Audrey’s family always had a canoe either around the house, on top of the car, or splashing down into many lakes and ponds from Texas all the way up to Illinois. That canoe was acquired in the mid-1960s and it is still around 55 years later, often resting on the shoreline of her brother’s pond in Southeast Texas. That canoe is aluminum and a Grumman.
We set out a few years back to find another Grumman 17′ Double-Ender; we knew they were a good size for two to four people and some picnic snacks, and Grumman canoes have a well-deserved reputation for versatility and durability.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation was founded in 1929 and manufactured Navy fighter planes during World War II. One of the company vice presidents, William Hoffman, after portaging a heavy wood-and-canvas canoe on a fishing trip, had the idea to make an aluminum canoe that would be 25 to 50 percent lighter. After the war, Grumman branched out into canoes and johnboats, with their first canoes coming out of the aircraft plant in Bethpage, New York. The first canoe produced in 1945 was a 13-footer, and five more models followed by the end of the war. The canoes are made of the same high-strength and quality materials that their famous Navy fighter aircraft and seaplanes were made from, with the same exceptional levels of workmanship. Grumman opened a second plant in Marathon, New York, in the 1950s, dedicated solely to construction of recreational watercraft, and it is still producing boats today.
The same tooling and jigs that were developed for postwar production of the canoes are still in use in Marathon. The canoes are handcrafted and begin with hull halves formed on a cold die press from an aluminum alloy sheet, then heat-hardened to a T-6 temper to increase mechanical strength and reduce the metal’s susceptibility to intergranular corrosion. The halves are joined to an extruded aluminum inner and outer keel, die-formed ribs, gunwales, stem and stern caps with T-6 Alumilite rivets that were specifically designed for the Grumman process. Close rivet spacing ensures maximum strength along the keel and ribs. Templates are used to establish uniform spacing for the rivets. The canoes are still riveted by hand. The inner and outer extruded keels sandwich a neoprene gasket with the hull halves for a watertight seal; flush rivet heads reduce drag. The standard 17′ Double-Ender has a T-shaped keel that helps the canoe track straight and reduces leeway, which we can attest is very helpful on open water. For whitewater use, a flatter keel with a lower 3/8″ profile, is available.
Our 17’ Double-Ender, built in the mid-1950s, is made from 0.051”-thick aluminum alloy. Grumman also offered a Light Weight model with hull thickness of 0.032″ for canoeists who did a lot of portaging. The Light Weight models had extra ribs to offset the thinner hull material. The standard 17′ Double-Ender weighs 75 lbs and the Light Weight, 60 lbs. The newer Marathon boats have hulls that are 0.060″ thick and, as a result, weigh in at 81 lbs.
We found our latest Double-Ender on Craigslist in 2013. The canoe trailers easily and can be singlehandedly cartopped by raising one end and then the other onto a roof rack. Secure the upside-down canoe over the passenger’s side. This provides better visibility for the driver. The canoe thwarts to be secured to the side of the rack, in addition to two top straps. Straps from the tow shackles down to the bumper are also advisable.
The bow and stern caps have rolled edges that make comfortable handholds when dragging or carrying the canoe. These rolled plates also serve as covers for the flotation compartments, which are filled with closed-cell foam to keep the canoe afloat. There is a small gap around the compartment edge that allows for ventilation and drainage, a great attribute because closed compartments often take in water and retain it. Our 17′ Double-Ender has a rated carrying capacity of five people (weighing a total of up to 750 lbs) and 805 lbs total capacity. The current Marathon canoe capacity, subject to the more stringent requirements established in 1972, is a little lower at 755 lbs total (660 lbs people weight).
The solid extruded T-6 gunwales provide rigidity and are bolt-fastened to the thwarts. The stem caps are also heat-treated for strength, close-riveted with flush rivets to reduce drag below the waterline, as is the outer keelson. The ends also have sealed holes for shackles to take painters.
Once we slide the canoe down to the water it behaves well, and the wide bottom and full ends offer excellent stability. I can easily get aboard over the side. With the long waterline and keel the Double-Ender tracks straight and makes paddling easy; we have seen up to 3 knots without really trying. The canoe tracks straight until the wind picks up; it will start drifting to leeward when the wind abeam is more than 8 knots or so. With higher winds, trim becomes an issue.
A single paddler can then kneel forward of the stern seat or place some form of ballast up front to lower the bow. Another trick for a solo paddler is to row the canoe stern-first from the bow seat to help get the balance closer to amidships. However, a bit of bow-up trim can be helpful to take advantage of a stern breeze. In choppy water the canoe rides dry, and in small following waves never once have we felt that the canoe was in danger of broaching. Our canoe has capsized only once, when Audrey’s father mistimed jumping aboard during a beach launch.
The canoe is well laid out with thoughtfully placed bow and stern seats. The seats are at a good height for the average adult, but the leg room gets a little tight up in the bow. It paddles well with tandem crew. There is a thwart amidships and one farther back which make do as seats for solo paddling.
We have had three adults on board without issue, and the canoe is most at home with an adult in the stern and a junior paddler on the bow seat. With an enormous amount of room for gear, the canoe is a true utility watercraft that can be paddled, sailed, motored, or rowed. Motor brackets and rowing rigs are available from Marathon. With our 24-lb-thrust trolling motor we cruised for an hour, and had a top speed of just under 3 knots. Used sail rigs can be found online—either a 65-sq-ft gunter or a 45-sq-ft lateen—but not currently offered by Marathon.
The canoe’s overall design, construction, and material are outstanding; as a former aviation mechanic, I am impressed with the craftsmanship. Grumman is confident with their craftsmanship also—to the original owner they offer a lifetime guarantee for hull punctures and a five-year warranty against defects in workmanship.
Grumman canoes are virtually maintenance free, save for a periodic freshwater rinse. The manufacturer advises that a good-quality paste wax can be used to maintain the aluminum’s shine. We leave our canoe by the shoreline of our saltwater bay in Florida through most of the year and have seen some expected surface corrosion.
The 17′ Double-Ender is a versatile, stable canoe with enormous capacity for people and cargo, but still easy to paddle and control. The safety features are top-notch, and the canoe is self-righting and unsinkable, features built in even before the imposition of federal requirements. It can fill up with water and still float you to shore. Our canoe, now well over 60 years old, is a testament to the 17′ Double-Ender’s longevity and durability: easy to paddle, comfortable, confidence-inspiring, and we know it won’t let us down.
Kent and Audrey (aka Skipper) Lewis paddle their Grumman canoe around the shorelines of northwest Florida and ponder why canoeing is not as popular today as it was in its heyday in the ’70s and ’80s. They painted shark’s teeth on their canoe, SCOUT, to replicate a paint job that Audrey’s father had done on the family Grumman in the 1960s. They went a step further by incorporating the teeth into a Flying Tigers scheme, as a tribute to the First American Volunteer Group that flew in defense of China, 1941–42. Number 48 was the aircraft assigned to Flying Tigers Triple Ace “Tex” Hill.
Grumman 17′ Double-Ender Particulars
Outboard/5 hp max.
Capacity/755 lbs max., 655 lbs persons
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