A whitewater tripping canoe can be a difficult beast, not just on the water but also the drafting table. The designer is faced with conflicting goals: a boat that clips effortlessly through long stretches of flatwater and has ample storage space, yet feels stable and nimble enough to thread down rock-strewn rapids and launch over drop ledges loaded with gear and two whooping paddlers.
With this quandary in mind, when Souris River owner Keith Robinson decided his stable of seven canoes was in need of a whitewater tripper, he turned to trusted friends, famed explorers and canoe photographers and authors Gary and Joanie McGuffin, who suggested Skip Izon would be the best guy for the job.
Skip Izon, who among many designs spanning a 30-year career, crafted the Nemesis nearly a decade ago for Hudson Boat Works. It’s a whitewater tripper that was sold for a while as the Raven Works Nemesis and eventually became Scott Canoe’s Missinaibi (and a boat Izon affectionately refers to as Big Mama). Izon built the Mariah, a 21-foot expedition canoe, specifically for the McGuffins in 2000 and worked with them again on the Mad River Borealis in 2003. As a result of their partnership in the Skeena project they have since created McGuffin-Izon Designs.
Izon and Robinson spent their first meeting paddling a number of whitewater tandem canoes on Lake Superior, comfortably between Souris River’s home in Atikokan, near Quetico Park in northern Ontario, and Izon’s boathouse on the southeast shores of Lake Huron. With Gary McGuffin on hand to give his input about the best and worst qualities of each boat, the Skeena began to take shape in Izon’s mind.
“We all put our heads together to come up with a list of goals and constraints,” Izon says. “We wanted a boat like Big Mama that was stable with lots of storage and manoeuverability. The big challenge for me was to make a boat that runs fast on flat water.”
After some calculated head scratching and several crumpled blueprints, Izon thinks he’s found the compromise he was looking for—a canoe equally at home in whitewater as the calm stuff.
At 16’8” long, the asymmetrical Skeena hull gets the bulk of its storage volume and a great deal of stability in its 36” beam and fatter, blocky looking stern. There’s just a pile of room in the back half of this canoe.
“With the Big Mama the bow had a bit of an overhang for it to throw water out to the sides and keep the front end up,” Izon explains. “But for the Skeena, about a foot back from the bow it gets a bit flat up the hull to push water up the boat’s sides and off to keep it nice and dry.”
Izon said he also gave the Skeena five inches of forward rocker, and only two aft, “so her bow just kisses the water surface as you track.” He explains this helps keep the Skeena straight and fast.
Rapid’s editor-in-chief Scott MacGregor was amazed how fast the Skeena feels. “I’ve never paddled a river in a composite tripping boat, nor have I much experience with asymmetrical tripping designs. It is amazing how fast this boat feels. It cruises in the flats and picks up a ferry on just about any little wave,” raves MacGregor. “And fun… even fully loaded you can roll it over and carve big beautiful eddy turns.”
Typically, we editor types like Royalex canoes because we can beat the living crap out of a tester and then return it guilt free when we’re finished. The Skeena on the other hand is made of a five-layer lay-up, including a multi-directional fibreglass sheet and woven polyester and Kevlar, which according to Robinson makes it far tougher than traditional glass boats.
“We wanted something that was lighter and stiffer than Royalex but could still take a beating, and I think we hit it right on,” Robinson says.
Current models weigh 63 pounds, but Robinson says they are still tweaking the lay-up, so it could be even lighter in the future. Not that there would be many reasons to ever portage the Skeena.
Material: Kevlar, polyester and fibreglass,
available in red or green
Gunwales: Vinyl standard, aluminum available
Weight: 63 lbs
Price: $3,000 Cdn
This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.