When the Wenonah Spirit II showed up at the Canoeroots office last fall in all its cherry-red glory, its mere existence marked the beginning of a new chapter in canoeing history. Wenonah Canoes’ Spirit II in T-Formex is the culmination of a classic and widely loved canoe with a long-awaited material that underwent a tumultuous journey to production.
Wenonah Spirit II Specs
Rocker: 1’ 6”
Weight: 64 lbs
Getting into the Spirit II
From the back of a napkin
The origins of the Spirit begins in 1981 when Wenonah sales and distribution representative Kurt Renner was sitting with a Wenonah dealer from Missoula, Montana. The dealer told Renner he needed a canoe he could sell to anyone. The pair pulled up their bar stools and sketched the ideal model on a wrinkled napkin.
The canoe they dreamed up was 17-feet-long, had a 34-inch waterline, a 36-inch maximum beam, one-and-a-half to two inches of rocker and clean entry and exit lines. Wenonah took the sketches to high-end racing canoe designer Everett Crozier and soon after the Spirit was born.
After two years of building the Spirit in fiberglass and Kevlar, Wenonah found the process of removing it from the mold was too cumbersome and made a modification to the nose.
Wenonah finds the right formula
In 1983 the Spirit II was born. It went on to become the most successful canoe model in Wenonah’s line. The Spirit II bridged the gap between whitewater tripping boats and the abundance of 32 to 33-inch waterline canoes deemed too tippy by too many consumers. It also became the center of a family of touring boats.
“It gave us a boat with a much broader appeal that can be used anywhere,” says Renner, 36 years after that bar napkin sketch.
Initially introduced in fiberglass and Kevlar, by the 1990s the Spirit II was being produced in Royalex. Then in 2013 the plastics company PolyOne announced they would cease production of Royalex sheets. It was a major blow to the canoeing community and kicked off a canoe material soap opera.
The future of Wehonah’s top-seller was now in the hands of Esquif Canoes, who announced in 2014 they were concocting T-Formex as a replacement material in their southern Quebec factory. Esquif went through bankruptcy and reinvestment, then eventually manufactured and shipped Wenonah a few T-Formex sheets.
Wenonah baked a sheet, formed a Spirit II and shipped it here to Canoeroots. Meanwhile, canoe builders are lining up to use T-Formex, but Wenonah Canoe was the first, outside of Esquif themselves, to produce canoes in the new material.
Out on the water
After all this drama it turns out that our T-Formex Spirit II looks and performs just like a Royalex one.
Wenonah advertises the Spirit II as ideal for sportsmen, whitewater paddlers, families, kids and pretty much anyone else who wants a do-it-all canoe. To see if it’s truly the kind of canoe a dealer in Missoula could sell to anyone we paddled it in a variety of conditions.
The Spirit II tracks beautifully, and manages to be steady and stable without being sluggish. We especially appreciated the size of the Spirit II— it’s small enough for quick paddling outings but large enough to pack all the gear for a week of canoe tripping, plus the dog.
Our T-Formex tester has ash and webbing seats which adds even more to the Spirit II’s do-it-all sensibility. Why? Because when you spin it around it’s a pretty decent solo canoe.
I don’t live or work in Missoula where the rivers run long and free of portages. Solo carrying the Spirit II on even a short 200-meter portage, I definitely felt every one of its 64 pounds. I know yokes are a personal thing but I found this one flat and uncomfortable; changing it out would be my first, and maybe only, DIY project.
After the short walk I decided that if durability and price were not the most important factors I’d remind you that the Spirit II is available in Wenonah’s Tuff-weave Flex-Core, Flex-Core with Kevlar and Ultra-light with Kevlar layups. Spend more to carry less.
Not stopping with the Spirit II
While we felt pretty special paddling our pre-production model of the Spirit II in T-Formex, we know we’ll be seeing many more of them shortly. At the time of printing Wenonah’s production team is waiting for shipments of more T-Formex sheets, but Renner says many have been already pre-sold.
Renner sees the Spirit II as providing a much-needed respite in the canoe market for something versatile, tough and durable. “It’s refilling a hole that over the last couple years was somewhat of a void,” he says.
The 50-year-old canoe company has plans to produce seven of its models in T-Formex in 2017. In addition to the Spirit II they will build the Aurora, Adirondack, Prospector 16, Prospector 15, Wilderness and Blackwater. Wenonah Canoe Vice-President Bill Kueper is enthusiastic about the growing inclusion of Esquif’s T-Formex.