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From tires to Trippers, the miracle material is Royalex. PHOTOS: VIRGINIA MARSHALL



Aluminum was the material of choice for most canoe trippers until the late 1970s when a memorable Old Town Canoe Com- pany advertisement changed the face of ca- noeing forever. In 1978, Old Town touted the supreme

durability of its 17-foot Tripper canoe by tossing one from the roof of its Maine fac- tory. Te canoe escaped unscathed. Since then, Royalex has been the go-to material for Arctic river trippers, summer camps and whitewater boaters alike. Uniroyal Tire Company chemists de-

signed the vulcanized plastic known as Royalex in the mid-20th century. Te mate- rial consists of a single inner layer of heat- expandable acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) foam sandwiched between mid-layers of tough and stiff ABS plastic and exterior surfaces of ultraviolet-resistant vinyl. Te material is designed to be heat-molded into complex shapes that withstand impact and retain their original form. According to Old Town Canoe historian

and author Susan Audette, the first canoe constructed of Uniroyal’s patented Roy- alex material was built by Maine’s Tomp- son Boat Company in 1964. Old Town be-


came the first to popularize the material when it produced its 16-foot Chipewyan in Oltonar—its proprietary name for the ma- terial—in 1972. Vermont’s Mad River Ca- noe followed quickly with its Explorer. Today, canoe manufacturers order sheets

of Royalex with customized thickness pro- files and colors from Indiana-based plastics manufacturer Spartech, who acquired the Royalex formula from Uniroyal in 2000. Te building process involves heating

canoe-sized sheets of the material in a “hu- mongous pizza oven” set at about 320 de- grees Fahrenheit, explains Roch Prévost,

canoes on a good day and produces about 1,500 per year. Because of its petroleum-based origins,

the price of a raw Royalex sheet is depen- dent on the price of oil—not to mention Spartech’s monopoly on production. Prévost says the recent spike in oil prices

has translated into about a 10 percent in- crease in material cost for manufacturers. Tese costs will eventually trickle down to consumers. In 1975, for instance, a 17-foot Old Town Penobscot in Oltonar sold for $775; today, the same canoe sells for nearly $1,600.

Because of its petroleum-based origins, the price of a raw Royalex sheet is dependent on the price of oil

sales manager for Nova Craft Canoe of Lon- don, Ontario. After about 20 minutes in the oven, the material is vacuum formed over a mold in a process that takes a team of build- ers only 10 minutes. Te most time consum- ing part of building a Royalex canoe is out- fitting it with gunwales and trim. Prévost says Nova Craft can turn out 20 Royalex

But due to its near-indestructibility, Pré-

vost maintains that a Royalex canoe will al- ways be a good investment. “It’s something that can be passed down from generation to generation,” he says. “We see 20-year- old Royalex canoes all the time. Te trim is broken and worn, but the hulls are fine.” —Conor Mihell

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