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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.

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.

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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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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.

townhouse basement plan

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.

nomad page 1959 pcc catalogue

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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So I says to myself, “Self, what’s the least helpful thing I could do right now, given that I have a lot of boat projects on the go? Probably it would be to bring home another boat project. OK, let’s do that.” So I did. But what a boat!

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This might be the prettiest canoe I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. What have I brought home? well, I’m pretty sure it’s a late 1890s Ontario Canoe Company decked canoe. Constructed from white cedar planking with Spanish Cedar decks, it was build in the “raised batten” technique by one of the pioneering canoe companies in the Peterborough, Ontario area. Incorporated in 1883, the OCC built a variety of cedar and basswood canoes using the techniques originally developed and patented by John Stephenson. The company flourished until May 9th, 1892 when it was completely destroyed by fire. Despite having lost everything and having no insurance, the founders decided to rebuild and on February 15th, 1893 a new factory opened at the intersection of King and Water Streets in Peterborough. This time, the sign on the building read “Peterborough Canoe Company.”

I think my new boat is a Model 200 “Ontario Canoe” as depicted in a late 1880s OCC catalogue.

occ catalogue profile view with rig

occ catalogue model 200

The dimensions and specifications match perfectly, as does the fabulous shape of the coaming, with its long, raking forward end. There are some interesting things about this boat, though, not the least of which is that it was never completely fitted out to sail. As you can see from the catalogue illustration above, it was intended to be sailed with a two-masted “Mohican”-style lug rig. The mast holes are there in the deck caps, but I can’t find the screw holes that would have been left by the deck hardware, and nor is there any sign on the keel of mast steps or mast tubes having been fastened in place. There is also no indication that a rudder was ever fitted to the sternpost. Most tellingly, there is no centreboard!

The catalogue says “Centre-boards fitted to any of these canoes at extra cost.” The OCC offered two choices for folding fan centreboards: the Brough, which used 5 overlapping plates of brass, and the much more complex Radix, whose leaves telescoped inside each other when retracted.

occ catalogue radix and brough

Along with the canoe, I was also able to acquire a #2 Radix, though I did pay slightly more than the 1880s price of $20.

radix 1

Stay tuned over the coming months as I work to bring this beautiful little canoe back to life. Should keep me out of trouble for a while.

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Once the canvas has been stretched on to the canoe hull, it needs to be filled. This fills the weave and waterproofs the exterior, making a smooth surface for the final coats of paint. To say that there’s lots of different canvas-filling options out there, and opinions to go along with them, is a bit of an understatement. Traditional oil-based fillers can be obtained from The Buckhorn Canoe Company  in Canada and Island Falls Canoe in the US, among others. The good folks at the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association have collected a whole bunch of recipes for various fillers if you’d like to try mixing your own. Mike Elliot, who writes the Canoeguy’s Blog in British Columbia, now uses a latex pipe-lagging compound, and there’s probably more possibilities still waiting to be discovered.

I’ve used traditional linseed oil and silica fillers before, but this time I thought I would try something new. Dick Persson at the Buckhorn Canoe Company has been experimenting with using epoxy as a filler for wood-canvas canoes. It’s readily available, dries fast and is durable. So, I took Clementine up to his shop one Saturday morning.

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This job was done with WEST system, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work just as well with any other epoxy product. You’ll need resin, hardener and a lightweight micro-balloon fairing compound, in this case WEST 410.

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The first coat is un-thickened resin, poured on and distributed with a squeegee. The goal is to work it into the canvas and distribute it evenly but not leave excess on the surface. One difference that Dick has found with epoxy over conventional fillers is that you shouldn’t scorch the nap off the canvas first, since this hardens the surface and prevents the epoxy from penetrating through. Remember too that this filling method is being used on a hull whose outer surface has received several coats of varnish and mould-release to prevent it sticking.

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We went from one end of the canoe to the other, pouring it on, working it in and then scraping off the excess. At the end of the first coat, we went back and hot-coated a second layer. This is a job for old clothes and old shoes, and also a good day to leave the dog at home, since the epoxy gets all over the floor around the canoe as it drips off the hull. After giving the two coats of clear resin about half an hour to dry, it was time for the fairing filler.

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The filler is added and mixed until it’s the consistency of heavy syrup [or thin yoghourt, if you prefer], and then it too is applied by squeegee. After several sticky hours, you end up with a hull that looks like this:

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