Paul and Sharon LaBrie live in West Gardiner, a rural community 10 miles to the southwest of Augusta, Maine, and while they are 25 miles inland from the state’s south-central coast, they don’t lack for access to the water. Their 7-acre lot borders Cobbosseecontee Stream, a gently flowing tributary of the Kennebec River. The couple have always shared a love of paddling. In 1976 they celebrated their first anniversary with an overnight canoe trip on Maine’s Narraguagus River. A short time later they bought a Grumman canoe—their first boat—and matching paddles, and throughout their nearly half-century of married life they have continued boating and camping together.
In 2005, Paul took an early retirement from a 21-year-long career in academic technology management, and established LaBrie Small Craft, a hobby business devoted to building and restoring boats. Among the boats he built were two reviewed in Small Boats: L. Francis Herreshoff’s CARPENTER and the E.M. White Guide Canoe. He and Sharon also joined forces for several years to do custom work for Island Falls Canoe/Old Town Canoe when customers ordered wooden canoes covered with fiberglass rather than canvas.
About eight years ago, Paul had designed a peapod and before he began construction, he and Sharon had a difference of opinion, the kind that can push even a long, happy marriage to the brink: strip-built or lapstrake. Paul had a number of good reasons to go with strip-built: “Twisting a slim 1/4″ cedar strip, as it leaves the flat bottom and makes a 90-degree twist to the ends of the boat, is easier than torturing a long piece of plywood. Strip-planked bottoms lend themselves better than lapstrake to various coverings like Dynel and a mix of carbon powder and epoxy—just the thing for the ledge and rough landings we often encounter here in Maine. Lapstrake-hull bottoms don’t lend themselves as well to ’glass coverings. And a ‘clean’ bottom, sans seams, is probably a more efficient one, especially for small, human-powered craft.” On the other hand, Sharon likes the look of lapstrake.
Their difference might have led to strife, but even the ancients could point the way to restore harmony to a marriage in such dire straits: De gustibus non disputandum est. Literally translated from Latin, that’s “Of taste there is no disputing.” Any effort to address matters of the heart with reason is as destined to fail as mixing oil and water.
Paul and Sharon didn’t need try to sway one another; they could meet each other halfway, at the waterline. Paul would strip-build the bottom to give it every technological advantage, and from the waterline up, the peapod would be lapstrake with the laps and their shadows highlighting the hull’s curves. Christened KESÄ (Finnish for “summer”), the peapod quickly became their favorite, the “go-to boat” for coastal cruises, including many Small Reach Regattas.
In the past five years, the LaBries have devoted much of their time to building their net-zero home in West Gardiner and maintaining a 25-tree orchard growing heritage Maine apples. With the Cobbosseecontee Stream flowing past their front yard, they wanted to have two easily carried double-paddle canoes that they could launch on a whim. They settled on Iain Oughtred’s Wee Rob, and last winter Paul began work on the first of the two canoes. While the plans specify glued lapstrake construction, Paul used the method he developed during the construction of the peapod.
Of course, Paul could have built a lapstrake version for Sharon and a strip-built for himself, but he and Sharon wouldn’t be paddling toward a fiftieth anniversary if they didn’t believe that when two hulls—or two people—are joined together, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Correction: The photograph of Paul rowing KESA was initially credited in error. The shot was taken by Christophe Matson and the credit has beed corrected above. We apologize for error. —Ed.
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