Project: 11’ 9” Canadian Canoe
 I have never built a boat before, in fact you could say that my carpentry skills cater for the rough end of the market (shelves, bunk beds, etc.). On the other hand, I have always thought that it would be nice to build a boat.
 
My children, Katy (aged 10) and Livi (aged 8) are strong swimmers and are well used to sailing with me, but have never shown the slightest interest in learning to sail for themselves. Up until this year, they have had a cheap toy inflatable in which they would row, with strict instructions not to get more than 100m from the shore. I was beginning to think that this was rather limiting, and started to look for advertisements for small, lightweight, second-hand canoes. I didn't have much success at this so I looked at kits for canoes. Kits seem to be outside my budget.
 
I was idly rummaging around on the internet one lunchtime and searched for images of canoes, to try to learn more about them. My search turned up a picture of the 15’6” canoe on this website. This looked more like what I was after, but I thought that this size of boat may be a bit big for the children so I sent an e-mail to UK Epoxy Resins asking if the plans would scale down to about 12’ to suit my children
By the time I next looked at my e-mail, I had two e-mails from Rob Hewitt indicating that he was in the process of lofting a new boat to suit my kids. OK, I know when I have found the right solution to my problems; I ordered the resin kit.
 
 The internet proved interesting when trying to buy plywood to BS1088. The variability in prices is quite surprising (more than a factor of three difference between different suppliers, so it pays to shop around). I found Arnold Laver in Leeds would sell me 4mm marine ply (with the BS1088 mark) for a little under £10 per sheet. So I bought my three sheets for a total of about £33 incl. VAT. At this point I made a small but interesting mistake; I didn't get the wood yard to cut it down the middle for me, but loaded it straight onto the roof bars of my car as full 8’ x 4’ sheets. The mistake became noisily apparent at about 40mph! It was a long journey home
 I had not really given enough thought to where I might build a boat. We have a house and a garage and a back garden and a place to park the car in front of the garage and a small outhouse cum workshop. The garage is home to my beloved sailing dinghy (heron class; about 35 years old). The garden is wet when it rains and hasn't enough shade for working with epoxy when it is sunny. None of the rooms in the house were available, (or really big enough, anyway) and the outhouse is too small to handle a single sheet of plywood comfortably let alone a canoe
 
Zen and the art of canoe building.
So I used different spaces for different jobs. Cutting the sheets and preparing the scarf joints was done in the garden (between three very heavy showers). It was necessary to turn the dinghy into a workbench, by running the sections of an extension-ladder fore and aft and then crossing these with some loft boards that I had spare from a project. This provided a space to glue the scarf joints and to mark out the strakes and cut them out. I did most of the marking out perched on the plywood itself in the limited space under the garage roof.

Planing the Scarfs
 
 
 Because I don't possess four pairs of hands, I used weights (read “old paint tins”) to encourage a thin piece of wood to conform to the curve that I needed so that I could “join the dots”.
  Putting the strakes together was fun. It was very satisfying to watch the canoe grow from those unlikely looking shapes. It took shape very rapidly over a period of a few days, even though I only had a couple of hours each day to work on it. At first, I found finishing the joint with glass and epoxy a bit stressful, as I worried that my precious store of epoxy was going down too fast, and I found that the smallest easily mixable quantity of epoxy was starting to get difficult to work by the time I finished it. After a bit, I allowed myself to work faster even if it did mean that the glass tapes weren't as straight as I would have liked.
Next came the central rib, the gunwales and the thwart (about £30 worth of timber). Again, it was fun laminating the rib, and then trimming it to shape. The hideous mess that it looked when I first put it together turned into a pleasant enough object under the influence of a plane, a spokeshave and a sander. Likewise, the thwart was easy enough to make but then came the gunwales! I had never bent wood ( I mean not bent it to give it a specific shape which it was then supposed to hold) and I found this problematic. In the end I solved the problem by choosing thinner material and laminating it in. That way it was easy enough. I could have saved myself a few weeks of head-scratching if I had thought of doing it this way to start with.

Starting the centre frame

The three layers laminated up


Fitting the inwale
 The next job was to cover the bottom with glass cloth and epoxy it into place. I evicted the dinghy from the garage to where I normally park the car and worked in the garage. The job just did not go quite how I might have expected (I expect that it gets easier with practice) It is a bit like wallpapering with lots of surfaces that are nowhere near flat. My estimate of an hour and a half to complete the job over-ran by about four hours. After that, things got easy. I was no longer afraid to put the canoe down onto anything that was not reasonably clean and with its gunwales, rib and thwart, it made an encouragingly strong sound when tapped.
 I had been feeling rather that I should have been letting the children get involved in the project, but much of the work was being done when they were in bed, and besides, the scope for wasting the precious materials or making an irrevocable mistake had seemed too high. Now, I could at least let them finish the inside with epoxy and let them paint the outside
    As I wanted the boat to be easily visible at a distance of half a kilometre or more, I specified that the paint job must be reasonably bright but left the colour scheme up to the children. They chose bright yellow with green Dalmatian spots. They did most of the painting. The paint took me over my nominal budget of £200 as I spent £12 on proper yacht undercoat, about £14 on the two colours (for which I used domestic quality oil-based gloss) and a topcoat of yacht varnish (another £5) Rob Hewitt supplied me with some powder which made a pleasant black filler when mixed with epoxy (thanks, Rob) and I used this to fill the space between the inner and outer gunwale to seal the top edge of the ply.
The boat was finally finished just a few days before we were due to go on holiday to a campsite on the edge of Ullswater. Trailing the dinghy with an extra boat on top was no hassle, except that rear-view was now limited to the wing mirrors. (This was another reason why I wanted a short canoe; the dinghy is only 11’4” so a big canoe would not travel well that way.) We had unloaded the tent and got perhaps about half of the pegs driven in when I gave way to the childrens demands that the canoe should be launched. Carrying the thing is trivial, once you have got it over your head like a hat. The thwart rests on your shoulders and it balances with a very slight tendency to tip backward. As the whole thing only weighs about 30 lbs, it can be carried quite a long way like this with no discomfort.
The children got in and moved about the water in a haphazard sort of way. They did not seem to notice that they couldn't steer it and seemed quite happy with it. After a bit they came back and let me have a go. I have only been in canoes a couple of times before and found it difficult to put into practice all the stuff I had read about “J” strokes etc. However I did manage to get to where I wanted even if an onlooker might have thought that I was beating against the wind.
 
 
  On day two, we put our wet suits on and went for a capsize. I wanted to see how far it could tip before it reached the “point of no return”. I also wanted to see if the children could get back into it if they fell out, whether they could get it back to land if it filled with water, etc. With one child, the point of no return isn't reached until water comes over the gunwale, so that is as stable as it can possibly be. In fact, Livi, after some practice, got to the stage where she could paddle the canoe so that she was out of her depth, jump out of it and scramble back in with only perhaps an inch of water in the bottom to show that she had done it. With two children the point of no return is about when water is level with the gunwale. With one adult and one child, it threw us out when the water was about an inch from the outer gunwale (but then it was overloaded by about 20kg according to the specification that Rob had given me).  
After I had established that they could move the canoe in the direction that they wanted even if it was full of water and issued instruction about what to do in an emergency, and established techniques for getting back in if they fell out, etc., we let them go “free range” over the part of the lake that is visible from the campsite. Over the course of the holiday, they got quite good at steering it and could move around the water with a reasonable degree of precision. They visited the islands on the lake and particularly enjoyed the “bobberty bobs” (the wake of the Ullswater ‘steamers’). They were easy to pick out from a distance as a bright yellow banana with an orange blob at each end. Since we came back, they have read “Swallows and Amazons”.

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