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Archive for the ‘Boating Books’ Category

You know how when you buy a particular marque or model of car you start to see them everywhere? A few years ago, wandering through ebay while avoiding a more important task, I came across some images of canoeing on romantic themes. I can’t recall now which one I saw first, but here’s a representative example.

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How charming, I thought. They’re courting in a canoe. I bought the first one I saw, and then I bought a few more, and soon the search expanded to sheet music and souvenirs too. Last year, while I was still working at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, I proposed the idea of an exhibit about canoes and romance. Because I left the museum for another job at the end of the year, I didn’t end up curating that show, though I did do a design concept for it.  I did agree to write the Gallery Guide for the exhibit, however.

These Gallery Guides are a project that I started at the Museum three years ago. The original idea was to publish some of the material that inevitably doesn’t make it into the finished exhibit and provide visitors with some more information that they can take home. The first Gallery Guide was about the Museum’s “It Wasn’t All Work” gallery and explored the topic of canoeing for pleasure. The next Guide in the series was published in 2013 and recounted the story of the Museum’s founding and its origin in the private canoe collection of Kirk Wipper. The third Gallery Guide, I’m proud to say, is my own. It was released when the exhibit it accompanies was opened on Wednesday, April 23rd.

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The collecting of the images and souvenirs was great fun (and continues to this day), and the writing was a lot of hard work, but it’s a great exhibit and I encourage you to drop in if you’re travelling through southern Ontario. It’s open now and will be up until next March. You can purchase a a copy from the Canadian Canoe Museum Store. The first (It Wasn’t All Work: Canoeing for Pleasure) and second (Becoming Kirk Wipper: The Story of the Museum’s Founder) Gallery Guides are also available from the store online.

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Well, it’s December 22nd, 2011. The Fiddlehead is done, all my hand tools have been sharpened and tuned up again and I have a couple of weeks off work and some precious free time. What better way to end the year and look ahead to 2012 than to think about what boat I should build next?

Three possibilities have been going through my head for a while. Back in the mid 1990s when I worked at the old Marine Museum of Upper Canada with Peter the Boatbuilder (see last post), we taught a workshop course called “Introduction to Lapstrake Boatbuilding.” The boat we used as the example was Pete Culler’s 13′ lapstrake canoe, a design he called Butternut. This is a lovely little boat, weighing about 35 lbs. We liked it because it showed you everything you needed to know about traditional lapstrake boatbuilding in a nice small package that didn’t go through a whole lot of materials, and was also small enough that we could have two of them underway in the shop at the same time. We told the students it was “the original personal watercraft,” a boat you wear more than use. Here’s one of the completed Butternuts:

As usual with these projects, I didn’t end up with one for myself, so maybe now it’s time? Something this light would also fit on top of Wendy’s little Nissan, and be light enough for her to get up and down easily. Butternut is featured on pp. 23-25 of John Burke’s book Pete Culler’s Boats. The original book is out of print but WoodenBoat have reprinted a catalogue of Culler’s designs. A simple lines plan can be ordered from the Ships’ Plans Department at Mystic Seaport.

Another boat I’ve had in my head even longer than Butternut is the late Bob Baker’s lapstrake canoe Piccolo. He designed this for WoodenBoat back in the magazine’s early days, and a comprehensive how-to-build article appeared in issues no. 36 and 37. It’s an exquisite little sailing canoe, a boat of thoroughgoing charm and modest windward ability (but gentlemen don’t cruise to windward anyways, right?). I liked this boat as soon as I saw her and have always wanted one. Plans are available from The WoodenBoat Store. I’ve gotten as far as lofting Piccolo and starting to pile up some cedar to plank her with (sorry for the grainy photo, hard to take a picture of pencil lines on lofting!):

Two little lapstrake canoes, two worthwhile projects, and eventually I’ll probably build one of each. I’m still thinking about the 16-30 sliding seat canoe, though. One of the ideas I’ve been mulling over is turning the 16-30 into a how-to-build book that also includes some of the history of canoe sailing. I’ve made a couple of false starts on this, but they’ve always come up short. I think one of the things holding me back has been the fact that, much as I love the 16-30 and the sliding seat era of canoe sailing, it was a relatively late development, and isn’t really representative of the whole 1870-1900 era when recreational canoeing first flourished.

An idea came to me in the shower a while ago (often happens there, perhaps the water hitting my head shakes loose a thought?): what about developing another historic canoe design for construction in modern materials that could be a companion to the 16-30? The aims of that project (see the 16-30 page on this blog) were to capture the decked sliding seat canoe sailing experience in a boat that could be built by one person with average tools and skills, in a garage, in a winter, using readily-available parts and materials. Could I find an original design for a cruising sailing canoe that could be adapted the same way? If I did that, then the book could feature these boats as “bookends” exemplifying the range of canoe sailing types, with some history sandwiched in between, and complete plans and building instructions for both.

On to the search for a suitable design. One of the things that made the 16-30 work was that the original boat I was inspired by was a hard-chine hull. I don’t mind turning hard-chine cedar on oak into hard-chine stitch and glue plywood, but I’m not as interested in rendering a round-bottomed hull into a multi-chine stitch and glue boat. Then I came across a design while browsing through Forest & Stream, a treasure trove of canoeing, yachting and other 19th century sporting history. Called Isalo (which is a town in Madagascar, not sure of the connection to canoeing), the boat is a hard-chined hull with a removable sliding seat and two sliding gunter rigs: a cruising outfit of 60 + 18 square feet and a racing rig of 100 + 30 square feet.

This design looks as though it has some potential, so the first step is to do a feasibility study by scaling the design up, re-drawing the lines, generating offsets and thinking about how she might be built. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time, here’s an interesting development for those interested in the history of small craft. Isalo‘s lines were originally published in The Model Yachtsman and Canoeist, a British magazine which appeared from 1884-1894. It wasn’t what you’d call a mass-circulation piece, so original copies are very hard to find. The Albert Strange Association has just announced that the whole run of 2000 pages has been digitized and made available on two CDs in a searchable pdf format for the very reasonable price of 15 pounds sterling. You can order your copy from the Association’s web site. Perfect Christmas gift for the boating historian on your list.

Best wishes of the season to you all.

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 The history of the canoe building companies that were a significant part of the economic life of Peterborough, Ontario, for more than one hundred years is as rich and tangled a story as you’re likely to find in Canadian business history. Invention, entrepreurship, patents, lawsuits, rivalries, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and catastrophic fires: it’s a tale that has all this and more. It is also a complicated story, and those who are interested in canoeing history, Canadian history, Canadian business history and the story of how the city of Peterborough, Ontario came to be synonymous around the world with the canoe will have a much easier time figuring it out after they have read Peterborough author Ken Brown’s new book: The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories.

This isn’t Brown’s first crack at the subject. In 2001, The Canadian Canoe Museum published published his book The Invention of the Board Canoe: the Peterborough stories from their sources, which compiled primary source material to explore competing claims for the origin of the Peterborough area’s unique wide-board method of canoe construction. This first book was a modest pamphlet, which did invaluable service in clarifying an important part of the local canoeing story. It wasn’t, however, a book that you would be likely to leave out on your coffee table, or give to anyone but the most hardened canoe-head as a Christmas or birthday present (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism. I’ve read and enjoyed and used it, and I’ll be forever grateful that he wrote it.) With the publication of this new volume, which has been more than fifteen years in the making, Brown has really raised the bar. Now we’re definitely in gift and coffee table territory, and several people I know will be getting one for Christmas.

Reading through this book and learning about the challenges that faced these entrepreurs as they developed their businesses, we are reminded that although the canoes they built are revered today for their craftsmanship, they were originally made in an un-romantic, hard-headed commercial environment. Brown has done an excellent job with the business history of this industry, not surprising considering that his working life was spent as a chartered accountant. This is an aspect of maritime history that is often neglected, and it is refreshing to see it treated in such detail. It also helps to bring the story out, for we see both the sucesses and the failures of these companies, both the good decisions and the bad.

The book is amply illustrated and visually sumptuous, and publisher Karen Taylor and graphic designer Louis Taylor have done a fine job bringing the story to life. The 16 pages of colour plates at the end are a real treat, as is the back inside cover, which identifies the sites of companies connected with Peterborough’s canoe industry from 1858-1961. This map is particularly valuable because few of these structures are still extant today and these industries which were such a prominent part of downtown Peterborough for so many years are now invisible.

Highly-recommended and just in time for Christmas, The Canadian Canoe Company & the early Peterborough Canoe Factories is available from Cover to Cover Publication Services and from The Canadian Canoe Museum, which also carries The Invention of the Board Canoe: The Peterborough stories from their sources.

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My last post was April 18th, 2011. There’s been a lot of water go under the bridge since then, including a couple of deaths in the family and a major car accident that kept me out of the workshop and away from the computer, but I’m pleased to report that I’m back in action.

Received a nice compliment on the blog from Rod Levene of the Historic Canoe and Kayak Association in the UK, and I’ll return the favour by suggesting that a visit to their website at http://www.hcka.org.uk/site/index.html is well worth your time. They have a wide interest in a very eclectric group of small boats. They’re also involved with the Open Canoe Sailing Group, another worthwhile organization. The OCSG is supported by Solway Dory, whose tagline is “The Home of Canoe Sailing.” Solway Dory was started by John Bull in the early 1980s, and here’s another connection.

A number of years ago, I picked up a copy of John Bull’s book Sail Your Canoe: How to Add Sails to Your Canoe (now out of print, I think, but Solway Dory may know more). On the strength of that, I ordered a set of plans for his “Little Pete” design, a double-chined stitch and glue boat with a lateen rig and a single daggerboard. I had a number of years of good sailing and paddling with this little boat:

I’ve just started another building project which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Until then. . .

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I ended the last post by introducing Charles P. Kunhardt (1848? 1849? – 1889), another of the titans of late 19th century American yachting. In a short life of 40 or 41 years, he produced a tremendous body of work, and one can only wonder at what might have been accomplished had he not perished in a shipwreck long before his time. He was born only a few years before W.P. Stephens, his fellow traveller in the world of yachting and boating.

Kunhardt was the Yachting editor of Forest & Stream from 1878 to 1884. W.P. Stephens had become the journal’s Canoeing editor in 1883, and added Yachting to his portfolio after Kunhardt’s departure. I’ve thought quite a bit about an analogous early 21st century publication that I could cite to give an idea of the influence and importance of Forest & Stream to the late 19th century sporting world, but I’ve come up short. Sports Illustrated doesn’t even come close. In its densely-packed pages, set in eye-strainingly small type, this weekly journal (and its English equivalent, The Field, covered the whole of the sporting world, from the turf, to shooting sports, to canoeing, yachting and later bicyling. It was quite simply the publication of record, and it afforded Kunhardt the perfect pulpit from which to preach.

And preach he did, for he was a yachtsman and designer of decidly strong opinions, and a polemicist of fierce and deadly skill. A proponent of wholesome and seaworthy yachts, he advocated English-style cutters over the then popular wide, shallow American centerboarders. So fiercely did he argue the virtues of the cutter type that he became the unofficial leader of the whole faction, dubbed the “Cutter Cranks” by fans of other types. A number of his letters to W.P. Stephens survive in the W.P. Stephens collection in the archives of Mystic Seaport, many written in a purplish-colored pencil. Reading them, one can imagine him writing furiously, the words pouring out onto the page, as he argued a point of design doctrine or demolished a foolish opponent or poorly-designed yacht.

In addition to vast numbers of articles and editorials, Kunhardt was a prolific designer of yachts and small boats, and a draftsman of remarkable skill. Let’s take a moment of silence and admire his work on the inboard profile of the cutter yacht Yolande.

This is beautiful drafting work, executed on glazed linen sheets with a ruling pen that had to be charged anew with ink for each line that was drawn. Work like this represents hundreds of hours of patient effort, with the whole project hanging in the balance, always on the verge of being spoilt by a single blot. There is life in this drawing, and it’s not hard at all to picture oneself snug below or preparing a hot drink in the galley, located in the 19th century fashion up in the eyes of the boat and not aft at the foot of the companionway. Yolande‘s deck plan is just as nicely delineated.

Note how fastidiously the shadowing under the deck furniture is drawn, and the care taken to show the button tufting in the settee cushions, and the harlequin pattern of the linoleum on the sole of the saloon. These drawings, and much much more of Kunhardt’s impeccable drafting and pungent prose, can be enjoyed in his book Small Yachts: Their Design and Construction Exemplified by the Ruling Types of Modern Practice.

If your pocketbook will stand it, find and buy an original copy of this remarkable book, and leave it open on the reading stand in your library to a different yacht each week. You may want to consider a loan, though, as such quality doesn’t come cheap. In 1997, a first edition sold for more than $1000 at auction in the UK. If that’s a little too rich for your blood, by all means enjoy WoodenBoat magazine’s edited and abridged paperback edition from 1985. In either case, reading Kunhardt is a bracing way to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of late 19th century yachting and pick up some of the flavor of the times.

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If W.P. Stephens had written only Canoe and Boat Building: A Manual for Amateurs, his place in boating history would be secure. He clinched his nomination for the all-time boating hall of fame, however, with Traditions and Memories of American Yachting.

Traditions and Memories

1981 edition by International Marine Publishing Company is on the right; the 1989 edition by WoodenBoat magazine is on the left.

The book began as a series of 83 articles that Stephens wrote for Motor Boating magazine between 1939 and 1946. Appropriately for a project of such biblical proportions, the first article was titled “The Genesis of American Yachting.” In a characteristically self-deprecating preface, he wrote

In offering this book to my fellow yachtsmen I feel that a few words of explanation or excuse are necessary: first, for the absence of formal style which is usually found in the recording of serious history; and secondly, for the lack of chronological order. . .The method of narration which suggested itself as the most fitting is that pursued by yachtsmen about the fire in winter and afloat or on the club porch in the season–reminiscent, discursive, argumentative, often wandering from the immediate subject.

We all have reason to be thankful that Stephens went about writing these articles in his own style, for the manner in which they are presented is thoroughly charming, and the side tracks and digressions, which are, after all, the way that history proceeds, are nothing that cannot be surmounted by the use of the very complete index.

The articles were collected and published in a book several times, with the most complete collection brought out in 1981 by International Marine Publishing Company. In 1989, WoodenBoat magazine performed a great service to yachting and boating history by bringing out a new and comprehensive edition on the 50th anniversary of Stephens’ death. All of the previous collections had been printed exactly as they originally appeared in the magazine. For the new edition, WoodenBoat re-set the articles in new type and devoted considerable effort to sourcing originals of the illustrations used in the articles, and added some 40 new images.

And what is in this wonderful book? Just about anything you could want to know about North American yachting and boating, from the sport’s beginnings in the middle of the 19th century, through the epic era of the America‘s Cup, to the great sloop vs. cutter and keel vs. centerboard debates to sandbaggers, catboats and of course, sailing canoes and canoe yawls.

The book is profusely illustrated with lines plans, sail plans, general arrangement drawings, photographs, engravings and paintings. As you page through the many drawings, you will from time to time see one of exceptional quality, such as this arrangement plan of the cutter Yolande.

Close examination of the finest examples of draughting in the book will often reveal the initials “C.P.K.” somewhere on the right-hand side of the drawing. Those stand for Charles P. Kunhardt. And who was he? Well, that’s another book. Until then. . .

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I’m going to take a break from writing about the restoration of the Old Town sailing canoe to talk about some boating books. Reading books about boats and boating (and buying books about boats and boating!!) is something I enjoy almost as much as boats themselves. Turning away from my desk to look over my bookshelves, I’ve made a quick selection of some volumes I think are worth talking about. At the top of my list are works by William Piccard Stephens.

Better known as W.P., Stephens (1854-1946) is one of the giant figures in late 19th and early to mid 20th century boating. A true polymath, Stephens participated in his chosen sports as a builder, designer, yachtsman, editor and writer. Among his most enduring contributions to yachting and boating are his written works. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of words, he performed an invaluable service by documenting the history of North American yachting and boating, working from both meticulous research and considerable first-hand knowledge and experience.

My favourite book of his, hands down, is Canoe and Boat Building, or, to give its full magnificent 19th century title: Canoe and Boat Building. A Complete Manual for Amateurs. Containing Plain and Comprehensive Directions for the Construction of Canoes, Rowing and Sailing Boats and Hunting Craft. . .With Numerous Illustrations and Fifty Plates of Working Drawings. The copy I have to hand as I write this is the 5th of many editions, published in 1891. One can find copies on the second-hand market, but they are usually shorn of their plates. These 50 large-format drawings were sold in a separate folder, printed on very thin, almost tissue-paper-like stock, and most have not survived. Mystic Seaport Museum performed a great public service in 1987 when they compiled and published a complete set of plates, at the original size, from two original editions of the book. Canoe and Boat Building has been reprinted in paperback by Dover, that indefatigable reviver of out-of-print materials. You can also read a scanned copy of the 9th edition, along with the original plates, at the website of Dragonfly Canoes.

This book could be a litmus test for whether you are the least bit interested in small boats and boatbuilding. If you think you are, I defy you to read through even the first chapter and not want to head straight for the workshop, and/or the lumberyard, to start a project right away. Canoe and Boat Building is an almost inexhaustible well to which I return regularly for advice, inspiration or simply daydreaming. An added bonus for me is that the greater part of the book is given over to the building of decked sailing canoes, of which Stephens was one of the chief American exponents. Though there are some classic examples of sneakboxes, canoe yawls, sailing skiffs and a handsome little Delaware River Tuckup, it’s pretty much all sailing canoes, all the time.

The writing is characteristic of Stephens and his late Victorian age. It is sensible, practical, energetic and straightforward, and assumes that you want to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. In 18 chapters, an appendix and descriptions of the plates, Stephens gives you all that you need to know about building a sailing canoe, from making a model through lofting, building methods, rigging, rudders and centerboards and finally canoe-cruising accessories such as tents, stoves and camp beds. While the gear you take with you (and what you pay for it!) has changed, much of Stephens’ basic advice about laying down, building and rigging is as fresh and useful as the day it was written.

Stephens was involved in recreational canoe sailing and travelling from its earliest days, and in addition to its other virtues, Canoe and Boat Building is a history of the sport written by someone who was not only there but in it up to his ears. The decked sailing canoes illustrated in the plates, from Stephens’ own Shadow-model canoe Dot through the British Invasion Nautilus and Pearl boats of Warington Baden Powell and E.B. Tredwen to Robert Gibson’s game-changing Vesper and later developments such as Pecowsic, are a hall of fame of the most significant sailing canoe designs of the late 19th century.

Canoe and Boat Building is a book well worth owning and reading repeatedly for anyone interested the history of recreational small craft in North America and also, of course, the wonderful sport of canoe sailing. In the next post I’ll talk about Stephens’ other monumental work: Traditions and Memories of American Yachting. Until then. . .

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