Monday, April 4, 2011

Henry 'Mac' McCarthy : Over the Bar

This is not the post I was planning to write tonight. Unfortunately the boat world has lost another pillar. In fact, this is a post I was hoping not to write for quite some time. Mac McCarthy has passed away at the age 0f 83. (That's Mac on the left in one of his creations.) As you can tell if you are a regular reader of my blog, I teach people to build Mac's designs - the Wee Lassie and Wee Lassie II found in his wonderful book, "Featherweight Boatbuilding". We've not tried his Big Mac yet, but I can see it being added to our repertoire one of these days.

All of these canoes are under 14 feet long - he was truly a big man in little boats. Little did I realize that his work and some of his perspective would become such a big influence on the way I think and work.

While my father and I had done some cedar and canvas repair and built a Ted Moores Redbird together, my first solo scratch build was one of Mac's Wee Lassies. Little did I know at the time where this would take me. I was asked to teach a class on the subject at a local school where I teach adults to build these little canoes. One of the first things I did was to drop him an email and ask if he'd be kind enough to offer me some suggestions on how to structure the class. To my great surprise, a very clear and thorough reply was waiting for me that day. He definitely didn't mess about.

When one of my students wanted to "stretch" a Wee Lassie, he had the advice I needed to make it work. When I was finally fortunate enough to get an invitation to teach the class that Mac taught at WoodenBoat, he had some good advice to help get me going in a teaching environment that was very different to the one I was used to. They were very big shoes to try to fill, and I hope that in his eyes, I did his work some justice there.

When at the school, I got some insights into Mac's personality from school director Rich Hillsinger that I didn't fully understand from the limited exchanges of email and phone calls I'd had with Mac. I knew that Mac had been in construction before starting to build canoes. What I didn't know was that he'd brought his work ethic from the construction business to canoe building - and the teaching of canoe building. Apparently in Mac's class, students not only built and trimmed out the canoes with hand-caned seats, many of them also built the paddle as well - in a two week class! That's a pretty aggressive schedule!

Mac also was involved with the WCHA and not only loved to build canoes and teach canoe building, but he truly loved to paddle them as well - particularly on quiet backwaters.

Sadly, Mac suffered from declining health in the past few years and had to give up his shop and go into a managed care facility. Even though he was unable to continue building the canoes he loved, he was able to give interviews and build model boats to occupy his busy mind.

I certainly think it would be fitting to hope that Mac is out there paddling on one of the crystal clear streams that he enjoyed near his Florida home.

Fair winds.


Cat said...

I'm very sorry to hear it.

The Wee Lassie II I built is a great little canoe. _Featherweight Boatbuilding_ is not quite as thorough on technique as some of the other boatbuilding books, but it was very inspirational.

Canoez said...

No, as far as the book itself goes, I think books by Ted Moores, Nick Schade, and Susan Van Leuven are better as far as technique goes. Mac's real strongpoints were his designs, and his drive. He was a force of nature in the shop and was a hard worker.

His designs seem very approachable to new builders, but longer boats are a bit easier to build, all things considered.

Still, I am grateful for his guidance and hope to continue with his work and designs.