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Family Canoe Building Extravaganza by Matthew Rae, Kingston, ON, Canada

Posted on June 06 2014

By Matthew Rae

The hard part was figuring out the technology. My three brothers and I each dialed and connected to a scratchy phone line as we recounted to our father the dozens of emails and messages which had been fired off to secure a suitable space and a week of vacation. So it was set, that each of us would descend from different corners of North America, bringing wives, babies and tools in tow with the purposes of assembling piles of milled cedar strips into something that could be fastened to our car and driven out of our borrowed space. During the last dozen years my parents have worked in Asia but have been imagining life on a lake in Eastern Ontario. As we have all become adults, to varying degrees we have all developed passions for woodworking, boating and generally tinkering. The canoe was a chance for us as a family to build off our shared interest and help set our parents off on their new course. The though was that planning for the near-distant future is easier when you have something tangible to bring it in to focus. With in-laws and children in other parts of the country, the canoe became an organizing force to get our nuclear family together for a holiday. Plus cedar strip boats are just really beautiful.

We each added something to the project before gathering in Toronto. Pouring over the pages of Canoecraft, my father sketched out a work calendar; my mother and I steamed the stems in DC and Brian carved a yoke. There were moments of panic: between committing to the project and actually getting started, I sat which the book and a cold glass of beer trying to absorb the wisdom and be ready at the starting gate. Nervous looks were exchanged as we watched the Nick Offerman video. In the end, the actual building process was fairly easy. Between my brothers, my parents and other friends and family who stopped by, a dozen or so people laid a hand on boat, with my father and two of his sons always at work. We faced two hurdles; the first was ensuring that we would be able to assemble and fiberglass the boat in our relatively short time frame. The second was overcoming a cold Canadian winter and a poorly insulated garage to ensure that our epoxy would set. Through the selective use of heaters we were able to warm the boat and get a great finish. If we were to build a boat again, I think we would use epoxy more sparingly in filling cracks before fiber glassing. Also, we would leave plenty of time for the details, to ensure that the decks and gunwales really speak to the character of the maker. Like any project its always nice to step back from the individual joints and cuts, and appreciate that we ended up with a pretty damn good looking boat.

In the year and a half since we did the heavy lifting on the boat, my father has returned to it adding varnish and touch-ups as a respite from a hectic work calendar. My mother at firstly hesitantly and then with a great sense of pride canned the seats. With a glistening finish and a set of hand crafted paddles it was time to christen the boat first with sparkling wine and then with the waters of Lake Ontario. So it was, with kids and tools in tow we gathered once again, this time at our parent's new home to launch the boat on its maiden voyage. I think there are big plans for this boat and I am not sure they are all congruous; my parents imagine puttering to a comfortable lunch in town; my brothers are heading the other direction, paddling deep into the wilderness of northern Ontario. No matter where the boat is headed - at least it tracked straight. The clear winner from launch day was my two and half year old nephew who minus a short nap on board applauded as three uncles, his father and grandfather took turns at steering the craft. There is a big sense of satisfaction in paddling your own boat. There is a real sense of camaraderie in building something with people you care about.


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