Frank Turner and his family—wife Rena and sons Daniel and John—live in Savannah, Georgia, where he is a petroleum dispensing systems technician (he keeps gas pumps in working order) and an avid and prolific woodworker. Over the years, he had built a lot of furniture, but, he says, “there are only so many coffee tables and bookshelves you can stuff into one house.” He had grown tired of furniture making, all straight lines and right angles, and thought making a canoe would provide new and engaging challenges and produce something his whole family could enjoy.

In May 2014, Frank began work on a 16′ Prospector from Bear Mountain Boats. He bought the plans rather than a kit, eager to try his hand at milling the strips, and picked up cedar from the lumber yard. Building the canoe from boards to boat took 18 months, working in the garage shop on and off; it was christened THE BEAST.

Photographs courtesy of the Turner family

John, Daniel, and Frank (left to right) pose proudly with THE BEAST, the first of Frank’s canoes. A skull over crossed paddles adorns the bow of an otherwise undecorated hull. Each subsequent canoe would get fancier.

Frank and THE BEAST joined Daniel and John, both Boy Scouts, for paddling outings with their Scout troop. After paddling stretches of the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers, Daniel and John took quite an interest in canoeing. Paddling down a river was much easier than lugging a backpack up a mountain.

Rena’s canoe, a Rob Roy, was built with a decorative stripe composed of hardwoods that were given to her by one of her patients, a British WW II merchant mariner.

In 2017, Frank and Rena bought plans for Bear Mountain’s 13′ Rob Roy Solo canoe. The smaller canoe, with two sharing the work and Frank having one canoe’s worth of experience to his credit, was a much less daunting project, so they decided to up the ante and take a stab at some decorative inlay. They were given some interesting woods to work with by Harold Dove, one of Rena’s pulmonary rehab patients. During World War II, Harold had served with the British Merchant Navy and in his retirement was building models of all the ships he had served on. As he got older, he found it more difficult to do the fine work and worried about being able to use power tools safely. During one of his sessions with Rena, after she mentioned her sons were Boy Scouts and enjoying canoeing, he suggested his treasure trove of hardwoods and fine plywood could be put to good use by the Turners’ growing fleet of canoes.

John, looking very dapper in his fedora, opted for a pair of eagles to set his canoe apart.

The third canoe, for John, was another Bear Mountain design: a 15-footer, Bob’s Special. It also got a decorative treatment, a fearsome-looking eagle with outstretched wings, and eyes made of sections of a pencil, with the lead as pupils. John christened it SKIPPER.

During the summer of 2019, the Turners joined the Scout troop and took their three canoes to the Suwanee River in Florida for a week-long, 50-mile cruise from the confluence with the Santa Fe River to Manatee Springs. The fleet consisted of 14 canoes and 26 paddlers.

Daniel’s canoe got the deluxe treatment, with a dramatic Viking theme: a dragon’s head and tail and an inlaid stripe with scores of battle shields patterned after Hot Wheels car wheels.

The launch of SKIPPER left Daniel as the only one in the family without a canoe of his own. Frank set out to take care of that in October 2019. At that time, Daniel was an Eagle Scout (as his younger brother would be, too) and he had rebuilt his school’s educational garden as his Eagle project. Daniel wasn’t especially enthusiastic about canoeing and, being on the autistic spectrum, required something extra to get him excited about the build. Hot Wheels cars and the movie series How to Train Your Dragon are his two favorite things, so Frank came up with a way to combine both in a modified Bob’s Special. It would be a Viking longboat with Viking shields. All 64 shields, inlaid below the sheer, were made, at Daniel’s suggestion, to look like the wheels of Hot Wheels cars. The ends of the canoe had a dragon’s head and tail modeled after Toothless, the leading dragon in the movie. They were mounted on the canoe decks with powerful magnets, simplifying hauling and storage, as well as making it possible to swap them end-for-end when switching between solo and tandem paddling.

During the building of his canoe, Daniel didn’t like the noise created by the power tools in the shop, so he stayed away when his father was working, but visited every evening to check on the progress. He was quite excited to see the dragon head and tail take shape.

Six years in the making, the Turner fleet has a canoe to suit every member of the family.

In May, when Daniel’s canoe was finished, the Turner fleet was complete: with four canoes loaded on the scout-troop trailer, the family launched on Lake Rutledge, set in the woods 175 miles northwest of Savannah. The sun was out and the four canoes, lined up on the water’s edge, drew a lot of attention. Daniel was more than happy to talk about his dragon to anyone who took an interest in it. And that was everyone who saw it.

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