Fiberglass Canoes????

-- Last Updated: Jun-14-12 7:54 AM EST --

Quick question on fiberglass for canoes. I found some older Malecites that are laid up in fiberglass.

I know that this was used as a cheaper layup than kevlar and that it is probably a lot heavier.

What about durability though? Fiberglass sea kayaks are pretty durable.(a Nigel Dennis Explorer is pretty much bomb proof and meant to withstand bashing rocks in the ocean when fully loaded)

How about canoes? I imagine that they probably have to be laid up with fewer layers in order to keep them from being too heavy.

I would guess they are as heavy or heavier than Royalex, but would have finer ends and a stiffer layup which would probably make them a bit faster and crisper in the water than a royalex boat.

I am debating over whether it is worth looking into as a cheap canoe that will perform okay on flat water and be able to handle potential impacts in a rocky river. Given the cheap price I would not feel too bad about bashing it around a little if it would handle the abuse.



– Last Updated: Jun-14-12 8:33 AM EST –

Here are the facts, as I understand them from both reading and actual field experience both paddling and repairing. Some of the facts are opinion - you'll have to sort that out yourself!

1. Fiberglass is just as good as kevlar, but it is different and it weighs more.

2. It is different in that it is more stiff, more abrasion resistant, and much less strong in tension.

3. Fiberglass is a great material for repeated scratches and small impacts - the sort of thing a kayak or lake canoe gets landing and launching.

4. Fiberglass will not withstand catastrophic impact very well - I suppose the definition of catastrophic means nothing will survive, but kevlar will take the big hit much better.

5. Fiberglass and kevlar are easy to repair.

6. The cloth is only one factor in the equation. The other factors are resin and construction method.

7. Foam cores are very common in canoes, much less common in kayaks. Foam cores make a boat stiffer for the same weight, but much less durable and much less easy to repair. Foam cores are completely unsuitable when durability is the priority, but great when performance/weight is the goal.

8. Epoxy resin is a bit better than vinylester or any of the blends. Polyester resin is only suitable for applications where there will be no flexing (such as a heavily built sailboat or power boat hull that is an inch thick). Polyester resin combined with kevlar is wasted kevlar, as the resin will fail before the strength of the cloth is ever engaged. Polyester resin will make a useable canoe, for sure, but it isn't worth choosing as it is inferior to the alternatives and really not that much cheaper overall.

9. Fiberglass canoes take the same amount of labour as kevlar canoes, but sell for much less, as such, many manufactures push the kevlar and/or don't make premium fiberglass models. For example, a Bluewater canoe cannot be had with epoxy/glass. The glass only comes in poly resin. Clipper, Wenonah, and Hellman are some exceptions, as well as great small builders like Millbrook. These, though, use fabrics in synergistic ways that makes the best canoe.

Considering all that here is what the market typically chooses:

Royalex for rivers - half the price of a composite river runner of equal toughness, not much heavier, not much less responsive, who wants to put $3000 through rapids! Well, I do, but even still Royalex is good value too.

Kevlar for lakes - Can be made very light with foam cores - people like light more than tough, and even still a kevlar ultralight can still last 20 years if it isn't abused. In this sense it is a bargain saving 20lbs every portage for decades.

Fiberglass for sea kayak - sea kayaks are expensive to begin with, so adding the kevlar upcharge seems excessive. Further, kayaks are rubbish for portaging anyway, so what's a few extra pounds of toughness matter. Also, landing in surf makes that extra glass layer worthwhile.

Poly or 'glass for price points - Fiberglass is better for this, in my opinion. Both poly and cheap fiberglass aren't great, but at least the glass can be repaired. Poly boats are super tough for a few years, then they deform and are only good for recycling. I never recommend them to anyone - a used better boat is always a better option.

Mad River fiberglass holds up great
If you are going to pass on the FG Malecite, I’d love to get the lead from you.

I had a FG Malecite I loved. But I cracked it up in the ocean and sold it because I didn’t have time to fix it. I’d love to replace it.

“poly boats are rubbish”
“they only last a few years”

I love it! I’ve been happily paddling rubbish boats. Some of them made in 1996.

I like the Kevlar boat for it’s weight, but the repair work never stops.

K-Glass ?

– Last Updated: Jun-14-12 9:03 AM EST –

That Malecite is likely what Mad River called K-Glass layup - some kevlar and some fibergalss layers
cutting cost a little and adding weight a little

Malecite -- K-Glass 55#
Exped Kevlar 51#
Kevlar Lite 42#

above is from a 2000 or 2002 or thereabouts catalog

I have a MR Independence in the K-Glass layup - its pretty bombproof, seems much stronger and tougher than an ultralight kevlar layup

Mad River Layups
I’ve got a Kevlar Malecite and a Glass Independance.

The Indy weighs pretty close to the Malecite. Both are nice well made boats. Other than the weight I don’t see much difference.

Personally I think Mad River did some of the best layups around.

I didn’t say that
I didn’t say poly boats were rubbish, though I could have. Let me say it now: Poly boats are rubbish.

Under hard use, a poly boat will deform and not come back. I’ve seen several fleets from different manufactures that are like this - the bottoms are caved in. When the stems crack from hard impacts on rocks, they basically need to be tossed since epoxy doesn’t stick to them.

I’m not saying that they will cease to exist, or that they will break down to the point that they cannot be used at all. I’m saying that a 20 year old fiberglass canoe paddles like a new fiberglass canoe. A 20 year old OT Discovery paddles like a bicycle with two flat tires.

In the rental business, poly makes sense - buy them for 700, rent them through one season of abuse, sell them for 700 in the fall, or buy them, use them a few seasons of pounding and sell them for a couple hundred. For personal use they are just poor value. Royalex lasts much longer and is lighter to boot. Fiberglass is lighter and paddles better if lots of toughness isn’t needed. As a personal boat, I see no point. I’d also rather have aluminum than poly.

K glass
Kevlar and fiberglass are both used. Those boats are strong. I have several dating back to the early nineties, and most recently my newer canoes have carbon fiber layers added to the kevlar and fiberglass.

Nothing wrong at all with fiberglass. It does hold more resin and it does weigh more in the weight of cloth typically used. There is S glass which is structural and E glass which is not and spray fiberglass which is the cheap heavy flimsy stuff.

So no fiberglass is not a demon. Kevlar boats, especially those with kevlar in the unfortunate placement on the exterior are often fixed with fiberglass wnen there is a hole.

Glass Malecite in my fleet.
Shortly after we got it, a fella who was “helping” me to the water dropped the bow of the loaded boat hard on a rock. I think my face went white, but it barely left a mark on the gel-coat.

I don’t know about other brands, but I think the Vermont MR boats, at least, are very durable hulls in FG.

“Perform okay on flatwater”? A Malecite? I think so.

Wenonah Tufweave, made of cloth
where glass and polyester fibers alternate, is one of the best layups available. One reason is that the vinylester resin bites into and “grabs” those polyester fibers with unusual tenacity.

I know you know that Millbrook canoes are about half S-glass and half Kevlar, and are light, stiff, and pretty durable.

Bowler, you may want to scan over

Millbrook prices are fairly low, and you get S-glass over Kevlar, often for the same price others charge for fiberglass.

The AC/DC might meet your combined criteria, though as a tandem it is a bit small. It’s fairly fast on lakes, and nimble on rivers.

The Coho is the larger of the Millbrook poling solo/tandem boats. Nimble enough on rivers, but not as fast on lakes as the AC/DC.

A note about polyester resin. It varied
quite a bit in quality. Our first canoes were fiberglass, with “isopthalmic” polyester resin. Both boats were as tough as I would expect a glass canoe to be if it were made with vinylester or epoxy resin.

So if you find an old (73-80) Mad River FG boat hanging in your uncle’s garage, don’t worry about it being flimsy. It will stand up to normal dragging and bumping just fine.

On the issue of catastrophic impact, an all glass boat will take hits pretty well, but if a tear starts at the point of impact, it may tend to propagate, or spread, a good ways. In the worst cases, the boat may fall to pieces. (Check out “I fall to pieces” by Patsy Cline.)

Putting Kevlar on the inside of the canoe actually adds stiffness, and the stiffness and tear resistance of Kevlar may keep the outside glass layers from splitting in the first place. If the glass splits, the Kevlar may keep the split in the glass from propagating. If the glass and Kevlar both split, the split may not go far. In the worst cases, the Kevlar may keep the pieces of boat together, so it can be taped up and paddled.

Kevlar has poor compression strength, so although it works well in general on the inside of boats, when it is on the inside of a sharp chine, a blow to the boat’s center bottom may compress those chines and damage the Kevlar. I’ve seen this on some Kevlar boats.

Had two or three fiberglass Malecites
built in the 70’s and 80’s. We used them regularly where they got lots of scratches running gravel bars without quite enough water. Pretty tough boats for that sort of thing. Had some gel coat chips at the bow if I actually hit an exposed rock. Very pleasant canoe for lighter loads, paddling with kids, and in the wind.

In terms of Mad River fiberglass canoes,

– Last Updated: Jun-15-12 8:20 AM EST –

I have a 1991 Explorer and a 1990 Malecite.

The Explorer I obtained first, perhaps back in 2004 from my friend Mike McCrea. Mike had rescued it from its disuse and wood rotted gunnels/deckplates/seats. It is outfitted with a third, center-station seat now, and all seats have wood trestle-hangars as opposed to just dowel drops. Mike replaced the gunnels with Old Town vinyl/metal-insert numbers. (Although wood is my preference in appearance, the rough passages as well as outdoor storage the boat is subjected to have proven Michael a wise judge of my poor boat upkeep habits). So, all that said, it's a tad bit weighty, perhaps nearing 70-lbs, when it likely would have been near 62 pounds in its original issue.

Regardless, other than when the local Patapsco and Gunpowder are at their skeletal, parched worse, in which case the 80-lb. Royalex Uberbot is literally dragged out, this is my go-to and favorite poler/river tripper for myself and my canine colleague. And, hard as I am on things, and prone to distracted segues from logical courses (rock-banger, in other words), DAMN how this boat is durable! I'm not sure what Mr. Henry's folks were using in resins then in the early 90's, but it's stood up to my 8+ years of hard labors!

Now, it is a "vee" bottom, so that's where the red-pigment and coating has worn the most (here's a 2008 image of the scrimshawed undersides:

But, about a year-and-a-half back, Mike layed down an S-glass and G-Flex strip, 2" wide, along this keel, to perhaps extend the Boulder Barger's years of spinal temerity. There are a few spider cracks here and there to her thinner fabric'd upper chines, but these seem to be doing OK, too, with just my occasional dabbing of some Super Glue into their miniscule fissures. Periodic applications of Flood's Penetrol (thanks N.T.) have helped stave off the time ravaging sun rays that would take her burgundy hide into a dullish rouge haze. 21 years old, I think she may get another decade of rough riparian travels.

The Malecite is a beauty I obtained with Andy's help up in Jersey. This is my favored tripping boat for lots of gear along the Assateague back bay flats, whether paddling or poling solo, or tandeming. She's also got a bit of riparian scrimshaw to her belly. Such are the travels and travails one might occasionally venture into. Still with wood gunnels deckplates, and third seat, she probably weighs in around 65-lbs. She's finely thick-skinned, too.

Sometimes, like when I lift my Kevlar Wenonah Voyager, I think to myself, "Wow, imagine having the Explorer or Maly in Aramid!" Pushin' ol' 70-lb. Moby through Patapsco rapidlets, that 8-to-10 lb. savings would certainly be appreciated, especially as I cask-age here into my vintage-dating. But, I've got what I got, and I feel rather fortunate that it's probably due to some fine layup workmanship (perhaps Rob the Openboater's) that the Mad River of Vermont once produced. (I am saving up for a Millbrook Coho like Steve ventures in, although I'd get the Souhegan if I didn't have the dog along.)

If you can get your hands on an Encore from Vermont Canoe, Rob's place, I'd say you'd probably also be obtaining a fine boat for your purposes. Some had said a marriage betwixt the Explorer and Malecite, thus giving you a little more draft than the Maly, less than the Explorer, and a suitable glide compromise betwixt the two. Had a chance to get one used one time, in a glass layup, from Doug and Mary at Blue Mountain for I think a great price, but then childrens' tuitions seemed to have sank that ship.

If you've got the cash (you used to appear to be able to move betwixt boats with some ease) then I think you might also seriously consider that fine Bluewater Canoe at Blue Mountain. I paddled David Paulsa's 17-footer Explorer model of theirs, and it was one sweet glide for such a big, semi-beamy boat. I believe their Golden-Braun layup is often reviewed as being fairly tough for a lightweight layup. I know their brightwork usually exhibits fine workmanship. Check-out the steambent wooden seat drops!

Malecite layups

– Last Updated: Jun-15-12 2:02 AM EST –

Back in the 1990s and I presume before, MRC made the Malecite in 2 layups, Kevlar and fiberglass, and listed a weight of 62 lbs for the glass version as opposed to 47 lbs for the Kevlar. Both versions were gel-coated with wood rails and trim and neither had a foam core or ribs.

At that time I believe that MRC's Kevlar Malecites were all Kevlar cloth with no additional materials except gel coat.

Although Kevlar does reduce weight compared to all glass layups of similar strength, and reduces the likelihood of extensive tearing as has been mentioned, fiberglass is much tougher than many people on this board give it credit for.

Obviously, there is a reason so many people choose Royalex for river boats, but there is absolutely no reason a glass boat cannot be used for river use and will typically withstand some pretty wicked hits. Composite boats also often withstand repeated abrasion better than Royalex or polyethylene ones do (of course the gel coat does scratch) and they are relatively easily repaired if they crack.

My feeling on this is
poly canoes are at the bottom of the list of choices but poly kayaks not as worrisome.

Didn’t scan like your other poems.

If you can lift it…
buy it. Just don’t let me catch you treating a Malecite as a beater, pardner.:slight_smile:

That fiberglass layup should be plenty tough, easily repairable, weigh no more than a royalex boat and be stiff and sweet paddling.

And getting it at a good value? I don’t think you can miss on this.

real canoes are made out of aluminum

And real kayaks are skin NM