Whitewater Tandem Canoe Selection

-- Last Updated: Jan-17-14 2:49 PM EST --

Hello Paddling.net. I am in need of some advice regarding choosing a whitewater tandem.

I am looking for a whitewater tandem that can handle up to class III and handle enough gear for 3 to 4 day trips. I will inevitably hit rocks, scrape bottoms, and go trout scout'in. I am also looking for it to be a tolerable solo canoe.

I have always been advised to get a Royalex boat when I get around to purchasing one however I've recently learned that Royalex will no longer be produced past 2014. So I am at a complete loss as to what an alternative would be. I do not understand the impact of boats having foam cores. I am most concerned about durability, repairs, and handling (a more sporty version of the prospector would be nice).

I only have a little bit of experience from whitewater canoe trips with the military. To give you idea I have previously paddled 16' prospector, starburst on four river trips that lasted about 5 days. Over these trips I got completed addicted to whitewater canoeing and now must have my own canoe.

I have paddled:

Dumoine River;
Madawaska River;
Petawawa and;
Noire River.

So, in short, I am looking for advice on which canoe shape and the pros/cons of material choice for this type of canoeing. I have been looking at a 15' prospector from Langford with ash gunnels. However, I fear it might be a tad too small.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


some options

– Last Updated: Jan-17-14 3:55 PM EST –

Some, if not many, Royalex canoes will not be available much longer. Quite a few appear to be no longer available now. Any makers who have not already ordered Royalex sheet for this year's production will not be able to do so.

A boat closer to 14' in length would be much more pleasant to paddle solo but probably would not have enough volume for tandem whitewater tripping with several days worth of gear. Some whitewater OC-2s in that size category that have been popular with larger solo paddlers or tandem paddlers have been the Mad River Caption, the Mohawk Probe 14, and the Vertige X. Others no longer in production are the Dagger Caper and Dagger Caption.

I suspect you are right and a boat around 16' in length would suit your purposes better. Any such boat is going to be too big to be ideal for solo paddling but might be tolerable. I spent a fair amount of time solo paddling a Dagger Legend 16 (now the Mad River Legend 16). It was a bit of a beast, but tolerable if there was some current.

Some Royalex boats around 16' in length still in production (maybe) are the Nova Craft Moisie (which is 16' 6"), the Mad River Legend 16, the Wenonah Rogue, the Swift Dumoine (16' 4"), the Old Town Appalachian, and this neat looking boat (which I have not seen or paddled), the Two Brothers Arkota:

The Moisie, I am told, is the reincarnation of the Blue Hole/Evergreen Starburst, so you should be familiar with how that paddles. The Wenonah Rogue and the Mad River Legend 16 are less full-on whitewater boats, but are still quite whitewater capable.

Some other options would be a Prospector design of around 16'. Esquif's Prospecteur is an inch shorter than 16' and has a lot of rocker. I suspect it would be quite whitewater capable. I also like the Nova Craft Prospector 16.

A discontinued boat very worthy of consideration, should you be so lucky as to find a used one, is the 16' Dagger Dimension.

If you find that you have to go with a boat made of an alternative material you might consider the Esquif Mistral which is made of Twin-Tex. Some folks have had success using Twin-Tex boats on whitewater but be advised, they are difficult to repair non-professionally if cracked.

Once Royalex is dead and gone, there will still be three layer polyethylene boats made by Old Town, and others, but once they get up to 16' they get awfully heavy.

It is possible to make composite
tandems for ww, but the weight advantage one might expect will be smaller. The shorter and narrower the hull, the closer composite can come to the durability of poly or Royalex.

The thing is that as hulls get longer and wider, it’s harder to get needed hull stiffness with a normal composite layup. A foam core bottom stiffens, but is more vulnerable to damage and harder to fix. Foam core ribs (Souris) can have the same problem. Millbrook uses Spheretex to stiffen thin hulls. Haven’t broken mine yet.

Twintex is composite, has some glass content for stiffness, and polypropylene cloth for toughness. The polypropylene resin holds it all together pretty well, but as pblanc said, if Twintex is damaged, field or home repairs are very difficult. It’s probably because of the polypropylene resin, to which other resins don’t stick well.

You might check on Western/Clipper, whose ww layup uses vinylester resin with polyester cloth. Those bind together tenaciously.

A roundish, Prospector-type tandem hull will gain some stiffness from shape, so ribs or foam core may not be necessary.

If you look at composite other than Twintex, S-glass outside and Kevlar inside, and epoxy resin, would be the ideal.

saw Petes choices
And glad I did before mentioning the swift dumoine and Wenonah rogue. I have a dumoine and did a lot of tandem with my son in 2+/3 runs. From the back it is great, but how my son did so well in front is beyond me as the bow is high and narrow. Soloed this boat on cl 2. In cl.3 solo I was lucky to have packed a real big paddle cuz my go to 58" ab edge was not providing enough push.Converted this to a good poling boat now.

Oldie but goodie…white sell pyrana…14’ very high volume. My son and I at 440 pounds combined stayed pretty dry in the 2+/3…and it was his first oc1 before converting to tandem. Not sure where you live but my white sell is for sale for 200 bucks in ct…pretty hardcore tandem though, dedicated side paddling as saddles are about 3’ apart.

Boats with a fairly sharp cut water profile like the Rogue or the Dumoine are typically not going to be as dry going through sizable waves, although they are probably going to be a bit more efficient on the flats so for some it might be an acceptable trade off.

The Starburst/Moisie has a rather sharp cut water as well but has enough bow rocker and flare to keep it fairly dry. If I were the OP and looking at having to get a new Royalex boat I think the Moisie would be on my short list.

Here is a short video of a Moisie in action:


Dumoine was conceived as a mixed
flatwater and whitewater boat. Its somewhat pudgy mid section. John Winters did a pretty good job of putting bow flare in to aid in dryness. For me the bow station is pretty wide set back as far as it is from the bow stem to aid in a drier ride.

Solo, you will have to go with a kneeling thwart though of course you can retrofit with a saddle. The thing is 37 inches wide at center however, and you will have to heel it making saddle placement problemmatical.

For mixed use between solo and tandem you are probably better off going with a Prospector design with symmetrical rocker. At least solo you could get off your knees and paddle it stern first from the bow seat.

Thats what I did after someone bailed on us and I paddled the Dumoine solo for 150 miles on mixed moving water. I sometimes just wanted to sit and get some pressure off my knees and I couldn’t. I got a Prospector after that.

personal size changes perspective.
Agree with a real prospector design. My buddy has a bell chestnut prospector. While set up exclusively for poling it looks like it’d be a fine funky water tandem. It a black crystal layp though, but seems pretty tough. Poling cl. 2 beats on boats.

If Royalex boats have become unavailable in your area, there are several companies making high quality composite Prospectors. Composite boats made with a heavy layup fair far better in whitewater than most people give them credit for.

Swift makes a 16 foot Prospector in their Guide Fusion layup. Nova Craft has a 16’ Prospector in both their aramid and aramid/spectra layups. Clipper has a 15’ 9" Prospector in their Kevlar/Duraflex layup.

The Clipper Kevlar/Duraflex layup is very tough but about as heavy as a Royalex boat of comparable size. I can’t say from personal experience how the composite offerings from Nova Craft and Swift would fair in whitewater, but I have a Clipper Kevlar/Duraflex Viper 12 which has bashed quite a few rocks with nothing more than cosmetic damage.

Here is a short video of one of the guys in Abbotsford testing a 16’ Kevlar/Duraflex Prospector with a couple of hammers:


The Twin-Tex Esquif Mistral that I mentioned earlier is a modified Prospector hull design with asymmetrical stem depth/height and elimination of some of the stem recurve that is a throwback to the wood/canvas construction method, but doesn’t really serve much functional purpose.

Thankyou for the replies
Thankyou for all the detailed replies.

That video about clipper’s kevlar duraflex was pretty convincing though not quite a fully loaded boat running up on a jagged piece of granite. However, I am liking Clipper’s short 15’9" prospector.

The Moisie is a bit bigger than what I was looking for but if it is like the starburst I’m sure I’ll be happy.

I’ve read about people’s problems with twintex and it does make me a tad concerned about it.

Does anyone have experience with Swift’s Guide Fusion and Nova’s aramid and aramid/spectra?

Also, what about Langford canoes?

A couple thoughts
I agree with you that the hammer demonstration left a bit to be desired in terms what it actually proves. Striking the bottom of the boat - the most flexible part - doesn’t tell you anything except that when the hull is free to bend over a very large area, it will do so without cracking. Big deal. Run the boat into a rock when a load of gear on the other side prevents the stress from spreading over such a large area, or or strike it along the chines or stems where there’s a lot less “give”, and the result might be a lot different. I’m sure it’s a good material, but I suspect the method of demonstration to be a bit deceptive.

Regarding Nova Craft material, Sloopsailer, who posts here now and then, has a Nova Craft Supernova that is some sort of composite - I don’t know exactly which. He’s a really big guy, and I’ve seen that boat get solidly crunched over rocky shallows in a way that definitely would have cracked any of the more ordinary composite layups I’ve seen, and I have no doubt that in terms of actual stress, that hull has occasionally taken far more abuse what was shown by the hammer-demonstration video and yet be totally unscathed (I’m not saying the material is better, only that the “test” was more severe). You might ask Sloop what material his boat is made of, or ask the folks at Nova Craft about their thoughts and recommendations.

Langford is just a rebranded


I recommend you consider
a 17 foot royalex boat. Maybe an old town tripper or a nova craft prospector.

Damage in whitewater is often
different from hammer blows. Often it occurs when the canoe is pushed sideways against a rock. The hull is pushed in, and in farther, and the inside layers get stretched past their limit. Layers start delaminating or tearing or both. In a composite boat, inside cloth layers of Kevlar, Nylon, or polyester may be able to resist initial tearing, and propagation of tears.

Hammer-like blows to a focal site are rare on the river. Maybe the closest equivalent is when the under-stern of the canoe thumps down hard as the boat clears a ledge. But even there, the damage may be caused not just by a sharp transient blow, but by a more prolonged inward displacement.

A pure glass boat (I’ve owned several) may resist hammer blows, but if you back your SUV into the hull, and keep backing slowly, the glass will crack, and the more brittle nature of glass will have that crack propagating (spreading) way over the hull. Some Kevlar inside limits the damage.

Used Royalex and Glass
There are many used Old Town Trippers, Penobscotts and Mad River Explorers out there. You may well find the occasional Starburst too.

Rumor has it the Swift Fusion layups are delicate but I can tell you their older Expedition layup was bulletproof.

You might consider a Millbrook ACDC. That is a prospectorish design. The skincoat S-glass over Kevlar layup is light and less prone to cracking than Gelcoat.


Going back to another subtopic
The original poster says “I do not understand the impact of boats having foam cores”, but the exact issue with foam cores has not thus far been mentioned. g2d and pblanc have direct experience with this stuff, but until/unless they chime in again, my understanding of the problem with foam cores is this: If the hull gets damaged, there’s no practical way to gain access to the inside of that layer of material, and on any normal repair, I believe most of the fabric that’s applied is placed against the inside, not the outside, because you can have plenty of overlap for adhesion on the inside without creating a “high spot” on the side of the material where the surface texture actually matters, which is the outside.

Anyone want to add to or alter that statement?

It may not even be an issue in this case, because the composite canoes I’ve seen which have foam cores are generally lightweight models, rather than the type someone would choose for whitewater.

Also if the foam becomes fractured
its difficult to get the pieces to adhere together again, so the “fault line” is always there to shift again.

had rotted foam

– Last Updated: Jan-20-14 7:12 PM EST –

( I know I know, sounds impossible...maybe it was just "compromised" lol) in my whitesell...spongy area, patched with a piece of glass. Anyways, my kid is seal launching down a snowbank one day, and there's this big yellow mark on the slide...he peeled the patch off..Cool, now I can't make anything worse. Cut out the vinyl around the patch, around 5x5 inches, cut out the foam, lathered in some real thick abs slurry, and was good to go. A year or 2 later I did g-flex a glass patch over the abs...Gorilla glue makes a good filler as well, foams up and sticks things together.Makes a good barrier between acetone in the abs slurry and the vinyl/foam which would be compromised by acetone.
Any arguments to this will be met my my response: I work on military flying machines with lives depending on them.Have for 30 years. A canoe is simply a hole in the water, hopefully keeping the water out from every direction but the top. 'taint rocket science. Patch it, sand it, beat the snot out of it.

What kind of foam core are we talking

Royalex has a “foam core” which is expanded ABS and three layer polyethylene boats have a foam core which is expanded polyethylene. In the case of Royalex damaged or eroded foam can be filled in and replaced with thickened epoxies or Gorilla Glue. The foam core of polyethylene boats can be restored using G Flex epoxy after flame pretreatment. In these cases the area of damaged “foam core” is basically replaced with a solid stratum of epoxy or adhesive and then something is added to restore the eroded solid surface. I have not done it but I have heard of others drilling holes through the solid stratum of ABS and injecting epoxy into areas of softening foam core in Royalex hulls.

A lot of composite boat makers use some type of core on the bottom of their hulls and often in ribs extending up the sides. Cores might consist of balsa wood or a variety of closed cell foams made of plastic polymers. The cores stiffen the hull without adding a much weight but don’t add a whole lot of strength.

I have not had to repair a foam-cored composite boat. If I did, I suspect I would try a method akin to what Erik suggested. I would first fully expose the break in the core on the interior side of the hull and try to make sure the crack in the core was dry, then try to fill the crack as best possible with a suitable epoxy or adhesive. I would fill the crack more to exclude water entry than to restore strength. I would then apply multiple layers of cloth over both hull interior and exterior (more on the interior) to reinforce the area of the weakened core.

The trouble is that when a
foam panel in a composite boat breaks( and I have done that!) it fractures both lengthwise and across in multiple places.

My multiple cracks in the foam panel actually had no interior or exterior damage at all. Opening it up would have to induce a fold in the exterior ( in this case) Kevlar.

One crack…well I haven’t had the luxury of a single one.

Are you saying that interior and
exterior laminate was almost undamaged, but you could see cracks running both ways in the foam core?

Could you detect a drop in rigidity of the hull, just from foam core damage?

If you had to do it again, would you remove the head and legs from the moose before pulling the boat over the log, or spend a week butchering and drying the meat?