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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Canoe Building: The first step of many

I've wanted to build a cedar strip canoe for a long time.  I'm not quite sure when the desire began, but I'm pretty sure that it was somehow related to reading "Rascal" by Sterling North when I was a kid.  For those not familiar with the story, it's about the author's youth in Minnesota and an orphaned raccoon that he adopts.  Interwoven throughout the story is a canoe that he is building in the front room of his house.  I highly recommend the book.  I've had building a canoe on my list of things that I will do for a while, and in the meantime I've been preparing and building up to it.  I've read several books on canoe building, and a few years ago I even tracked down some free plans from NorthWest Canoe.  Reading books and downloading the plans was as far as I went because I've pretty much never had a place to build a canoe.  I guess there's always been my front room, but my wife probably wouldn't be as encouraging of that prospect as Sterling North's father was.  Well, I finally have some room to build a canoe, so a month or so ago I dug out my old flashdrive and took it to the print shop to print those plans.  For $5 or so I now have the plans to the  "River" canoe design by NorthWest Canoe, based out of St. Paul, Minnesota.

There are several things about this design that I find appealing.  First off, it appears to fit the demands of what I am looking for in a canoe.  I want to mostly do family paddling, with an additional flatwater canoe trip or two every year.  Second, it looks like a canoe should look.  I like it's lines.

The River is a classic Prospector canoe, it 17' length gives me lots of capacity for gear and kids.  It's not going to be as nimble as a smaller canoe, but it has the capacity to haul lot of stuff.  The shallow arch cross section lends to more hull stiffness (more durability), with good stability and better tracking than a flat hull.  Essentially, the shallow arch is the most popular starting point for most canoe designs.  It also has only a small amount of rocker, better for flatwater than for whitewater.  Rocker, or amount of curve along the bottom going from fore (front) to aft (back), affects maneuverability and trackablility, which are interchangeable tradeoffs.  I'm going for less maneuverability in exchange for better tracking.  If I was going to use it more on whitewater or stronger currents, a nimble canoe would be more desirable.  Since I plan on largely using it on flatwater or slight currents, the low rocker gives me greater speed and easier paddling.  One final point is the tumblehome beam to allow for easier paddling with a wider canoe.  Tumblehome means that the gunwale, (top of the canoe) is slightly narrower than the maximum beam (widest point) of the canoe.  The tumblehome also adds additional stiffness to the hull.

Now that I have the plans printed, I've finally started toward realizing my dream of building a cedar strip canoe.  It different from the canvas covered wood frame canoe in "Rascal", but I think the cedar strip canoes are infinitely more beautiful.  I'm not sure how fast the progress will be on this, but it will definitely be something I'm not going to leave unfinished.  My goals for this year are to build the strongback, (backbone on which the canoe is built upon), and to cut out the forms (frame which the canoe is actually built upon).  We'll see how it goes!  I'll be sure to post my progress.

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