Age concerns with a 30 year old Blackhawk Zephyr / Ariel?

An acquaintance is offering to sell me their 30 year old Blackhawk solo. I haven’t seen it yet; they say it’s a Zephyr but 15’ long so maybe it’s an Ariel, which I’d probably prefer anyway given my weight (190# plus gear) which might be pushing it in a Zephyr.

He says it’s been garage kept and in decent condition – surface scratches on the bottom but no rot, cracks or blistering. Assuming it looks okay to me, would I be a fool to buy it? I don’t know if mid-90s materials have any longevity issues.

Thank you.

If that Ariel has been stored out of the sun and hasn’t been mistreated it should be OK. I have two composite canoes that are over 40 years old and still going strong. Both have wood trim that shows it’s age but they were kept oiled so neither one has any rot. I did replace the seats as the webbing was stretched out quite a bit.

One is a fiberglass layup with gelcoat and the only degradation that’s showing up, other than surface scratches, are small cracks in the gelcoat where the hull flexes a bit on the sidewalls. I had to fill a dime-sized spot in the gelcoat up on the bow with epoxy but it’s holding up well.

The other canoe is a Kevlar layup with gelcoat and other than surface scratches it looks really good for a 40 year old canoe. I don’t think this canoe got as much use as the other one did and it shows.

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As has been stated, if they’ve been kept indoors and not run up hard on rocky shores etc., they should be OK. Check it thoroughly for “soft spots” and chips in the glass, especially in the bow where hard impacts from rough landings or garage incidents from pulling in while on car racks could occur.

Both are, in my opinion anyhow, very nice boats. They’re efficient cruisers rather than racers. (Once you hit hull speed, the stern y hunkers down and you throw a bigger wake rather than going faster when you paddle harder - so don’t bother trying. Just cruise through the day. You’ll get there ahead of most racers if the day is long enough.)

They feel a bit tippy for the first 20 mins, but they have tons of secondary stability and a glide that just doesn’t quit. When heeled they tend to turn opposite the direction of lean. That’s a bit quirky.

The Zephyr is, as you have noted, perhaps a bit on the small side for a 190 lb person and gear, but would probably do nicely for you for free style paddling without gear.

They can be told apart definitively by looking at the bow plates. A Zephyr has a round cut-out at the back of the plate and the Ariel has a “gothic arch”. My Ariel also lacks a stern plate. I don’t know if all years of Ariels lack the stern plate (and a different flotation chamber) but its the only adventure series Blackhawk I’ve ever seen that lacks a stern plate. (The Starship has a “V” plate and the Phantom - an 18 ft tandem of the same series - has a “stepped V”)

I own a Starship, Ariel, and (now) a Zephyr, all from the mid 90s, and I consider them all plenty seaworthy. The bottom of the Starship has seen a lot of use but still is holding up functionally - no flexing or minor leaks. Its still my favorite flatwater tripping solo.


I’ve owned a bunch of Blackhawks over the years and in general I think you are exactly right in that they are very efficient up to a point but if you push them hard they push back hard (kind of “hit a wall”) and that’s not really a problem in the real world. But in my experience the Zephyr and Shadow 13 can both punch right through and achieve high speeds for such short boats (with the bow making plenty of noise). I paddled a Zephyr exclusively in the 90’s because every other sport canoe I tried felt like a dog compared to it. 30 years later as I try to fold and squeeze myself in it’s pretty clear that Zephyr is a very low volume boat.

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Well Tom, there is no concern with degradation with a boat stored inside.

You’ll find construction details that are better than what you can buy today. Blackhawks have no foam core that can be punctured or damaged, just layers of (now expensive) fabric…like Verlen Kruger’s expedition boats. The thwarts and carry handles are fitted to the gunwales! It probably has some mahogany trim. In my experience with used Blackhawks you’ll even find that all the fasteners are still tight.

Being shallow vee designs, Blackhawks feel more tippy than modern shallow arch boats so I’d say the Ariel is a kneeling boat like the Zephyr. I think you’ll also find that Ariel likes to carry a load…I liked mine better with a dog than without. It’s a great boat.

My Zephyr (formerly TheBob’s).

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