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.