NorthStar Northwind 17 material questions

My wife and I are looking at purchasing a NorthStar Northwind canoe, and need some wisdom in material choices. Mostly going to be paddling around the northern Virginia area. I really like the Blacklight material - durable, light, but expensive! I want durable because I have three young boys whom I want to make sure the canoe is “robust” to (still going to be teaching them good care though). We’ve had some “scope creep” with canoe buying, as we originally started looking for a used Grumman! So, the $3000 price tag feels awe fully steep. Am I going to regret getting Starlight if I get that material, always wishing I had just spent the money from the start? I don’t want the starlight Kevlar, not as robust I’ve been told. What are all of your thoughts???

When it comes to the potential for damage, and thus the need to make repairs, the presence of a foam core really complicates things. Just to review, a foam core is present on the floor of the Starlight version. There’s some kind of foam material sandwiched between two layers of Kevlar (each of those layers might consist of more than one layer of Kevlar cloth, but that’s a different issue), and the resulting much-thicker floor structure greatly stiffens the floor, and thus to some extent, the entire boat. The Blacklight material is very stiff already, and as I understand it, does not need to have a foam core.

Imagine if you fracture that outer hull surface on a boat having a foam core. You can’t apply a patch to the inner side of the damaged surface because it’s covered by the foam core. Removing a portion of the inner hull and foam layer to gain access to the area in need of patching would create an additional structural weakness. That leaves you only being able to apply patch material to the outside of the hull, unless you resort to completely removing and replacing the entire foam layer and its covering material. I’m sure that a really good repair person could feather-overlap a patch to the outside of the boat resulting in minimal protrusion beyond the original hull profile, but accomplishing that would be so much easier if patching material could be applied to the inside surface.

Oh, then there’s the issue of really severe damage involving the foam core too. In that case, you’d end up needing to rebuild the entire foam sandwich, and since the foam core should be heated during initial construction to allow it to be bent into a curve, this wouldn’t be a repair that most people can do.

What this means is that, besides the Blacklight material being much tougher than the Starlight, it’s also much more practical to “fully” repair if the need arises. Some years ago I was cost-conscious and bought a Bell Merlin II in Kev Light or Kev Crystal (not sure which) instead of Black Gold, which I understand to be roughly the same two hull materials that you are considering right now. The boat I have (Kevlight or Kev Crystal) is incredibly light, but as it turns out, I would have been happier with the Black Gold, with its much stiffer sidewalls and easier potential for do-it-yourself repairs. I really hope I never damage the bottom of the hull, more so than I feel that way about other boats of mine. It sounds like you are thinking in similar fashion, and considering what would be involved in repairs might help you decide for sure. Still, plenty of people paddle foam-core boats and never need to make repairs.

In my experience…mostly with Bell canoes, you may regret the lighter layup since the boat will feel much more flexible than the black/gold and black light lay ups. The effect may be more psychological than practical. If you plan to paddle places that could damage the boat (high current, nasty rocks, maybe rebar) then for sure the carbon lay ups are far more robust.

I just re-read my first post and realized I goofed a little. I wanted to compare people’s ideas between the carbon Blacklight, and the cheaper White Gold. Big difference in price, but what about performance? Will I just not be happy with the White Gold layup?

For reference, I’m used to paddling either an aluminum Grumman, or big heavy Old Town Tripper. So, either way I feel it’s going to be a big upgrade.

I am familiar with Bell canoe layups but not with Ted Bell’s NorthStar boats. According to the website, all versions of the Northwind 17 have a foam core, including the Blacklite… The differences between the WhiteGold and Blacklite layups is that the Blacklite has a carbon fiber exterior whereas the WhiteGold utilizes Innegra. The website does not say whether the cloth used is Innegra S (“pure” Innegra) or Innegra H hybrid, in which the cloth is a co-weave using another material such as carbon, basalt, or aramid. Clearly, the NorthStar WhiteGold layup is nothing like the old Bell WhiteGold layup in which fiberglass was used externally.

Innegra cloth is made from a yarn consisting of polyolefin (mostly polypropylene) and is being used with increasing frequency in paddle craft recently as a lower cost alternative to either aramid or carbon. It is much more ductile than carbon so it will flex much more easily. I would expect the WhiteGold boat to be much less stiff than the Blacklite.

Innegra does not dye well so the WhiteGold layup is also gel-coated which adds additional weight but some abrasion protection. The Blacklite hull is skin-coated.

The jury is somewhat out on the long-term durability of Innegra. Carbon fiber has, of course, been used in paddle craft construction for years. Carbon is very strong and stiff but it does have the somewhat unfortunate tendency to fail catastrophically when over-stressed, often fracturing and leaving sharp edges, since it is much less ductile.

So based on the thurough explanation of the materials (thank you) which one and why?

The BL is the toughest stuff they have. I can only imagine that if you have a problem to catostrophically fail the BL, any of their other canoes would also have big problems as well!

Well, that may be, but I would not necessarily make that assumption. A more ductile composite might flex and absorb a sudden impact that could crack a stiffer boat, even though the stiff boat has theoretically greater tensile strength.

Another factor is how well the material bonds to the resin that is used. Carbon tends to bond quite well. Aramid does not bond as well and often aramid fibers will not break, but delaminate from the resin matrix when severely stressed.

Polyolefins have traditionally been the hardest materials to bond to, especially polypropylene which has a very chemically inert structure. So a big part of Innegra’s ultimate strength may depend on what resin is used and how well it bonds.

Nova Craft canoe has embraced Innegra H (composite Innegra/Basalt) for their “TuffStuff” line of canoes. This composite layup is marketed as a replacement for Royalex for boats likely to see impacts such as whitewater hulls. The initial reviews seem quite positive. You can watch the short video demonstrating TuffStuff at this link:

As I said, I have no experience with boats constructed from Innegra but my guess is that the NorthStar WhiteGold layup would be plenty strong enough for your stated intended use. The major downside would likely be the weight penalty and some loss of stiffness. I would call NorthStar canoe and ask to speak to Ted Bell. Find out if the Innegra used is Innegra S or a hybrid, and if a hybrid, which one. Outline your intended use and see what he suggests.

I think the new IXP layup is the toughest stuff they have now. I haven’t seen any tandem canoes listed in that layup yet, however, just some of the solos. They seem to be pushing that material as their whitewater layup. I haven’t looked recently, but remember seeing it was priced below blacklite in terms of price. It’s an innegra and aramid composite without ribs or a foam core. It is untested by the public in terms of durability, but if you want a tough canoe it might be worth a call to see if they have any plans to start laying up tandems in it. They had clips of a new Alaskan-type plug they were testing, seems it’d be easy to speculate that is the layup they could use for a tandem expedition boat.