Wood/Canvas or other

Joined
Feb 29, 2012
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It seems there are many here that prefer a wood/canvas canoe over other types.

Staying true to my name, I have a preference for strippers, and, I can build them to be as rugged and useful as any commercial hull. Usually, I can build them to be nearly as light as a similar designed modern composite hull (although this is not proven by my current, overweight solo Kite), but at a small fraction of the cost of those pretty composites. The weight/strength/cost relationship can't be bested by other build techniques, but I am biased, for sure.

So what is it about these W/C hulls that is so alluring? I've only paddled a few of them, and carrying them would be out of the question for the places that I go.
I don't mean to be disrespectful, but a W/C doesn't make sense to me. Too heavy, too fragile.

Is it like a Jeep thing, and I just wouldn't understand? I own several Jeeps, and although the more modern ones have their comforts and superior ride and drive qualities, there's just something about a CJ5, or CJ8 that suits me better.
Is it the same type of visceral reaction with the W/C hulls?

I understand the possible emotional ties to childhood memories, but beyond that I'm stumped.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
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I'll bite. Our school club ran w/c canoes for decades. Until the late 70's, it was the only type of canoe we ran. We never complained about the weight, although after week or two on the water, they were certainly heavy. However, most people don't realize that a w/c canoe is very robust. It will take a hell of a pounding, and if a leak happens, it can be easily fixed with minimal repair items. We have run very serious white water in w/c canoes, and carried over extremely long ports as well.

As to being out of the question according to the places you go, I'm pretty sure our w/c canoes have been places that no ultralight could survive. The Gravel river comes to mind. It was an ill fated trip, attempted twice by our club, completed only once. Also the Pays Plat trip, where one essentially carried ones canoe from our twon to Lake Superior, over a 160 miles.

I think a more appropriate question is "What is the current obsession with light weight?" When tripping with a canvas canoe, one will make a couple or three trips across a port. That's how things have rolled in the north for a long time. We carry extras, things that many would never think of, chain saws, even guns. For a short while I was in the race car mentality of one carry only, but then I wasn't really on a canoe trip, I was on a race. I still do it sometimes, but only when i want to punish myself.

I only own one w/c canoe, an older Tremblay that is is pristine condition. It is quiet, very quiet on the water, and it bobs like a cork. And it is beautiful. I consider it to be more beautiful than any of my strippers. There is a romance that goes with the paddling of it. The canoes Robin has been working on practically make me drool. A mistake of our de-constructionist, functionalist society is that beauty is often sacrificed for efficiency. Perhaps that's good when a doctor is about to operate on my innards, but whne it comes to canoeing, beauty still matters.
 
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Dec 7, 2011
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Maryland, USA
They are beautiful creations. There is a mathematical beauty to the progression of changes in the ribs, each just slightly different from it's neighbor. They are quieter to paddle than most composite, plastic or aluminum canoes. I'd love to have a wood canvas canoe as long as I didn't have to carry it anywhere, but there's the rub. We do have to carry our canoes, and some of us carry ours qute a diatance on occasion. So there are compromises (and every boat no matter how big or small or how it is powered, are designs with compromises) that go into selecting a hull: weight vs performance and handling vs cost vs stability vs load capacity vs seaworthiness vs longevity and repairability vs esthetics, etc. Emphasize one and somthing else will suffer. I designed a skin on frame racing kayak for a friend who had particular things in mind she wanted that I incorporated into the design. Straight line speed was one. She commented after she had paddled it a bit that it didn't like to turn. That was the compromise with hardly any rocker in the hull. It did what she wanted it to do (go fast) at the expense of somthing else (maneuverability). So, I just aquired 32 pound, 15'4" solo canoe in Kevlar. It has a functional beauty but certainly does not have the ultimate looks of a well maintained wood and canvas canoe. It will be noisier when I inexpertly clunk my paddle against the thin hull. But when I throw it on my shoulders for a portage those compromises will be worth it as I trot ( OK, shuffle) along to the next put in.
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
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Appleton, Maine
I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm attracted to wood canvas canoes for many reasons, many of which would be considered silly to those who don't agree.

I like to paddle them, I like to work on them and I enjoy looking at them when I'm not paddling or working on them. To me the sight of my wood canvas canoe pulled up on some far off Canadian shield is about as good as it gets. I admit I have sat for long periods of time just caught up in the moment, northern lake, smell of the spruce forest, that wood canvas canoe. Add some well worn Duluth Packs, an old beavertail paddle, an ax, bean boots...see, pretty silly and not really that important in this age of 30lb boats and bent shaft paddles.

I disagree with the statement that they are fragile. A wood canvas tripping canoe, like the Chestnut Prospector, Pal or Chum are built to take the rough use and can be repaired to like new condition by a handy owner. Canoes like BN Morris, some Old Towns and others where never built to be tripping canoes and are not in the same category as the Chestnuts. Modern wood canvas tripping canoes built by individual professional builders are built tough and are well prepared for the trail, maybe even more so than the mass produced Chestnut hulls of days past.

Bushwacking to small ponds in the ADK's calls for a different canoe where weight is a deciding factor. Where lakes are bigger as in Quebec and Ontario, your portage to paddling ratio is completely different. Some folks choose 75 lb Royalex canoes, some 75 lb wood canvas, some need to go with lighter canoes for various reasons, to each his own.
 
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I've had a cedar-strip Prospector and can attest to its durability. I've seen Bill Mason take his w/c Prospector down runs I'd try only in Royalex, that is, if I had the skill. So both sides of this discussion have much to say. What we have in common is our appreciation for the combination of beauty, craftsmanship, and natural materials. In the quiet of an evening when I'm alone with the loons, I cannot look at my kevlar canoe and feel that it's one with the setting. Therein may lie the chief difference between wood (with or without canvas) and composite.

Also, I'd say that quiet running does not separate wood from composite. The only canoes I've had that have not been silent were Royalex - Mad River Explorer and Eclipse, Dagger Legend, Bell Yellowstone Solo. I attribute that to the turbulence in the blunt trailing end. All my other boats, including the stripper, the Wildfire, Ariel, MorningStar, NorthStar, SoloPlus, Independence, Sundowner, and Prism all impressed me with their silence. Hopefully, the Peregrine will, too, when I finally get it in the water.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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Raymond, ME
W/C canoes need not be heavy. Mine are two of a lighter planking at 32 and 36 lbs and the 15 footer 48. I just personally favor them over strippers. I regard the latter as a form of fiberglass boat. They can be pretty made by a experienced practitioner.

Full disclosure. My boats are covered in Ceconite which is much lighter than canvas. However the planking under must be absolutely fair.

sure W/C boats for whitewater need thicker planking and ribs, so are heavier. Somr
Maine outfitters run river trips exclusively with W/C
 
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Feb 29, 2012
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Schenectady, NY
OK, maybe I got the wrong impression from reading others' comments about W/C canoes being dragged over beaver dams, etc.
And I do appreciate the beauty of wood and a classic design.

Anyone remember that scene in Deliverance (actually a pretty good film) where Burt Reynolds broke his coccyx? They broke that beautiful boat in two, just for the movie, it killed me to see that!
So, I kind of get it...maybe I'll start seeing decals on the W/C boats that say "It's a canvas thing, you wouldn't understand".

I suppose I'm my own breed as well. I could easily carry my son's 10 lb geodesic on a 5 mile carry, but I'd rather suffer with my stripper overhead to better enjoy the paddling once on the water.
So, I guess I do understand...
 
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Jul 31, 2011
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Dodgeville, Wi
I guess I am similar to Robin in that I am madly in love with the look and feel of the boat on the water. I enjoy looking at my canvas packs, hand carved paddles, and the lines of my boat. I enjoy the feel of her hull on the water ... Mostly, I think I am just a nostalgia nerd. I usually trip by myself so My numbers of laps on a port only affect me, I can take my time and enjoy the trip.

Bob.
 
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I can appreciate the many reasons given why one might like a particular craft. The more you do something, more attuned you become to it's nuances.

I appreciate the properties of certain engineered materials, but at the same time I can also say they don't always 'feel' as good... much like a leather boot vs. a plastic boot... to say that leather isn't engineered is a bit of a stetch, but I digress...

I tend to be less interested in aesthetics and more interested in performance and comfort. I like a boat that I can sit in all day. I like a boat that doesn't make me angry when I have to carry it. I like a boat that doesn't make me feel like I'm going nowhere on the water. I like a boat that stand up to some abuse. If it satisfies those criteria, I don't think it matters if was made out of paper mache.

My only major qualm with synthetics is environmental impact. I feel a little guilty owning a boat that contains something that won't biodegrade and has released all sorts of toxins during it's manufacture.
 
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Joined
Jan 31, 2013
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I have a Kevlar canoe that is our primary tripping boat for the obvious fact it only weighs 40 pounds. It paddles beautifully with a load and turns well even loaded. When empty, when we fish, it is a handful, it blows around easily, it floats too high, it transmits every little twitch through the hull, it isn't much fun at all. Each spring I give it a cleaning and that is it.

I will have spent 100+ hours rebuilding the Canadian I am finishing. It will likely weigh twice that of the Swift, but it will do all the same things in a nicer way. It may become our tripping boat. I love working on them and if the Canadian turns out as great as we feel it will, we will pull the lines from it, make a mold and start building new boats.

Wood/canvas is aesthetically pleasing on the eyes, they are solid, no twitching, if I drop a jig on the bottom of the boat I won't spook every fish for a mile around. I can drag it across beaver dams or portages if I choose and it won't break the ribs or tear the canvas. But, if I do break a rib or two, break some planking, I can still paddle it And I can rebuild it again and again until it is 200 years old.

Last Summer we had a friend up from the Pacific NW on her first trip to Canada. We took her out in the wilderness, we took two boats, the stripper and my 14 foot Chestnut. We had 6 portages to do but the Kevlar stayed home. I can solo it so that isn't why. I just prefer paddling the wood/canvas variety.

Wood/Canvas canoes opened up the north for a century before composites came along.
 
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Aberdeen, MD
I would like to someday make a stripper. Until then, I will have to paddle my stitch and glue canoe here in LA, and my OT w-c in NY.

I've paddled a few royalex, whatever the PBW guys make their wonderful Rapidfire out of, and some aluminum canoes. With the W/C, there seems to be a slight give when you take a stroke, as opposed to the artificial rigidity of the others, including my plywood one... Sort of like walking on pavement vs the forest floor. The synthetics also ring with an un-natural sound when you bump them with the paddle, that seems to disturb the quiet in a more violent way than when you bump wood paddle to wood hull... maybe it's mental.

I like the warm feeling of the wood thwart on my thighs, even on a cold day... the creak of ribs, planks, and gunwales when you move the boat... and the look of all those little pieces fitted together by hand to make such a thing of beauty... like riding a piece of fine furniture. All I can say is the W/C canoes seem to "fit" somehow when I'm on the water in one, and everything is "right"... as for weight, yeah, ok... I don't like carrying my 75# OT... but I do like that there is such a thing as a 50 pounder (my preference, but I couldn't find one of my own when I could afford them.)

I guess it's the same issue with leather vs kydex knife sheaths, canvas vs nylon packs, carbon vs stainless knives, wooden vs synthetic paddles, or a '67 Camaro vs the 2014 model...
 
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Wood/Canvas canoes opened up the north for a century before composites came along.

To quote Dave Curtis... "People just aren't as fit these days." :D

I can't be expected to sit in front of a computer all week and then carry a 80lb boat! Our society has changed... I remember a time when 80lbs wasn't all that heavy to me and I did a lot of manual labor... those days are long gone...
 
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To quote Dave Curtis... "People just aren't as fit these days." :D

I can't be expected to sit in front of a computer all week and then carry a 80lb boat! Our society has changed... I remember a time when 80lbs wasn't all that heavy to me and I did a lot of manual labor... those days are long gone...

Not only are those days long gone, but we live longer, in part because our bodies no longer wear out from overuse - such as schlepping huge loads over rough terrain. So we can do things we never could have done 100 years ago, with technology and at advanced years that were undreamt of then.
 
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I still do manual labour, but hoisting a 40 pound food barrel onto my back is a chore, but I will continue to try to take my 55 pound w/c canoe on certain trips.
 
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Not only are those days long gone, but we live longer, in part because our bodies no longer wear out from overuse - such as schlepping huge loads over rough terrain. So we can do things we never could have done 100 years ago, with technology and at advanced years that were undreamt of then.

True... well that is if you can ward off the diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and mental illnesses. All those things existed in the past but maybe we are better at recognizing them today, or maybe they are more prominent because of lifestyle, or maybe because we are living longer and inviting new ways for our bodies to degrade.

I'm not arguing with progress and technology. I think it's amazing that I can pick up my boat with a couple fingers and have virtually any food I want any time of year. But a lot of these things come at a cost. That is why I like Dave's quote... it reminds me of that.
 
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My grandfather was a longshoreman his entire life, and he was as strong as an ox. He was pulling off amazing feats of strength well into his 80's. I always modelled myself after him, and was happy to carry huge loads on portages, and generally pick up the things no one else wanted to carry. The flip side is that my grandfather was in a lot of pain in his later years from his exertions. I too have a variety of aches and pains, not the kind that stop me, but the kind you wake up to every morning. I had a physiotherapist a couple of years ago who asked me if I woke up to pain in the morning. I told her yes, don't most men? She said no, most men don't wake up to pain in the morning. I thought she was full of crap, because most of the men I grew up with, all hard workers in physical jobs, just accepted the fact that they would have aches and pains.

That's kind of the way I see a port too. There is usually a fair amount of physical suffering on an arduous port, but it's to be expected, and one just suffers without complaint.
 
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I can't say that the aches and pains necessarily have went away, I think they have just changed. It seems almost everyone I know who works at a desk complains of lower back pains. My back feels the best if I hike or ski (not downhill, that kills my back). Not necessarily strenuous exercise, but enduring.

Personally, and I can't speak for anyone else, I also have bad shoulders and knees. Shoulders I'm sure are from slouching and knees from being overweight from my frame size. I consider myself anywhere between 30 and 40 lbs over my ideal weight... that is like carrying a typical backpacking pack or canoe ALL THE TIME! No wonder my knees feel strained when I add another 40 to 80lbs and hike over rough terrain!

I try to keep as active as I can these days, but no amount of exercise makes up for the amount of time I sit or lay down (sleeping). I just don't have enough hours in the day or week to offset the sitting, and I get lazy and want to sit at night because for some reason I get tired at the end of the day... mental stress manifests itself into feelings of physical exertion and that in fact is mental... I know I feel better if I go for a hike, a paddle, a ski or go to the gym after work rather than watch TV or surf the web.

Anyway, I'm sure it was tougher working on the farm all day and coming home... I surely wouldn't want to go to the gym...
 
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
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central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
I realize this may be getting off topic a bit so I apologize but, since there's been mention of this above, I'll add my situation to the discussion. At this point in my life I've never paddled a w/c canoe but would really love to own one. What's probably going to hold me back is the weight. I now have an artificial knee due to years of wear and tear. While I can still do pretty much what I want, I've been warned by my doctor to be smart because I could wear it out prematurely. His words to me were, "you may get 30 years out of this or you might get 3." After what I went through to get back to work, etc., I'm not looking forward to going through it again.

The other point is about the residual breakdown to my body. I used to joke with my students that when I started in this business I was 5'10" but after all the years of 80 pound Grummans, large wannigans and heavy Duluth packs I'd been compressed. Well the joke is on me because last summer when I began to experience some back/neck issues I was put into an MRI. What did the pictures reveal? Essentially, I have shrunk :( I now have little to no space between my C1-2, C5-6 and C6-7 vertebrae. While this isn't really stopping me from doing the things I enjoy, it has given me something to think about when picking weight up above my head, etc. So, while I secretly covet a w/c canoe, my next one is going to be a 26 pound solo instead. Just the realities of life for me. But hey, if anyone wants to donate one to a doddering old man, I'll be happy to accept it :)

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
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Joined
Dec 1, 2012
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Altoona, Pennsylvania
I have royalex, composite, and wood. They all get paddled every year, all year, but when I'm on multiday trips the wood canvas (Dacron) is the one that goes. I have a B/G Rockstar that is dedicated solo that comes in at 41lbs. I think. I have a Northstar at nearly the same weight. I have a rx bell prospector that is heavy. I don't want to know its weight, but I love to paddle it locally in Central PA's rocky shallow rivers. But the Stewart River Prospector at 58lbs. isn't particularly heavy for a 16' high volume boat. I've paddled some Class III on ten day trips where it performed well and took slides of the ledges as well as royalex. In the pic below you can see that I regularly drag it fully loaded over beaver dams and on to rocky shore lines as well. I bought it because I've always liked the tactile feel of wood and it's tough enough for the task. It's a tug boat on flat water, and has zero efficiency if you compare it to the Bell Northstar which is one of the most amazing boats I've ever paddled on multi-day trips. But without exception, so far, I take the w/c north when tripping. I just dig it. If I only had room, I would order a w/c dedicated solo. Could sell a composite to make room, but I enjoy them as well. (I probably posted these pics before). And of course I've confessed this week that besides 10 canoes, I have 3 kayaks...and they are all plastic.

Cheers,
Barry



 
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