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HomeNL-2017-10 Tripping Canoe

Tripping Canoe
September 2017
by Paul Woodcock

Aluminum was the choice for most canoe trippers until 1978, when Old Town Canoes and Kayaks touted the durability of its Royalex Tripper by tossing one from the roof of its Maine factory—it escaped unscathed. Due to its near-indestructibility, Royalex became the go-to material for whitewater boaters, summer camps and remote expeditions.

Royalex is a composite material, comprising an outer layer of vinyl and hard acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic (ABS) and an inner layer of ABS foam. The layers are bonded by heat treatment. It is used for manufacture of durable, mid-priced canoes.

Mary Zaborowski bought a Mad River Duck Hunter which is the same design as the Explorer ,just a little longer and wider at 17 ft. When it was delivered and unpacked, the Royalex had separated and it looked like a shar-pei. John Henry, the owner of Mad River at the time, took it back and had made personally the replacement. We were told that the original canoe was used as a movie prop and was blown up. Mary named the canoe "Bear" after her grandfather. It was a beautiful canoe with wooden gunnels and it serves us well, although at 74 lbs it was a load on a portage. The first repair we had to do was to put on skid plates, as I had drug it onto the bank over gravel bars many many times. About every two years we had to refinish the wood on Bear. The next major repair was when we were in the middle of a 400-mile wilderness trip as we tapered over in a rapid and broke the gunnels - for years i had been dragging the paddle against the gunnel and it had weakened a spot. On returning to Houston we replaced the gunnels. It was a major project and I had to buy every clamp in Houston to hold it in place as I screwed them in place. Before replacing them, I epoxied the underneath side so they would last a lot longer

The next major repair was when we T-boned a rock on the Pecos River and put a small crack in the bow. An epoxy repair made it as good as new.  At Knife Rapids on the Hays River we slit a long gash through the layers of the the Royalex. You can cut the outer layer, but if it is deeper, the water turns the inner layer spongy. Dana Enos and I spent almost every night adding fiberglass to the wound. We did make the last 150 miles to the take-out, but were concerned. Mary decided to put a Plexiglas top on to, and turn it into a bar. A project I have not started for years, it is currently resting in peace on a canoe rack.We then bought an Explorer 16 with aluminum gunnels for easier maintenance.  I consider these the best trippers on the market as they handle well through the rapids, carry a lot of gear, are extremely durable and track well on lakes, even in high winds.

PolyOne, the publicly held company which produced the most revolutionary material in canoeing, has closed its plants and ceased production of Royalex.

While canoes come in plenty of materials that suit the needs of flatwater paddlers just fine, whitewater paddlers are particularly worried by the news. “I learned to paddle rivers in Royalex canoes. Without it, we’re going to have to change the way we all paddle whitewater,” says Scott MacGregor, founder and publisher at Rapid Media. “On the other hand, this may be the kick in the ass the canoeing industry needs to find a material lighter, stronger and even more durable.” While MacGregor remains optimistic, he’s also ordering spares of his favorite Royalex whitewater canoe models.

Mad River started to make the Explorer in fiberglass and tried to convince us it was just as good as Royalex, but this was smoke and mirrors in my opinion.

A new material has been developed like Royalex, T-Formex is manufactured into sheets using foam core, ABS plastic and another outer material that is undisclosed. These are layered together to create a reinforced, multi-laminate sandwich that can withstand years of abuse. Switching to T-Formex will not require any re-tooling of former Royalex-boat building operations. The same workshops that produced Royalex canoes could produce 20 to 25 T-Formex canoes per day, and Mad River has announced that is going to be using this to produce the new Explorer. 






The earth is my mother
The sky is my father
The animals are my brothers
The canoe brings me closer to them 
The author, Paul Woodcock