Sunday 23 September 2012

My Favourite Boats - to be continued...

Its been said that the best boats are the ones that get used the most, and while thats pretty accurate, there will always be those that get used rarely or not at all that will occupy the top of ones' list.
My favourite Chestnut canoe i am fortunate to own, a closed gunwale model from the earliest days of production before a fire wiped out the first factory in 1920. These boats were very close copies of BN Morris canoes from Maine, with lots of tumblehome, high sheers, and single or closed gunwale construction. After the fire when Chestnut was rebuilt, the old boats and their shapes were gone forever, as many more models were introduced and the old namesakes redesigned so they no longer resembled the original boats.
Below are some photos of some early boats, including what is belived to be a Moonlight model with a lady leaning over the gunwale, later used on an early catalogue.

My own boat is next, carefully and accurately restored by Dick Persson of Buckhorn Canoe Company, back during a time when I lacked the time to complete it myself. A masterful restoration, the boat was a derelict and can be seen on my website, in its as-found state. Nevertheless, it retains certain characteristics peculiar to Chestnuts of this period.

Finally, some great period shots of cottagers using a similar boat, and demonstrating that we've continued to grow larger and taller with each successive generation. Not likely that 5 adults could get in and have as much freeboard these days!

Found this nicely restored closed gunwale Chestnut for sale, would add it next to my own in a heartbeat if it wasnt 3 provinces over. With gas prices these days, it would be a costly trip even sleeping in the truck!
The restoration looks first class. The outer caps are too short and the profile could be better, but still a great job.
Unmistakably an early boat, from the Morris-like stem to the fine entry and tumblehome. The obvious clue that the boat is from before 1920 are the single, or closed gunwales. These were never built again after 1921 when the factory and building forms were rebuilt following a total loss fire.

All time favourite paddling canoe is of course our pre-fire Chestnut cruiser. Never have we been so anxious to paddle a boat, but short of a restoration or the completion of the form and a new build we wont be paddling it anytime soon, but our target is within the year, hopefully by this fall.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Killbear 2012 and small canoes

For the past 15 years, there has been a Paddlers Rendezvous at Killbear Provincial Park near Nobel, just outside of Parry Sound Ontario. A low key, loosely organized gathering which varies in attendance year to year, and occaisionally produces a new boat, either a first time attendee or a newly completed project someone has brought.  Typically held the weekend after Labor Day, the event is open to all. More posts will follow with photos from previous years, however this year was subject to heavy rains which limited attendance, as well as activities. Nevertheless, it is Georgian Bay and not much short of lightning or a hurricane will keep me off of it.
This year, part of a project for the upcoming 2013 WCHA annual assembly, i donated a Chestnut Cronje - a great cruiser used for tripping by Camp Keewaydin, the oldest canoe tripping camp in existence and operating in Canada out of Temagami. The boat left for Massachusetts with friends that will completely restore it in time for it to be auctioned off, to raise proceeds for the organization. This boat was built in the mid-sixties, and has had a hard life and many thousands of miles of trips, summer after summer. Retired from the fleet of wood canvas boats the camp still uses and maintains, its one of several we have.
What the heck found its way on the trailer? A Mirror dinghy for free, but turned out to be too rotted to warrant the work to bring it back, so it has a date with the sawzall. The rig will be kept, but the boat is gone. The little boat in John Deere green seems to be a Peterborough Mermaid, or perhaps a Chestnut Playmate - we'll likely know for sure once its stripped. Found on a yard with a for sale sign and half full of water, it had to come home with the rest. 

Not one to leave things alone, it had to be paddled! Problem was, the canvas was split along the keel the full length of the boat. Luckily we had duct tape, or as i like to call it, race tape or hundred mile-an-hour tape from its applications on the oval tracks holding racecars together on Saturday nites after they traded paint. A mere 26' of tape and we were off. The canoe got lots of use, as at 14' they are not common, and it was a very stable, responsive and well behaved boat for its size.

17' Chestnut Cronje model, built by Donald Fraser.

Out of Camp Keewaydin's fleet in Temagami, this boat has been on numerous long trips, however unlike the majority of their boats, this one had not been rebuilt/repaired, and was as it was delivered in the mid-'80s. It was due for a recanvas, and some repairs. 

Donald Fraser had been the sales manager at Chestnut when they closed their doors in 1978/79, and with great foresight purchased several of the more popular molds, among them the Cronje and Prospector. 

He the continued to build and supply Keewaydin, the oldest canoe tripping camp in Canada, who still use cedar canvas canoes to this day. With Chestnut gone, he filled the void for some time. 

The boats are very well built, and of a higher caliber than Chestnut had produced in some years, owing to him being able to control every aspect of the build in a somewhat unhurried fashion, compared to factory production

Carry thwarts, unusual to Canadian boats but spec'd by Keewaydin

Fraser script, a similar font to the one Chestnut used in the 60s and 70s. Mr Fraser gave permission to reproduce the decals, so now we can complete any Fraser canoe we work on to the way he shipped it. 

Fleet number on the bow, K on the stern per tradition. 

Nearing completion, waiting for seats and stembands

Peterborough Champlain

Another customers boat has come in, this time one of my favourites. My own model 1492 has found a new home, so this was  like reminiscing to begin work on this one. Meeting up with the owners and viewing the boat in person, my suspicions that it was 'glassed were confirmed

 Luckily, however, as was typical with boats that were fiberglassed in place of the canvas it had been coated with polyester resin common during the period, which often is applied by amateurs and is adhered poorly. A few test pulls confirmed that the boat would strip with some effort, so home it came. 

Polyester resin, used for most fiberglass applications from tubs and showers to enormous cruisers and sailboats, is a catalyzed resin system, meaning that as it is applied to the weave of the fiberglass to fill it and give it strength, it has had hardener added which sets off an exothermic reaction and it cures rapidly. Because of this, it rarely has time to adequately penetrate the wood, and so often detaches in many places, if not entirely. 
Unlike epoxy, which is widely used in boatbuilding and to encapsulate wood, it has little time to adhere the glass cloth or strands to the substrate. Epoxy, however,  takes up to 24 hours to fully harden, allowing it to saturate the wood fibers, making removal difficult to impossible. This presents some real challenges for restoration, often meaning the boats are not able to be brought back to their original condition.
Using a few tricks, the glass was removed and the boat returned to its condition as it left the building form, before the canvas skin was applied. Many owners have applied glass to an older boat as the canvas is no longer serviceable, in an attempt to render them watertight and more durable. Unfortunately, wood canvas boats and canoes rely on the two materials to be independent of one another, allowing the boat to flex  and move, as well as to breathe and prevent rot. Glass on one side traps moister, and even cedar can be made to rot. 
One benefit that has been found, however, is that a fiberglassed canoe or boat will typically keep its shape due to the rigid outer coating, which  preserves the shape and lines of the boat. This one is perfectly straight without any  twisting, bulging or movement which often occurs in the 70 years or so since they were first built.
One consequence, however, is that with the increased rigidity of the hull, ribs will crack where in its original configuration they may have simply flexed. 
This old girl has 9 or 10 cracks, but as none has bulged out or distorted the shape they will have backside repairs done rather than bend in new ribs, which would not have the same wear or patina and somewhat spoil the look of the interior.
Typical of the period, this one had its share of steel, mostly remanant of the old canvas under the gunlwales, and gunwale screws. Steel is never a good choice, as not only does it rust but the surrounding wood typically deteriorates along with the fastenings.
This Champlain bears the marks of the previous owner, and tie it to a camp on the French river and so will be preserved. The boat appears to be planked in Western Red Cedar, with matching decks. We'll know for sure once its stripped and bleached. 
More to come.....

Boat is stripped, and like my recently sold Champlain is planked in Western Red Cedar, which makes for a nice contrast against the white cedar ribs. As the boat is 70+ years old, it has acquired a lovely patina as the wood has aged, along with the usual wear and a few scars from use. A great paddling boat, with a moderate amount of rocker, model 1492 Champlain canoes are narrower than todays boats, and rounder. A great experience to paddle, they are much livelier than many of the current designs, although of smaller capacity. 
So hard to resist, a small section was oiled after bleaching to put some moisture and colour back into the hull. Varnish will add more colour and depth, but this is a good preview of whats ahead.
With half done, the contrast of red cedar is evident. Bow deck shows the outline of the oval Peterborough decal which will be renewed as well.
Next up is re-installation of the decks, seat repairs and backside rib repairs on 8 ribs. New ribs could of course be installed, however as none distort the hull, due in large part to the fiberglass, the old ones will be left in and so the look  of shiny new ribs is avoided, as well as avoiding any chance of knocking the hull out of shape.
Its been a while since the last post, and we've been busy!
New canvas for 3 boats, a busy day.
Backside rib repairs, our preference when a rib is broken but not shattered or coming out of the boat. The original rib and fastenings are much prettier than new ribs, which although they can be stained, still stick out. After strengthening, the ribs are faired and planking put back on, without showing that the boat has been dismantled or disturbing the patina acquired over the last 70 years. 
A new decal will go in place of the old one perfectly, completing the restoration and paying homage to the boats original manufacturer. A nice touch to a completed boat.
We've had several Champlains with red cedar planking, and they make for a very pretty boat. 

New canvas on.

Two recent in-progress restorations having preservative applied to the new canvas, to ensure long life. Although filled and painted, the cotton canvas will rot out quickly without some sort of treatment to protect it.

On their way to filling and paint, Champlain (background) and an older Langford.

Stern seat was cracked all along the holes, to be repaired.

Upon removing clamps - holes will be opened up and frame sanded and varnished prior to caning. Although an easy repair, it not only prevented having to make a new seat but aside from the outer gunwales there will be no new wood in this boat, so overall it retains the same patina and colour throughout. Not bad for 70 years old. 

Cracked ribs, that the fiberglass held in place and did not allow to deform the hull. with the planking back on there is nothing to suggest it was ever tampered with. The cracks are still visible from the interior, however after repair are stronger than the other original ribs. Fairing them, and the planking when back on, ensures no hull deformity. 

Old cane, off in 5 min and back on in 5 hours!
Newly caned and varnished seats - some of these old boats have the koolest lumber in them. Thousands of boats, countless lifts of lumber and still the odd piece of birdseye or curly maple shows up in the most unexpected places. 
Done, in a custom mix of navy at the owners request, it shows off the boats lines well.

Deep gunwales went back on, as the fiberglass had affected the top row of planking, keeping it farther below the rails than normal, so the gunwales were kept longer to cover the fastenings. Replacing the planking was not an option, as it would have been difficult to match the tight grained 70yr old red cedar planking.

Varnish was overlaid with matt finished varnish to dull the shine and better show off the interior in a more subtle way.
Just waiting for stembands, and its done.