Q.  I think you are exactly the persons I need for info and an opinion.

One.  [Our organization] are in the process of a Boundary Waters trip/ discussion, and the gear (canoes) offered leave me cold.

If I come out, I’d far rather have a decent canoe under my butt.  Souris 18.5    I would far rather NOT see three youths in a 17 foot aluminum.  To be clear I am a fan of some Wenonahs, I am NOT a fan of the Minn line.  If forced, I think the Minn three would make a fine solo canoe for lakes only.  Durability,,, I haven’t the depth of knowledge.  I have seen Itascas in western Montana that are at least 7 years of rental service,,, with as many as 40 bits of duct tape corking small holes..  Is that the result of polyester, vs epoxy?  If pressed, can I rent one of your boats and take it on the Boy Scout expedition?

Both of my Boundary Water experienced friends swear by Souris 18.5  I am itching to try one out for myself.

Second.  And here I ask you specifically because you are such a strong supporter of Souris 18.5.

I have in mind a two month long trip, western US, and the first 180 miles is a rock garden, and many places after that are rocky and II’s and III’s.  After much consideration, but I have not purchased anything yet,,, I am tending toward Royalex and maximum wide bottom to keep draft to a dead minimum.  IF I can find an OK used POS Old Town Tripper XL,,, I think that may get me through the rocks best..  May not be worth a tinker’s damn at the end.   The other considerations have been the 18.5 in a custom layup (Spectra blend, with carbon or kevlar, the W. Seneca in a custom layup, Clipper Mackenzie(20)  I think that one is available in one of the Spectra blends.

Think rocky and a foot deep, for hundreds of river miles,Green River in central Wyoming,,,, I think the heavy as s#%t Royalex TripperXL may be my best bet. Which boat would you pick?

You are encouraged to agree or ream me a new one.  I am asking you specifically because of your greater experience.   I AM one of those vastly experienced people,,,, but in my experience,,, the really experienced,  take good advice from people that know more.


A. Hi-

Sure, you can rent a Q-18.5 from us for your boundary waters trip.  That’s what we do along with sales, of course.

For your other trip considerations, a Q-18.5 hull would be great, but will have issues in current as it is not heavily rockered and designed for flat water.  It’s also quite long and unless you have a bow person who knows how to follow proper commands from the back, anything over Class II is going to end badly.  As you know, the Tripper is a big, floppy chunk of tupperware  and well suited to gravity-slaving on a river.    I’ve heard that they no longer make Royalex so I don’t know what you are planning to do there.   If you don’t have a strong bow paddler,  a Tripper will be beaten to crap nicely.

From our experience as canoe outfitters to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the past 35 years, you can scratch the living crap out of a regular kevlar Q18.5 and not have to fix it after ever trip.  In fact, you don’t need to fix much at all if you are fortunate to have good customers like us.    There is no gain to carbon fiber and I haven’t been to SR’s site recently so I don’t know if they made a cloth change, but Spectra is essentially Kevlar – same stuff – no significant difference from the standpoint of using it in a canoe.   I’m sure the Honeywell experts would disagree, because yes, there is a chemical difference and it is a different material with some slightly different properties like increased suppleness and increased strength (a Spectra rope is stronger and a little lighter than a Kevlar rope of the same size), but for all effects and purposes I don’t believe there will be a huge gain to use this material in a canoe.    It’s another special fiber made by Honeywell as opposed to the aramid fiber Kevlar made by DuPont.   It may not be exact, but it is really close to kevlar from what I can see from a functional standpoint.   At some point, regarding canoe hull construction, it seems to me that it is a matter of splitting hairs.    The key to tough canoe construction is actually the type of resin used in conjunction with the fibers.  Resin holds the fibers together.  Only epoxy resin bonds to those slippery kevlar fibers in a massive chemical link-up.  Vinylester resin encapsulate those fibers and because it is not baked like epoxy resin to cure it, vinylester resin does not get to soak into the kevlar fiber bundles like epoxy.  This leaves areas that when torn open on a rock, can suck up water through capillary action.  Water in the fiber bundles aids in breaking them down and can interfere with repairing the boo boo.  Heat cure-epoxy that is reinforced by kevlar, polyester cloth and fiberglass saturated into those cloths in a more complete fashion because it gets runny when heated and takes a lot longer to fully cure.  Vinylester resin sets up at room temp and even though many builders use a vacuum bag process, there is evidence that the resin begins to set up more quickly than it has time to replace the air with itself.  In this way, it ends up curing and missing parts of the fiber bundles in each strand of kevlar cloth.  This makes the canoe weaker particularly in impact situations where an impact can jar loose some of those bundles in the resin and even break a few.  Souris River has advance far beyond this encapsulation problem by using tougher, more resilient, more difficult to work with, and more expensive epoxy resin.  I have witnessed this proven strength issue no less than 300 times just by renting canoes in the rock-laden Boundary waters for the past 20+ years.  We rented kevlar Sawyers back in the day and I repaired them after every single trip.  EVERY SINGLE TRIP.  They were build almost identically to Wenonahs from a construction standpoint.  After a month or two of renting a Souris River, I may need to touch up something.  From an outfitter standpoint, there is no comparison between the two.  From a customer satisfaction standpoint, there is no comparison either.  Once you paddle and portage a Souris River Quetico 17, you are through looking for or at any other canoes.  An experienced paddler needs about 10 minutes to know what I know about that canoe.  Inexperienced paddlers need about 15.  (To be honest, inexperienced paddlers have no clue due to no experience – stands to reason, but nonetheless, they like that particular hull a lot.)

The key to canoe stability and handling is entirely dependent upon the shape of the canoe and nothing else.  The construction materials used to build the canoe are largely irrelevant regarding how it handles on the water.  Hull shape first and then payload second is what determines handling.   I hear on a regular basis that “kevlar canoes are tippy”.  That is incorrect.  Kevlar canoes that are shaped “tippy” are tippy.  I can’t emphasize that fact enough. The construction materials of a canoe are irrelevant to the stability and handling of ANY canoe, I don’t care what anybody says.  There is on possible caveat to this and it lies in wood canoes.  Wood is hydrophillic (water loving).  Wood canoes have a bit of an inherent “stickiness” to water which may contribute to their handling and calm feeling.  But, a wood canoe with a round bottom and a lot of rocker would still be “squirrely” the  less experienced paddlers.  So, don’t count on a wooden hull to make your paddling more stable.  Ultimately, it is the hull shape, period.

The key in a Q-18.5 for a rock-laden trip is none of the things you’ve mentioned.  The key is the layer of fiberglass on the outside of every SR canoe.  There is a reason for that and it is to allow the canoe to slide over rocks while protecting the kevlar.  Kevlar can’t be sanded – it needs to be sheared.  If you sand it, you fuzz it up into 10,000 more slippery fibers.   Fiberglass can be sanded.  Think of the planet as a large grit from a piece of sand paper and attempt to slide a skin-coat (no gel coat color layer on the outside) Wenonah over it for 100 miles (they use straight kevlar and are completely clueless about how to build canoes for wilderness travel) and see how far you get vs. sliding any SR for the same and see how far it goes.  Then, from a repair-ability standpoint, fiberglass is immensely better than kevlar. You can sand it, apply a patch and go without the big fuzz-up issue of related to sanding kevlar.  You can do the same with pure kevlar but the sanding has to be perfect or the patch can let go when you need it most.  For an epoxy resin to adhere, there needs to be scratches (usually 80 grit) that the resin can seepinto and mechanically grip by wedging itself in place.  Fiberglass is easiest to achieve that because of its sand-able quality.  But, out of this one cannot conclude that fiberglass would be best, because it is not the case.  By itself, for strength, fiberglass needs MANY layers to achieve the same structural strength of very few layers of kevlar.  Thick glass makes the canoe heavy and depending on the resin used, brittle (possibly).  Epoxy resin, teamed up with kevlar and a polyethylene layer with a specific EPOXY resin (not that significantly cheaper vinylester crap Wenonah and every other manufacturer else applies),  and you have a canoe that gives when it needs to give (under duress) protected by a fiberglass layer that allows it to slide as opposed to “tear up” and screech to a rough stop as the rock cuts into the unbending hull of a straight-kevlar Wenonah.  Wenonah is all about “performance & efficiency” in the water regarding how their canoe moves through basically a deep, Olympic-sized swimming pool with rubber padding and puppy dogs around the edges, cheering it across the pool.  There’s no wind, because the pool is inside of a large building.   It is in this environment that Wenonahs flourish.  They can have their minimalist freeboard and inability to turn.  It doesn’t matter in a swimming pool.  And I haven’t even addressed paddler discomfort in those skinny bows and sterns.  If you are 5’6″ marathon paddler with no payload and in a race, Wenonahs are excellent.  If you can team-paddle at 70 strokes per minute (saying “hut” ever 5 strokes for a coordinated side switch) with a graphite bentshaft, Wenonahs are excellent.  If you are 210 lbs. and 6’2″, a real canoe with a seat not sitting 8″ off the floor is much desired.   If you have to be in 3.5′ whitecaps, Souris Rivers will run circles around Wenonahs, Grummans, and Bells.  This would be true even with a big beluga in the front seat as well.  The Quetico hull shape is what determines how it handles rough water, not the construction materials as you well may know.  I continue to emphasize this as there is a majority out there who, despite all my blabbing above, will STILL conclude that “kevlar canoes” are tippy.  NO – Wenonah canoes  -several of them- can be tippy.  Souris Rivers – a few of them – can be tippy.   Bells are all tippy.   Its hull shape only that determines the canoe’s stability – not the construction materials.  (Well, that and if there is a canoe load of idiots aboard – but that’s not the canoe’s fault.)

Not knowing the actual trip you are taking, the canoe you may need is the Souris River Skeena.  If you got it in the white water layup, you would finish out your trip and still have the exact same canoe left to do it all over again.  They are not cheap but are stable, nimple in turns and still track well.  This a pool and drop canoe suited to dropping fast water, then a pool, and so on.    It would be a tad small for three people.  Not cheap, but it will do the job better than any other canoe made.  I have people who I know and consider experts far beyond me who say that for pool & drop paddling, the Skeena is the best money can buy.   I defer to them as I am not a whitewater expert by any degree.

Itascas with a lot of holes are typical Wenonahs  made with vinylester resin, cured at 74 degree room temp.  From a structural stand-point, it could not be a bigger piece of crap.  Wenonah couldn’t build a tough, light, user-friendly canoe if their lives depended on it.   And yet, they keep selling, people keep buying & putting their foot right through the sides along with watching rocks tear through right above the foam core’s border edge in the chine of the canoe, usually right at or slightly below the water line.   In their vacuum-bagged construction process, they’ve changed essentially nothing over the last several year,  but their sales remain.  They cost $500 less than a Souris River.  When price-shoppers are in the woods with a fist-sized hole in the side, they begin to realize what that extra $500 was all about.  Talk of “performance” seems to take a far back seat at that point.  But then it is a bit late.  “Plowing into a rock would never happen to me.  I take care of my canoe.”  LOL

Back to your trip, with 3 people in the canoe the SR-18.5 would do an excellent job as long as there is not a lot of rapid turning needed.  Or, if you have a bow paddler who know cross-bow-rudder and other WW techniques, handling will improve.  We have access to all the canoes.  Just need some advance time to order.

Hope this helps.

Red Rock