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I mentioned a couple of posts ago that one of the projects that slowed me down a bit in getting back to working on the Old Town was a book chapter. I was invited to contribute to a volume on interpreting maritime history being edited by Joel Stone, a Senior Curator with the Detroit Historical Society, which manages the Detroit Historical Museum and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. The book, titled Interpreting Maritime History at Museums and Historic Sites, was published in March 2017. Copies are available from the publisher. 

My chapter is titled “Curating and Exhibiting Recreational Boating.” Here’s a little extract:

If you were to ask a visitor to a maritime museum or historic ship to name important themes in North American maritime history, it is reasonable to expect that they would mention at least some of the topics that make up the chapters in this book: whaling, naval affairs, shipwrecks, commercial shipping, lighthouses and inland waterways. It is also reasonable to expect that far fewer, if any, of them would mention the fiberglass runabout on its trailer in their driveway, or the personal watercraft at their vacation house. And yet pleasure boating is and has been an activity of significant economic and social consequence, and is worthy of consideration as an important part of maritime history. But it’s only pleasure—how could it possibly be as serious a topic as the navy, or exploration, or shipping? In the words of naval architect and historian Douglas Phillips-Birt, from his book An Eye for a Yacht,

Yachting was as exclusive, as brilliant, as undemocratic as a Florentine palace. And it was creative. Some of the most original and talented minds in several countries devoted themselves to the creation of the yachting fleets—men who might have reached the top in any sphere of imaginative work. (London: Faber & Faber, 1955, pp. 13-14)

The high net worth individuals who commissioned grand yachts from designers such as the Herreshoffs, C. Raymond Hunt, Clinton Crane, Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens were no less patrons of genius than the Renaissance princes who bought out the best work in the artists they supported. Their choices, exercised free of almost all of the constraints that normally bind you and I, are therefore a truer index of desire than many more pragmatic and workaday decisions.

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More Gunwales

Once the rebate and profile of the new gunwale piece were right, I epoxied the scarph joint. I did this on the canoe to make sure that the alignment was correct.

 

After the epoxy had set, I started to shape the new gunwale with a low-angle block plane.

I picked the angle up from the starboard gunwale and trimmed the end of the new piece.

Final shaping was done with 150 grit sandpaper.

The next step is to stain the new spruce to match the original gunwale.

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So, back in July 2013, I told you about putting new canvas on “Clementine,” my 1937 Old Town canoe. As you know if you’ve read previous posts, later that year I left Peterborough and took on a new job just west of Toronto. The canoe moved with me, but didn’t get any further because I had to finish the basement first.

In April 2016, I completed the new shop space. By July, I had moved my 1880s Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe “Pip” into the shop. Then, there were a couple of writing projects for WoodenBoat magazine. Then, there was a historical plaque writing project for the Ontario Heritage Trust (more in a future post).

Then, there was a book. I’ve wanted for years to write a book, but I didn’t know where or how to start. I didn’t want to write a manuscript first and then try to find a publisher (worked for J.K. Rowling, but she’s out of my league). In the middle of 2016, I came across a call for book proposals put out by the American Association for State and Local History. I sent in two ideas: one for a book about maritime museums, and the second for a book about developing museum exhibits. The first one turned into a chapter for a book by another of their authors (more in a future post) and the second one turned into a book of my own. 19 months and 65,000 words later, Creating Exhibits that Engage: A Manual for Museums and Historical Organizations is done and it will be out next month. 

So, how long is my canoe (project)? 17′ or 5 years, depending on how you count. I’m determined to get “Clementine” in the water this summer, so I’ve picked up where I left off with the re-canvassing. The new canvas needed to be trimmed down to the top of the planking. 

Normally this is quick work, but I used epoxy so it required a sharper blade and a bit more force.

After sanding the epoxied canvas with 150 grit, I dry-fitted the old gunwales to check the trimming of the canvas.

The starboard gunwale was fine, but the port one had broken when I took it off in 2013. In the intervening years, the broken piece had disappeared so I needed to replace it. Here’s the starboard bow:

And here’s the port:

The gunwales are spruce, and rabeted on the back to fit over the top of the planking, which is cut down from the ends of the ribs. The tricky part about making a new end is that it curves both in plan and in profile, and it’s too short to steam, so the whole thing, including the rabbet, has to be carved out. The first step was to make a pattern from the starboard gunwale:

I traced it onto some scrap white cedar and sawed it to shape.

I cut a long scarph in the port gunwale, being careful to miss the existing screw holes:

The port gunwale was then clamped back on. I fitted pattern in place, marked the scarph I had just cut and trimmed the template to match. Then, I resawed a piece of clear spruce to about 1/4″ wider than the finished width and bandsawed it to the pattern shape, including the scarph at the end:

To make the rabbet, I rough-cut it with a Fein multi-tool and followed up with a chisel and a rabbet plane:

The new gunwale is still a little too large, so the next step is to shape and taper the inside, adjusting the rabbet to match as I go.

Back in April I spent a couple of days at the Great Lakes Boatbuilding School in Cedarville, Michigan. I was there working on an article for WoodenBoatwhich you can read the the July/August issue, #251. The resort community of Cedarville is located in the Les Cheneaux Islands area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A small village whose population burgeons during the summer months, it reminded me very much of the 1000 Islands’ Clayton, NY, where I lived while working at the Antique Boat Museum, and South Haven, Michigan, where my family summered when I was young. The area has a rich boating history, and the nearby village of Hessel is home to the annual Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show.

The school was founded in 2005 by a local group who were inspired by a visit to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Washington State and wanted to offer a similar education opportunity to students in the midwest.

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All students take a one-year program, and an optional second year teaches more advanced skills. The schools facilities are also used to teach a range of workshops for the general public during the summer months when classes are not in session.

There are always a variety of projects on the shop floor. From left to right: a Hacker runabout; a Paul Gartside catboat; a flat-iron skiff; a fibreglass inboard launch and a Phil Bolger fisherman’s launch.

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The Bolger launch ready for planking.

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Students build the cold-moulded hulls of the Hacker runabouts, which are then shipped to Runabout Restorations in Guntersville, AL to be outfitted.

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Program Director Pat Mahon and second-year instructor Andy James currently teach 15-16 students but are looking to expand the program. Completed boats are sold (at very reasonable prices!) to help defray the costs of operating the program. It’s a good thing that I flew there and didn’t drive a vehicle with a trailer hitch, or I might have come home with the last thing I need, which is another boat. I was particularly struck by the Harry Bryan KATIE sloop that is currently for sale.

The Great Lakes Boatbuilding school is a wonderful place to visit, a worthwhile place to support and maybe something to consider for your first, or second, or third career.

After the battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, said to Thomas Creevey “It was a near run thing. The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” On a much smaller scale, and in a more maritime way, that’s what happened at my house tonight.

You’ll recall that I bravely posted a couple of months ago that I was back in action with boats. Well I was, sort of, but then two writing projects for WoodenBoat came my way, about which more soon. The second of these is finished, so now I can turn to more pressing matters, and the above-mentioned “near-run thing.”

At lunchtime today, I went to my storage locker to retrieve the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe. Yes, I probably should have put a plank on top of the roof racks and under the keel, but I wasn’t going that far and I slowed down over the railroad tracks(!).

canoe on car adjusted

I had measured the window into my new basement shop several times, and I knew it was going to be close, but I hoped we would end up just on the good side of “close.”

In we go:

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I learned a couple of useful things today:

  1. Future projects should be LESS than 14′ long and LESS than 31″ wide!
  2. Make sure that the canoe doesn’t get any bigger during the restoration!

Time to start scraping green paint.

Hello, Dear Readers (at least the two or three that have stuck with me).

I’m ever-so-pleased to announce that the new workshop is finished, finally. You’ll recall that way back in April 2014 I showed you a photo of an unfinished basement and a plan for a new shop. After many twists and turns, and a few delays, and a lot of cutting and nailing and fitting and painting &c &c, the basement is almost finished and the shop, as of this afternoon, is finished! It’s a tight little space, and I think that the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe, at 14′ LOA, is the biggest thing that I’ll be able to fit in through the window and work on. No matter, I’ll just begin building smaller boats. Here’s the new space. The floor, laid over the original cement, is DriCore 2′ x 2′ T&G squares of oriented strand board with a plastic underlay. Walls are regular 2″ x 4″ studwall, with 1/4″ OSB over. The overall aesthetic is solid but not beautiful–“fisherman finish,” as Harold Payson called it:

window

That’s the window, which should allow the OCC canoe in with about 1/2″ to spare all ’round. In fitting my tools and projects into such a tight space, I’ve had to re-think how I do things. In order to free up floor space for the boat, I’ve gotten rid of all of the stands and mobile bases and resigned myself to pulling out and putting away tools as I use them. The workbench top is mounted on lumber racks strapped to the wall studs with lag screws. I even shortened my sawhorses to a canoe-appropriate width of 30″ to save space:

looking toward workbench

All of the tools, materials and supplies are concentrated in the dogleg part of the shop so that the main space is clear:

drill press and wall shelves

There’s even, thanks Harry Potter, a “cupboard under the stairs” for deep storage, paint and the like, the entrance to which can just be seen in the back of this photo.

drill press and metal shelves

The bigger part of the “L” is where the boat goes, and I’ve deliberately kept it clear. In case your wondering, there’s about 1″ of clearance between the shelf brackets and the top of my head(!):

looking toward boat area

Since I prefer to work with long skinny boats, I think there will be just enough room to walk up and down either side. That’s the Radix centreboard on the end wall for inspiration. I’ve also got room to hang up the patterns for past projects, including the Fiddlehead double-paddle canoe:

patterns on wall

Next step is to bring the OCC canoe down from the storage unit and empirically verify that it will indeed fit through the window. More soon, glad to be back.

From time to time you hear stories about couples who, try as they might, just don’t share the same interests (cut to night club stand-up comedian: “My wife and I go out twice a week and we have a great time. She goes out on Tuesdays and I go out on Thursdays.” Rimshot. Applause) Interests like, for instance going out in boats. “Wife says sell” reads the plaintive classified ad in the boating magazine. But what if you found someone who liked boating. What if you found someone who not only liked boating, but liked it as much or more than you did? And what if you liked to not just go boating but to go boating really, really fast? If all of those things were true, then you would be Harold and Lorna Wilson, Canada’s powerboat racing couple.

HAW LMR LMC IV closeup winners

Beginning with summers in Muskoka as a young man, Harold discovered fast boats and wanted to go faster. Over a racing career that spanned nearly three decades, he worked his way up from outboards to unlimited hydroplanes. Along the way, he met Lorna Reid and she joined him in the cockpit. As a husband and wife racing team, they were unique. He drove and she served as riding mechanic on the water and mechanic on shore. Their first big victories as a team came in the 225 cubic inch hydroplane class, where they were world champions in 1933 and 1934.

LMC IV official photo 1935

Later on, they graduated to the big leagues and drove unlimited hydroplanes, competing in the Gold Cup, Harmsworth Trophy and President’s Cup races. All of their many raceboats boats were named Little Miss Canada and then Miss Canada. Here is Miss Canada III in 1939, the year she won the President’s Cup.

MC III Bridge shot Detroit hi angle

You can read the remarkable story of their racing careers in the article “Going Steady, Going Fast: The Powerboat Racing Team of Harold and Lorna Wilson,” which has just been published in the June issue of WoodenBoat magazine. You can learn more about the restoration of Miss Canada IV on the website of their son, Harry Wilson. You may see (but you’ll likely hear her long before you see her) Miss Canada IV herself out on the water in Muskoka this summer. You can see some stunning photos of Miss Canada IV after her re-launching in the summer of 2013 on the website of photographer Tim DuVernet. Finally, you can see Miss Canada III in the exhibit “Quest for Speed: The Story of Powerboat Racing” at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY.