Building an Adirondack Guideboat-A twentieth Anniversary


“A fourteen ship that weighs only sixty pounds and carries a thousand pounds over rough water; which is safe; which travels easily four miles per hour; which never leaks; and which lasts, with ordinary good care, for twenty years-needs to be made by a man who knows how, and who is passionately fond of being honest.”

William Boardman, Lovers of the Woods

Boardman summarized in a few words all the attributes of that lovely, revolutionary   wooden craft called the Adirondack guideboat.  Only the statement “which lasts with ordinary good care, for twenty years” might be questioned.

This is the twentieth year of life for the first guideboat that I built, the Frances C. We have gone out together almost every summer day, sometimes regardless of the weather, for twenty years.  How has she fared?  Pretty well, I would say.  Except for the time I forgot to turn her over on her rack.  She filled with water during a springtime storm and fell off sustaining a nasty gash.  But repairs were done and the scar is a reminder to me to be more careful of her.

In honor of her twentieth birthday she gets a sprucing up.  She will get a total cleaning up and a new coat of varnish.  First she needs to be brought up to be under cover on our screened porch in Long Lake.

The Frances C. under cover.

I brought in a couple of young fellas to sand her top to bottom with 220 grit paper.

Sanding the Frances C.

After sanding the hull I go over it with tack cloth to remove any trace of dust.  Then varnishing can proceed.  I use Epiphanes Wood Finish Gloss marine spar varnish.  It is a great product that provides wonderful protection while being easy to apply.  I tip the hull up to make it as horizontal as possible while I apply the varnish to reduce its tendency to run.  I use a foam brush which gives a nice, uniform coat.

Varnishing the outside of the hull.

Now, the inside of the hull.  This is a bit more complicated because of the ribs.

Varnishing the inside of the hull.

With her new coat of varnish its back to the water with Frances.  Will she last another twenty years?  I’d say the prospects are good.  Her planking is made of Atlantic white cedar, a wood that is almost totally rot resistant.  The property of this wood was recognized by the early settlers on Eastern Shore of Maryland.  They used this cedar as boundary markers knowing that it would last for decades if not hundreds of years.  The downside of this wood is that it tends to split easily.  Oh, well, take the good with the bad.

Another thing going for the Frances C. is its laminated ribs.  The combination of thin strips of ash held together with resorcinal resin makes an extremely strong, tough rib.

Another treat for me was that our fifteen year granddaughter was here with us for the summer.  When I suggested she take Frances out for a row she exclaimed, “But I’ve never rowed a boat”.  I said “So here is a chance to learn”.  She did and before you know it she had the hang of it.

Granddaughter rows the Frances C,



Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Guideboat for sale

Well, the time as come to part with one of the guideboats I have built.  There are three in the garage under the house so they are a bit stuffed in there.  Besides there is another being built.

After much agonizing I have decided to sell Thankful, the latest guideboat in the stable.  It was a difficult decision since I revere them all.  Anyway, here is the story on Thankful.

Thankful is a reproduction of a guideboat built in 1893 by the esteemed builder Caleb Chase for the owners of Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb, NY. The original, named the Queen Anne, was cherished by the Pryun family who then owned Camp Santanoni.  This boat was handcrafted just as the original except for its laminated ribs and stems made of Spanish cedar.  No glue or fiberglass was used in constructing the hull.   It features:

  • Spanish cedar planking with inter-plank joinery sealed with tiny copper tacks driven and clinched every inch  to render the hull watertight.
  • Hand caned seats and seat back, all made of cherry.
  • Cherry gunwales.
  • Decks of bird’s eye maple and cherry.  Panels are “book-matched” to give an unusual figure.
  • Five coats of marine spar varnish to protect against moisture and UV radiation.
  • Traditional guideboat oars of cherry 8 feet long.
  • An authentic reproduction of a Chase guide’s paddle, made of cherry.

Length overall: 15 1/2 feet, Beam 38″. Weight: approx. 65 lbs.

Price: $7000.  If interested call me, Gordon, at (302) 690-3280 or email me at

Here are some photos of Thankful.

Thankful upon launching on Rich Lake in Newcomb, NY.
Top view of Thankful.
View towards bow.
View of stern seat.
Bow stem showing lamination.
Bow deck showing “figure”.

The Adirondack Guideboat-the Buttercup Steam Boat

Last time we talked about the vast changes that the age of steam brought to the Adirondacks.  The railroads brought tourists from New Your City to the heart of the North Country via an overnight trip.   Steamboats then carried passengers fresh off the sleeping cars to the large resort hotels in Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes.

Guideboats served a role too.  There were many boarding houses and other small hostelries that were not served by the larger steamboats.  Guides provided a kind of taxi service for these smaller establishments. They also provided transportation on lakes that had no steamboats, like Long Lake.  Long Lake was a major corridor for those heading north to Saranac Lake and beyond.

The advent of steam-based transportation was, at first, a boon to the guides.  The railroads brought an abundance of tourists and sportsmen needing their services.  The advent of stream was a double edged sword, however, as we will see from the story of the Buttercup.

Behind Long Lake’s municipal office building is a peculiar looking structure.  It is basically a roof over a chain-linked fence that houses the Buttercup.  Below is a photo of it.

The Buttercup enclosure.

The sign at the enclosure gives the story of the Buttercup as follows:

“On September 12, 1959, the long-lost steamboat Buttercup was found on the bottom of Long Lake by amateur scuba divers George Boudreau and Franklin McIntyre.  The Buttercup was the first steamboat on Long Lake.  It was scuttled by the guides in 1885 because it was taking away their business of rowing visitors and sportsmen through the lakes in guideboats.

The same night that the guides sank the Buttercup, others blew up the dam six miles below the foot of Long Lake.  It was ten years before another steamboat appeared on the Lake.

Buttercup was part of a grand scheme put forward by Dr. Thomas C. Durant and his son, William West Durant of Raquette Lake, to provide a continuous, comfortable transportation route from Raquette Lake to Saranac Lake by railroad car and steamboat.

Interesting artifacts found in the boat are displayed with it.  They include the brass steam whistle, the steering wheel, the steam gauge, some of the spindles that supported the roof, and the axe which was used to cut the hole (on the port side near the engine) which sank the boat.”

Here are some photos of the Buttercup:

View of the Buttercup taken from the bow.
The deck of the Buttercup.
Buttercup’s engine. It is a “one lunger”, or single cylinder steam engine.
View of Buttercup’s stern.
The propeller on the Buttercup.

Just about everybody in Long Lake knows the story of the Buttercup.  In fact, it is so renown that a play was written about it and given by the town citizens a few years back.