Canoe Launch Day

What’s beautiful, and blue, weighs about 80 pounds, and actually floats?  You bet!  Launch day finally arrived after many months of hard, but satisfying, work.  And yes, the canoe, much to my surprise, does weigh around 80 pounds.  I had asked Roger why so heavy, as the canoe seemed pretty delicate given the size of the ribs.  Apart from the rather large decks, Roger reminded me of just how thirsty the wood had been, sucking up all that varnish.

My sister and I arrived at her cottage late Friday night, so I wasn’t too keen to do a midnight maiden (or rather re-maiden) voyage.  I woke up Saturday morning to a great day.  Not too hot, but a beautiful sunny day with very little wind on the lake.  I thanked God for His goodness.

moving canoe to the waterAfter taking the car closer to the dock, it was time to get the canoe ready.  Taking it off the car definitely needed two people so, aided by my sister, we wrestled it off the top and gently placed it on the dock.  After attaching a rope to the bow deck, and getting the life jackets and paddles ready, it was time to launch.  Now came the challenge.

2 ready to goNot wanting to stress my sister too much, I worked out a game plan for how to single-handedly get the canoe off the dock and into the water without ripping the canvas open.  Taking a really deep breath, I picked up the canoe amidships and gently lowered it into the water.

3 dock launch4 and into the waterAnd that was all that was needed.  She was afloat and looked quite at home gently bobbing in the water.  It almost brought tears of joy to my eyes, especially seeing that there were absolutely no water leaks to be seen.

Now was time for her maiden voyage.  Putting on a life jacket, just to be sure, I carefully stepped into the canoe and sat myself down.  She was a little tippy, but that was not unexpected given the canoe is fairly narrow.  Grinning ear to ear I pushed away from the dock and grabbed my paddle.

5 Ed and his blue canoeIt was a short voyage, but enough to get an idea of how the canoe managed.  I was really impressed at how easily she handled and cut through the water, especially for a heavier canoe.  It was also enough for my sister to get some great pics of the first voyage.  I was really happy!

For the next voyage, my sister and I took a long and leisurely trip around the island in the middle of the lake and then down through the bulrushes by the shore.  As the canoe’s draft is really shallow, it was easy getting close to shore to enjoy the wildlife — careful, of course, not to ding the hull on rocks or submerged tree trunks.  Later, when the wind picked up, I was impressed at how the keel kept the canoe from drifting too much.  The canoe was also very fast when we got it going, perhaps a positive side effect of the heavier weight.

6 canoeing with sisNeedless to say, I am a very happy man.  It was indeed worth all of the time, energy, and  even the money.  She is an amazingly beautiful blue water wagon indeed.

7 worth all the hard workStay tuned for future posts, as I plan to do some reflections on this amazing project.

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 16

Day 16 arrived, and I was really looking forward to finally finishing this project that I started late July.  This was the final work day, and Roger had scheduled about 2 hours to finish.  The canoe was dutifully waiting inside the workshop.

Final assembly was the name of the game today, so the first job was to attach the keel and brass stem plates.  Shortly into my first task, I really had to ask myself why I was drilling holes right through the bottom of a perfectly waterproof canoe.

1 drill a hole

1 add a screwI knew the answer, of course, but it still didn’t feel right.  Oh well, at least the canoe doctor was there.  After numerous holes were drilled, the canoe was flipped and the position of the keel carefully marked on the bottom of the canoe.  With Roger working underneath, while I carefully positioned the keel it was screwed into place.  Next, the brass stem strips were bent to fit, and also screwed in place after pre-drilling the holes.  I chose to have the brass strips minimally showing on the decks, as I really want to highlight the beautiful finish of the mahogany.  When all was screwed in place, and looking great, what did we do then?  Take it all apart of course.  This was necessary, I assure you, since (as you remember) some crazy person (that would be me) had drilled holes which created a now non-waterproof canoe.  But not to worry, there is a method to this madness.  What we did now was to make small putty ‘doughnuts’ and place them over every hole that now existed in the bottom of the canoe.

3 waterproof holesThen the keel and brass stems were re-attached.  As Roger explained, it wasn’t necessary to waterproof the entire keel against the hull… just the holes.  How very logical.  I must confess, however, that I made one slight mistake along the way.  In the final stage of attaching a brass stem plate to the keel, Roger had said to use a 1/2″ screw.  For whatever reason I though he said to use a 1″ screw.  As I was merrily tightening it in place, I realized I had now just cleared the keel and was putting another (unplanned) hole in the canvas, with no putty doughnut in place.  I continue to be impressed with Roger.  Rather than even look disappointed, which would have been the least I would have done, Roger merely shrugged his shoulders and came up with a solution.  As he pushed a putty ‘worm’ into the hole, he explained that when the screw goes into place it will push the putty into the hole below it and seal any area that might allow water to penetrate.  Again… logical, effective and without judgement on my poor listening skills.

4 add keele (the reason for the holesAfter the keel and plates were secured, and the excess putty removed, the canoe was flipped right side up for the final installs.  Using a large body clamp I placed the thwarts and seats into position.  For the thwarts, I decided to use the small brass plates that had originally been secured them to the outside hull.  Since we had added the inner gunwales, we had already decided the thwarts would be more stable secured to them.  So I used the brass plates on the top of the gunwales, securing the thwarts with two screws in each location.

5. the last screwThe plates add a great finished look to the canoe.  The final act was to secure the seats to their holders with screws, again adding more stability to the canoe.  And that was it.  After about three hours of day 16 work, my canoe was now totally completed.

6. FINISHEDAfter securing the canoe to the top of my sister’s SUV, it was time to say my sad goodbyes to Roger and Chaucer.  This has been an amazing experience.  I not only took away an incredibly beautiful canoe, but also lots of new skills.  I also took away an appreciation for just how much work, time, and care go into giving a canoe a second life.  Stayed tuned for Launch Day, coming up soon!

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 15

Day 15th arrived faster than I thought, and consisted of about 2 hours of work only.  Arriving late afternoon, my canoe was already waiting under the canopy, as it looked like rain was on the horizon.  Today’s work?  Yet another, but thankfully the last, coat of varnish  for the gunwales, decks, seats and thwarts.  (I know the pictures look pretty much the same as the last two days, but I assure you that progress is being made.)

deck pre final varnishdeck post final varnish

This time I took it really easy on the sanding, particularly of the decks.  The last time I sanded too aggressively and ended up taking off too much varnish.  After sanding came the regular blowing (and brushing) off the dust followed by tack clothing.  Then the final full strength application of varnish.  As opposed to day 14, when several things went wrong, I was careful to take my time and even did the seats and thwarts inside to avoid dropping anything in the grass.  Thankfully the wasps were not numerous today, so I didn’t get varnish any place other than on the canoe.  I made sure the final coat was fully applied and fairly thick going on, but even when finished the decks were still sucking in the varnish… talk about thirsty.  Roger said he would check them in a day, or so, and apply another coat if needed.

Ed varnishes gunwales

I then scheduled my final visit, again in another week’s time, as this project is quickly coming to an end.  Roger said the last day will be about 2 hours of work.  What is left is the installation of the external keel, and the securing of the thwarts and seats into the canoe.  Yippee!! Looks like it may be in the water before Thanksgiving after all.

end of day dryingThe last thing of the day was for Roger to run a tally of his time and materials, to arrive at the final bill.  Wow!! This canoe project has indeed been a big job, as evidenced by the tally.  I am very thankful that Roger, recognizing this as a challenging and difficult job, gave me a good discount.  On behalf of myself, and my bank account, I thanked him profusely.  I’m already looking forward to a great day 16, when the canoe will indeed be finished. That old camping canoe song ‘Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver…’ has already been repeating in my head. Where’s the closest lake from here?

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 14

Day 14 arrives… now I really have spent 2 entire weeks on this project, and it is almost finished.  But today was an odd, and not so much a fun day.  Today felt more like day 13 should have, that’s if I really believed that number 13 means bad luck.

Before I got to Roger’s place I wondered if my canoe originally had external wood stems as well as the keel.  So day 14 started with a difficult conversation.  Roger said the canoe originally had external stems, evidenced by a visit to the junk bin of spare pieces I had brought on day 1.  The pieces he showed me were badly broken so it was difficult, to nearly impossible, to see what they had originally looked like.  Since I still don’t know who the original builder was, and therefore don’t have any drawings, I was doubly in the dark.

broken piecesRoger explained that external stems did nothing functional, so builders haven’t added them for a long time.  Sensed my disappointment he offered to make some if I really wanted them… stressing, however, the time (and therefore extra cost) for no real functionality.  He also reminded me that, although we had used as much of the original parts as we could, the canoe was already not historically rebuilt.  The added inner gunwale, along with the epoxy filled holes would drive historical canoe fanatics crazy.  I did, after all, want to actually use the canoe rather than mount it on my living room wall.  So I spent the next quarter-hour thinking about my options, while I sanded the parts before the next varnish.  By then, although still conflicted, I decided to forgo the external stems.  After all, I first need to find the original builder and plans before even trying to fabricate what they looked like.  I can always add them in a later year.

sand the deckSince it was a sunny day I did the second, and full strength, varnish outside.  This helped showing the results of my work, and any missed sections. Soon after I started, however, I kept getting bothered by mosquitos and a lot of wasps that seemed to like the varnish smell.  Before I finished I had successfully managed to spill the varnish on my hand while escaping from a pesky wasp, as well as varnishing the hair on the back of my head trying to swat one away.  (I told you it was not a fun day).  To round off my day, one of my freshly varnished thwarts fell in the grass resulting in me trying to pick grass and dirt out of the varnish.  Not much fun.

second varnish on the deckStill, the finished product did look great, particularly the mahogany decks that had dried lighter overnight and were again thirsty today.  Only one more varnish coat to go, but that will have to wait another week.  Taking some final pics of my beautiful canoe I prepared to depart.

grain of varnished deckBefore I left, another canoe came in for repairs.  This one looked like it had just come from the set of a horror film.  Along with badly rotted gunwales, the red hull looked like it actually had veins.  It was wrinkled, discoloured, and bulging in many places.  I did a second check to make sure the owner wasn’t Vincent Price, Freddy Krueger, or possibly Herman Munster.  (I told you it was an odd day)  A challenging job for Roger, but I’m sure something he’s seen before, but I’m sure I haven’t.  Day 15 coming in a week.

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 13

Well, I made it through my withdrawal.  Day 13 arrived, appropriately on Friday, September the 13th.  How lucky can that be?  I, for one, felt very lucky having returned again to my canoe project.

The canoe was already inside, awaiting the first coat of varnish for the gunwales and decks.  My first job, however, was to stain the external keel that Roger had already cut to fit.  I didn’t really have to stain the keel, as Roger noted that it wouldn’t be seen under the water, but it would have bothered me whenever I took the canoe out and particularly when I turned it upside down to store.  The canoe was already odd enough without making it more so.  So I stained it mahogany to match the gunwales since it was also made of white ash.  Roger took the time to explain how he cuts and installs gunwales, and why.  The surface that fits against the canoe is beveled, on purpose, to ensure the outer edges kept in contact with the canoe.  This prevents the keel from moving too much when bumped.  In addition, Roger is only concerned with waterproofing the holes where the screws are, as this is the only place where water can get inside from the bottom, rather than try to putty the entire keel to the bottom.  Wonderfully logical to me, again making me thankful I’m working with a pro.

external keeleThen it was time to varnish.  Using a varnish/varsol mix I applied it using a sponge applicator.  Carefully… as I didn’t want any runs and drips either outside or inside the canoe.  The mix was particularly important, as the mahogany decks were extremely dry and sucked the stuff up quickly.  I was glad I hadn’t stained the decks as the mahogany went really dark, even more so than the gunwales that I had stained.  The deck wood, when finished, was beautiful.

varnish mahog deckdeck varnish finished

I also hadn’t stained the black cherry facings on the decks, so they came out much lighter.  (On day 3 I had said these facings were rosewood.  They were not.)  It won’t take too long, however, for the cherry to darken to approximately the same colour as the gunwales.  To finish the day I also varnished the thwarts and seats.  It was only afterwards that I discovered that I should not have varnished the underside of the newly caned areas.  Roger said these should be left to breath, but added that one coat of the varnish/varsol should be ok.

varnished seats thwartsFor me, day 13 work was ended after only a few hours as the varnish had to dry.  I did take some time to chat with Bill who just brought his Old Town canoe from Michigan to repair with Roger.  I told Bill he had come to the right place.  Bill’s canoe was about 75 years old, and had been purchased by his father, so Bill was keen to get it back in shape.  I was really impressed by how solid and well-built the Old Town canoe was especially when Bill told me he had canoed down rapids with it.  I don’t think my canoe could handle rapids.  I think she was built for a much easier lifestyle, and that’s just fine with me.

end of dayAs Roger predicted, he was starting to get busier as the fall set in.  For my job, I have about 3 visits left to go.  Day 14 follows tomorrow.

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 12

Two days in a row was a real bonus for me as, returning to my paying job, it was now difficult scheduling the rest of the work.  I was happy to be back in some sort of routine, and very happy to arrive at Roger’s retreat centre to continue where I left off yesterday.

Roger had put the canoe in the driveway, where there was more light for me to finish the major sanding job that was interrupted by the power failure yesterday.  Driving up to the house and seeing the canoe warmed my heart.  It looked almost ready to taste the water once again, after years of being land-locked.

start of dayLast night Roger had filled all the remaining holes with epoxy, particularly where the decks met the gunwales.

ready for sandingAs a result, my sanding job had significantly increased overnight.  But  I was happy to undertake the task.  I took my time, as I wanted to ensure the decks and gunwales were completely smooth and blended together.  I also decided to sand out the remnants of the old decal, as it looked like a dirty blob instead of a real decal.  Since the rest of the canoe gleamed, it now looked totally out-of-place.  I already had enough pictures to (hopefully) help in locating the manufacturer, so it didn’t worry me to see it vanish under the sander.  After the mahogany decks were sanded, they looked so good that I decided to keep them natural, with only varnish as the finish.  This will (I hope) pleasantly offset the darker interior and gunwales.  After a final hand sanding ,and blowing away of the dust, I was ready to stain so we took the canoe back inside.

ready to stain gunwalesThe staining took longer than I expected.  I found the best way was to use a rag dipped into the stain and ‘brush’ it on using a one-finger method, as I had to be really careful to leave the decks untouched.  We chose the mahogany stain in order to bring the gunwales as close to the colour of the interior as possible.  All the counter-sunk holes in the outer gunwales had to be stained using q-tips along with several unstained places that I found between the gunwales.  Not staining those would have really bothered me every time I used the canoe.  When finished I was very pleased with the result.  The canoe would now have to totally dry before the next step, varnishing.  A job for my next working day.

stained gunwales not stained deckdrying

My final job of day 12 was to complete the caning of the seats.  Once I finished the diagonal caning on both seats, the final finish trim had to be done.  After Roger showed me how to do it, I finally completed the job.  Another time-consuming task was done.

recaned seatsThen came the painful part.  Due to Roger’s and my schedule I was now facing a two-week delay before I could return for day 13.  Oh no!! How was I going to survive?  We are so close to completing.  (Maybe it really will be Christmas before I finish.  OK, maybe not — but perhaps Thanksgiving?)  This time my CRWS (yes, that dreaded Canoe Restoration Withdrawal Syndrome) will definitely kick in again.  Is there therapy for this thing??

After a sad goodbye to the beautiful blue canoe (and Chaucer) I drove home.  At least I have tons of pictures to keep me going.  Till next time…

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Heritage Canoe Project: Day 11

Back again, I arrived anxious to see the canoe after Roger and Doug’s final painting earlier in the week.  The lads did an amazing job.  It was indeed gleaming, and really smooth.  I realized that, although it felt like I’ve been doing this project for ages, it really is only day 11 and thus less than 2 actual weeks of work.  Not very long after all, considering how close we are to completion.

shiny blue canoeToday was outer gunwale installation day.  Over a week ago Roger had cut the gunwales, routed them to fit snugly over the canvas, and clamped them onto custom-made jigs to mirror the severe bend they have to take. This is because the bow and stern have a huge upswing to them, not common for most canoes.

outer gunwhaleWe un-clamped the gunwales so I could sand, stain, and preserve them on the bottom and inside edges before they went on the canoe.  This took a lot of time, as the gunwales had to dry between applications.  Not to waste good working time, I was able to do more caning of the seats during the drying time.

attatch outer gunwhaleBy early afternoon, the gunwales were ready.  After clamping the first one to the canoe, installation began.  After pre-drilling and counter sinking holes every 3 ribs, brass screws were used to attached the outer and inner gunwales together, sandwiching the deck and ribs between them.  The challenge came when we got to the upswept bow and stern, where the large decks were located.  My job was to use brute strength to force and hold the gunwale in place while Roger prepared the holes and screwed it in.

hard work on outer gunwhaleNot being able to see what the screws were attaching to, they often ended up in soft wood which required different screws and longer lengths to ensure attachment.  The second gunwale was then similarly attached.  Thankfully, by the time we finished, all seemed to be holding together.

Once the clamps were removed we took the canoe outside for a major power sanding job, done by yours truly.  Since the exposed outer and inner gunwales were not yet finished, a lot of sanding was required to remove all stain and particularly preserver where it had dripped.  In addition, the leading edges of all 4 gunwales needed rounding and the outer gunwales had to be sanded down to match the level of the decks at the bow and stern.  As I said, a major sanding job.

sand gunwhalesJust as my hands began to feel numb, however, the power in Roger’s house went out.  Good timing, perhaps, as I did have to drive home soon and feeling the steering wheel does help.  So that was all I could do today, but I had still put in about 8 hours.

looks like a real canoe

I felt this was a really great day, particularly as the canoe is visibly taking great shape.  Tomorrow I will return to take on day 12.

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