Building a Canoe from Scratch

Last week we built our own Canadian canoe. How cool is that?

We went on a 4 day course in the lake district run by Orca Adventures and came away with an astoundingly good-looking vessel that we were able to drop onto the water the very next day.

It was a tough few days, with the first full day of sawing being particularly shocking for the normally deskbound amongst us. We started with thin sheets of cedar ply wood and gradually pulled these together with thread and the occasional zip tie, into an ever more ship-shape canoe.

  • After Day 1 we had a fairly floppy shell of a canoe.
  • By Day 2 we had applied some rigidity by adding the gunwales and firmed everything with fibre glass tape along all the seams.
  • For Day 3 we waterproofed the lot with a coating of epoxy resin and started on the woodworking – handles, jigs and seats.
  • On the final Day we cursed a lot while we fitted the stubborn seats and then set too with liberal applications of paint. In the afternoon we watched it dry, for hours.

When we finally drove away, I don’t think either of us could believe what we’d achieved. We had no idea what to expect and certainly did not think we’d be able to turn our hands to such craftmanship. Neither did ‘we’ think it would be quite so flipping big! Finding room for a 15 foot canoe, in a terraced house without a garage is going to prove interesting, and may get me into trouble again for having bright ideas.

Sailing a Handbuilt Canadian Canoe

With a newly built canoe sitting atop our car, it proved hard to resist the lure of the water. We were in the Lake District after all so it felt rude not to.

My parents joined us for the momentous occasion as we dipped its (soon to be named Bob’s) toes into the River Eamont by Pooley Bridge. We took it in turns to be whipped round by the current until we fought rather limply to stay bobbing in more or less one spot, a sort of treadmill action for canoes.

We have some paddling skills to develop before I fancy going into deeper river water. I took much security from the knowledge that I could easily step overboard and push us back to shore in this ankle-deep torrent.

Our next trip out was to Derwent water, a much deeper yet more tranquil site to practice our skills. I could get used to this way of life, especially if we remember to pack a drybag next time, stocked with fizz and picnic delights. With those preparations I could quite happily pull in the paddles and see where the lake took us.

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