The Adirondack Guideboat-Reuben Cary’s Guideboat

We have been talking about Reuben Cary, his prowess as an Adirondack guide in the late 1800’s.  As it turns out he was not only a legendary hunter and woodsman, but possessed extraordinary creativity as a builder of guideboats.  He became active as a boat builder when the Adirondack guideboat was undergoing a major upheaval in its construction.

As far as I know the first guide’s boats began appearing about 1840.  The only survivor of those early boats is what I call the Bookcase Boat.  It was collected by Franklin Brandreth and the boat now resides in the Brandreth Park Preserve.  Boats are fragile creatures that easily rot and decay.  The only reason this very old boat survives to this day is that it was made into a bookcase.  Alright, so the stern was lost when it was converted into a bookcase but we still have a treasure of information about the early guideboat prototypes.

Kenneth Durant, author, with his wife Helen, of the masterpiece “The Adirondack Guide-Boat” visited Franklin Brandreth at Brandreth Park probably in the 1960’s.  He photographed the bookcase boat and took some notes on what he saw.

The Bookcase Boat
The Bookcase Boat

Here is what his notes say.  There is a painted inscription “1848”on the deck.  There are six sets of ribs set on 13 1/2″ to 14″ centers.  They are 7/8″ wide and 1″ tall and are slightly beveled.  There are 4 lapstrake strakes (planks) per side that were fastened with iron nails.  The boat has a bottom board 10″ wide.  At the apparent midships, which is 6 feet from the stem, there are rounded notches that probably provided for using a carrying yoke.  If this point is indeed the midships then the boat would be about 12 feet long.  The beam at this point is 38 1/2 inches and the hull is 12 inches deep here.  The boat was rowed with the oars secured with thole pins, or pegs, in thole blocks.

It is rather astonishing that this very old boat set the overall dimensions of its progeny.  Guideboats of the future would have the same beam, bottom board, and depth dimensions at the midships,  and their length (LOA) would not stray far from 12 feet or so.

Fast forward about 20 years to see what changes were made.

Sketch of the carry at Raquette Falls done in 1870
Sketch of the carry at Raquette Falls done in 1870

In the sketch above, done in 1870, these guideboats now have seven or eight strakes on each side and, no doubt, many more ribs to support thinner planking.  They have the same lapstrake construction that the bookcase boat has.  I am sure that making these boats lighter was a high priority.

At the time the above sketch was done, Reuben Cary was building his guideboats.   Here is the stern view of one of his boats on permanent exhibition at The Adirondack Museum.

Stern view of Reuben Cary's guideboat.
Stern view of Reuben Cary’s guideboat.

There is something very intriguing about the construction of the stern of his boat.  This stern “tombstone” transom was fashioned from a spruce stump that had three orthogonal roots.  That is, there was a root that came outward to form the rudder-like portion of the stem, and two roots, one on either side, that formed the main plane of the transom.

Here’s another view of Cay’s guideboat looking forward from the stern.

Reuben Cary's guideboat, viewed from the stern
Reuben Cary’s guideboat, viewed from the stern

Another exceptional trait of Cary’s boat is that it is very nearly smooth skinned.  He used 12 planks on each side to get the hull to appear smooth-skinned.

Here is a view of the boat taken from the bow.

View of Cary's boat taken from the bow.
View of Cary’s boat taken from the bow.

Cary’s boat is 15 feet long with a beam of 38 inches.  It weighs 84 lbs, a bit more than later boats that would weigh in at 55-60 lbs.

Adoption of smooth-skinned hulls and the switch from square-end to double ended construction were the two major innovations that established what we all now know as the classic Adirondack  guideboat.  Double-ended guideboats are said to have originated with Caleb Chase of Newcomb, NY around the 1870’s.

There has been no credit given to who made the deft switch from lapstrake  to modified lapstrake construction that gave the guideboat its marvelously sensual smooth-skinned appearance.  Could it have been Reuben Cary?

Next time we follow John as he competes in the 90 Miler Classic Canoe (guideboat) Race.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *