The Stuff of a Good Canoe

Once again, we are discussing all of the things that need to be considered before purchasing a canoe.

Last week, we talked about the various questions you need to ask to find the shape of a canoe that fits your needs. You can read that column at in the Archives.

Meanwhile, let’s move on to the materials that are used.

Canoes come in a wide range of materials: aluminum, fibreglass, composite, wood + canvas, and plastic of various types.

Material choice will affect weight, speed and performance of a canoe as well as maintenance. Canoe materials have evolved since the day of the birch bark, and even spruce bark, canoe. Today, we have highly sophisticated carbon fibre epoxy canoes.

Here are some materials to consider:

Aluminum is a great material for beer cans and airplanes — in canoes, meh, not my favourite material.

It is strong, fairly light and very low maintenance.

On the downside, they are cold, noisy, have limited shape and there are lots of hard edges resulting in knicks and blood every time I paddle one. They were great after the war when there was little other choice.

Polyethylene, AKA Tupperware plastic, can be found by such companies as Coleman and Discovery 169. Most big manufacturers now sell poly canoes.

Again, they are great as they require almost no maintenance and they are often a lot cheaper than other materials.

But they are heavier, slower and have limited molding ability for performance features.

Over time, the bottoms may start to sag, creating a lot of drag in the water. They are great for summer camps and schools since they have high use, low cost and low maintenance. However, if you want to glue in custom accessories, it is very difficult to get any glue to stick to the surface.

Royalex, or ABS, was once the “NEW” super material for canoes.

The are often used in higher-end and expedition tripping canoes.

They are lighter than Poly, can be molded into better shapes and have a core of foam for flotation. They bounce off of rocks and have a memory that allows them to spring back into shape.

The down side, however, is they also flex, which loses performance, does not have great abrasion resistance and is heavier than other performance materials.

If you ever buy a Royalex canoe, avoid wood gunnels on them. They look nice, but you pay a premium for them and, in the winter, you must remove them and all of the screws, otherwise you chance the horrid cold cracks.

The wood and Royalex expand and shrink differently. I have seen new canoes in the spring totally ruined by long splits up to two feet long. To avoid this, you must remove the gunnels every fall. Over time, this process results in misaligned and damaged gunnels.

Composite Canoes, AKA fibreglass, come in a wide range from poor to excellent.

Made of two parts, a liquid and a cloth material, composite canoes are only as good as the material and knowledge going into them.

Chopper gun-sprayed fibreglass is at the bottom. They are light and cheap, often with a rigid hull which is good, but they are often fragile. They are built with production in mind.

Duralite, Duratuff, Duraflex, Tuffweave and similar names are combinations of superior materials such as epoxy, Kevlar, s-glass, carbon fibre and others.

The canoes are hand laid, resulting in a very light and very strong canoe that can be molded into complex curves.

Composite canoes are much faster, easier to portage and put on your car.

I also find them to be the strongest and longest-lasting canoes … in my fleet anyways. I have one Duraflex canoe that is 17 years old and still going strong.

The Clipper Merganser’s first paddle outing resulted in a spectacular ender — in the wrong place — attached to the roof of my truck as I went end over end down a 100-foot embankment on the South Canol Road.

My truck was on top of the canoe for about eight hours; I paddled it the very next day.

Well-built composite canoes, built by people who understand their materials, can be extremely strong. I prefer composite over any other material as they perform much better than any other material.

Composite canoes can be either very light or very strong or somewhere in between.

Defining your usage will help pick the right one for you. Don’t shy away from fibreglass … do your research and get a well-built one.

As you can see, there is a lot more to purchasing a canoe than you first thought. The more you paddle and the better you answer your survey, the better matched your canoe will be.

We are very lucky, as paddlers here in the Yukon, for the amazing selection of canoes, kayaks and paddle gear that we have available here in Whitehorse.

Kanoe People and Up North Adventures, our local paddle shops, are on par with shops throughout the rest of the country. If they don’t stock it, they can get it for you. Sometimes it may take a while as canoes are most often made months in advance, so unexpected fast sellers dry up.

Their prices are also on par, even if the sticker price looks higher. Shipping canoes to the Yukon is outrageous as rates from Edmonton start at about $200 and up and then often arrives here freight damaged.

Buy local, it makes a difference.

I would also urge you to look at Canadian-built canoes as we have some great canoe builders. Hellman, Western Canoeing, Esquif, Nova Craft and Evergreeen all have an excellent product with a huge selection.

One advantage to taking a Yukan Canoe course is you get to try an assortment of canoes before you buy.

So, before you buy, take the time to do your research and be patient for the canoe that fits you.

I am happy to answer questions via e-mail if you need help in selecting a canoe.

Used canoes in the Yukon are high in demand, and well-built canoes hold their value.

Next week we will look at places to paddle.

Please let me know if there are specific topics you would like me to cover.

And, remember, red canoes are faster.

Catch every Eddy, Surf every Wave …

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