A recent project that I've spent way too much time on is the restoration of a badly-damaged and well-worn Old Town Canadienne canoe. Here is the finished result:
This canoe belongs to my long-time canoeing partner, Ernest Herndon, who has paddled it many hundreds of miles on rivers and lakes of the region, frequently using it on his research trips in the course of writing such books as Canoeing Louisiana and Canoeing Mississippi. When we paddled the Pascagoula River System from the headwaters to the Gulf in order to co-author the book, Paddling the Pascagoula, Ernest chose his trusty Old Town, while I paddled a hand-built wooden sea kayak.
The Old Town Canadienne is a classic north woods canoe with recurved stems, tumblehome sides, and a large load-carrying capacity. It's ideal for long trips on big rivers and lakes, and can easily carry two men and all their gear and supplies for trips of two weeks or more.
Below, Ernest Herndon getting ready to shove off in the morning after breaking camp on a river sandbar. Here, you can see that the canoe is well-loaded with dry bags, duffel bags and all the other assorted gear needed for a river trip.
Ernest bought this canoe at a local Mississippi salvage store. The Old Town, along with many others in a shipment, came into the salvage store's inventory after suffering some significant damage in transit somewhere. When he first brought it to me back in about 1993, to see if I could fix it up, it looked like it had fallen off a truck at highway speeds. There were several major cracks in the hull, broken all the way through in places, and the aluminum gunwales were bent and even broken in one place.
At that time my boat repair skills were minimal. I patched the fiberglass, reinforced the broken gunwale with a strip of aluminum riveted in place, touched up the red paint with a spray can, and called it good enough. He used it like that for all these years, finally bringing it to me for a complete refit earlier this year. The canoe had lost much of its shape due to the bent and broken aluminum gunwales. The fiberglass patches were finally peeling off, and the floatation bulkheads in each end had broken loose from the hull. Below is a photo of it right before I began the work. It's hard to see all the problems in the photo. It looked much worse in person.
The only cure for the gunwale problem was to get rid of the aluminum rails and rebuild the boat with inwales and outwales made of ash. I started with the inwales, scarfing them to length, then gluing on spacer blocks to the inner sides so they would have, in effect, scuppers all along their mid-length to allow easy dumping of water by turning the canoe on its side.
I first cut away the aluminum rails at the ends and glued in triangular blocks of solid mahogany to serve as a termination point for the inwales, as the extreme ends of the fiberglass hull were too irregular and rounded to carry the inwales all the way. I then removed one aluminum gunwale first, leaving the other one in place to maintain the shape, while the first wood inwale was clamped and glued in place.
After both inwales were fitted and glued in, the outwales came next, in two separate steps. You can see the scuppered inwales in the photo below.
The new ash gunwales imparted much rigidity to the tired old hull, bringing out its true shape and fairing the wobbly sheer that had been so distorted by the fatigued aluminum. I have no doubt that the boat will have an entirely different and better feel to it once it's in the water again.
Below you can see the detail at the stern, which is identical to the bow. The hull sides are sandwiched between the inwales and outwales of ash, and the mahogany end blocks finish out the bow and stern. Note that Ernest wanted me to replace the Canadienne graphic with the more appropriate for him, Mississippian.
A big part of the job I did not photograph step-by-step was the repair of the fiberglass damage and the filling and fairing of the hull. It was, as you would expect, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but in the end proved worth it. The hull exterior was then painted with four coats of Interlux Brightside in "Fire Red".
Four coats of spar varnish on all the ash and then the application of new vinyl graphics for the Mississippian name and the Old Town logo completed the job. Tomorrow, I'm meeting Ernest at the nearby Pearl River, where we'll break-in the new refit by paddling the canoe from Hopewell to Georgetown, a river trip of about 10 miles.