Working as the editor of Small Boats for the past nine years has given me the opportunity to meet, correspond with, and work with a lot of remarkable people from all over the world. Jim Schroer, who first emailed me on March 29 of last year, was one of them. In the subject line he had written the following: “Hi Christopher, launched in Feb. after 6 months work, still not done. I’m a reader and this is reader built. Is there a way to get the info to you without all the composing and typing? thanks, Jim.”

While those few words didn’t say much about him, the photographs that appeared copied in the body of his email suggested Jim was a kindred spirit. The johnboat he had built for river cruising echoed many of the ideas I’d had for HESPERIA, the little camp cruiser I’d built with all the comforts and conveniences I’d dreamed of while on my earlier cruises.

In our subsequent emails and phone calls, I learned that Jim and I had even more in common. We both had done long cruises in small boats, though he had done many more and continued even after getting married and having twin daughters. Our fathers were teachers and we both had attended the schools where they taught. We both had flown hang gliders, though he had become an accomplished and licensed flier and I could only claim to have gotten airborne, briefly, with bamboo, plastic sheet, rope, and duct tape. As an aircraft pilot, Jim had aspired to own a Stearman biplane, the trainer my mother had flown while with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in World War II.

After our calls, I was always eager to share what we’d talked about with Rachel, and Jim evidently did the same with his wife, Sher. In an email he sent on April 10 of 2022, he wrote: “My wife explained it this way after hearing about all your adventures and boat building ‘I guess you’ve found your brother by another mother.’” I was honored to be regarded so by someone whose accomplishments far outshone my own.

Jim had offered the photos of his latest boat for a possible Reader Built Boat article, but as I was reviewing the many photos he’d sent of his boats and travels and transcribing the recordings I’d made of our phone calls it became clear that there was so much to his story that our narrative feature was the better place for it. I told Jim I would be pleased to write it, but months went by without leaving me time to work on the article.

We kept in touch by email and my last message to him, dated October 25, 2022, ended with, “Is all well with you?” I never heard back from him. Sher emailed me a few months later: “This is Sher, Jim’s wife. I am writing to convey the sad news that Jim passed away. I would like to thank you for all that you have done. It meant so much to Jim to have his life’s work recognized.” She added that she and her daughter “were facing the task of finding homes for the many beautiful things that he had made (the most recent boat, canoes, kayaks and many paddles).” For the things that they wanted to sell, I suggested a few places, including our Small Boats Classifieds, where they could post ads. I had been intrigued by one of the paddles Jim had made that appeared in one of his photos. Sher was happy to let me buy it and had it safely boxed and mailed to me.

Jim passed away on December 27, 2022, at the age of 79. In March of 2023, I turned 70, entering a decade on that perilously steepening slope that lies “over the hill,” where time passes more swiftly and opportunities can easily slip away. Jim and I never met face to face, and I don’t have any pictures of the two of us together but I now have a paddle that he made. While it will do nicely to keep him and our nascent friendship close at hand, it will also remind me to be more mindful about how and where I spend my time because people can slip away too.

Jim’s paddle is extraordinarily light: just 9.2 ounces. The four spruce canoe paddles I’ve made had always seemed light to me but they weigh an average of 21.6 ounces. The lightest of them is 3″ shorter than Jim’s and comes in at 18.9 ounces—more than twice the weight. On a windy day, I’d be wise to either tie or weigh down his paddle to keep it from taking flight.


The blade is flat and just 7⁄32″ thick. If I had made the paddle, I would have made a parallel-sided slot in the shaft to fit the blade and tapered the outside surface before gluing the shaft and blade together. By studying the shaft-stave glue lines I could tell that Jim cut a slot that began with a 7⁄32″ width at the throat and widened to the tip. When the shaft was glued to the blade, the two sides of the shaft were bent to meet the blade. Jim’s method was harder to execute but preserved the parallel-sided exterior faces of the staves, an aesthetic choice that few would notice. The blade’s black coating concealed whatever it is made of. An edge guard of white paracord is seated in a groove routed in the blade’s perimeter and saturated in epoxy.


The shaft is made up of eight coopered western-red-cedar staves and, judging by the sound it makes when tapped, it’s hollow. It has a diameter of 1 1⁄64″ and measurements taken with a digital caliper vary only occasionally by 1⁄128″. Some of the glue lines are nearly invisible and lost among the wood’s grain. The handle is made of two pieces of darker western red cedar and tapered to a wedge that is let into the shaft. I don’t know how Jim got the interior faces of the notch in the shaft straight and flat to fit the handle. Making a simple scarf joint is difficult enough; making two that face each other and intersect is a much greater challenge.


I remember using a carbon-fiber paddle for the first time and being impressed with how light it was, but Jim’s was a step beyond that. It had such an airy touch in my hands that as I switched sides, I found myself watching the blade to see where it was as it crossed over the canoe. The paddle has just a bit of flex, much less than I would have expected given its slender dimensions and light weight, and yet I could take strong strokes with it and not feel any give in the shaft. Using Jim’s paddle has been a remarkable experience.