Friends Don't Let Friends Paddle Aluminum?
Updated: May 8, 2020
So yeah, let's unpack that. I mean, as a canoe guy and avid paddler on flat or flowing water, I appreciate the nuances between designs and materials. And, no, I'm not a Luddite, veering away from advances in technology, especially when it comes to gear. In fact I do own and gleefully use my Goal Zero to power the adventure vehicle, and have been noticed to be emotionally attached to my JetBoil, but there are times when a classic is a classic, and has the staying power to still rock a stadium concert (think Aerosmith, Beatles, Elvis). Timeless. Stay with me, because it's all going to come together here in a bit. Bottom line, I think aluminum is getting a bad rap as a canoe material.
Sure, there's going to be some noise when you drop your iPhone in the bottom of the boat as you fumble to get that seflie to post to Instagram, but there are some definite advantages to an aluminum canoe such as a Grumman or Alumacraft. To begin with, the 17' Grumman I just paddled down the Manitowish River the other morning is lighter than any of the polyethylene canoes I have at the canoe base. With a weight difference in the neighborhood of 15-20 lbs. between the aluminum and the nearest composite hull, it's a noticeable difference. Whether you're solo portaging it to the launch on your shoulders or sharing the load with a friend, you'll feel it. Now, it's not the Kevlar from Souris, but then neither are the poly boats you could be hopping into.
Ask any youth camp director or scouting leader and they'll tell you an aluminum canoe can take a beating and keep coming back for more. Yes the poly boats are rugged, but just as I'm chided for maintaining that steel is real when it comes to some of my bikes, aluminum has stood the test of time and hasn't backed down. You can weld it, you can hammer it out, you can brush it, polish it, paint it, bend it and seal it, and as long as you take care of your classic, she'll stay seaworthy and get you there and back again. Let's face it, the same company made the F6F Hellcat for cripes sake!
But I guess the real reason I very much dig the classic aluminum canoe, and will probably chose one pretty much every time, is the style. Yeah, some say they're the van of the canoe world - not real pretty but you can load it full of all kinds of crap and they'll get you from point A to B. I prefer to use a different analogy. Given the choice between a 2020 Corvette and a classic 1967 Stingray (both gorgeous cars btw), I'll take the swoopy '67 every time. Why? Because it's classic and it has deep history and a story. Don't get me wrong, I dearly love my Old Town Disco 169 for certain trips, but there's something inherently cool about pushing away from shore with a wooden paddle, on a storied river like the Manitowish, in a shiny silver canoe that screams Northwoods tradition. Maybe I'm just a nostalgic old adventurer, but that's worthy of a look when you're considering which boat to take out.
Written from the river.
71% of Earth is covered by water. What are you waiting for?