Monday, June 13, 2011

Visit with an old friend...

I had an unexpected visit with an old friend this weekend.

Here she is:

She's definitely not a beauty queen and never was - she's an un-named workboat of somewhat uncertain origin and belongs to a friend's father. This canoe is a Grand Laker canoe and was in pretty tough shape when it was handed to me about 18 years ago for some restoration work. She had quite a few broken planks and broken ribs, needed new outwales, keel and bilge keels, cane on the stern seat, old varnish removed and replaced and a new covering put on.

All of this work took place in fits and starts over a period of about three months. The owner had put some budgetary restrictions on what he was willing to put into her and wanted her to be 'glassed and not re-canvassed. Ordinarily, I might have jumped up and down, but looking at the condition of the planking and ribs, I thought that it wasn't a half-bad idea to add some structural strength to a boat that we really considered to be on her last legs. She was hogged, had about a 10° twist to the hull and the wear on the ribs from years of sandy feet was particularly egregious.

We replace broken ribs and planks, straightened and repaired what we could. When done, the varnish gleamed and the hull was straighter and fairer than it had been, but was still not perfect. The 'glass work was done with a dyed through hunter green color and a white pinstripe about 3" below the gunwales. A new Sunbrella cover was made to protect her from the sunlight and the stern seat was re-caned.

For those not familiar with these canoes, they are MASSIVE. This particular example is about 4' in the beam and 24 feet long with a 30" tall bow and a considerable transom - it is 1-1/2" thick Mahogany. The were built for the guides around Grand Lake Stream in Maine to take their "sports" out hunting, fishing and camping and needed the capacity to carry men and gear in and men gear and game out of the woods on some very large lakes. This one gets used for bass fishing duty and to get gear back and forth to the cabin.

Since I restored her, she's had a tough life. First, she's hauled on a sailboat trailer for about 450 miles (Each way!) to get to the camp near Grand Lake Stream where the owner goes to fish and relax. The canoe doesn't get stored at the camp, it is hauled back and forth every time they go up there. The particular lake this man has his camp on has a plethora of rocks - and the scratches on the boat show it. This man fishes for bass standing on the rear seat. The cane had gone through and was replaced with wooden slats - probably a good idea... She's hauled on the beach every night with her load of fuel, gear and engine (one of them below) hanging on the stern. When I spent time at WoodenBoat talking with Pop Moore's Son in Law, Bill Shamel - both men builders of this type of canoe, Bill said that they typically put 5-7 horsepower motors on these canoes. The 15 horsepower motor is way to much weight and force for the hull and stresses it badly.

I will put it to you this way - I had one ride in the canoe after I restored it. I had to kneel wa-a-a-a-a-y-y-y-y- up in the bow. Why? I had to provide some weight to keep the bow down as the helmsman opened up the throttle. Even still, the bow was barely on the water for most of the trip. It was an, um, exhilarating ride. I must say, I prefer paddles over motors any day of the week.

The hull has been painted over in the same hunter green color that it was when I refurbished the boat, but the person who sprayed the hull painted right over the pin-stripe tape - didn't even bother to remove it. I don't think it has seen a lick of varnish in 18 years.

At any rate, the reason for my visit was pretty straightforward - she was leaking at the stern. A quick-and-dirty fix was required as they're leaving for the camp this week. A quick inspection found that repeated groundings had caused the keel to push up into the 'glass and planking at the stern to delaminate. Someone had tried to stop the leak by caulking with silicone caulk around the inside of the transom - a solution sure to trap water between transom and hull that will lead to rot. We removed the damaged area - a small one - probably a total of about 4 square inches , checked for soft wood and applied some epoxy filler and a new patch of fiberglass over the damaged area. It'll need some more work when they come back from Maine to finish filling the cloth, feathering it in and re-painting but it shouldn't leak any more.

I'm still trying to convince the owner to go visit Bill and to order a new boat, but I don't think he'd seriously consider it and I think he'd be h-e-double-toothpicks on a canvas bottomed boat based on what I've seen.

Anyway, I guess the old girl still has a bit of life in her yet.

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