The Adirondack Guideboat-relaunch of Thankful

In the last post Thankful passed to new hands.  I knew she was in good hands when Jon, her new owner, decided to “re-launch” her in her symbolic place of birth.  Her “mom”, the Queen Anne, was built by Caleb Chase of Newcomb, NY for the Pryun family who owned Great Camp Santanoni.  I reproduced the Queen Anne when building Thankful.

Caleb Chase had his home, shop, and farm on Rich Lake in Newcomb.  My son Stew and I originally launched Thankful on Rich Lake as a salute to the old master boat builder Caleb.  It seems right to honor this old gentleman by bringing back his “progeny” to their place of origin for a ritual bath in Rich Lake.

Rich Lake is a beautiful Adirondack Lake.  Its gently sloping white sand beach is secluded with no evidence of human presence.

Here is a narration of the launch day’s events provided by Jon:

“On Monday we met John, along with his boat and a stretch of glorious weather, for a beautiful outing on Rich Lake.  After a quick rendezvous at the Adirondack Information Center, we proceeded to the launch on Rich Lake.  My wife and daughters were along as well.

We carried Thankful from the upper parking lot and doubled back for John’s boat.  We launched with my wife and children in Thankful, and John solo in his boat.  We headed up to the marshes of Fishing Creek, quickly noting how smoothly she pulled through the water.  The lake was mirror-calm, and Thankful had no problem holding a line.  We were entertained by a charismatic loon who put on a small show for us, at much closer range than we are accustomed to from these beautiful birds.  Perhaps he recognized the boat?  We returned along the opposite shore to the gorgeous beaches for the children to swim.

At this point, I jumped into the middle seat, and along with John and his boat, we headed around the point and did a short row up one of the other bays.  We returned to the beach to switch boats, and give John a chance at Thankful’s oars.  We both agreed that the boat moves flawlessly and was a joy to see on the water.  I was also thrilled to have a chance to row John’s beautiful boat as well.

We took her [Thankful] out several more times during the week from our camp on [the Fulton Chain] and had plans to take her up to South Inlet on Raquette Lake to Sagamore, but ran out of time.

She really is a beautiful craft, and we look forward to years of enjoyment from her.”

Jon rowing Thankful
Jon with his oldest daughter in Thankful.
The littlest one learns about guideboats.
John takes a turn in Thankful
Jon and John in their boats on Rich Lake.

The Adirondack Guideboat-Thankful changes hands

If you have been following my blog posts you know that I was offering to sell one of my guideboats.  This was the latest of those that I have built and it is named Thankful after the wife of  builder Caleb Chase.  Caleb created the Queen Anne, the guideboat owned by my friend Susan and the boat that I have reproduced three times (a fourth is on the way).

It is hard to part with anything you have spent hundreds of hours creating.  As with many traditionally built guideboats, the Thankful was called a work of art by many who saw it.  Indeed I was quite proud of her and sometimes wondered how I was able pull it all together into such a beautiful object.  Although I loved Thankful it was time to turn her over to others to enjoy.  My hope was that someone would take possession of her who had the same passion for these boats that I do.

I need not have worried.  Jon is the perfect new owner of Thankful.  He grew up knowing the Adirondacks and guideboats and is determined that his children will have the same experiences.  He was quite sensitive to my having to part with something that I had invested so much of myself into.  Best of all Thankful will not be relegated to a stale “display” in someone’s Adirondack Camp never to see the water again. Jon will see that she is on the water often.

So the day arrived when Jon came to take Thankful to her new home.  Here she is about to be put on top of Jon’s car.

Thankful about to be put on Jon’s car. I give her a final caress.

Here is Jon tying down Thankful.

Jon ties down Thankful.

By now Jon and I are good friends.

Jon and Gordon with Thankful.

And off goes Thankful and her new owner.  She will stay in the Adirondacks in a camp among the Fulton Chain of lakes.

Thankful and Jon leave for her new home.

Next time; Thankful is re-launched.


The Adirondack Guideboat-The 90 Miler-a Reprise

Sign announcing the 90 Miler.

On this weekend every year the Adirondack 90 mile canoe race is run.  The race starts in Old Forge, NY and ends in Saranac Lake, NY.  Since the second leg begins literally in my backyard, I will check it out.  Two of my friends, John and Jon, are in the race so I will see how they are doing.

Our neighbor, Tom Bissell, graciously allows his field to be used as a staging area.  There are probably 500 contestants who hale from all over the US and some foreign countries.  The racers start arriving shortly after the finish of the first leg yesterday and soon Tom’s field becomes an impressive parking lot.

I head out early looking for the guideboat racers.  There aren’t many but they are a hardy crew.  Here are some of them.

Some of the guideboat racers in the 90 Miler.  Note the wheels in one boat to help get through the Raquette Falls Carry.

Here is another guideboat racer.  He looks fresh and ready to go.

A 90 Miler guideboat racer.


I come upon Stephanie and her Dad, Steve.   They are the only ones racing in a traditionally built guideboat. Stephanie tells me the boat is over 100 years old and she will be retired after this race.  I was impressed with what fine shape their boat was in.  They believe the boat was built by John Blanchard of Raquette Lake and wonder who might help them identify the builder.  I suggest Hallie Bond , the former Curator at the Adirondack Museum.  Here are Stephanie and Steve beside their boat.

Stephanie and Steve with their boat.

I find John with a friend of his.  They are talking about the rigors of the first day’s race.

John and a friend.

This year water levels are quite high due to the abundant rainfall we’ve had all summer.  This meant traversing Brown’s Tract was made that much more difficult.  The greater flow in this serpentine stream was a bigger obstacle for the racers and the turns seemed sharper.  Brown’s Tract is only a mile long as the crown flies but is three miles long as a boat goes.

Guideboats find Brown’s Tract quite daunting because the creek is only five feet wide in some spots.  The “wingspan” of  guideboat, counting its beam and oars, is about 16 feet.  Guideboaters talk about “crabwalking” their boat through portions of the Brown’s Tract.  By crabwalking they mean using their oars to push off the bank to keep moving.

Another wrinkle was that  beavers had erected a dam across the Tract.  It sometimes takes more that one try to get over the dam and back in the race.

A further obstacle was the Marion River.  Once out of Brown’s Tract the racers head east across the South Bay of Raquette Lake into the Marion River.  The river is high and flowing against them.  Some complained that they could barely move against the current

At some point one of John’s oars got jammed against a bank.  The forward momentum of the boat caused it to careen around and cracked the gunwale.  This slowed down their progress.  John is racing with his son Dalton.

Emergency repairs were made.  Here Jon, the new owner of the guideboat Thankful, views the damage with John. Jon is racing in a four man canoe and, at this point in the race, is in third place by four minutes.

Jon inspects the damage to John’s boat.

Here is a closeup of the emergency repair made to John’s boat.

Emergency repair made to the gunwale of John’s boat.

I asked John how long each leg of the three leg race took him.  He said probably more than seven hours.  That is a whole lot of rowing, or paddling, if you are in the stern seat.  John wears gloves but also tapes his hands to protect against blisters.  Blisters apparently don’t bother him.  If they pop he washes them in the clean lake water and is off again.

John’s taped hands.

The guideboat “wave” was called and off went John and Dalton on the second leg of the 90 miler.

John and son, Dalton, off on the second leg of the 90 Miler.

I was impressed with camaradarie of the racers and their upbeat spirit.

The Adirondack Guideboat-Another small craft

Mention lightweight to any member of my family from grandchild on up and they know exactly what you are talking about.  Lightweights are light weight pack canoes that came about out of a desperation to find a better way to go on canoe camping trips.  Here is a lightweight.

A lightweight canoe on a Long Lake beach.

More on these charming craft after I tell you what drove me to build one (actually I have built about a dozen lightweights).  My son Stew and I decided to take a canoe trip starting in the Saint Regis  Canoe Area in the Adirondack Park.  It was to be a three day trip that would take us through the Canoe Area and into the Saranac Lakes and ending in the Lower Saranac Lake.

The only canoe we had at the time was our 90 pound Coleman “Tupperware” canoe as I call it.  We soon found that the carries we were to encounter along our chosen route would test along our fortitude.  We would need to traverse the Nine Carries Route and the Seven Carries Route.  You get the idea.  The carries were not the only problem.  Soon after getting underway we encountered a huge white pine blow down across one carry.  It required lifting our canoe almost head high in order to shove it over the obstacle.

The payoff occurred when coming out of the St. Regis Canoe Area.  We needed to find our way through the network of ponds that led into Upper Saranac Lake.  On the carries we portaged the canoe upside down so our visibility was quite limited.  This caused us to miss a critical turn on one carry.  We began walking down a very nicely paved path with mowed grass on each side.  I said to Stew “This doesn’t look right.  Let’s drop the canoe and take a look around”.  We dropped the canoe with a clatter and a bang (there were metal pails for washing dishes hanging from the boat.  We were quite a sight!).

It turned out that we were right next to the first tee of the Saranac Golf Course and there were several gentlemen ready to tee off.  This was bad enough but our “detour” took us out of the way by about a half mile.

As soon as I got home I began to search for a better option for canoe pack trips.  I came across Geodesic Airolite boats by an inventor, Platt Monfort.  These boats essentially consist of a light wooden frame covered with aircraft heat shrinkable Dacron.  Platt promoted his boats as easy to build and they certainly are.  The boat shown above is 24 years old and weighs about 18 lbs.  My family loves to paddle about in them and I have sold four of them.  They are sturdy and can carry about 200 lbs.

One of our lightweights was inadvertently left outside over the winter.  Algae had grown on the covering which was need of replacement anyway.  Here it is before removing the old covering.

Lightweight canoe before removing the old covering.

After removing the rub strips and stem band the old cover is taken off.  Next, a fabric adhesive called Heat N’ Bond is applied to the inwales.  It is applied with an iron.

Applying Heat N’ Bond to the inwales.

The aircraft grade Dacron (3 oz per yard) is spread over the frame and attached to the inwales.  This is done by applying a hot iron along the inwale to activate the Heat N’ Bond adhesive.

Dacron cloth over the frame.

The Dacron is heat shrunk starting at the center of the boat and moving toward each stem.  I use a steam iron which works really well.

Heat shrinking the Dacron using a steam iron.

At each stem the Dacron is wrapped around and adhered using Heat N’ Bond.

Wrapping the Dacron around the stem. Dacron is cut away where the stringers meet the stem. Heat N’ Bond was previously applied to the stem.

The Dacron is now glued to the stem using an iron.

Gluing the Dacron to the stem.

Heat N’ Bond is applied to the end of the stem so that the Dacron on the left had side can be attached.

A final check to see if the Dacron is taut all around.

A final check of the heat shrink.

Now the excess cloth is trimmed away.

Trimming excess cloth along the shear.
Trimming excess cloth off the stems.

The cloth is given three coats of marine spar varnish to render the hull water tight.

Appying marine spar varnish to make hull water tight.

The boat is now like new and ready for many more launches.

Lightweight canoe with its new cover.

One really fun thing about these little boats is that the translucent skin lets you see the water passing by as you paddle.  Here the boat is lying in shallow water and you can see bubbles clinging to the hull.

Bubbles cling to the skin covering.

The wind was so bad that I had to wait for a calmer day to paddle out in the refurbished lightweight.  Here is a view from mid-ships in the lightweight canoe on a sparkling clear fall day on Long Lake.

Cruising on Long Lake in a lightweight canoe.

Notice that the waterline is visible that the sun reflects off the waves and onto the covering.