Eric Mathews - 1985 Whitewater (Before and After)



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Eric Mathews provides rich and detailed information about the repair process to his Royalex Whitewater canoe. Also, make sure to check out the photos of his handcrafted seats and extra fine skid plate installation!


I purchased a 1985 Mohawk Whitewater 16' in 2021 in relatively good shape for an almost 40 year old canoe. There was existing patching done through the hull on the stern behind the rear seat and a flexing crack on the bow just ahead of the front seat. I took the canoe on a yearly multi-day trip on the James River in SW Virginia and for the first 2 days she held watertight and handled like a dream even when loaded down with camping gear. However, as I navigated a rocky rapid field just north of my day 2 campsite the patch on the stern failed and a beautiful geyser began to fill the boat. I set up camp and saved the hassle for day 3 as I failed to prepare an emergency patching kit this trip, never again! The final day I ran the locally famous 'Balcony Fallls' class 3 rapid, and subsequent class 1/2/2+ field while constantly bailing water and/or pulling ashore to flip-drain the ailing ship. Luckily I made it through the final flatwater stretch while continuously bailing with a cut gatorade bottle. During this final bit of paddling I decided to keep the canoe and figure out how to make the proper repairs myself that would last years, maybe decades. The boat handled too well to throw away and newer boats lack the character this vessel earned through time on the water.


First, I had no idea this was even a Mohawk canoe until I stripped down the ugly orange paint job some fool gave her which revealed a serial plate and number. I searched the web using just the number and through amazing free service was able to at least identify the manufacturer, Mohawk Canoes! I found their customer service email address and sent the serial number and pretty quickly learned the make/model/year/hull material for my boat. It was made in Florida in 1985 using Royalex as the hull material. I had never even heard of this material but quickly researched it and fell in love even more with the idea of restoring the canoe to salvage this amazing material...especially knowing none were being produced anymore. I'm typing this in August 2023, the same month I completed the repairs below, and me and the boat will both be 37 years old this month. 

  • Hull Repairs & Kevlar Skid plates: First thing I wanted to do was repair the hull itself, even knowing I was planning on attaching kevlar skid pads from Mohawk later on. Since this is a Royalex hull I decided to use G-Flex 650 for any major hull work (anything completely through the hull and not just cosmetic) as you need something with a fair amount of 'give' to match the flexible properties of Royalex. Everything I read mentioned clearing out the damage and ensuring your epoxy has a tapered edge on both sides to adhere to. I used a dremel to open up both the failed patch and even the flexing crack in the bow that wasn't leaking into the boat and make nice tapered edges. My guess was water was actually leaking into the hull itself on the crack and would cause more damage to the inner foam, and likely another major failure for me to deal with in the future. After watching a ton of videos, which honestly I wasn't very impressed with, I came across a very detailed youtube commenter who listed all the things done wrong by one guy while also listing detailed steps for how to do it right and make it look great. This was an old timer with many years of craftsmanship laying out his experience in an easy to understand way. Sometimes you have to dig to find gold! I copy/pasted his instructions in an email to myself which informs a lot of my story from here on out. He mentioned the fact that most epoxy will not stick to saran wrap and that you can use it to create a smooth edge matching the hull shape AFTER applying the epoxy and stretching the saran over top of it using tape on the saran's edges, then rolling out the air bubbles to those edges with a small cylinder or your fingers. Now for my hull repair; I figured that I could use packing tape to get the same result he laid out using saran thus not having to deal with all the sanding etc I watched guys do on youtube. I was right. I used packing tape on both sides of the hull and rolled out bubbles and smoothed the edge to perfectly match the hull. I peeled off the tape on both sides and had a beautifully smooth a perfect fix on both the hull and bow patches, no sanding required afterwards. Next I purchased the Kevlar pads Mohawk suggested to me from their shop and went about applying them with more G-Flex using some video examples they shared and the saran trick the mystery youtube commenter detailed. I was able to create a glossy smooth kevlar skid plate using his method that almost exactly matched my hull. From there I used my orbital sander to remove any remnant of a tapered edge so that I maintained the water-slicing hull this boat was designed to have. A lot of folks whine online, shocking I know, about how skid plates ruin the aesthetics and function of boats but my guess is these folks think changing a lightbulb makes them 'handy'. With a little extra effort I was able to make rock solid patches that looked and functioned almost as if it never happened (and I painted it to make sure of that).
  • Seats and Thwarts - The 40 year old aluminum seats and thwarts were shaky, corroded, and due for a refresh. I decided to hand craft all new pieces from Ash and stretched poly webbing for the seat cushioning. Measure, cut, sand, seal, attach.
  • Paint & Decals -  I ordered some Mohawk decals from the online shop and attached them after doing a simple roll-on matte duck boat style paint. I knew I would scratch it on rocks during river trips so I did my best to match the original green under the hull so when that happens they don't pop so bad to the eye. I also aim to shoot ducks out of the boat so a darker olive green with matte finish should help me fool those weary birds. I had done so much sanding on the hull to remove the orange paint job mentioned earlier that no 'prep sanding' was needed. The paint does not chip or flake when the hull flexes, not yet at least. But even if it does I can just touch it up with a roller and 30 mins of my time.

First trip in my new boat

I live near Richmond Virginia and took out the finished boat on an all day paddle through some nice class 2+ rapids. Everything held great even after flipping the boat and having it pin up a few times. The repairs are solid and even though I got a ton of scratches on the paint it still looks great and no chipping or flaking occured. The seats are eye-catching and comfortable and should stand the test of time as well. I'm going to do my best to keep this boat in my family and have it outlive me...even if a few more repairs down the line come my way. 

Happy paddling!



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