In 2011, at the age of 64, Andy Saunders went to his first wooden boat festival. It was held at Goolwa, South Australia, near the mouth of the River Murray. At the festival, Bob, an old friend, proudly showed him a stitch-and-glue canoe he had made at a workshop put on by Duck Flat Wooden Boats. “Andy, have a look at what I built in 10 days!” On the way home, Andy thought: If Bob could build a canoe, so can I! Undeterred by his lack of experience, the difficulty of procuring materials, the cost of the project, and not knowing where or how he would use a canoe, he bought plans for a Prospector Ranger 15, a 15′ wood-strip canoe by Bear Mountain Boats.
Only one of the lumberyards he contacted was willing to mill the 17′-long western red-cedar ¾″×¼″ bead-and-cove strips he needed, and only after he had gone to pick up his order did he learn that the yard had never milled strips like this before. They could only get the thickness down to 5/16″. The canoe would be heavier for the extra wood, but on the bright side, the yard gave him all of their short practice strips—almost enough for another smaller boat.
Andy had his share of challenges to overcome. The instructions called for molds to be cut from plywood, but the plywood he’d bought warped after being cut; he started over with ½″ MDF. His first attempt at laminating the stems fell apart when the epoxy failed to set in the chill of the fall weather; for subsequent gluing tasks he employed a heater. But he made slow but steady progress, and could fit and glue two or three strips per side each day. He took a suggestion from a friend and mixed resin, hardener, and filler in a zip-lock plastic sandwich bag. With a bit of a corner cut off, he could squeeze thickened Bote-Cote epoxy into the wood-strip coves just as one would ice a cake.
Within a few months he had sanded, faired, and ’glassed the hull with West System epoxy, but then his project sat idle for a year and a half. Andy ultimately called upon friends at Duck Flat Wooden Boats to help him finish the canoe. The canoe surged toward completion. Hoop-pine gunwales went on, gaboon plywood decks and bulkheads were installed, and a rosewood thwart and Shaw & Tenney seats took their places. Andy also purchased cherry paddles from Shaw & Tenney. In November 2014, about two-and-a-half years after starting the project, he launched his canoe.
The Ranger 15 is modeled on a classic Canadian frontier canoe and is designed to carry several months’ worth of provisions. Without a heavy load aboard, it floats virtually on top of the water and easily catches the wind. Worried about paddling on nearby lakes where the wind was strong and unpredictable, he waited weeks for a windless day to launch in a local man-made seawater lake.
He took the canoe out for a paddle, but in a few hundred yards the wind sprang up and became so strong he could not get back to his launch point. With no option left he had to scramble up the rocky embankment struggling with the canoe, leaving scratches on the bottom, but for the short time he was on the water, the Ranger showed it had stability and traveled straight and fast. He also saw that it would do much better with two paddlers. Andy repaired the canoe, leaving no evidence of the damage, and when he showed the canoe at a recent wooden boat festival, it attracted a lot of attention and compliments. Andy is looking forward to exploring some of the many swamps up and down the River Murray where the wind won’t be such an issue, and where he can appreciate the tranquility and wildlife with too much concern about any damage to his pride and joy. He knows the canoe will make a great bird-watching and fishing boat and be very safe, in the right conditions, to take his young granddaughters out on adventures.
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