Frampton, Quebec’s Esquif Canoe Company might do well to borrow Mark Twain’s line, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” After announcing in March of this year that the company was ceasing production, company founder Jacques Chassé about-faced with an early May announcement that the factory will resume production….
While Chassé says that a supply problem with Royalex had pushed the company into bankruptcy, its creditors recently agreed to a buyback proposal of the assets. “We are now able to produce the highly-technical material required to manufacture our boats,” maintains Chassé.
Following the heels of publicly held PolyOne ceasing production of Royalex at the end of 2014, as well as a general downward trend in canoe sales, canoe maker Esquif Canoes Inc. closed its doors March 16.
In the company’s original announcement to shutter its doors, Chassé says that various elements forced Esquif to dispose of its assets and end production. “For over 15 years, we worked hard to design and build the best canoes in the world and we want to thank all our customers and friends. Mission accomplished!” the statement on its web site read.
Long known for its high-performance whitewater canoes, like many other canoe manufacturers Esquif had been trying to develop a substitute for Royalex, the tough, three-layer plastic discontinued by PolyOne at the end of 2014. The material’s light weight, durability and price point was perfect for manufacturers as an alternative to rotomolded polyethylene, fiberglass, Kevlar and other materials. Their hulls can also “pop” back into their shape after being dented.
First invented by Uniroyal Tire Company (hence the “royal” name), Royalex consists of an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic core sandwiched between two layers of UV-protecting vinyl. It comes in sheets, which get heated and molded to form a canoe. The first Royalex canoe was built by Maine’s Thompson Boat Company in 1964, with Old Town Canoe using it in its 16-foot Chipewyan in 1972 and other companies like Mad River, Wenonah, Mohawk and Dagger quickly following suit.
In May 2014, Esquif announced plans to begin using its own proprietary material dubbed T-Formex in its boats, but the company was never able to produce the material in commercially viable volumes. Now they can, with Chassé maintaining that the company is ready manufacture the new T-Formex material to replace Royalex. The company also plans to offer sheets of T-Formex, an ABS plastic with a foam core, to other canoe manufacturers affected by the loss of Royalex.
“Our development has enabled us to make T-Formex highly resistant to scratches, impacts and UV rays,” Chassé told paddlesports publication Rapid Media, adding that customers have already placed an order for the specialized plastic. “We’ve revolutionized the world of whitewater canoes with cutting-edge boats, and the creation and manufacturing of our boats remains the company’s priority.”
The company plans to distribute its boats again in fall 2015.
“The death of Royalex is certainly a significant blow,” says Dagger Canoe founder Joe Pulliam, adding that long-fiber thermoplastics and materials like Esquif’s T-Formex might indeed be the answer.
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