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Archive for the ‘Boats’ Category

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.

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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(!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you’ll probably have seen photos of the shop I built in the basement of our house in Peterborough, Ontario. It’s been a great place to work, with just enough space for the kind of small boats I like to build and restore.

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On their way in or out, the boats leave through the window (though I did once bring a 17′ canoe down in the front door, through the living room and down the stairs just to prove that it could be done). Here’s the planked-up Fiddlehead on her way out to be finished at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

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If you’ve noticed that the blog has gone kind of quiet lately it’s because of some major life changes that have taken place over the last few months. I had just gotten the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe set up in the shop and was starting to think about restoration when a new writing project came my way in the form of a commission from WoodenBoat, who wanted a feature article on Harold and Lorna Wilson and their Miss Canada racing powerboats for early in the new year. I was already working on the research for a new exhibit for the Canadian Canoe Museum on the subject of canoes and romance, about which I had been collecting ephemera for some time, and I was also going to write a museum Gallery Guide to accompany it. With those projects in hand, and the restoration pending, I was feeling comfortably well-supplied with things to do.

Then, I decided it was time to take a big step. After more than five years as the General Manager of the Canadian Canoe Museum, I was thinking that it was time to get back to the kind of work that got me into the museum business (research, writing, designing and building exhibits, working with artifacts) instead of the kind of work that General Managers do (board meetings, budgets, marketing, staffing and volunteers). When an opportunity presented itself at a museum just west of Toronto, I seized it, and in January of 2014 I started a new job as the Curator of the Halton Region Museum.

So far, so good, and everybody is happy now, except that we’re into the “M” word: “MOVING.” I’ve always believed that “good move” is an oxymoron most of the time, but that hasn’t stopped us from making a few of them. As we looked at new houses, I was hoping to finding something like our place in Peterborough, with an unfinished basement and a decent-sized window. Late in December, we closed on a beautiful new townhouse with just that. So, here’s a pre-project photo of the space where the new shop will go.

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Most of what I’ve done since New Year’s is just think about this, as opposed to cutting lumber, since the article and the gallery guide took precedence. However, the article’s now done, the gallery guide is at the printer’s, the exhibit opens at the end of April and it’s time to think about the new shop. Here’s the plan so far. Please forgive the rather ugly canoe shape–it’s not pretty, but at least it’s the right length and width. As you can see, I’m aiming for tight but functional, since the basement also has to accommodate my office and a laundry room/storage area.

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First step is to get the sub-floor down, and I’m just about to start that. The Ontario Canoe Company canoe is still first in line for restoration, but there’s a workshop to build first!

 

 

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Over the years, I’ve written a lot of book reviews for publications such as The International Journal of Maritime History, The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord and WoodenBoat magazine. Lately, I’ve also been reviewing boats. This is, if anything, more fun than reviewing books about boats, though unfortunately you don’t get to keep the boat at the end of the review(!).

Last year, I reviewed a Sea Flea outboard hydroplane. This year, it was the Mirror Dinghy and a Peterborough Canoe Company “Nomad” longitudinal strip outboard runabout.

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If you’ve spent any time at all in sailing clubs in North America or Europe, chances are you’ve seen at least a few of the many dinghies drawn by the English designer and boatbuilder Jack Holt (1912–1995), who drew more than 40 boats during his long career. He was noted for his early adoption of marine plywood with a particular focus on dinghies that could be home-built by amateurs. Two of his more distinctive designs are the Enterprise (1956), with its baby blue sails, and the Mirror (1962), with its red sailcloth. Interestingly, the Enterprise (The News Chronicle) and the Mirror (The Daily Mirror) are, along with the DN Iceboat (The Detroit News), three small craft designs sponsored by newspapers that have gone on to great success.

According to the international class association, more than 70,000 of these small dinghies have been built worldwide, and the Mirror is now an international one-design class overseen by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). Mirror hull #1, EILEEN, was constructed in 1963 and is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, England. Originally gunter-rigged, the class now also permits a Bermudan mainsail. The Mirror was an early design to employ stitch-and-glue construction. Home-built boats still use this method, but some professionally built hulls are also available in foam-sandwich fiberglass in the United Kingdom. The first generation of spars was all wood, but masts are now commonly aluminum.

The dinghy measures 10’11” LOA x 4’7” beam, with a board-down draft of 28”. Sail area is 49 sq ft in the main, 20 sq ft in the jib, and the spinnaker adds an additional 47 sq ft. The racing crew is two, but the boat can easily accommodate three adults or an adult and several children for daysailing. Plans for this strict one-design are not commercially available, and Mirrors are sold only as complete kits, hull kits, bare hulls, or sail-away boats.Mirror dinghies can often be found on the used-boat market in central and eastern Canada, particularly through the website of the Ontario Mirror Dinghy Association at www.mirrorsailing.ca.

Mirror dinghy kits are available in North America from Mirror Sailing Development, 34 Lee Ave., Bradford, ON, l3Z 1A9, Canada, 905–775–4771, lbellamy@ca.inter.net. General information about the class is available from the International Mirror Class Association www.mirrorsailing.org and www.dinghyalmanac.com/mirror, where you will find links to national associations in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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The Nomad was from the upper end of the Peterborough Canoe Company’s outboard offerings. Owners could have the boat as an open outboard or add steering, windshield and deck hardware to turn the Nomad into the double-cockpit runabout shown here. The sail-away price in 1959 was $730.00.

Over the years, Ken Lavalette and his crew at Woodwind Yachts in Nestleton, Ontario, have restored more than 50 cedar-strip boats. Well-loved and well-used, they often come into his shop more than a little worse for wear and leave looking a whole lot better. As he worked on these boats over the years, it occurred to Ken that often the number of hours required to restore them wasn’t far off what it would take to build one from scratch. At 15’ LOA and 5’ beam, the Nomad was big enough to carry some people and some gear, but small enough to be easily trailered and stored. Was there a market for a new traditionally-built cedar-strip runabout?

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There was only one way to find out, so he measured an original 1957-58 Nomad and built the robust, nearly-solid mould required for this method of construction. He left the hull shape unchanged from the original, but increased the scantlings of the stem, keel, ribs, transom, planking and deck slightly based on what he had learned from his many restorations of this type. Underway, the boat feels solid and reliable. 25 mph is not at all fast by today’s standards, but it’s a speed that will get you where you want to go and still let you have a pleasant conversation on the way. It might also save enough on gas, even with an older two-stroke, to let you pay for dinner when you get there.

With simple lines and an elegant all-bright finish, the boat is a head-turner both on the water and on the road. New Peterborough Nomads built in the traditional longitudinal cedar strip technique and equipped with re-built 1950s outboards are available from Woodwind Yachts. Used cedar-strip boats in a variety of sizes and configurations can often be found for sale in classified ads and at antique and classic boat shows and auctions.

Both reviews appear in WoodenBoat Magazine’s 2014 Small Boatswhich is on newsstands now.

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In response to a post at the end of July about re-canvassing the 1937 Old Town, reader David Little posted an interesting comment in response to my use of epoxy as a canvas filler:

I understand the need to make things last longer…although it seems the previous traditional filler and paint lasted pretty long considering it was put on over 70 years ago….i do not subscribe however to taking the tradition out of traditional…i would not have gone to modern methods as a filler…the synthetic somehow doesn’t sit well with my view of tradition…just my thoughts.

His thoughts prompted some thoughts of my own, beginning with the words of a true expert on the subject.

Fiddler_on_the_roofAs the film opens, Tevye says:  “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” (boat builders and restorers might take some ironic pleasure in the other song the film made famous: “If I was a Rich Man. . .”) But what is tradition, and by association, what is traditional?

At a fairly fine and granular level, tradition means simply keeping things exactly like they were. In the context of boatbuilding, this might mean that a steam-bent rib of white oak should always and only be made from white oak. At a mechanical level, traditions can be founded on properties. The oak rib, for instance, is such because oak happens to be an excellent material from which to bend ribs. But, it isn’t the only one, so one also sees small boats with ribs made of ash, elm and cedar, among other woods, because they share the same mechanical properties. Substituting one of these woods for another might therefore be “un-traditional,” but it may not necessarily change the fundamental character of the boat, because the steam-bent rib is still doing what has always done.

However, if you were to make a change in the structure of that rib, you’re dealing with tradition in a different way. Let’s say that your steam-bent oak rib becomes a laminated epoxy oak rib. Now you’ve introduced a significant change and, I would suggest, broken from tradition, because the rigidity and strength of the epoxy change the properties of the rib. The outward similarity–someone looking at the boat would still see a thin bent rib–masks a significant change. In the same way, a glued-lapstrake plywood boat is still lapstrake, and therefore nominally traditional, but whatever the outward similarity, it is a fundamentally different structure with different mechanical properties whose component parts have a different working relationship than in a traditional lapstrake boat.

To me, one test to apply would be the Arts & Craft movement’s maxim “Truth to Materials.” If the component parts of a boat still bear the same mechanical relationship to each other as they did in the original, then, possibly with minor variations, the boat might be said to be traditional. That is, a lapstrake dinghy built with clench nails and rivets and steam-bent frames in North America is traditional with respect to the same dinghy built in the UK, notwithstanding that when the builder moved across the pond he found out that he couldn’t get the larch stock he was used to for planking so he substituted oak.

Thus, with all due respect to American Traders, who build this canoe, this is not traditional:

Trapper14What started life as a wood/canvas canoe, where a non-water tight wooden shell supported a layer of waterproofed canvas stretched tightly around it, is now a different kind of watercraft, where resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth not only keeps the wood water tight but is also mechanically and chemically bonded to it. Before the mail starts coming in, I’m not saying it’s not a good canoe, just that for all of its outward similarities to wood/canvas canoes it is a fundamentally different structure.

This, by comparison, is traditional, at least to my way of thinking:

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Yes, the canvas has been filled with epoxy, and not a mixture of silica, linseed oil and white lead. However, 1) it’s still cotton canvas; 2) it’s still not fastened to the hull except by tacks at the ends and gunwales; and 3) it still comes off in a couple of big pieces when it’s time to re-canvas.

Interesting topic to ponder. What do you think?

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On January 20th, 1937, my 17′ Old Town HW-model canoe was canvassed at the factory in Old Town, ME. On April 28th, 2013, I decided that at 76 years and 14 weeks I had probably gotten my money’s worth out of that first canvas skin (which I hadn’t paid for anyways!), and so it was time to re-canvas. A couple of years ago, I wrote about finding the canoe and making the decision to try and revive the original canvas instead of replacing it. Turns out to have been a good strategy, and it gave me many miles of paddling and sailing. It also helped me name my new canoe. The salvage job on the original canvas had left the canoe with a rather, shall we say, “textured” look, and this, combined with the Princeton Orange colour led inevitably to the name Clementine.

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The first step was to get the hardware, outwales, keel and old canvas off. The spruce outwales were held on with the original slot-head brass screws, and they were pretty well secured in their countersunk holes by years of varnish buildup. I’m always reluctant to use a slot bit with an electric driver because it’s so easy to have the bit walk out of the slot if it’s at all out of alignment, so I turned to a tried and trusted method for removing the outwale screws.

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With a simple socket attachment that takes standard 1/4″ hex shank bits, your brace and bit can be converted into a high-torque, low-speed screwdriver that’s very useful in situations where you have to proceed carefully but also apply considerable force. You do own a brace and bit, don’t you? The attachment is available from Lee Valley tools, among other retailers, for under $12.00. There’s also one for sockets which is very useful for freeing stuck nuts and bolts. I never cease to wonderat how surprised people can be to see simple, non-powered tools in use. A typical comment in this case was “don’t remember the last time I saw someone using one of those.”

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After the outwales were off, I removed the rest of the hardware, including the bolts that held the external keel on and the stembands. The stembands are the original bronze and I’m hoping to re-use them, so they were labelled and stored.

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Then, it was time to peel the canvas. I was pleased to find that the planking was in excellent shape and that there were no hidden pockets of rot. Traditional canvas filler can take more than a month to dry after it is applied. Because I was foolish enough to embark on a re-canvassing project at the beginning of the boating season and not the end, I was hoping to find a quicker alternative. My friend Dick Persson, proprietor of the Buckhorn Canoe Company, has been using an epoxy-based filler that dries in days, and not weeks or months, so I decided to use that. Epoxy is know for being rather sticky, so I needed to take an additional step before putting the new canvas on.

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I sanded the exterior of the hull with 80-grit to take out the re-saw marks and then built up three coats of varnish, topped with a healthy spray of silicone mould-release. In the event that any of the epoxy penetrated all the way through the canvas, this would prevent the canvas from becoming glued to the hull. I may not be around for the next re-canvassing, particularly if it’s another 76 years away, but it’s always good to plan ahead.

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To be continued.

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