Aluminum
canoes these days often get a bad rap as the province of ignorant and
technically inept paddlers. It is true that aluminum designs hardly
excel for any specialized category of canoeing. However, if you want
a boat that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will enjoy
long after you’re gone, get aluminum.

Some
old-school paddlers lament that people who learn whitewater skills
these days in plastic canoe develop sloppy paddling habits. Instead
of trying to avoid small rocks, they just speed up and bounce off or
slide over them. If you want a beginner whitewater boat which will
encourage alertness and the accelerated development of river reading
skills, get aluminum. After two trips down the Upper Chattahoochee at low
water, a neophyte will be able to smell barely submerged rocks at 50
yards and learn to avoid them like poison oak.

I
still have my first canoe, a 15 foot Sears aluminum model bought in
1973 in which, stuffed with Styrofoam and inner tubes, I made my
first trip (without incident) down Chattooga Section IV. The Boy Scouts
of Troop 16 in Gainesville and I have used it every year since 1973 on
hundreds of whitewater trips and can’t seem to wear it out. In this
time I have trashed a couple of ABS boats but have only had to make a
few, minor repairs on my aluminum canoe.

From
1945, when Grumman Boats was founded by former airplane fabricators,
until 1968, when Uniroyal molded the first ABS Royalex canoe hull, aluminum
was the material preferred by most experienced paddlers for the
recreational use of open (“Canadian”) canoes on whitewater. Most
would have agreed when paddling pioneer Randy Carter wrote in 1967 in
his celebrated Canoeing White Water River Guide:

The
author prefers the aluminum canoe. He has had one that has been over
2,000 miles on fast, rocky rivers, and it is still with him. They
require no maintenance (and) can be left out all year. They can be
abused by dragging over rocks and down banks and being banged along
through the shallows?” Carter’s landmark book is full of pictures
of many pioneers of Southeastern U. S. whitewater exploration, all in
aluminum canoes, such as Frank Bell, William Hulbert, John Delabar
(seen stuck on a rock), and now deceased GCA honorary life members
Hugh Caldwell and Ray Eaton.

I
got the whitewater bug in 1971 by regularly inner tubing the
Amicalola, Middle Chestatee, Etowah and Upper Chattahoochee. We would
go to the Copper Mines when the main road still crossed the old steel
bridge and run Copper Mine in tubes 30 or so times and then float
downstream to just past the quarry.

At
that time one could still see the ruins of the machinery from the
hydroelectric plant on river left just above the upper island at
“Blasted Rocks.” It was the washing out of the dam for this plant
that deposited the “blasted” rocks downstream into this rapid.
One can still see a wooden portion of this collapsed dam just under
the still water in the narrows just upstream of this rapid.

Remains
of a collapsed, similar log crib dam, built during World War I to
generate electricity for the adjacent Chestatee Pyrites &
Chemical Corporation mine, lie just upstream of Coppermine Rapid.
This dam once impounded the waters of the Chestatee for over a mile
and deposited layers of sediment which can be clearly seen in the
steep, cliff-like, muddy left bank of the river upstream of the dam.

When
I decided to buy my first canoe in 1973, I researched every book and
article on white water canoeing I could find in a public library.
They all agreed: aluminum was the way to go. Until the late 1970’s
most participants on GCA trips paddled aluminum boats. Usually on
each trip at least one boat would be seriously pinned. This provided
great opportunities for team building, as everyone had to get into
the swift, often icy water together to pull and tug and pry and
finally lift the pinned aluminum canoes free.

Polly
Heyward, still paddling her 1972 Grumman canoe on white water when she’s
not volunteering at Zoo Atlanta, may be the last of Mohegans among
GCA members. Polly’s Grumman canoe is surprisingly unscathed to this day,
although she once had to get it welded after hitting one of the many
spikes which used to be in the Broad until GCA crews removed them
and 31 from the Etowah waterfall section in 1980.

The
1980 Buyer’s Guide in Canoe Magazine lists 8 U.S. canoe
manufacturers who were offering 16 models of aluminum canoes
specifically designed for white water. The 2006 “Buyer’s Guide”
only includes 3 U.S. manufacturers of aluminum canoes; only 2 of the
16 models are still available, the Grumman 17 Shallow Draft (with a
shoe keel) and the 17 Osagian (SS).

In
the mid to late 1970’s for about 2 years there was an aluminum
canoe broken in half on the left bank of the first part of Chattooga Section IV. A GCA member finally retrieved it. The repair involved  cutting off the most
badly damaged section, the beating some bends back into shape and welding the remainder back together. He later
paddled the resurrected canoe, now 2 feet shorter, on club trips.

by
Roger Nott, GCA Historian
From
The Eddy Line, August 2007