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Greetings from South Australia: Trevor Prior's Platypus Inlay Canoe

A partially finished wooden canoe with a platypus inlay

The canoe is one of Canada's most iconic images, but what if you're trying to give things a local twist? We thought Trevor Prior's platypus inlay was a fun and inspired choice to customize the build for his native Australia. Read on to hear Trevor's story in his own words.

I was not a boat person. When I was ten years old my dad had a wooden boat built—a 14’ runabout which we used infrequently.

I have however dabbled in woodwork since a young age, building toys and small furniture. Over the years I have acquired a reasonable, amateur workshop.

In a former marriage, I was introduced to sailing and we purchased a “Hartley TS16” trailer-sailer. That went with the divorce.

During this time I was inspired by wooden boats—I researched and hoped… I gathered this collection of boat books. I lived, breathed and dreamed them. Time, space and money precluded any building however I still have the desire. Canoecraft is a recent purchase and is clearly, invaluably in-service.

A selection of books on boat building, including Canoecraft

Life goes on. God is gracious. My new wife, Jenny, is tremendous.

We are active and enjoy the outdoors—camping, snorkelling, paddling—and travelling. We had frequently borrowed a friend’s kayaks and eventually bought our own. Kayaks are fun and have their place. But our dog Hudson is not a fan of kayaks, travelling with us only in preference to his psychotic fear of being left behind, so, travelling in tolerance but not so comfortably. Hudson has caused us several ‘swims’. At this point I began to wonder if a canoe would be more comfortable for us (all). My hope was/is to drift in the quiet waters—with my wife, our dog, a good camera, maybe overnight trips—all whilst keeping a dry backside.

Man in a kayak with a dog

And travelling: We had planned a tour of Canada several years ago. Jenny’s son had moved to Vancouver so we were off to visit Jeff, do the Rocky Mountaineer, do a tour of Nova Scotia and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ country, and visit a friend of mine who lives in Coaticook, Quebec. The holiday was fully booked and paid for in 2019!

Then came COVID.

The ‘holiday’ was cancelled for 2020. And 2021. Postponed indefinitely? No refunds! Flights and tours held forward!

COVID lockdown kept us home. As a nurse in the private sector, with our ‘private’ services shut down, “Job Keeper” paid me to stay at home. I built a small kitchen cupboard. Finally I had time and money (and motivation) so I got to pondering the canoe again. But space? Thus the canoe research began:

  • An open canoe rather than a kayak.
  • A drifting canoe rather than whitewater performance.
  • Stable and dry. Big enough for two people, a dog, and some gear—or just me and my camera.
  • Manageable for one person to manual handle it/car top it.
  • Good looking.
  • Buildable in a car garage.

I scoured the internet and found many sites and much info. Bear Mountain Boats has the lot. I narrowed it down to the Prospector Ranger 15’. Stability was my priority. The 17’ build would not fit in my garage.

In all of my dreaming and research I had visions of the Indigenous canoe with native animals painted on the bark/hide, and the trader’s canoe packed to the hilt for a journey. Every weekend I am taunted with these images hanging in my local South Australian coffee shop:

Silhouettes of wildlife framed in a café

It would be fraudulent for me to put such images on my canoe, so I got to wondering what I could do to personalize my canoe in an honourable way. 

The platypus! Uniquely Australian. Quiet water/stream investigators. Seldom seen, although I do hope to get the canoe out frequently. How to do it?

You may be familiar with Duck Flat Wooden Boats, Mount Barker, South Australia, then owned by Robert Ayliff.

I live in Murray Bridge, 30 minutes away.

Now (long ago, actually) under new management, DFWB are my "go to" resource for product and support. I was fortunate to have a good length of western red cedar available (only needing to scarf two lengths on each side, one of which will be hidden under the gunnels).

I have some Australian river red gum in the perfect size so I got to planning and decided to mill up some strips and make a red gum platypus to dwell in the hull of my canoe.

I deliberated for ages on how to fit him—finish the canoe and fit him in; strip him in piece by piece. I settled in on the following method.

Wooden cutout of a platypus for a canoe inlay

I constructed Platypus and added the strips between its legs to give stability. I trimmed 1 strip on the canoe, just enough, to accept the platypus feet, and mounted Platypus into the hull, then continued to strip the canoe to completion.

I’ve scaled Platypus up to 2 foot long and positioned him centrally between stations. He still needs his rear toenails added.

A wooden platypus inlay on a partially finished wooden canoe

 My next plan (very much in the planning phase) is to put a platypus profile on the bow, swimming at the waterline.

My plan here is to engrave the platypus outline with a shallow “V” dremmel then fill this with a resin/red gum flour paste, just as an outline in the contrasting wood.

Platypus image drawn on side of canoe

*Back to the solid red gum platypus in the hull—I plan to dremmel the “V” into the eyes, nostrils, toes and ‘bill’ details and fill these with WRC flour for reverse contrast.

The canoe is built and I am only at fairing and sanding the outer hull.

I am still testing the various coloured flour pastes and testing its fibreglass-ability.

And I have a set of oars underway (where I hope to do a small scale engraved outline of the platypus profile—not a priority task).

The rest of the canoe:

After discussion with a timber supplier in Adelaide, I am using Celery Top Pine for the outer stem, both gunnels and the oars. I am using Tasmanian Oak for the seats and Yoke, with 3mm cane to weave the seats. I will stay with WRC for the decks.

The platypus is an elusive and enigmatic critter. If you have time and interest, when you are next on Facebook have a look at the Hobart Rivulet Platypus page. This Facebook page has the best selection of platypus videos that I can find.

 After touring Canada in a rush, I have since come to appreciate the Beaver. I wish I had more time to have experienced many more adventures and cultural experiences in Canada. Next time!

Thanks again Ted and Joan, for Bear Mountain Boats and for your hospitality. I will keep you up to date on the progress of Platypus.

Kind regards,

Trevor & Jenny

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