTER they’ve experienced any time in varied weather and water with most Wenonahs. At this point of any discussion I always point out the somewhat morbid truth that “nobody every drowns on the portage”. This discussion with the packsack guy brought a smile to his face and his story to tell.

About 2 days prior, packsack guy’s neighbor came running over to his place and said, “Come on!”.

The neighbor sounded urgent and packsack guy thought he needed help with some heavy lifting as the neighbor, too was working on his own cabin. The neighbor hurriedly lead packsack guy right past the cabin down to the lake and onto the dock. On the dock there was a pile of gear – packsacks, fishing rods, tackle and other assorted stuff. Somebody dumped it on the dock. Just as they made it to the end of dock to the neighbor’s boat, packsack guy saw what was out in the lake a few hundred feet offshore. It was two paddlers hanging on to their rented Wenonah Minnesota II bobbing in the chop. Packsack guy and his neighbor took the boat out and pulled the two well-soaked paddlers out of Farm Lake and towed the water-logged canoe to shore. The paddlers declared that they were never going to paddle one of these particular canoes again in the future. They were very angry with the way the canoe handled and were blunt in offering their feelings toward said canoe. With the drama over and good deed done for the day, packsack guyheaded back to his own cabin. In telling the story to me, he surmised that they were going to drop off their gear on the neighbor’s dock in an attempt to lighten their load and make said canoe float higher in the water. Then they would paddle back to the outfitter on Farm Lake and retrieve their gear on the private dock via threir car. Packsack guy returned to his own cabin and the story ended.

Joe’s Commentary – Well THAT was special! They couldn’t even finish out their canoe trip. I’m going to conclude that the paddlers ran into problems all week long with that canoe. How else would they have come up with the last-ditch idea of attempting to lighten their load by piling all of their gear on the private dock to make a rough water crossing in an empty canoe? Clearly, it appears that they were trying to make that racing canoe sit higher on the water. Unfortunately, this particular rockerless canoe tends to NOT turn as expected. My guess is that with as rough as it was that day, they turned broadside to the wind and could not gain control over the canoe. When you see people in rockerless canoes struggling they usually commit a combination of faux paux’s (fox pox’s or “errors” for those of you who don’t talk high fallutin’ like me). The error’s are as follows:

Error Number One: When going out of control in wind, they first try to make the canoe respond by paddling really hard on one side.

It appears to me that most people who aspire to do a Boundary Water’s canoe trip (at some point in their lives) were introduced to canoeing in a Grumman or Alumacraft canoe. Based on even a small amount of canoeing exposure many assume that paddling hard on the left stern side of the canoe will make the canoe respond by turning to the right and vice versa. And, for a lot of “normal” canoes, this is a correct assumption. To support this point I’ve made, just ask yourself how long bentshaft paddles have been around (circa 1969) and how long straight shaft paddles have been around (circa the dawn of time). And based on how normal canoes act and react to padling, how long has the J-stroke (and other corrective strokes by other names) been around? If the canoe has no rocker, J-stroke necessity is greatly reduced. They also figure that the bow person can somehow direct the canoe’s bow by paddling really hard as well. And, in most normal canoes (normal being defined as the canoe most people grew up with), turning is the result of paddling hard and straight on one side of the canoe, even into the wind. like you see in the picture of rocker here:

canoe rocker
Rocker in a canoe allows the canoe to turn

In the above picture, this is how most aluminum canoes respond along with Souris River Quetico 17’s and 18.5’s. This is not how a lot of plastic canoe respond, however. Old Town Discovery 174’s do not pivot well in the water. They only want to go straight, But Old Town’s Penobscot 16/17’s require a corrective stroke. Some of Wenonah’s royalex hulls do not respond as you see in the picture above. Mad River Explorers do. Mad River Malecites do not. Souris River’s old Jensen Huron 18 does not turn easily because it has no rocker like a Wenonah Minnesota II which is also a Jensen hull, designed by Eugene Jensen. I could go on and on, but my point is that the material that the canoe is made out of is not what determines how it responds on the water. Many people wrongly conclude, based on one bad experience in a strange kevlar canoe that the cloth kevlar is responsible for the way the canoe handles on the water. This is not the case. Hull shape determines what the canoe will do, period.

Summary – Error Number One: The paddlers paddled hard in a tough wind to make the canoe turn and much to their chagrine, the racing canoe took off in a fast beeline broadside to the wind, crashing through, not up and over the waves. They began to take on some water both over the side and over the bow. Racing canoe hulls with no rocker are designed to go fast and straight, parting the waves, not up and over them. The fastest way from point A to point be is in a straight line.

Error Number Two: When the canoe was not responding, the next thing I’ve seen Wenonah paddlers do is put on the brakes with their paddles then they paddle backwards attempting to change directions by weather vaning.

This maneuver demands that the front of the canoe swings with the wind and it does. Unfortunately, Minnesota II’s don’t have much of a stern on them…and like the bow, it does NOT rise up and over the oncoming waves. Guess what? They plunge the back of the canoe into the oncoming waves and take on more water – only this time, they don’t see the water coming in. All they know in their panic is that the water in the back of the canoe is now around the guy’s ankles. But he’s not paying a lot of attention. Remember I’m methodically describing an event that actually happens in about 30 seconds. The stern paddler isn’t payong a lot of attention to his wet ankles as the wind is howling past his head. The extra water weight in the canoe makes it sit lower in the stern and bow-high in the front. the crappy stabililty of that racing canoe is now even further compromised. They neither realize nor actually comprehend the concept of decreased stability. I’ve observed this to be true and the case with most canoe outfitters from around here so I don’t expect infrequent paddlers who rent canoes to understand what’s happening either. It’s like paddling your canoe solo from the stern seat with no weight in the bow. In this position you are riding on a point which is ridiculously tippy.  In any tandem canoe, you almost need to add the weight of one person in the bow to make the canoe stable to maximize “wetted” surface or that part of the canoe which is resting on the water.

After orienting the canoe to go with the wind and taking on more water in the process, they tried to continue forward.  They each took three strokes going with the wind and they ended up sideways to the waves AGAIN.   Only, this time they are sitting even lower in the stern with all that extra water heading to the back.   That in turn, makes them a bit on the bow-high side which automatically decreases any canoe’s stability.    They get panicky and attempt the backwards reorientation maneuver, only this time harder, both on the same side of the canoe because they are no longer working as a team.   Hubby is screaming at wife who is higher up than hubby. Hubby leans as he reaches back for a good, strong backstroke in the raging waters and he takes the whole enchilada into the drink.   Of course, this is now the wife’s fault because he HAD it under control until SHE didn’t do it right!    If he needed to blame something, he’d be more accurate in blaming the canoe and the guy who rented them that rockerless, freeboardless wonder.

Summary – Error Number Two: A good outfitter would ask a few questions before setting up a rental customer with a racing canoe. But, many outfitters simply do not know themselves about the difference of their various canoe hulls.   My experience has lead me to believe that most (not all) outfitters believe that name brand recognition trumps actual function from a user standpoint.

An outfitter who doesn’t give a rip but wants to rent you a canoe, asks very few to no questions about your canoeing experience and abilities. Heck, anybody can be an “outfitter” when they rent out canoes like that!   Wait a minute…that IS what happens in the Boundary Waters!   That’s why I scoff at the term “outfitter” used for some of these businesses around here who simply give the customer what he wants instead of what he needs.   In my opinion, if you only see Wenonahs in the outfitter’s fleet, you gotta wonder about his canoe knowledge.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a customer’s proud (and even sometimes slightly arrogant) declaration that he’s ” been paddling for 25 years”.   There’s a HUGE difference between sloppily pushing a canoe through the water while enduring a 5 day canoe trip in nice weather, and actually knowing what to expect performance-wise from the canoe by merely looking at it. I’ve only met a tiny handful of people who can predict how a canoe will handle by simply looking at its shape.   Guess what – very few of the tiny handful are BWCA outfitters.   That’s why you see people who shouldn’t be in racing canoes being rented racing canoes by “expert” outfitters.   It’s the blind renting to the blind.




Canoe – Topping – Coolness

Whenever the question arises about how a Souris River Canoe should be transported, the answer shall always be:

With immense respect, dignity and above all; coolness.

Souris River Protocol requires that your car selection should always be thoughtfully considered before setting a Souris River Carbon Tec on top.  Remember, it’s not just any old carbon fiber canoe – It’s a Souris River!
Thank you!

Note: If you have a different model car than the ones depicted below, your Souris River will understand.  They are very forgiving canoes!

Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping
Souris River Canoe Car Topping

Bashed on the Breaker!

This was emailed to me by Marty Cooperman who takes his Quetico 17 out on Lake Erie all time. I’m thinking that Marty is a pretty good paddler (but a maybe little crazy). He sure does use his Quetico 17 and is still alive to tell about it! Here’s his story:
Edie and I took 2 friends in another canoe out in a protected bay adjacent to Lake Erie (Erie, Pa) to see bird and duck migration. We saw 6 ducks for our efforts. Crossing the 4 x 2 mile bay on the way out we had 15 knot winds broadside which was okay. On the way back we had 20 knot winds and 2, maybe 2-1/2 foot waves very close together in this shallow bay, but this time we were trying to angle back into them to get back to the launch area. Canoes seem to want to stay broadside to the waves, at least my friend’s Wenonah Odyssey and the Quetico 17 did. I’ve experienced this before. Both canoes were being pushed sideways towards a metal bulkhead forming the entrance to Lake Erie. My friend is an experienced canoeist, but having suffered leukemia several years ago has not regained all of his original strength. The woman with him wasn’t a very good paddler. We stayed with them for about 20 minutes but all they seemed to be able to do was drift along towards that breakwall making as much progress sideways as forwards. We were doing about the same staying with them. We finally yelled for them to hold themselves against the breakwall while we paddled back to the launch ramp about 2-1/2 miles away. We couldn’t figure out what else to do to help them. Edie and I could barely hear each other over the wind and waves. I was unsure if we’d be able to paddle effectively since I was unable to hold us into the wind with Edie paddling opposite me. We finally gave up traditional paddling protocol and did sweep strokes on one side, got ourselves into the wind and proceeded onwards at perhaps 1 mile/hour with waves and spray coming over the bow regularly. We needed corrective strokes every few minutes but Edie got the hang of it fast and switched sides quickly.

Marty Cooperman on one of his crazy daypaddles
Marty Cooperman on one of his crazy daypaddles in  his SR Quetico 17

I had just purchased and installed one of Dan Cooke’s canoe covers and had snapped it on before the return trip just to test it out. It got a good testing, and after 2 hour’s paddling in those waves we had perhaps a quart of water below. Not bad. My friends in the other canoe managed to call for rescue via cell phone. A paddling enthusiast on the park above the breakwall saw them, realized they were in trouble, and grabbed a paddle to hold them steady until rescue arrived. Eventually the Coast Guard helped hold the boat while the fire department got an improvised ladder down over the bulkhead, pulling them up to safety, their canoe following them. It’ll take some sanding and varnishing to restore the wood gunwale but that’s about all. We could have made a rescue call but in the confusion thought the cell phone was buried in our gear under the canoe cover. It was in Edie’s pocket all along. We’ll have to remember to keep it handy in the future. I don’t know if there was anything we could have done for them had we stayed along side except offer the dubious reassurance that someone else was in the same fix as they. There was no hope of us towing them. The Coast Guard boat heard we were out there and eventually located us paddling half way back to the launch ramp. They were none too pleased to see us.

By that time we had worked the paddling out, knew there was no swamping with the canoe cover and certainly no chance of capsize. We’d been out in bigger waves in Lake Erie but lesser wind. We managed to calm them down and told them we were doing fine and thanked them for their concern. They didn’t believe us and hung off about 3/4 of a mile watching us, I’m sure, through their binoculars. They did manage to yell to us before leaving that our friends were rescued and safe and getting a lift back to their car.

That was a great relief as most of our concern was not for us but for them. They came back about 1/2 hour later in a much better mood, this time realizing that we were doing fine. They told us they were heading back to base and we again thanked them. They seemed impressed with the canoe cover. I guess that convinced them we were not just another couple of turkeys who’d screwed up. We had a great time, learning lots about dealing with higher winds, waves and how the canoe cover works. We’ve got a few alterations to make to it, mostly suspender type straps over one shoulder to keep the spray skirt from slipping down and creating a place for water to pool and pulling it down further.

Edie was constantly getting soaked, and stopping to yank on the spray skirt to get the water off. I don’t remember being scared. It helped to have been out in Lake Erie before. Mostly we were worried and guilty about having left our friends. It was a good lesson in what another boat can’t offer in the way of assistance, and how illusory is the notion of safety in numbers. Our friends arrived at the launch ramp a few minutes after we did, having retrieved their boat. They seemed to be fine and not too upset. I credit them with keeping cool heads. I wonder if what you wrote about the Wenonah canoes being unable to turn into the wind was what made the difference between our experience and theirs. It’s easy to think Edie and I are such fine paddlers that our superior strength and experience got us back under our own power. But my friend is a much more experienced paddler than I am and I’m not sure there was that much of a difference in strength or technique between Edie and the other bow paddler. Maybe our canoe was just a better craft in those conditions. We aren’t about to call it a season anytime soon, so we may have to include an ice axe along with the paddles.

Thanks, Marty Cooperman Edie Antl

Snake Falls – Super Canoe!

Snake Falls – Super Canoe!

This is a Souris River Prospector 17.5 which went for a wild ride down Snake Falls in the Quetico Park. I don’t have the full story yet, but the photos tell a lot. Upon examining this Souris River first hand, it appears that it was pretty much flattened out by the tremendous force of a billion gallons of water pushing it against a rock. This occurred 2-1/2 days travel by canoe from Ely – definitely not close to home. The two guys peeled it off the rocks, kicked it back into shape and paddled it back to Ely. They sealed leaks with duct tape and reinforced the sides with birch saplings where the gunwales were wiped out and headed back home. None of the flexible ribs were torn out of the canoe. All of the ribs still functioned normally. Notice the seats? They are still fully intact with all of the rivets were in place. Even royalex has a hard time keeping its seats intact after a catastrophic event like this. With polyester resin, kevlar canoes (like Sawyer, Wenonah, Mad River, Bell, Nova Craft, Seda, etc.) I highly doubt that the seats would have remained intact, much less useable. Without the flexibility of Souris River’s unique Epoxy resin recipe combined with their unique , I suspect that ANY foam core canoe would have come home via rescue airplane – in a bushel basket. So if you REALLY need to get home, make sure your canoe is truely capable – and for an added plus – stay out of rapids!


Souris River Canoe after being flattened in Snake River Falls
Souris River Canoe after being flattened in Snake River Falls

Wilderness 18’s – They Fold Well

An outfitter up on Crane Lake went out to pick up a party at a Boundary Waters entry point. He went a little early. These two guys on the trip had been out for seven days and sometimes paddlers come back early. The point he arrived at has a view of the final portage required to cross with a short paddle to the mainland. The portage goes along the rapids. As he stood there looking in the general direction of where the party would be coming, he spotted them. Seven days earlier, these two guys came in to be outfitted. They wanted to fish and they wanted a kevlar canoe for its light carrying weight. Knowing this the outfitter selected a brand new Souris River Wilderness 18 in kevlar. This large canoe handles well in all sorts of lake conditions including really rough water, and it’s easier to turn and control than a lot of other kevlar canoes out there. Plus at 45 lbs., carrying it is a snap. It definitely is not made for white water because it does not respond in turns quickly enough for rapids. But this was going to be a portaging trip because that’s why they wanted a really light canoe… At the top of the rapids they hovered. Only 75 yards from the outfitter, they contemplated. the portage was a short one, but it was still a portage. The rapids don’t look too ugly (they never do from the top to the unexperienced eye). The outfitter could almost hear that oh-so-familiar-oh-so-dumb battle cry they confirmed to each other as they began their foolish descent, “Oh, what the heck”!

Sure enough, they let loose and started down the last rapids of their trip. Then, with only seconds of experience under their unknowing belts, the inevitable happened. Suddenly turning sideways and with hollers that would make even Rambo look up, they rolled the Wilderness 18 in the current.

As the pilotless Wilderness 18 jettisoned Duluth packs, fishing rods, and loose camping gear, it filled up with water and wallowed helplessly down stream. The unrelenting current swept it down towards its supposed death; big canoe-stopping rocks ahead. It came to rest sideways upon a large rock, bottom of the hull facing upstream, the carrying yoke being forced into an unmoving rock.

Although the river was not really deep, the water pressure was more than the hull could stand and it buckled. Like a big piece of cardboard, the bow met the stern of this 18 foot kevlar wonder and made a complete wrap around that rock.

The two paddlers waded down to the canoe and peeled it off the rock. Once the Wilderness was above the rushing water, the two paddlers each grabbed an end and pulled. The canoe literally popped back into shape. Now near the bottom of the rapids, each got back into the canoe, paddled around sheepishly picking up the remaining floating gear, and then paddled into the landing where the irate and amazed outfitter was waiting.

Upon inspection, the Wilderness 18 showed little sign of damage. One of the ribs tore out right where the worst fold of the canoe occurred in the middle. With the exception of the badly kinked gunwales, it was hard to tell that the canoe was folded in half like a clam. At the fold-point there was no damage. It was perfectly paddle-able. Not many canoes can do this anywhere. With the exception of Royalex, not many canoes can wrap and survive. Even so, the paddlers became the proud owners of an amazing Souris River Wilderness 18 in kevlar after the outfitter charged their Visa card.

Stay out of rapids…

The Wreck of the Prospector by Mike Ivey

Wreck of the Prospector
Wreck of the Prospector

The Wreck of the Prospector by Mike Ivey

As I write this, the canoe season is fast approaching, and by the time the rivers open, I’ll be ready to get back on the water.

I’ve scarcely dipped a paddle in Wisconsin waters since last April, however, when I nearly drowned on the Yahara River.

Yes, the mighty Yahara.

Not only did I suffer the embarassment of the dumping in one of the tamest rivers anywhere, I nearly totaled my brand new 17 foot, 52-pound Souris River Prospector, wrapping it around a piling at the County N bridge in southeastern Dane County.

So if the best stories are those you live to tell about, then this one bears recounting.

Three friends and I had set out in two canoes for a leisurely five-mile paddle south of Stoughton. The Yahara runs slow and wide here, finally narrowing to a dam near the town of Dunkirk.

We portaged around the dam, then put our boats back in, figuring to get a thrill in the fast water before taking out at the bridge a half-mile downstream. After negotiating the spillway, however, we suddenly found our path blocked by a “sweeper,” a downed tree branch capable of trapping a canoe – or a canoeist.

Three basic rules of river paddling are: a) watch out for sweepers, b) scout any potential hazards before running them, and c) never play near dams. I ignored all three, figuring the Prospector with its upturned bow and smooth-bottomed hull was capable of clearing a simple fallen tree.

But within seconds the sweeper had us turned sideways and pressed against the branches. In a panic, I violated basic rule No. 4 by leaning upstream instead of down, allowing the river to pour in over the exposed gunwale, filling the canoe and dumping my bowman and I into the chilly April waters of the rain-swollen Yahara.

Clinging to the downed tree, water rushing past us, not wearing our PFDs, we watched in horror as the big blue canoe turned upside down, slipped past the sweeper and floated downstream to a fateful rendezvous with the County N bridge. Fortunately, we were able to scramble over the sweeper and pull ourselves up on the riverbank as our friends watched in disbelieve from the safety of an upstream eddy.

You don’t really appreciate the power of moving water until you try to budge a wrapped canoe off a stationary object. For a time, I considered just leaving the boat, a monument to the stupidity of amateur canoeists. But considering the historic significance of the name Dunkirk, I wasn’t about to abandon this canoe like British Army equipment on the beaches of France in May 1940.

So with a winch around the portage yoke and lines at both bow and stern, we finally rescued the Prospector. Amazingly, it popped back into shape, a duct tape repair from being usable in an emergency.

The next day, I car-topped the battered Prospector to Carl’s Paddlin’ in Madison, Wis., where owner Carl Busjahn told me the boat was repairable, thanks to the Souris River epoxy resin construction system.

“They flex before they break,” explained Busjahn. “That’s why it didn’t get broken worse than it did.”

Based in Atikokan, Ontario, on the northern edge of the Quetico Provincial Park, Souris River manufacturers about 350 canoes a year. President Keith Robinson prides himself on making durable, lightweight canoes that are still affordable for recreational paddlers.

“The epoxy resin is pretty amazing stuff. You can go over a rock or wrap around a bridge and it flexes very nicely,” he says.

Jim Fahey of Argosy Composites did the actual repair work through Carl’s. Despite needing 52 patches, he says the boat wasn’t that badly damaged.

“I’ve seen a lot worse,” said Fahey, who has been repairing canoes for over 30 years. “This one wasn’t even worth taking before and after pictures.”

So freshly recoated and looking nearly new, the Prospector should be on the water sometime this spring. Then it’s back to Dunkirk to face my Waterloo.

(Mike Ivey is a business writer at The Capital Times in Madison.)

This article was published in the June 1999 issue of Silent Sports Magazine and reprinted with the permission of the author. Photos by Jan Wood