Boat Review: Nova Craft TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 17 | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
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Boat Review: Nova Craft TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 17 Photo: Conor Mihell

TuffStuff Beatdown: Expedition testing Nova Craft's composite Prospector 17

A Tale of Two Prospectors. This could be the title of our six-week wilderness adventure in northern Quebec last summer. Our friends paddled one of the original river trippers, a 17-foot cedar- canvas Chestnut Prospector from veteran builder Headwaters Canoe Company. Meanwhile, Jon and I put Nova Craft’s new TuffStuff Expedition Prospector 17 through perhaps the most rigorous boat review in Canoeroots history.

Our plans for a remote trip in the untracked wilds of Nunavik—traversing winding rivers, sprawling lakes, four watersheds, the thunderous rapids of the mighty Nastapoka River, and even a stretch of tidal Hudson Bay coast—demanded a capable and reliable craft. Fortunately, Nova Craft owner Tim Miller was eager for the opportunity to prove the TuffStuff Prospector is just that. A shiny new, cranberry-red Prospector 17 arrived on our doorstep a few weeks before departure.

Nova Craft debuted their TuffStuff material in late 2014. The sturdy composite—a proprietary blend of Innegra and basalt finished with gel coat—is Nova Craft’s unequivocal answer to the what-will-we-do-without-Royalex question. Boat testers, including Canoeroots’ sister publication Rapid magazine, immediately set about beating the new boats down bony backyard runs in an effort to discover the limits of TuffStuff’s toughness (read a review of the TuffStuff Prospector 16 at here). But the tougher-still Expedition lay-up—which adds a reinforcing layer of fibers, optional skid plates and an extra five pounds—begged for an actual, hard-assed, rocks- rapids-and-portages wilderness trip. In other words, a proper expedition.

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In shallow headwater rapids, collisions with unseen rocks reverberated through the rigid hull, but left only a slight scuff on the skid plates. By day seven, our Prospector showed many light scratches and two gouges through the gel coat—injury resulting from some less-than-gentle wading— exposing the undamaged composite fibers but in no way compromising the integrity of the hull. Five weeks of tripping later, the scars remained purely superficial and easily touched up at home.

While Jon and I could casually slide our Prospector into the alders for loading and unloading, or scooch it over the odd beaver dam or rock bar, our friends’ cedar-canvas canoe had to be treated with kid gloves on every landing and lift-over. Canvas that springs a leak can be field-repaired, but it’s not something you want to make a habit of on an extended trip. We piloted the TuffStuff exactly as we would a Royalex hull; our trad trip-mates paddled theirs like a fine china teacup.

Aside from its durability, the other tremendous advantage of TuffStuff is its very manageable weight. Tipping the scales at just 63 pounds, our 17-footer is 25 percent lighter than most comparably-sized whitewater tripping canoes, which means I could carry it at least 50 percent further on portages.

On the water, our friends’ hefty wooden canoe is improbably buoyant; its gracefully re-curved ends ride several inches higher than our modern Prospector, and its deeply rounded belly swallows gear with nary a dent in freeboard. In contrast, when our Nova Craft is loaded with 700 pounds of paddlers, packs and food barrels, the choppy waves that prevail on our route’s shallow, wind-tossed northern lakes slap at our gunwales, even as our trip-mates bob imperviously ahead.

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As log drivers and new paddlers know, however, round equals tippy. Our Prospector’s shallow-arch hull gives it much greater initial stability, especially when empty, so it’s just as capable in the hands of novices or on micro-adventures as it is on once-in- a-lifetime wilderness expeditions.

The original Prospector canoes, crafted from steam-bent cedar and stretched canvas, embody the elemental qualities of their resourceful namesakes. Nova Craft’s TuffStuff Expedition Prospector employs state-of-the-art materials and a shape revised for today’s travelers, but the name continues to conjure visions of exploration and challenge, of seeking fate and fortune in the wild unknown.  

NOVA CRAFT TUFFSTUFF EXPEDITION PROSPECTOR 17

Length: 17'
Width: 36"
Weight: 63 lbs
Max Capacity: 1,200 lbs
Price: $3,159 CAD

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