Two years ago it was becoming obvious that floating was going to be a major part of our family life for a number of years, if not forever. Backpacking and hiking with smaller kids is great and very doable and also profoundly limiting, with a necessarily slow pace changing the planning landscape from time BK (before kids). After the DY Special project was so fun and rewarding, I started looking for an upgrade to the rather generic, low performance big canoe we had purchased a few years before, one that would be more suitable for taking down twisty rivers, and ideally, more manageable for one adult to paddle.
I found a candidate, at least insofar as the downriver and project criteria were concerned, shockingly fast. A rambling, catchall local Craigslist ad for a whole collection of random, run down boats had what was obviously a Mad River Revelation, listed for $100, in a condition that was probably salvagable. Little Cloud and I headed out after soccer practice one evening and found a craft which had obviously lived under a bush for a number of years, with the cane seats rotted through and around 20 cold cracks, some of which were very long. The Revelation was desirable because it’s a stout, Royalex and wood gunnelled expedition craft. 17 feet long, almost 40 inches wide, 3 inches of rocker, and aggressive flare starting almost from the stems. A boat meant to put more hull, and thus more stability, in the water the further it is leaned. A boat meant to ride over rather than knifing through waves. Not the best for going into a headwind on a lake, but not a terrible deal even for a hundred bucks, and an excellent project. I offered fifty, they took 70, and we drove back into town with the gaping cracks flapping alarmingly in the wind. I carried the nearly 80 pound behemoth into the yard, and left for Isle Royale shortly thereafter.
Cold cracks happen in Royalex hulls when the gunnells contract more than the hull, and tear the vinyl, foam, and ABS sandwich apart. Wood gunnells are far more prone to this, though it happening with vinyl is not unheardof. With periods of -20 to -30 F routine here in winter, cold cracks are of real concern. This boat has spent a few winters on the ground with no provisions made for either waterproofing the wood, or removing gunnel screws either end to reduce stress, hence the sorry state of things.
Once we got back and things got settled towards the end of the school year, I started chipping away at the Revelation. All the wood came off, and the bare hull got thoroughly scrubbed. A few of the cold cracks had been “fixed” with some manner of caulk, which was not fun to remove. Eventually the business got rolling, with a multi, multi stage process of taking the underside of the cracks (with Tyvek tape), filling them, letting the epoxy set, then flipping the boat and repeating. Due to the curved hull just one cycle here took four seperate steps and the better part of a week. I laminated 6oz glass to the insides of the larger cracks, and then added a layer of innegra after that single layer of glass failed the mallet test (I could whack the outside reasonably hard and start to delam along the crack). The gunnells required many coats of oil, but came back to life beautifully, and the stock cane seats were a total loss that I replaced with solid wood benches. This whole deal was tedious, but not enormously time consuming in hours (just days), and has resulted in a repair that held up fine to a whole lot of shallow water and dragging over logjams this past summer and fall.
The kids love this boat because it is big and stable; they can sit next to each other on the front seat, and move around without inducing precipitous wobble. I love it because it holds a line decently well, while pivoting and moving around on the river far better than such a tubby boat should. We’ve yet to push the capacity with a big multiday trip, but that will happen soon.
The big downside to this particular boat is the weight; darn close to 80 pounds and enough that hefting it overhead and moving it around generally is a bit scary. Does it do things that packrafts cannot, and that are valuable for us as a family? Yes. It that worth the added bother of weight and storage concerns and portability? I imagine so, but we haven’t used it enough to really prove that.
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