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How to Launch a Canoe from a Third-Storey Window, with Nick Offerman

Posted on September 12 2015

You’re a builder in the city. Your workshop is spacious and well-equipped, but it’s on the third floor. The freight elevator can’t quite accommodate the long strips of a wooden canoe-in-the-making, so you winch them up through the window.

That part’s pretty straightforward, but once the build is finished, how do you get your precious cargo out of the shop and onto the water? Woodworker and actor Nick Offerman’s solution made for one of the most unusual and photogenic launches we’ve seen. 

A few years ago, Nick was renting a workshop in a pre-civil war building in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The Statue of Liberty was visible from the window, and below her, the chaos of the harbour - ferries, tugs, freighters, barges, water taxis, cruise ships all vied for space. To join them Nick's canoe would have to come out the same way the raw materials came in, but he was even more invested in the finished product: a beautiful red cedar 17’ Nomad christened Huckleberry. Dangling his pride and joy out over a back alley was a nerve-wracking proposition.

Fortunately many of the friends who came to the launch were in the theatre business, and brought their experience setting stage lights and rigging fly systems. They offered a vital assist as Huckleberryprepared to launch, and with their help the launch went to plan. Here's the photographic blow-by-blow:

 

After carefully wrapping the canoe to avoid any potential damage, the crew affixes ropes to the stern and bow

Huckleberry cantilevered away from the side of the building, and stabilized by ropes from below

 A cube van parked directly below necessitated further adjustments...

A commemorative burgee to mark the occasion

Nick on the water

Safely on the ground, Nick and company made their way to the harbour. The waters were choppy and crowded with vessels of various sizes, but the captain had come too far to turn back - Huckleberry first touched water amidst busy marine traffic.

Offerman Woodshop’s permanent location is in Los Angeles, and Nick has since gone on to build two more canoes. However, he describes the enduring satisfaction of paddling his first boat in his book, Paddle Your Own Canoe:

“I can tell you from many hours of experience that propelling a wooden canoe that you have built with a paddle also made by your hand carries so much more than a sense of pride. One begins to tap into the primal ingenuity that strings us together with countless generations of our clever forebears who collectively did all of the long division for us when it came to sailing and aerodynamics and, well, every sort of simple machine, really.

“When I paddle across the big water, I feel a direct kinship with my ancestors, in that we have both cheated the river. With the chair and the table, we outsmart gravity. With the boat, we outsmart water and wind and distance, Lest we get too, cocky, though, as soon as we (I) start to think this way, Ma Nature slaps us (me) with a squall and dumps my canoe over a submerged tree trunk, reminding me that behind that spokeshave there still stands a jackass.”

That might be putting it too harshly - lowering a canoe from a third-storey window certainly qualifies as an ingenious feat of engineering. If you have an unusual launch story, let us know in the comments!

See Nick working on Huckleberry in our Canoecraft Companion DVD, a how-to video shot by Jimmy DiResta.

Copies of Paddle Your Own Canoe are available from the Offerman Woodshop website.

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