Wenonah Canoe is currently in the pre-production phase of their Spirit II in T-Formex, and has plans to produce seven models in Esquif’s long-awaited Royalex replacement in 2017.
The production of the Spirit II in T-Formex is a major event in the canoeing world as it comes on the heels of a multi-year saga following a 2013 announcement by plastic material company PolyOne to end Royalex production. Some canoeists and manufacturers worried about the future of canoe construction, and what would replace ultra-durable Royalex for canoe tripping and whitewater paddling. In 2014, Esquif announced plans to build a T-Formex factory in their southern Quebec warehouse, then weathered bankruptcy and reinvestment before finally producing T-Formex canoes in the spring of 2016. Though many other canoe brands have expressed interest in T-Formex, Wenonah Canoe is the first to adopt the new material into their line.
For Bill Kueper, vice president of Wenonah Canoe, the wait was worth it. “We fired up our old oven for the first time in three years and the sheets came out beautifully,” he says.
One of the benefits of T-Formex is that the material can be used in the same manufacturing stations that Royalex canoes were made in, without requiring any retooling for the manufacturer. The same workshops that produced Royalex canoes can produce 20 to 25 T-Formex canoes per day.
“Esquif did its homework,” Kueper says. “The sheets are performing extremely well.”
Like Royalex, T-Formex is manufactured into sheets using foam core, ABS plastic and another outer material Chassé hasn’t disclosed. These are layered together to create a reinforced, multi-laminate sandwich that can withstand years of abuse.
Kueper says Wenonah is currently in the pre-production phase with the Spirit II in T-Formex, and that they are being careful to make sure they have the canoe they want. Kueper also says Royalex meant a lot of different things to canoeists and served everyone from whitewater enthusiasts to those who wanted a maintenance-free canoe to leave at the lake house. The Spirit II in T-Formex will address a lot of these varied needs with one canoe.
“Jacques mimicked Royalex and has provided a turnkey to markets who have been underserved,” says Kueper. The Spirit II is the first of the Minnesota-based canoe manufacturer’s models to be produced in T-Formex, and a total of seven will bear the material throughout 2017. In addition to the Spirit II, the Aurora, Adirondack, Prospector 16, Prospector 15, Wilderness and Blackwater will be produced T-Formex.
Esquif president and founder Jacques Chassé says the production of the Spirit II in T-Formex was a good choice for the Quebec-based company. Chassé says they have been very careful since bankruptcy and tend to work in methodical steps, and wanted to choose the right canoe and company to work with. “We do it not as a plastics company, but as a canoe company,” he says of creating T-Formex. “We want to make sure the process is controlled perfectly.” He says that Esquif made a decision to keep T-Formex similar to Royalex in construction to avoid surprising the market and reestablish confidence with their audience, but says they have innovations they look forward to testing in 2017. Chassé could not confirm if other canoe manufacturers will be producing boats in T-Formex in 2017.
The Spirit II in T-Formex should be available by the end of the year if everything goes well, with the 16-foot model priced at $1,999 USD. Kueper is enthusiastic about the growing use of T-Formex. “It’s definitely one of the most significant contributions to canoeing in recent history,” he says.
Canoeroots has an early test model of the Spirit II in T-Formex, and you can look for a full review in the Spring 2017 issue.