• Happy Discovery of the Rosetta Stone (1799)! 𓋹𓂀𓀮𓀛𓀾𓁀 𝞹βδΔ

Royalex MR Explorer Cold Cracks - Advice & Repair

Joined
May 24, 2023
Messages
97
Reaction score
266
Location
Coraopolis, PA
Hello everyone! My wife and I have been on the hunt for a used general purpose/tripping boat that we can abuse while we learn to run whitewater, and also use on small bony creeks.

I came across this royalex Mad River Explorer and plan to take a look at it this weekend.


The seller says it’s a 1993. The ash doesn’t look bad, and he just had new seats put in last year. There are a few small cracks in the royalex (see attached pictures).

How does Royalex hold up over time? I’ve heard it can become brittle if not cared for properly? Are those small cracks something to worry about, or just outer layer cosmetic? Is there anything specific I should be looking for on a MRC manufactured in the 90’s? Any comments on the price point?

Thanks for the help.


-Jake
 

Attachments

  • IMG_4929.jpeg
    IMG_4929.jpeg
    124.6 KB · Views: 34
  • IMG_4930.jpeg
    IMG_4930.jpeg
    92.8 KB · Views: 35
A few more pictures from the seller.
 

Attachments

  • IMG_4932.jpeg
    IMG_4932.jpeg
    122.4 KB · Views: 21
  • IMG_4935.jpeg
    IMG_4935.jpeg
    147.2 KB · Views: 18
  • IMG_4934.jpeg
    IMG_4934.jpeg
    154.3 KB · Views: 22
  • IMG_4933.jpeg
    IMG_4933.jpeg
    144.9 KB · Views: 20
Although there are those who say that Royalex canoes become brittle with age and some who have actually experienced this, I have Royalex canoes that date back to the early 1980s that are doing just fine.

You have a couple of "cold cracks". I would not let that prevent me from buying the canoe but I would plan to repair them sooner rather than later because they can extend. Repair is not hard to do but you will need some simple tools and some G Flex epoxy.

I know folks who have used Explorers on whitewater rivers and been happy with them. I think it would be a decent choice for Class I or Class II rivers. It would not be my first choice for more difficult whitewater because it doesn't have much rocker. A V bottom hull like that of the Explorer can wear pretty badly along the bottom center of the canoe when paddled on shallow, rocky or gravel-bottomed streams because the "V" draws the most water.
 
I have a 1989 Rx Explorer that is in worse shape than that one! It's tough to tell if those are surface scratches or true cold cracks. If they are cold-cracks, I agree with pblanc...some G Flex and maybe a fiberglass patch will be a strong repair. That bottom hull is not in bad shape at all, although it looks like there may be some oil-canning of the hull on one side. Probably not a big issue.

It can definitely take abuse, and it is a very user-friendly boat. I've had mine on Class III whitewater with no issues, but that was paddling solo. I've had it tandem in Class I and II many times with good results. If you intend it to be primarily whitewater and paddled tandem, you may want to re-outfit it so both bow and stern paddlers are closer to the middle of the boat.

I can't see the price (can't log into Facebook at work), but I have seen Explorers in that condition listed from anywhere between $800 and $1200, a reasonable range. If it is at the lower end or lower, grab it.

-rs
 
I have two Royalex Explorers, both from the early 1980’s. I am the original owner of one and it has seen Class 1-2+ paddled tandem in addition to shallow rivers, lakes and creeks. It is very versatile and probably the most used canoe in our fleet over the past 35 years. It developed a couple of small cold cracks despite being stored in a garage, kept well oiled with Watco and in recent years loosening some of the screws bow and stern. It was easily repaired. If the cracks in your photos are true cold cracks you will see a crack from edge to edge in the exposed Royalex cross section when looking down from above. Our other Explorer has no cracks, despite apparently having been stored outside and somewhat neglected. Bought it last year because it was too cheap to pass up. ($300 in the weak Salt Lake City market). After cleaning up the gunnels it looks pretty pristine. It is my observation that the older Mad River canoes had thicker, and heavier, Royalex than the latest ones. My son and I both have ME’s from the 1990’s which have substantially thinner Royalex and developed serious cold cracks. Both were successfully repaired with G-flex. We found an 80’s vintage ME recently with thicker hull material, lots of dents, but no cold cracks. I wouldn’t classify any of our Royalex boats as “brittle” and have confidence in them.
 
You have a couple of "cold cracks". I would not let that prevent me from buying the canoe but I would plan to repair them sooner rather than later because they can extend. Repair is not hard to do but you will need some simple tools and some G Flex epoxy.
It's tough to tell if those are surface scratches or true cold cracks. If they are cold-cracks, I agree with pblanc...some G Flex and maybe a fiberglass patch will be a strong repair. That bottom hull is not in bad shape at all, although it looks like there may be some oil-canning of the hull on one side. Probably not a big issue.
Thanks pblanc and riverstrider. I will verify if these are indeed cold cracks and take your advice if they are. How will minor oil canning on one side affect my use of the canoe?
I can't see the price (can't log into Facebook at work), but I have seen Explorers in that condition listed from anywhere between $800 and $1200, a reasonable range. If it is at the lower end or lower, grab it.
The canoe is listed at $800 and I thought that was a good price. Glad to see someone else agree.
If the cracks in your photos are true cold cracks you will see a crack from edge to edge in the exposed Royalex cross section when looking down from above.
Thanks for the advice.
I am the original owner of one and it has seen Class 1-2+ paddled tandem in addition to shallow rivers, lakes and creeks. It is very versatile and probably the most used canoe in our fleet over the past 35 years.
You all seem to agree that this boat will be best used in class I & II whitewater, and that is what my intentions for it are. I’m glad to hear a few long time owners speak to the quality of the boat. The idea is to use this locally in areas with more rocks than I want to subject my fiberglass Curtis Northstar to, and use it on trips that have the potential for whitewater. If we get the whitewater bug we will likely start looking for something with some more rocker. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
 
Hey Jmharrick,
I'm going to offer some respectful, somewhat contrary opinions.
learn to run whitewater, and also use on small bony creeks.

I came across this royalex Mad River Explorer and plan to take a look at it this weekend.
I have an Explorer, and I also have an old town Appalachian. For white water and bony creeks something like an Appalachian or an Esquif Canyon, even a Prospector will be way better than the Explorer. The Explorer is big and deep but it isn't particularly maneuverable.

I’ve heard it can become brittle if not cared for properly? Are those small cracks something to worry about, or just outer layer cosmetic?
It is certainly possible to fix cold cracks, but it isn't trivial. It is more advanced than regular fiberglass work. Plus a boat with cold cracks might develop more later. I guess maybe if the boat was almost free, you're comfortable doing the work, and it was a good whitewater canoe.

Glancing briefly I saw a few interesting boats, but some are hours away. But I think this is indicative of what you'll see once spring gets closer.

This Old Town Penobscot is equivalent to the Explorer. Not my first choice for a whitewater canoe, but way better than no canoe. It appears to only need new seats, which bolt in. https://philadelphia.craigslist.org/boa/d/doylestown-old-town-penobscot-canoe/7704466267.html

This is a nearly new NovaCraft Prospector. Nice canoe for whitewater. It is all the way down in Virginia Beach, but I'll bet you can drive down there faster than you can fix cold cracks in an old Explorer. https://norfolk.craigslist.org/boa/d/virginia-beach-canoe-by-esquif-out-of/7704103206.html

Good luck, and let us know how you make out.
 
Sorry Mr Poling, but having repaired cold cracks in multiple canoes, I can assure you that it would be much faster (and cheaper) to fix those little cracks than to drive from western PA to Virginia Beach!!
 
My MR Royalex Explorer was the first of my 16 canoes, and it's still in usable and non-brittle condition after 43 years. I paddled that canoe tandem on many class 2-3 rivers in California and class 3-3+ rivers solo in New England. It can be turned adequately in whitewater with a strong heel (lean) onto the massive secondary stability of the slab sides, which will pull the stems out of the water.

I also poled that canoe and ran it around San Francisco Bay with a 2hp outboard motor.

I think it's a wonderful compromise tandem, solo and tripping canoe that can do everything reasonably well. Yes, there are other canoes that fit into this category, but the question is availability, proximity and price.

I looked at all the pictures and it looks in good shape for the price to me. The scratches on the bottom look to be the normal type of scratches into the vinyl layer for a canoe of that age. I have no experience with cold cracks, but if there are only two of them, that doesn't seem to be a big repair issue. I'm sure we have threads on this site, probably including some from @pblanc, on how to do such repairs.

The one thing I wonder about is whether the decks are original. Usually, MR would make the decks of its Royalex canoes out of a triangular piece of the same color Royalex as the hull. The deck looks sort of like wood in one picture, but that wouldn't affect my decision to buy or not.
 
I’m with Mr Poling, except I’m reluctant to say anything negative about an MRE. The Explorer is a well loved canoe, so I just figured that my dislike for it was user error on my part. I tried and tried to make the Explorer carve like a normal canoe—turning toward the down-leaned side. The MRE does the opposite—turning away from the down-leaned side, like a sea kayak. I got rid of the MRE and replaced it with an OT Appalachian, which I love—so glad I made that switch.

But, be aware, the Appy is more difficult to learn to paddle. I once did a coaching session for a bunch of Hopkins students who were getting ready for the annual concrete canoe race. They had their boat ready, but the majority of them had never paddled a canoe. I loaded up three tandem canoes for the students and put them on the water with a few buoys to paddle through. They did well in my Tripper and Maine Freighter, but none of them could make the Appy go through the buoys. That was revealing to me.
 
L
Hello everyone! My wife and I have been on the hunt for a used general purpose/tripping boat that we can abuse while we learn to run whitewater, and also use on small bony creeks.

I came across this ro

Sorry Mr Poling, but having repaired cold cracks in multiple canoes, I can assure you that it would be much faster (and cheaper) to fix those little cracks than to drive from western PA to Virginia Beach!!
This is like a a busted up car at the auction. If you're a good mechanic and you know what you're getting into it can work out.

It looks like that explorer was in Alexandria Virginia, Norfolk is only another hour and a half down the road. 3 hours extra round trip. That's barely enough time for the g flex to set.

Plus it was $800. For me, the right price for this canoe is in-town and free. It will sell for more to someone who doesn't understand that those cracks need fixed. But for $800 you should get something you can paddle without getting out epoxy. Or have to worry about cracking again, and again.
 
It looks like that explorer was in Alexandria Virginia, Norfolk is only another hour and a half down the road. 3 hours extra round trip. That's barely enough time for the g flex to set.
Half a century ago home was Alexandria and I went to school in Va. Beach, 208 miles away. You could make it in an hour and a half by averaging 133mph. Tie the boat on well! ;-)
 
Half a century ago home was Alexandria and I went to school in Va. Beach, 208 miles away. You could make it in an hour and a half by averaging 133mph. Tie the boat on well! ;-)
Yeah, looks like an extra 6 hours. Still, I'd take that over an $800 explorer with cold cracks.
 
Thanks everyone for your opinions and advice. It’s good to see differing views and sides to the story.

It looks like that explorer was in Alexandria Virginia, Norfolk is only another hour and a half down the road. 3 hours extra round trip. That's barely enough time for the g flex to set.
MrPoling, thanks for searching out some other canoes and posting them here. The reason this MRE is getting strong consideration is I will be passing by Arlington/Alexandria on my way home from visiting family in St. Marys, Maryland this weekend, so it’s only about a 15-20 minute detour with the wife, 3 kids, and dog in the car.

Another reason my interest was drawn to the explorer is I have a personal acquaintance who has the same boat that he’s taken all over Algonquin and to the arctic, and I’ve read all of Paddling Pitts’ trip reports and remember him mentioning using one quite extensively as well on some serious trips.

I plan to look closely at those cracks to see how severe they are and will haggle price accordingly. These boats seem to hold their value, so i guess if I get it and I’m not satisfied, I could always try to sell it during the paddling season and make a couple bucks.
 
This is for the benefit (hopefully) of the OP who is trying to decide whether or not to purchase the canoe. Repairing cold cracks is not difficult if you have some patience and a little time. Although some back up their repair with an internal patch of fiberglass or some other fabric, I have never done so and I have never had a cold crack repair fail, but it an option. As for cold cracks recurring after repair, cold cracks might occur in any Royalex canoe with wooden gunwales whether the canoe has ever suffered one or not.

Here is an article which might be helpful to read through:

cold crack repair in Royalex canoes

And here is an old thread describing different canoe owners' methods of repairing them, including mine:


Ideally, you would like to be able to remove enough gunwale screws to lift the gunwale up above the sheer of the canoe to fully expose the crack. Sometimes that is easy but often it is not. If you have a stubborn gunwale or deck plate screw, sometimes heating the head of the screw with a soldering iron will help loosen it. If you cannot free the gunwale, you can still repair the crack. To do so you need to widen the crack a bit to allow epoxy to penetrate the crack to its depth from both sides. This can be done by drilling holes close together through the crack to open it up over about an inch or so, just wide enough to get a bare hacksaw blade into it which can then be run up and down the length of the crack.

As for epoxy I would recommend you buy this kit:

G Flex 650-K

Don't be taken aback by the "Aluminum Boat Repair Kit" title. The reason this kit is good is that it contains not only enough G Flex to to the repair but also some silica powder that you can use to thicken the epoxy to fill the crack. You just add the powder to the mixed epoxy before you apply it to thicken it as much as you like. If you choose to back up the repair with a fiberglass patch, you want to use unthickened epoxy to lay down the cloth. The kit also contains a couple of dental syringes, useful for injecting epoxy into cracks and tight spots, some mixing cups and a stir stick/spatula.

In addition you will need some extraneous items and tools. A rotary tool like a Dremel is very helpful for guttering out the cracks but you can also do the same using coarse sandpaper and/or a triangular scraper tool. You might need to buy a hacksaw blade. And you will need to have on hand disposable gloves, paper towels, some denatured alcohol to clean off the boat, sandpaper, some masking tape. And after the epoxy cures you will want to paint it on both the interior and exterior with any type of paint that comes closest to matching the color of the canoe. Obviously, you won't need much paint. You will need some type of tape to back up the crack on one side to hold the epoxy as you fill the crack from the other side. I use clear packing tape for this purpose. And if you feel the need to back up the repair with a patch, you will need to add in the cost of a little fiberglass fabric. A few square feet of E fiberglass (6 ounce/square yard) weight won't cost too much.

So you can estimate the material expenses needed to repair the cracks based on what you have and do not have. I would ask the seller to deduct that estimate from the asking price. As a rough estimate figure on around $150 or so to fix the cracks.
 
Repairing cold cracks is not difficult if you have some patience and a little time.
Thanks for the thorough explanation pblanc. That process doesn’t scare me. Like you said, just sounds like it takes some time and patience. I’ll keep you posted if we buy the canoe. I noticed some of the screws looked corroded in the pictures. If the gunwales come off I’ll likely replace with new stainless.
 
Thanks for the thorough explanation pblanc. That process doesn’t scare me. Like you said, just sounds like it takes some time and patience. I’ll keep you posted if we buy the canoe. I noticed some of the screws looked corroded in the pictures. If the gunwales come off I’ll likely replace with new stainless.
If you buy it and wind up buying it and taking the gunwales off I would do two things.

First, elongate all of the gunwale screw holes in the hull in the fore and aft direction a bit. That will reduce the chance of having more cold cracks occur in the future.

Second, make sure you treat the inner faces of the inwales and the outwales that face the hull. Those surfaces don't get much attention and can be the entry point for water that gets into the wood grain and rots it. Personally, I like to treat those faces with a low viscosity "penetrating" epoxy like System Three Clear Coat which provides and excellent water barrier and is very durable. But if you plan to oil your gunwales try not to get epoxy on the external faces, or sand it off if it does, because it will prevent the wood from taking up the oil.
 
Last edited:
First, elongate all of the gunwale screw holes in the hull in the fore and aft direction a bit. That will reduce the chance of having more cold cracks occur in the future.
Should I just elongate the holes in the wood, or both the wood and the hull?
 
Just the hull. Although there is a fair bit of mystery surrounding the formation of cold cracks the predominant theory is differential thermal expansion of wood and Royalex. Royalex actually expands and contracts a fair bit with changes in temperature and wood less so. So if the hull expands or contracts more than the wood gunwales it applies stress to the hull via the gunwale screws that go through the hull. If the holes in the hull are a bit bigger fore to aft there is some wiggle room for the plastic to expand or contract relative to the wood.
 
Back
Top