advice on new (to me) Blackhawk canoe

Hi all. I’m new to this site, and new to serious paddling. I just bought a Blackhawk Starship (I think) and was hoping to get some advice, if I might.

After a bit of head scratching I was able to find the boat’s HIN, but I’m a little confused by it. Can a boat be a 1990 model but manufactured in 8/91? I assume so, since that’s what the HIN seems to indicate…

I’m pretty sure the boat is a Starship, since the length and width of the hull seem match the stats I’ve seen for that model. (I need to re-measure it precisely, since I guess several of the different Blackhawk models were around that length. The seller told me it’s a Kevlar hull, but I don’t know, looks like fiberglass to me (although for all I know Kevlar looks like fiberglass). The seller also said it weighs 35 lbs., but I think he was off by about 10 lbs. Just weighed it–51 lbs. on my bathroom scale. I weighed it with the canted cane seat in it. I’m guessing that weight makes it a FG boat, per this post of a couple years ago ( Oh, well. I paid $550 for it; I’m hoping that’s still a good deal. It seems to be in fairly good shape. There are two ancient patches on it but the seller swears he’s never seen leakage (he was the third owner). I’ve had it out twice now and I agree with him.

Questions: There are scratches in the hull and I’m content to leave them there, but is it possible to–is it recommended that one ought to–treat the hull with anything, either to protect it, to clean it, to make it faster, to rub out scratches? My stepdad suggested waxing it, but I read somewhere that, while wax won’t hurt the hull, it would actually slow the boat down.

Does one paint hulls? I don’t want to fix what ain’t broken. (The hull is a light minty green, by the way.)

The gunwales seem to be solid enough but in need of some care. I guess they’re ash? I initially thought I’d refinish them, but I have read that some people favor oiling them. Is that right? Linseed oil? Mixed with turpentine, I guess? Is there a book or a website that would have advice on these things?

Also, should I remove the gunwales to clean and oil or refinish them, or will doing so adversely affect the hull–will it lose its shape, in other words? If I should leave them on, should I just lightly sand them, taking care not to scratch the hull, and then oil 'em?

Thanks so much for any advice!



Check with

– Last Updated: Mar-28-12 6:48 PM EST –

If he doesn't see this thread or other Blackhawk aficionados don't reply, as to the boat's identity or expected weight.

Blackhawks often had gelcoat on the interior, so you might not be able to determine the layup by appearance. Kevlar boats that aren't painted or gel-coated on the interior typically have a golden color after the Kevlar has weathered a bit. A large volume solo nearly 16 feet in length built in a heavier Kevlar layup could approach 50 lbs and manufacturer's specs are typically overly optimistic.

You can improve the appearance of a gel-coated hull by wet sanding it and/or using polishing compound. I would start with 220 grit wet-to-dry paper and keep the hull good and wet as you work with a little spray bottle. Proceed with 400 grit, 600 grit, 800 grit and 1500 grit. You can also get a good polishing compound from an automotive store and buff the hull. If you can come by a low speed orbital electric automotive buffer it makes the job easier.

If the hull bottom is badly roughed up you might consider painting just the portion beneath the waterline. You can mark a waterline by putting the boat on a very level surface, making sure it is horizontal and using a measuring stick to determine the 3" waterline. I like using Krylon Fusion spray paint on both composite and Royalex hulls. It adheres well to plastics and is widely available. Scratches acquired after painting the bottom are easily touched up. I do this on some of my whitewater Royalex canoes.

I would consider taking the gunwales off if they were very weathered, in need of bleaching, or appeared very neglected. Part of the reason would be to treat the unexposed faces of the inwales and outwales that contact the boat and may not have received any attention since the boat was assembled. If it looks as if a light sanding and refinishing will do, I would leave them on.

Some folks varnish gunwales. On a flat water boat I prefer to varnish thwarts, yokes, and seat frames and oil gunwales. I have seen a variety of home recipes consisting of varying ratios of boiled linseed oil, a petroleum product (such as turpentine or kerosene) and vinegar. Linseed oil used alone tends to mildew. Penetrating oils available at your local hardware store work well. Watco oil is widely available and I have found that the interior variety works as well as the exterior formulation. Teak oil, Tung oil, and Deks Olje (a Danish penetrating oil) also have their fans.

Thank you!
Thank you VERY much, this is very helpful!

A few pointers

– Last Updated: Mar-24-12 3:36 PM EST –

As Pete said, wait for Bob to show up. He knows the specs of the various Blackhawks as well as anyone. Here's part of the story though. To identify it as a Starship, it will have that "classic" low stern rather than having the kind of side profile as a canoe is "supposed" to have. Then, to differentiate it from the two other models with that low stern, you can use the length and also the shape of the plastic deck caps. The shape of the deck caps was different for each of the three boats in that particular family. Other than Bob, Pat (PJC) will also know the length and deck-cap shape for these three boats. Pat and Bob both own Starships.

I never heard of a Blackhawk being made of Kevlar, but perhaps there were some. Also, except for ultralight boats (which yours obviously is not), "Kevlar construction" usually means that there are layers of Kevlar AND fiberglass.

I helped a friend re-finish the gunwales, thwarts and seat of a Blackhawk Zephyr a few years ago. We sanded off the really crappy varnish job that had been applied by an owner previous to the actual seller (the seller was Bob!), and applied several coats of boiled-linseed oil mixed with turpentine, allowing at least a day between coats. The result was amazing, but the beautiful luster of the wood after that first treatment has faded since then. Varnish has its advantages for long-term appearance and weather protection, but oil is fine if re-applied regularly, and as long as the boat is stored indoors.

I think gunwales are best installed starting at the center and working toward both ends, rather than starting at one end. Also, do both sides at the same time, rather than one side first. The trick to re-installing gunwales is to clamp each screw location tightly before installing the screw. That will allow the screw to follow its old threads rather than cut new ones (you have to gingerly start the screw so it doesn't cross-thread its way into the wood as well). Be careful with the rabbet shape that causes one gunwale piece to cover the top edge of the hull. The wood there is very thin and a bit fragile.

I would not paint the hull. That will just add extra weight. Rubbing it down with Penetrol does an amazing job of hiding scratches, and though I've used that method (on the same boat mentioned earlier), I'm suspicious that repeated use of such a solvent might not be so good (I figure that anything that actually softens the finish enough to allow smoothing-out of the jagged edges of those scratches can't be a good thing if used too often).

Again, many thanks! Alll very helpful–much obliged to you both for taking the time to answer. Yes, my boat has the low-profile stern. (My eyes are going, and in recent weeks I’ve had trouble differentiating “stem” from “stern,” but I gather both are boating terms. Stern I knew; stem is new, and I’m not sure I know exactly what it means.)

If not kevlar (or kevlar and FG, as you point out), I wonder what the two different layups are that thebob mentioned in his post of a few years ago. And what’s a layup? I had assumed hull material, but does it mean more?

Thanks for the advice on gunwales. I’m not sure what rabbet means, but I’ve gotten some books and will look it up. I guess it’s okay to remove them, carefully, for refinishing or oiling, and that it won’t affect hull shape if I replace gunwales after working on them. Or thwarts.



Quick Reply

– Last Updated: Mar-25-12 1:07 AM EST –

I always thought a "stem" was where the two sides of the hull come together to form a "pointy end". That's why normal canoes have a stem at each end. I think the old maritime phrase "stem to stern" meant "bow to stern" since on the old-time sailing ships the bow was rounded or pointed and the stern was built in a simple, squared-off fashion.

"Layup" refers to the manner in which layers of material are applied to the mold when building the hull, or to the final product.

I could be wrong about the term "rabbet". The feature I was referring to is a small right-angle bend planed into the wood that allows one of the two wood pieces that make up each gunwale to overlap the top of the hull material. Without that little right-angle bend, the hull would be be visible, sandwiched between the two wood sections. With the rabbet (or whatever its real name might be), all you see when looking down at the gunwale is two pieces of wood in tight contact with each other. It's strictly an aesthetic thing.

Here are some photos of work done on the boat I described in my earlier post.

The photos and captions are not "educational" in nature, but you might correctly get the idea that the job of gunwale removal and replacement isn't too hard (I think it IS a detailed, touchy job when starting from scratch, but already having the right pieces which have all the screw holes in the right places makes it pretty simple). If you read the photo descriptions, there is one other bit of advice, and that's the part about getting each set of screw holes lined up nicely prior to tightening the clamps on each side of that spot. A nail of the right diameter makes that easy to do.

Rabbet’s right on this side of the pond.
On the other, it’s a “rebate”.

And they call C-clamps “G-cramps”.

Two countries separated by a common language.


– Last Updated: Mar-25-12 1:21 PM EST –

You got yourself a good boat at a great price, IMHO.

As far as "specs" are concerned, for the Starship I have before me their '88 info sheet. They made minor changes in all their models, in fact, its not at all unusual to find Blackhawks with individual deck plate and non-standard colors. The specks I have for the Starship are:

Legnth 15'10"
Bow height 17"
Depth at center 13"
Stern height 13"
Waterline width 26"
Molded rail width 17"
Widest hull width 28"

Sport Gold 41#
Sport Silver 46#
ICS Gold 45#
ICS Silver 49#
ICS Pure Gold 55#
Paddler weight range 165-250
Optimum capacity 350#
Maximum capacity 650#

The ICS models had height adjustable seats that slid in molded side rails; Sport models were fixed seat. Both were canted.
As far as layups are concerned, here's the quotes from the ad sheets:

"'Silver' is a blend of S&E glass cloth, woven for high strength light weight applications. Four different weights and weaves of cloth are employed. In areas where durability and resistance to impact are needed, heavier and tougher weights are applied.. Where stress is less likely, a lighter laminate is created. This reinforcement procedure results in a strong yet lightweight craft.

'Gold' is also applied in a selective manner, but DuPont's Kevlar fabric is used rather than the woven fiberglass. When possible, the weaves of the fiberglass are duplicated and the choice of laminations again depends on the exposure to stress of a particular surface of the canoe. This method results in a laminate that is 30 percent stronger but with a weight savings.

Both Silver and Gold laminates are protected with gel coats on the exterior, providing an abrasion layer and giving the canoe finish fresh, vibrant colors which are protected from ultra-violet rays. The interiors are finished with a gel coat which results in a tough, long lasting, easy-to-clean surface."

The rails were originally submerged in an oil treatment.

A quick way to ID the models of the Blackhawk "Adventure series" canoes (of which the Starship is the longest solo model, though there was a tandem, the Phantom, which had an overall length of 17'10") is by the front deck plate shape. The Starship has a "V" shaped cutout in the front deck plate, The Zepher (smallest solo of the series) has a round cutout, and the Ariel (middle solo of the series) has a pointed arch-shaped cutout.

Depending on layup and seating arrangement the '89 Starship models retailed from $1,000 - $1,589.

I can't improve on the care suggestions made already. I use tung oil on my woodwork and refresh it pretty frequently. I do a light (220 grit) sanding every five or six oilings. Others prefer other treatments and they work also. If you ever want to redo the gelcoat, you might try QCC kayak for the work. The owner/main designer for Blackhawk, Phil Sigglecow (sp?), had a hand in QCC as well. They might still have his color formulas.

Waxing or whatever on the hull won't make any remarkable difference in the speed of the boat. All the adventure series boats I've ever paddled (and that's all of them) hit "a wall" as far as speed goes. You get to a point pretty quickly (they get up to cruising speed easily) where you work your kiester off and gain perhaps a half mph. Your additional work goes into creating a larger wake. So they cruise well but aren't really racers. If you want to win a race in a Blackhawk, go for the distance races, cruise so the hull just begins to gurgle, don't wear yourself out trying to go faster, but don't stop. They're efficient cruisers. Many others will tire out before you do, in all likelihood.

The Starship is a dandy boat for carrying camping gear on BWCA trips or cruising large rivers. The Starship isn't as maneuverable as some boats, but they have a glide that just won't quit and are less affected by wind than any other solo canoe I know of. Tends to turn to the right if heeled left. Feels a bit tippy at first, but there's really plenty of secondary stability and they feel much less tippy with a bit of a load. Can be a bit trim sensitive as compared to, for example, DY designs.

Conrgats again. You may like it now, but I bet you'll learn to love it. They're wonderful quirky canoes.

This was very helpful. Thank you! Understood about the rabbets. The photos are terrific. You clamped the gunwales simply to aid in reattaching them, as you describe above, correct? I mean, you’re not using any sort of glue, right? It’s just because the tension required to reattach the inwales and outwales is such that the clamps help keep the wood in the proper position to facilitate screwing them back on without messing with the existing threads that are in the wood?

Quick question: I’m a cyclist, and one thing one often hears suggested is the use of beeswax on bolts to (a) secure the bolt and (b) reduce squeaking. Does this seem sensible with a canoe as well? I don’t know that it’d be necessary when the metal hardware is being screwed into wood, but perhaps it’s a good idea?



again, many thanks!
I’m deeply grateful that all of you, who don’t know me from Adam, take such time to respond. Very kind of you all.

It’s clear from what you say that I have a Starship–which is great, that’s just what I wanted. It has the v-shaped hull (and stern, actually) cut-out. And it has the adjustable seat, so I’m guessing it’s the ICS silver lay-up. I actually prefer the seat in the lower position for kneeling AND sitting; perhaps that’s just as well.

I may be a bit overly ambitious, but I think I will in fact race the boat, this weekend. It’s only 8 miles on class I-II water. And you only live once. I did not buy the boat to race it, but to use it as it was chiefly intended, as a solo touring boat. I’d like to get it up to the Boundary Waters at some point this summer. But there’s a race on the Vermilion River here this weekend, so why not? I’ll, uh, get my feet wet. And maybe more than my feet. I’ve only had her out twice, and she did feel a bit more tame when I filled some dry bags and placed them fore and aft, but perhaps I should paddle her without any trim for the race, so she’s more maneuverable?

In any case, thank you for all your help, information, and advice. I’ll tackle working on the wood–does one call it bright work?–after this weekend. I don’t know that I’ll mess with the hull for the time being. The scratches are really only surface scratches, nothing structural.

Thanks again!


clamping gunwales
Yes, you don’t use any glue on the gunwales, although in quite a few wood-trimmed boats the deck plates might be bonded to the inside edges of the inwales (the interior part of the gunwales) and sometimes the outwales extend beyond the hull and are bonded together in some fashion at their tips.

The outwales typically will tend to straighten when released, bowing out from the hull. Clamping the gunwales together before inserting the screws allows you to be sure that the tops of the inwales and outwales are perfectly aligned and eliminates the tendency of the screws to strip the wood of the outwales due to the outward bowing effect that would otherwise occur with unclamped gunwales. And do you really want to be holding a 16+’ long strip of wood with one hand as you try to insert a screw into it.

I have often used a small drop of liquid hand soap on wood screws to make them easier to insert. I haven’t noticed any ill-effect from this. Paraffin should work.

I have usually heard the term “bright work” applied to wood treated with varnish or a glossy polyurethane finish, which is then said to be “bright finished”.

Yes, those are the reasons for clamping the gunwale pieces prior to installing each screw. You just want everything to be properly in place and fitting tightly before the screw goes in. Also, as Pete said in his reply to this, putting soap or paraffin on screw threads is commonly done, but that’s usually for first-time assembly in which case screws are much harder to install because they are cutting new threads in the wood. In your case, the screws will turn very easily unless cross-threaded (and you want to avoid doing that).

Thank you both. Understood about clamping, makes sense. Thx!

advance the clamps
You only need to leave the clamps in place until you get the screws in. You can advance the clamps after every couple of screws.

Start in the center and work symmetrically towards the stems, switching from the bow to the stern quadrant after every couple of screws for best results.

Sure you will enjoy the Starship but,
If you ever want to sell it let me know! I’m right here in OH.

Okay, Steve. But
I think I’ll want to play with it for a bit. I’m sure you understand.:slight_smile:

You may find indication of the layup in the serial number. Like a “K” for kevlar or Blackhawk’s three letter code. If you remove the rails you will expose the cut edges of the hull. If there is a kevlar layer in the hull there will be straw colored frizzy ends along the cut edge .


I think you received some excellent information from Pete, PJC, and guideboatguy.

Would have weighed in with my 2 cents worth, but only got back on line yesterday, after computer crash was diagnosed & repaired.

Starship; great canoe in my opinion. Beautiful design. Regret selling mine, but it was not getting used for it’s intended purpose by me, and am pretty sure it’s buyer is putting it to good use.

Congratulations on your find/purchase. They are getting harder to find every year. Don’t be too quick to let it go; unless it does not suit your intended usage. Don’t think you’ll have much problem selling it, if you decided to do so.


thanks, Pete
Thank you, Peter. Interesting point about checking the hull material when the gunwales are removed; I’ll do that. And while I’ll admit I was rather excited at the idea of a Kevlar boat, I’m fine with a fiberglass boat. They’re tough enough, right? Short of wrapping it around a boulder or some such.



Thank you, BOB
Thank you, BOB. (THEBOB?) I was hoping you’d comment, since it was chiefly your previous comments on the board that made me really go after the boat. I’m glad I did. And although I hesitate to say it for fear of disappointing my fellow Ohioan, but I have no intention of selling it any time soon. I want to use it as much as I can.