Finally the day arrives to head back north to Long Lake. It seems like a very long time since we were there. That is mainly because last year was a bummer for me. I had such excruciating back pain that I couldn’t stand or walk. That’s gone now so I am looking forward to getting back on the water again.
We happen to choose the summer solstice to head north. It has been a cold and rainy spring for New England and the Adirondacks. That has delayed the arrival of spring up north in some startling ways. That is evident from the high water levels in Long Lake. And the trees are showing the bright jade green of foliage that has just emerged. Just look at these hemlock buds.
What really astounds me is that the spring peepers are still piercing the spring dusk with their sleigh bell-like peeps. They stopped peeping in Delaware in April.
My son Stew drove us up. The first thing the two of us decide to do is get the guideboat out and take a cruise. The high water means we can get into remote waterways not accessible when summer is in full swing. Here Stew is manning the oars. I am in the stern with a steering paddle.
The summer solstice sunset lasts well after nine-o-clock. That can cause some surprising sunsets. Here is a photo taken facing north of our dock just after sunset. A huge cloud over the northern mountain range has been illuminated by the setting sun.
I have learned that the Adirondack Museum has built a boat house on Minnow Pond, a 3/4 mile walk from the main campus. They will have antique guideboats and canoes for rent there. What a great idea! I will check it out and let you know more about it.
Also, a friend has asked for help plugging some leaks in his antique guideboat built by his grandfather. I’ll let you know how that goes.
A scarf is a way of joining two planks end-to-end. It is used when planking a guideboat because it is impossible to find, much less fit, stock that would span the entire length of the guideboat hull. To make life easier, we span the hull using two planks joined using a scarf.
There are certain rules governing a scarf. I didn’t know all of them when I built my first guideboat. The one I missed was that a scarf should land on a rib. Mine were located between ribs. No matter, it hasn’t affected the boat functionally. It is now twenty years old and you wouldn’t know any difference unless I pointed it out to you. The advantage of having a scarf land on a rib is that it is hidden from view on the inside of the hull.
Another rule is that the scarfs should be staggered so as not to fall on the same rib time after time. Masons use the same rule when laying bricks. The photo below shows staggering of the scarfs on my latest boat. The scarfs are indicated by the line of tacks.
You must take great care when laying out a scarf. The two planks to be joined are assigned an upside and a downside. You must make sure the downsidc spans the rib as shown below.
Then the upside plank is set on top of the downside one and the scarf width marked on it.
Waste is removed from the top of the downside plank to accommodate the overlapping upside plank. My plank scarfs span a width of 7/8″. That generally falls within the rule of thumb that the scarf width should be six times the thickness of the stock.
To remove the waste I start with a chisel.
Then I use a block plane. This gives a flat mating surface.
Finally I finish with a sanding board.
I repeat the process on the upside plank by removing material from its underside. The two planks are then temporarily fastened to the hull and the fit checked. Once everything looks OK the planks can be permanently hung. The downside plank goes on first. The scarf is sealed using a row of closely spaced tacks along the edge ( see the first figure ).
I have always been fascinated by the Book Case Boat. I first saw a photo of it in Kenneth and Helen Durant’s The Adirondack Guideboat. Here it is minus books:
It is obviously a very old boat and I would claim that it is one the the very first Adirondack guideboats. Evidence that it is a guideboat is plain to see; an elliptical flat bottom board, roots form the ribs, it is rowed using thole pins, and it was carried using a yoke.
I became obsessed with learning all I could about this ancient craft. Who made it? Where was it used and how? At one point Hallie Bond, former Curator at the Museum, and I planned a trip to Brandreth Park to view the boat. I hoped to obtain as much information as I could including some critical measurements that would allow it to be reproduced. Our visit was cancelled at the last minute. So my quest to learn all I could about the Book Case boat was stymied, for the moment. But my interest in the book case boat only grew stronger. It became a family joke. When ever I mentioned the boat, which was quite often, my wife Fran would laugh and say “Are you on that book case boat thing again?”
Fortunately, two recent publications have shed new light on the book Case Boat. Stephen Sulavik’s book, page 44 reads, ” A very old boat, possibly built by William Austin, was discovered, its stern submerged in mud on the shore of Brandreth Lake, west of Long Lake. The name B. Brandreth is stamped inside on a plank near the bow. At a much later date the year “1848” was painted on its bow deck, not unlikely by the artist Paulene Brandreth. The stern has long since been removed and the upright boat fitted with shelves for books. It is obvious that the boat was carried by one person: There are rounded notches on the tops of both gunwales, worn down by the ends of a carrying yoke. The boat was relatively short, 12 to 14 feet in length, and estimated to weigh about 120 pounds. It was rowed using thole pins rather than metal oarlocks. (editor’s note- there are two rowing stations just as in later guideboats). Its most striking feature is that its construction-a flat elliptical bottom board with ribs sawn from natural crooks-is similar to that of the Adirondack guideboat”
The caption on figure 1-11 of Sulavik’s book (the figure is a photo of the bookcase boat), reads, “The hull is made of four strakes on each side. There is a prominent stem post, a straight deck, placed between the sheer planks, a clapboard-lapstrake outer hull, a smooth lapstrake inner hull, and a flat elliptical bottom board made from two lengthwise pieces.
And from Brandreth, written by D. and O. Potter, page 252 reads, “In the early days at Brandreth, large guideboats-wide and heavily built freighters-were loaded with people and baggage and rowed up the full length of the lake. One of these, the oldest boat at Brandreth Lake ( and perhaps one of the oldest in the Adirondacks) has been pressed into service as a book case at Camp Good Enough. ”
So what do we now know about the book case boat? Surely it was obtained by Benjamin Brandreth at the very opening of Brandreth Park to shuttle family and visitors up and down Brandreth Lake from the point of entry to the various camps. It was one of the Brandreth family’s “freighter” guideboats. I assume this from Sulavik’s description of the boat (B. Brandreth stamped on a plank, and that the boat was found at Brandreth Lake). That would put the boat at the same age as the camp, about 170 years.
Well, who built the book case boat? A clue comes from the unlikely partnership of guide Honest John Plumley and James Blandford, business associate of Benjamin Brandreth. If you read my last post you would remember that the the two were sent by Benjamin to scout out Adirondack lands for sale by the State of New York. Brandreth had heard of these and wished to obtain some portion of them. Plumley and Blandford apparently found Township 39 that enclosed Brandreth Lake quite appealing and decided to recommend its purchase to Benjamin.
While on the site of Township 39 discussions between Plumley and Blandford probably included where to site camps (living quarters). That would lead to how to transport people and goods up and down the lake. The discussions may have gone as follows; James- “So Benjamin will need some sort of watercraft in order to make these lands habitable?” John- “Indeed, small wooden row boats are indispensable for getting around up here. There are no roads worthy of the term. Every settler has a boat and we often share them. We sometimes borrow boats by dropping off our boat at one end of a carry (portage) and pick up a neighbor’s boat at the other end.” James- “So where do these boats come from?” John- “Some settlers know how to build boats and the make their own.” James-“Are there any boat builders who might build several for a new camp? John- “William Austin is a neighbor of mine on Long Lake. He builds sturdy rowboats that are well made and last long time. He builds about one boat every two weeks and sells them for $50.” James-“Good! How many of these boats would be needed to run the new camp?” John- “I would start with about a half dozen.” James- “All right, if Benjamin agrees to purchase Township 39 we will have Austin build six of his boats for us.”
So now the book case boat, spared from rotting away because it became a piece of furniture, resides in Camp Good Enough in Brandreth Park. The boat represents a sort of time capsule, It was built by an early settler who arrived from Vermont and found his talents as a boat builder to be in demand. His talent, as well as guides Reuben Cary and John Plumley were crucial to the building of the Adirondack Great Camps. There was no culture clash been the native Adirondackers and the very wealthy. In fact the life style of guides and other settlers was envied by the “city folk”. They represented a kind of free spirit not to be found in the crowded and polluted cities.
So what is to become of the book case boat? Of course it can continue to reside at Camp Good Enough at Brandreth Park. There are two main reasons for not continuing housing it there; safety and its status as an artifact of immense value to lovers of the Adirondacks. The first point, safety, is quite obvious, the danger of fire. Other physical threats like vandalism are not as likely.
The second point, that the book case boat has great worth as a cultural icon is more important. It represents the entrepreneurial spirit of the Adirondack people that has survived to this day. They are hands-on people who, confronted with a problem, jump in to solve it.
This may e something of a stretch but I see the book case boat in a similar light as the Wright Brother’s plane or Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Shouldn’t the book case boat be on display in a museum for all to admire? I certainly think so.
In part II of Where the guideboat came from? we will look into the contribution of William Austin of Long Lake. According to Stephen Sulavik we still have an artifact of one of his early guideboats. Before I get to that I need to give you some background.
Traveling southwest in the Adirondack Park just past Raquette Lake we come to Brandreth Park. The history of this oldest family enclave in the Park was recently documented in a book Brandreth, authored by Orlando Potter III and Donald Potter. It all started when Benjamin Brendreth immigrated to the New World in 1835 from London.
He brought with him to New York his grandfather’s formulas for Vegetable Universal Pills. Through a massive advertising effort and acquisition of Allcocks Porous Plasters, he soon outgrew his New York manufacturing capabilities and moved to Ossining, N. Y. (previously know as Sing Sing) By then he had grown extremely wealthy off his pill and plaster business as shown by his construction of a 30 room mansion with 10 bathrooms there.
He was asked to run and won election to the NY State Senate in 1849. There he became aware that entire Townships were for sale by New York State in the Adirondacks. These lands fell into the hands of the State as a result of their loss by England as a result of the Revolutionary War.
He sent his trusted employee, James Blandford to scout out these lands to determine their potential. Blandford, in turn, hired “Honest John” Plumley of Long Lake to guided him. Honest John appears later in Adirondack Murray’s book Adventures in the Wilderness. Honest John was highly respected as a guided and woodsman. Here they are together in a photo.
They are posing with the last wolf in the Adirondacks shot by Reuben Cary. Incidentally, wolves have returned to the Adirondacks (I have seen one). They are Coy-wolves, a hybrid of western coyotes and Canadian red wolves.
Blandford and Honest John scouted several townships being sold. They recommended that Township 39 be purchased. The purchase was recorded on March 21, 1851. Purchase price was $3605.70 or about 15 cents an acre.
The prominent body of water is Brandreth Lake.
I have known for some time that guideboats held a special place in the hearts of the Brandreth clan. I was told that only guideboats are allowed on the enclave waters (powerboats only in emergencies). The Potter brothers go on in Brandreth to say:
“It is with quiet pride that Brandreth owners extol their principal means of locomotion on all the water bodies of the Park: the Adirondack guideboat. This enduring aspect of our inheritance has its roots in the very first days of ownership, and persists over one hundred and fifty years later.” In the early days of the enclave so called freighter guideboats were used to haul the family’s possessions up the lake.
I was told that even today only guideboats are allowed on the enclave waters (power boats only in emergencies). As of the year 2008 there were 41 wooden guideboats in Brandreth Park. They represented craft built by many of the major guideboat builders of the 1800’s; John Blanchard, the Grant brothers, Reuben Cary, Wallace Emerson, and the Parson brothers.
The brothers also give a rather profound statement about the virtues of the Adirondack guideboat that reflects the love of the craft.
“The Adirondack guideboat is like a magnificent piece of furniture, painstakingly crafted by patient and skillful workers who spend months building a single boat. The keel bottom board is straight-grain pine, the thin ribs are spruce laboriously cut from the roots of a giant stump. The planking on the sides is white pine or white cedar, three inches wide and three sixteenths inch thick, each plank beveled at top and bottom, so as to overlap its neighbor to which it is fastened with copper tacks. Flathead wood screws hold the siding to the ribs, each of which is precisely beveled as to determine not only the beam of the boat but the shape of her sides. Viewed from above, the sides converge gracefully to the thin spruce stems at bow and stern.
When completed, the guideboat is a sleek double-ender, whose end-on profile, unlike the oval profile of a canoe, is more like that of a delicate teacup: from the narrow flat keel, sides rise straight up at the bow and stern. Before flaring out and continuing upward in a broad, gentle curve to the gunnels. The brass oarlock pins on the long oars, fit precisely into oarlock socket straps on the gunnels, making her very efficient to row from either the middle or bow seat, and some energetic crews have been known to row from both positions at the same time. Importantly, the caned seats, unlike those in a common rowboat, are set low so that the rower’s legs and knees do not interfere with the oar handles. The Adirondack guideboat is light in weight, tipping the scales between fifty and seventy pounds, and is readily carried by one person using a handcrafted wooden yoke.”
Brandreth Park holds an Adirondack treasure of inestimable value, the Book Case boat. I’ll talk about that next time.
In the last post we talked about how two boat builders immigrated to the Adirondacks from Vermont around 1850. They brought with them a wooden boat design that could be adapted to guiding. The style was known as a wherry. Wherries were quite popular in the colonies because they could assume many roles from hauling freight (coal) and passengers, to fishing for cod and salmon.
So why do I suspect that a wherry was the mom of the guideboat? Well, both have flat bottom boards, both were lapstrake or clinker planked, and both are the about the same length, 14-16 feet. And both used natural crooks, or roots for ribs, stems, and the transom. The beam of colonial wherries was wider than that of a guideboat. The reason for the guideboat’s narrower beam was that guideboats were carried over one’s head using a yoke. The boat was steadied by placing your hands on the yoke cleats on each side of the hull.
Here is the old Adirondack Museum’s logo showing how the guideboat was carried. (I wish they had kept the old logo. Everyone has mountains, but only the Adirondacks has guideboats).
Here I am demonstrating the optimum width of a guideboat as to how far apart my arms can comfortably spread to steady the boat while carrying it with a yoke. It is about a yard apart. The beam on the Chase boat I am reproducing is 38″.
John Gardner points out that wherries were built by “amateurs” or fellows who made their living doing other things than building boats, like farming and fishing.
In his book, Building Classic Small Craft, he describes how clever the “amateurs” were in putting together a wherry. It was done in someone’s barn or wherever there was shelter. No elaborate strong back for them. A couple of saw horses did just fine. The bottom board was gotten out and stem and transom fastened to it. The rocker was put in and this first stage was braced and shored. Next, a “shadow” or mold was placed amidships. Once everything was judged “plumb and level”, planking began starting with the garboard plank. Planks were bent around the shadow and allowed to take their natural curvature as they went around to the stem and transom. Since there was no talk of scarfing, the planking stock must have been long enough to go from stem to transom. These builders relied very much on their “eye” to ensure that the hull shape came out true. The planking stock, cedar, was lapped to butt tightly to its neighbor. Planks were bound together with copper rivets to render the seams water tight. This provided a very rugged hull that would last 50+ years of hard use.
The getting out of the transom is of special note. Gardner refers to Reuben Cary’s guideboat at the Adirondack Museum although not by name. Transom stock was carefully selected from cedar or spruce stumps, It required four roots all orthogonal (right angles) to one another. One opposing pair formed the transom itself. Of the remaining opposing pair, one formed the stern knee that attached it to the bottom board, and the other formed the curved stern post.
Here is the stern of Cary’s guideboat built sometime around 1870.
Gardner says ” these had to be hewed out of a single stump requiring much skillful and patient axe work.” He says as the specialized boat shops came on the scene in the nineteenth century they could not afford the time necessary to make such a handsome, functional and integral part of the boat.
Here is another sketch of the early guideboats at the Raquette River Falls carry.
Next time we talk about boatbuilder William Austin and the “bookcase boat”.
The origin of the Adirondack guideboat has intrigued me ever since I became fascinated by this lovely craft. Did it truly originate within the bounds of the Adirondack Park or was it imported by someone from outside of the Park? It is such a creative masterpiece that I found it difficult to grasp that someone living in the vast Adirondack wilderness conceived and bore this object of worldwide acclaim.
As I came to know the native Adirondackers it became clear that, indeed, it could be a product of their creativity and hands-on talent. People of the Adirondacks today share the same natural abilities as their ancestors; they are practical problem solvers. Back in the mid 1800’s sportsmen started to trickle into the Adirondacks looking to enjoy the nearly limitless opportunities to hunt and fish. They needed a guide; someone to lead them in this wilderness that only few knew how to navigate. In turn the guides needed a boat, the only practical way to penetrate the maze of lakes and ponds. The boat had to satisfy contradictory requirements. It had to be light enough for the guide alone to carry between lakes and ponds. But it had to hold enough duffel for two men to exist in the wilderness for at least a week.
Suddenly, something I read Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book The Origin of the Adirondack Guideboat connected the dots for me. Two builders he cited as being crucial to the development of the Adirondack guideboat had something in common. One of them, William Austin, lived at the northern end of Long Lake. The other, William McLenathen, began building boats for a hotel owner on the Saranac Lakes. Both began building boats around 1850. So what was the coincidence about them that stopped me dead in my tracks in my search for the origin of the Adirondack guideboat? They both immigrated to the Adirondacks from Vermont. So what, you say, that’s the land of milk and honey and maple syrup. But there is a very large lake there, Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain was a very important waterway during the Revolutionary War. If the Colonists held it they could threaten the British forces in Canada. Likewise, if the British held the Champlain waterway they could threaten New York City.
So Lake Champlain was humming with boat traffic during the Revolutionary War period. A major naval battle was fought there at Valcour Island in October, 1776. No doubt many smaller craft were employed to service the U. S. Navy during that time.
John Gardener’s book, Building Classic Small Craft, is a great resource for imagining the role row boats played in colonial America. Although he cites boating activity in Boston and Maine, I am sure the same conditions held true for Lake Champlain. John has an amazing sense of how small craft builders went about building boats in colonial and later times.
He is especially fond of the wherry, a flat bottomed (plank keeled) boat. It was rowed cross-handed (hmm, same as the guideboat). Their ribs were made of natural crooks or steam bent oak. Wherries were about 14 feet long and had a beam of about 4 feet. They originated in Old World England.
Gardner says they were built in the colonies by “amateurs”, or men not working regularly at building small craft. The term “amateurs” was not meant as a slur but only to designate that they built boats in their spare time. They were largely farmers and fishermen.
Gardner says that in Colonial New England (I am going to include the Champlain Valley here, as well) nearly everyone lived within sight of the water. Travel was generally easier by water than by land. Hitching up the horse and buggy took much more time than pushing off in your wherry. Gardner says” the small boat occupied the same place in the economic and social life as the auto does today”.
So what is known about the early days of boat building in the Adirondacks. You have heard me speak of Bunny Austin, of Long Lake, whose family of boat builders reaches back 5 generations. William Austin, Bunny’s great grandfather came to Long lake from Ferrisburgh, Vermont around 1850 and began building boats for sale and hire. (Ferrisburgh is at the southern end of Lake Champlain.) It is said that he built boats during the winter months and could build one a week. William had an excellent reputation as a boat builder and his boats sold for around $15. In a succeeding post we will talk about one of his boats that survives to this day.
Another builder, William McLenathen began building boats in the Lake Placid area about the same time. He worked in a boat shop that was part of a hotel owned by William Martin. Martin needed a constant supply of boats to satisfy the needs of his clientele. According to Sulavik’s guideboat book, McLenathen was the father of the Adirondack guideboat. His boats had a narrow square stern and provided a model for all succeeding guideboats. Here is a sketch of one of his boats.
From Dr. Sulavikic’s The Adirondack Guideboat, Fig. 1-14. “A pencil sketch dated September 13, 1853, by T. Addison Richards of Harvey Moody’s Polly Ann. It is the same basic construction as the original boat, built by William McLenathen for W. F. Martin in 1851. The hull is rounded of clapboard-lapstrake construction, though not particularly slender, and the upright position indicates a flat bottom. Note the slight sheer, the yoke cleat, oarlocks pinned to the boards and the board seat. This sketch appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August 1859. (Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum).”
So my suspicion that the guideboat originated with the bounds of the Adirondack Park was not the case. The basic design, a wherry, was brought to the Adirondacks by outsiders from Vermont who adapted it to the needs of the guides there.
In the next post we will talk more about how wherries were built by the colonists.
There are two pairs of scribe ribs on the Chase guideboat I am reproducing. Scribe ribs, sometimes called stitched ribs, have no feet. The reason they have no feet is that they go way forward and aft in the boat. The bottom board is so narrow there that there is no room for rib feet. They are called scribe after the geometric technique used to precisely define their shape. Here is one ready for mounting,
When I wrote my book Tale of an Adirondack Guideboat and How toBuild One I expected builders would pick up something amiss in the book about my instructions. After all, building a guideboat is not at all straightforward. But so far, after 13 years of being in print and a number of boats built using my book, there have been no complaints.
I did have one fellow say to me “I only had one problem using your book.” On no, I thought, what did I miss? He said, “Oh, it was my omission. You know when you say to install the scribe rib as soon as the garboard strake is hung? Well, I waited too long and it was a devil to install it later on when I had nearly finished planking.
Well this time around I was at round 5 of planking when I suddenly remembered the scribe, or stitched, ribs. So I failed to take my own advice. Fortunately I installed them without much trouble. Here they are after installation.
So what’s the use of scribe ribs anyway? Not all guideboats have them. One reason, I believe, is to shape the hull nearest the stems to present a more a graceful appearance. They are also useful in providing a support for the seat cleats.
By the way, I did finish planking the 5th round. Here it is after round five:
After a perilous journey Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book on the Adirondack GuideBoat, its Origins, its Builder’s, and their boats is in our hands. And it is a masterpiece! It hits me with a sense of wonder; wonder at how did he pull it off. Every thread of guideboat lore is brought together here. His research is meticulous. Make no mistake; almost a lifetime of devotion to the Adirondack guideboat by Dr. Stephen has gone into producing this remarkable work.
The manuscript was nearly lost forever. Stephen was such an ardent researcher that the prospect of gathering just one more guideboat to his data trove was irresistible. It kept him from calling a halt to research and pulling everything together in a book. When he died suddenly in April, 2015, it looked like all was lost. But two gentlemen stepped forward to give their very best to finish what Stephen had started. They are Edward Comstock, Jr. and Christopher H. Woodward. I think Stephen would be awfully proud of their’s and others hard work.
Dr. Sulavik was an extraordinary fellow by any measure. His son Andrew remembers him as “having an intense desire to teach, an acute mind, an infallible memory, and an effervescent intellectual curiosity.”
Here is the reason the book was written, in Dr. Sulavik’s own words;
“This book has been written not only to tell the story of this unique and admirable boat, but also to recognize and celebrate the inventiveness of its original builders and the singular culture of their time and place.”
I remember once meeting Dr. Stephen at the Adirondack Museum. I was, and still am, a docent in the Museum’s boat shop. He was busy searching files for use in the book. We chatted briefly but he was intent on his search. I had learned from Hallie Bond, then the curator of the museum’s marvelous boat collection, that Stephen wanted to enable anyone with an antique guide boat to determine its builder. That was then a very tall order and next to impossible before Sulavik’s book. The short anecdote below illustrated the challenge facing Dr. Stephen.
Many years ago Dr. Sulavik visited Chris Woodward’s guideboat shop. He told Chris and his workers how he had undertaken a project to identify every major guideboat builder and their boats. According to Chris, the boys in the shop”politely” laughed and wished him good luck”. They as much as said “If the boat doesn’t have a name tag calling out the builder you can forget about it.”
Indeed his book succeeds in all the author wished for it. In the first part, The History of the Adirondack Guideboat, guideboat evolution is told in great detail. This is blended with photos and artist’s renderings of the Adirondacks back then. This section alone justifies having a copy of this book.
In the second part, Guideboats and their Builders, a biographical sketch of each of the major builders is given. This is followed by the characteristics of their boats all richly illustrated by color photos. Here are pages from the Billings biography.
The final part, entitled Guideboat Identification-Who built that Guideboat?, addresses the reason the book was written. An elaborate photographic decision tree presented. Each characteristic of a guideboat is presented and how builders modified it to imprint their own style upon the boat. For example, let’s take the decks. We start with the number of pieces, one or two, then the deck inward shape, straight or deep arc, then the deck cap shape. The builder adopting the particular version is cited.
The book is published by Bauhan Publishing and is 383 pages. It costs under $40. It is a gem and well worth having even if you just love Adirondack history.
Planking an Adirondack guide boat is a challenge that can bring you to your knees. Planks on a guide boat follow a sinuous 3-D shape. Each new plank must fit precisely to the one that went before it. You can’t fake it. Many times I thought that I could just force one end or the other of a plank into fitting its mate and it would be OK. No dice. Its like 3-D wall paper. If you push one end of the plank to make it fit it causes a bulge somewhere else.
So I have now moved into my new shop and the new boat I am building is ready for the 5th round of planking (there are 8 rounds of planks on my boat). The 5th round is where things really get complicated. Just as the planks that went before number 5, this one must match up to the free edge of the preceding plank. But now we have arrived at the curve of the bilge. That is where the hull transitions from being roughly horizontal to being nearly vertical. The ribs are more curved here to accommodate that transition. The new plank must be shaped to fit the curvature of the ribs around the bilge.
The old timers (and some new timers) got around this problem by hollowing out, or as they termed it backing out, the inward facing surface of planks in the bilge region. This requires a special plane with a convex sole. They started with a somewhat thicker plank to allow for the amount they would remove. To add to the complexity, the amount of the bilge curvature changes as one moves from midships to the stems.
Since I feel very challenged to try backing out a plank the old way, I use a method I call flash molding. It is used by instrument makers to shape the sides of the sound box of a guitar, for example. Flash molding involves wetting down the wood being bent, wrapping it in aluminum foil, heating it to around 300 degrees F, and clamping it to the shape you want it to take on. Heating is done using a thermal blanket. During the heating cycle the wood becomes very pliable and will take practically any shape you desire. The new shape remains permanent upon cool-down.
Here is the flash molding set-up used to shape a plank in the turn of the bilge region.
Flash molding worked great on one side of the hull. Those two planks picked up a nice shape that fit their mating ribs exactly. Not so on the other side. One plank just did not respond to flash molding. I even tried flash molding again. No luck. What was going on?
I remembered that flash molding works best when the plank is quarter sawn. When quarter sawn, the grain is parallel to the plank’s side edge edge. Quarter sawn planks bend more easily in a radial bend than in a longitudinal bend. This bend response is just the opposite of flat sawn planks where the grain is more or less parallel to the top and bottom surfaces of the plank.
I hated to give up on this plank. I had put a lot on work into it. I had shaped it to fit the previous plank (I thought) and cut the bevels on both edges. The final straw was when it just would not fit to plank #4. In fact it was nearly 1/2″ off on one end. See below:
This reminded me of a tale Keith Austin told me about a guide boat he was building. Now Keith is the nephew of Bunny Austin. The Austins have been building wooden boats since the 1830’s. The Austin patriarch, William, lived on the north shore of Long Lake and would build about one boat a week and sell them for $15.
While building a guide boat Keith found that one of the planks he recently hung had cracked. He called Uncle Bunny to commiserate. Bunny could emphasize with Keith having experienced these sorts of setbacks more than once. Bunny told him “What you need son is a crying chair. You sit in the crying chair and gather yourself up to go back and try again”. Here is Bunny in his shop in Long Lake.
I learned that Bunny is quite a guy. He was a Marine Corp. pilot during the Cuban missile crisis and flew reconnaissance missions over the island of Cuba during that desperate time. I’m certain he wasn’t always sure he would be coming back from some of those flights, especially the low altitude ones. Bunny is an unsung hero in my mind!
Now I don’t have a crying chair but here I am crying over a plank that just didn’t make it.
So after that set back I thought I would never finish round #5 of planking. Then I discovered I hadn’t installed the stitched ribs. More about that next time.
One of the most famous guideboats ever built was the Virginia. She was built by Lewis and Floyd Grant in 1903 in Boonville , NY. Here she is:
Hallie Bond gives further background on Virginia in her book Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks. Hallie writes:
“Virginia was the first Adirondack guideboat to have her lines published. Small-craft Historian John Gardner measured and drew her in the summer of 1993 and his subsequent articles in Outdoor Maine brought the guideboat to the attention of an international audience.” Here is John drawing Virginia’s lines.
Hallie goes on to say:
“The articles revealed the variation in planking thickness from the 1/4″ garboard to the 3/16″ sheer plank and a 1/2” bottom board.
Virginia has a typical Grant stem profile. Grant learned to build the slightly tumblehome Long Lake stem profile (curved inward towards the midships), but around 1894 he tipped the top of the stem slightly outward, creating the distinctive Brown’s Tract profile. This was done to eliminate the “podgy” look which resulted from increasing the beam in the ends for more buoyancy. It also made bending the sheer plank easier because it eliminated a tight spot near the ends of the boat. Other Grant characteristics include the drain hole in the deck, used when the boat was turned upside down, and the construction of the seats. The steam-bent seat back is lighter than a mortised one, and the stretchers for the seats themselves have been molded to eliminate excess wood.
Virginia was built as a pleasure boat rather than a guide’s boat, the third guideboat from the Grant shop in 1905. She was rarely carried and used mostly on Big Moose Lake. She was always painted in the colors of the University of Virginia , the alma mater of the young man for whom she was built. His monogram appears on the stern.”
John Gardner was acknowledged the “Dean of small craft”. His book Building Classic Small Craft Volume I and More Building Classic Small Craft will always set the highest bar for any work on building small boats.
John had a sweet spot in his heart for the Adirondack guide boat for he wrote “Light, tough and durable, the guide boat is the finest woodsman’s boat ever built…..a work boat with the finish of a violin and the delicacy of a watch….unexcelled by any small craft anywhere” Outdoor Maine, August, 1960,