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.


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.


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.

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.