New Shoes!

My boat has moved along so that it will soon really look like a guideboat.  I’ll explain as I go.

A guideboat needs certain attachments to provide for its protection.  One is a stem band, a brass band that wraps around each stem.  It is meant to take the force of a blow (such as running into a dock) that would cause grievous damage to the stem.

Before I can attach the stem band I need to shape the stem into a nice aerodynamic shape.  It was left squared off until now so that I could ensure the stems were plumb and square to the rest of the hull.  To shape the stem, I used my low angle block plane.  It was the only tool that would fit into the space occupied by the stem.

Planing the stem.



Now the stem band can be installed.  I fasten it at the base of the stem and bend it using the stem as a mandrel.

Bending stem band to fit curvature of stem.
Bending stem band-another look.

This stem band, fasteners, oar locks and other items were given to me by Diane Shelly, a neighbor in Long Lake.  Her husband, Darwin, was a surgeon who looked forward to building his own guideboat once he retired.  He prepared for that adventure by purchasing enough of the materials to build two boats.  Unfortunately he succumbed to cancer before he could realize that dream.  I often feel his spirit while building this boat.

The band is made of annealed brass and is easily bent around the stem.  The trick is not to drill holes for screws for securing it along its length until after it is bent.  Otherwise the holes would present a weak spot and the band would not bend uniformly.

A nice touch is to add a painter ring to each stem.  A painter is the line that allows one to tie up your boat to a pier.  I got these rings shopping on Ebay.  They are originals from Old Town Canoe.

Painter ring.

Now to the shoes.  Guideboat shoes are thin strips of wood that lay over top of the bottom board to protect it when the boat is hauled ashore.  I used strips of pine 1/8″ thick by 3/4″ wide.  I ran a bead of Sikiflex bedding compound along the garboard plank/bottom board interface just to ensure that there would be no leaks there.

Sikiflex bedding compound.

Here is  long look at the shoes.

Long look at the shoes.


Shoes and stem band view.

Note that the stem band flairs out at its base to match the shape of the hull there.

These accoutrements add class to a guideboat.  When we add to these the gunwale and decks we have a first class vessel.

Next time we add the gunwales.

Round 8 The last one!

At last I have arrived at the final round of planking my guideboat.  It seems that it has been a particularly difficult journey.  With great relief I remove the batten that has been used to maintain the proper spacing between ribs.  I can now fasten the last round of planking.   Here we go!

Removing the batten that maintained proper rib spacing during construction.

With each planking round I have noticed that, at the stems, the upper edge of each plank has been slowly, but steadily, creeping upward.  Viking ships were famous for this upward sweep of their hulls.  According Durant the Vikings called this upward sweep snye.  Here is an example of snye.  It is on a model of a Vikings ship that I built many years ago.

Example of hull upsweep, or snye, on a model of a viking ship.

As I wrote earlier, snye on a guideboat helps it to navigate the rough waters that can spring up on Adirondack lakes, especially those with northeast/southwest orientation.  Even in summer or early fall cold fronts can bring gale force winds that howl down those lakes and throw up some monster waves.

Here is what snye looks like on a guideboat.

Upward shift of planks, or snye, on a guideboat.

This snye, or upward shift of the upper edge of successive planks, requires that we now must use three planks on each side for round eight.  How come?  Well, if you wanted to use just two planks for each side, each plank would have to be extraordinarily wide.  Here is one plank of the three needed for one side of round eight.  It is for the hood end or one of the two planks that butt up to the stem. Now we have to use two scarfs on each side to join the planks together.

One of three planks required for each side of round eight.

Notice that it has sort of a “hook” at the upper end.  We will plane the feather edge into one edge.  The good news is that since this is the final plank we need apply the feather edge to one side only.

Applying the feather edge to one side of plank number eight.

I am using my Lie Nielsen low angle block plane.  I love it!  This tool has been indispensable through each stage of building this boat.  Made in the USA in Maine it is a gem.  It stays sharp indefinitely and can be dialed in to take the thinnest shaving.  It is the only tool that worked to shape the stems as you will see.

Now the tedious process of fitting the plank to the previous one.  It is a back and forth process.  Check the fit, make adjustments, for numerous iterations.

Once the fit seems OK, then I will cut the scarf into the plank.  We start by using a chisel, or slick, to start the process.

Using a slick to rough cut the scarf.

Next comes the low angle block plane.

Using the low angle block plane to cut the scarf.

Finally a touch up with the sanding long board and we are ready to go.

Using sanding long board to touch up the scarf.

Even at round eight there is some curvature to the hull.  So I will use flash molding to give enough curvature to the plank to make it conform.  As you may remember flash molding uses a thermal heating blanket to “steam in place”.  The plank is first sprayed with water, then wrapped in aluminum foil, and the thermal blanket laid on top.  This “sandwich” is heated to 300 degrees F and then the lower edge clamped down.  The plank retains its new shape once it cools down.

I have used shims placed between the plank and ribs to give a little extra curve to the plank to allow for spring-back.

Shims used to give an extra degree of curvature to the plank.

So, at last, we arrive at a fully planked Adirondack guideboat.  As the video at the Adirondack Museum showing Willard Hanmer building a guideboat puts it, we are now about half done.  Really! Yikes!

Planking is finished!

Next time-New shoes





Planking Round 7- a nightmare

I expected the seventh round of planking to be easier than those before it.  It was not to be.  This time I almost gave up.  The challenges seemed insurmountable.

I need to start by reviewing the wood I am using.  I am using Spanish cedar.  As I tell everyone who will listen, Spanish cedar isn’t Spanish nor is it cedar.  It originates in Central America and is a relative of mahagony.  It is light weight and is extremely attractive when finished.

The early guideboat builders used white pine when planking their boats.  The reason for their choice of white pine was that it was plentiful in the Adirondacks.  I have come to realize that the builders could also get a desirable cut from white pine logs called quarter sawn. With quarter sawn planks the grain runs parallel to the long edge of the plank.  I believe that the early builders also recognized that quarter sawn stock had an advantage when planking a guideboat.  It was more pliable when they needed it to conform to the curve of the hull.  With the other cut, flat sawn, each growth ring is stacked one on top of another like a deck of cards.  It is very stiff when it comes to trying to make it conform to the hull shape.  See the diagrams of flat and quarter sawn planks below.  They were taken from my book Tale of an Historic Guideboat and How to Build One.

Flat Sawn vs Quarter Sawn Planks.

Spanish cedar comes in wide planks that are mostly flat sawn.  You really have no choice when you select it at the hardwood purveyor.  One benefit of flat sawn is that it is a lovely cut of wood, much more attractive than quarter sawn.

Here is a photo of flat sawn Spanish cedar on my boat.  I enhanced it using mineral spirits.  The application of spar varnish will also bring out the lovely appearance of this wood.

Flat sawn Spanish cedar with the grain enhanced..

With the seventh round I was having trouble matching the feather edge of each new plank with the previous one.  I couldn’t close the gap between the fresh plank and the previous one.  After scratching my head I came to find out that there was a gap, as much as 1/4″  between the previously installed plank and some of its ribs.  This will never do.  But how to correct it?  I couldn’t remove and redo the previous plank. ( I could but let’s not go there)

I took a long step back and thought about how to make it right.  We talked earlier about the dance wood  plays with moisture.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, wood can be coaxed to bend in different shapes when “steamed” or held at an elevated temperature in an environment saturated with moisture (steam).  You might also remember that I use a technique I call “flash molding” to bend my planks so they conform to the ribs.  The flash molding process is as follows:  The plank is sprayed with water on each side and wrapped in aluminum foil.  A thermal heating blanket is placed on the outside and the “sandwich” is clamped in its place next to the previous plank.  The thermal blanket is turned on and the temperature raised to 300 degrees F.  Once it reaches that temperature, the bottom, free side, is clamped down.To eliminate spring back I put small shims under each plank before performing flash molding.

In the present case the plank was already fixed in place on its top side.  So I sprayed the outside of the plank with water and applied the aluminum foil to the outside only.  Before all this I put the shims between each rib and plank midway down the rib.  Then I clamped the thermal blanket in place and heated it all up.  Here is a view of that going on.

Flash molding to get a plank to conform to the ribs.

It worked!

The plank now conformed perfectly to each rib.  Phew!

Some lessons I have learned about the cut of wood and how easily it can be made to conform to the shape you want it to assume.  I have built a number of lightweight canoes called Aerolite canoes by their inventor, Platt Monfort, of Maine.  The ribs are of ash and must be bent to the shape of the hull. They are are probably 1/8″ thick by 1/2″ wide.  I found that they must be of flat sawn ash.  To shape them I first soak them for about a week in water  and then submerge them in a pan of water as hot as I can get it.  This causes them to become as flexible as wet noodles.  I clamp them in place and let them dry.  They take the shape I want beautifully.

Here is one of the Aerolite canoes I built.

Ultra light canoe with flat sawn ash ribs.

I had a terrible time getting a cherry gunwale to conform to the hull of the guideboats I was building.  I had to set up a crude steaming tent and winch the gunwale in place.  Then someone told me to use quarter sawn, not flat sawn, cherry for the gunwales.   Sure enough it made a terrific difference.

So wood is nothing more than a composite material.  Each spring and summer there is a growth spurt as the tree grows outward.  As fall approaches, growth slows and ends.  Where it ends the ring of growth forms a harder shell.  This leaves the inner, faster growing  part of the growth ring as being more pliable then the harder, outer shell.  So, this means that with quarter sawn planks it is easier to bend them across the shorter part of the plank.  With flat sawn wood it is just the opposite.  It bends more easily along the length of the plank.

Now I am on the final leg of my planking journey.  Round eight is the last round!  This means I must confront snye.  Do you remember the word snye?  We will talk about it next time.


Floatin’ Richard’s boat

My friend Richard had a big problem.  His most treasured possession, his guideboat, leaked.  And not just a small leak, but it leaked big time, like the proverbial sieve.  It was very special to him because his boo bah (grandfather) Fred Burns built it.  You have heard of Fred, a renowned Long Lake guideboat builder, in an earlier blog.  I told Richard to bring it over and I would have a look at it.  The first I knew it was parked on our screen porch in Long Lake. Here I pose with Richard (I am the tiny one).

My friend Richard and me.

I learned from Richard that the boat had been overwintered in a hot, dry spot.  This is the curse of wooden boats, especially guideboats.  The seams dry out, but worse yet, they become irreversibly dry.  No manner of submerging the the boat in water can restore the hull to original water-tight state.  You see, wood and water play an delicate dance.  A growing tree consists of mostly water, perhaps 80-90%.  Because of that its branches are quite supple and can easily bend to ward off heavy winds.  To make wood useful, the lumber man drives off the excess moisture.  This brings the moisture content down to around 15%.  However if we drive off too much water from wood it loses its resiliency and becomes brittle.

Then comes the boat builder who would like to return the wood to it original high moisture content so he can bend it to the shape he desires (Musical instrument makers have the same desire).  They employ steaming  to drive the moisture back into the wood.  Steaming raises not only the moisture content of wood but its temperature as well.  As these two factors reach a critical point wood becomes quite pliable and can be bent into very elaborate shapes.  These shapes remain permanent upon cooling.

As wood pick up moisture it expands and as it loses moisture it shrinks.  As long as its moisture content is not allowed to fall too far this contraction/expansion cycle can continue indefinitely.  But when the moisture content of wood is allowed to drop too low, soaking at room temperature does not allow enough water to enter the descicated  wood to produce any appreciable swelling.  So Richard’s guideboat had reached this state of no return where no amount of soaking resulted in enough water uptake by the hull to stop the leaks.

What to do?  After some thought it came to me to use the same bedding compound I use in building my guideboats.  It is called Sikaflex 291 LOT,  The LOT stands for long opening time.  Thus it takes 291 several hours to cure.  That means it can be “pushed and shoved” into gaps to fill them without any time constraint on the “pusher and shover”.  It comes in a tube that fits a caulking gun.

Sikaflex 291 LOT

Not having seen where the leaks were occurring I decided to attack the garboard plank and the bottom board first.  I had noticed that there were some visible openings there as well.  So I did my best to plug that area and gave Richard a call.

He brought his daughter and the two of them hauled the boat down to my dock for a water test.

Richard and daughter haul his guideboat down to my dock for a water test.


Down to the dock.

No dice!  The boat still leaked mightily.  So we agree to take the gloves off and go after every seam.  This shows the job partly done with the 291 in some of the inboard seams.

Sikaflex 291 LOT has been applied in some of the inboard seams.

I grew tired of sealing the seams so Richard took over.  He takes his boat to his shop at the Long Lake Camp for the Arts.  He improves upon my caulking technique by using a high powered LED flashlight to shine along the hull.  He applies the 291 wherever light shines through the seams.

Finally the day arrives when another water test is called for.  The boat is shoved in the back of his pick up and off we go down to the lake shore.

Richard’s boat is moved to Long Lake for another water test.

It happens to be a beautiful day in the Adirondacks.

A crystal clear early autumn day in the Adirondacks.

Richard is a bit cautious as he is reluctant to throw his whole self into the boat before he is sure it leaks no more.

Checking for leaks a second time.

It looks good but still not ready to jump in.  Let’s check one move time.

Another check for leaks before jumping on board.

It still looks like a go. So off he goes.

Oarsman Richard pulls away for the dock.

The boats is sound and back to being Richard’s pride and joy.

Richard and his guideboat are reunited.


This is a day that Richard thought would never come true.

Are work rowboats still in use?

Fran and I are just back from Morocco.  Morocco is a country in North Africa, Part of it borders on the Mediterranean Sea and part on the Atlantic Ocean.  Visiting Morocco is like going back in time three or four thousand years.  There are shepherds tending their sheep, and donkeys often provide transport. Then there are the camels in the Sahara desert, beasts of burden uniquely suited for desert survival.

Our first stop was in Rabat.  Our hotel overlooked the Bouregreg River.  This river flows into the Atlantic about two miles or so from our hotel.  I was fascinated  when I looked out our hotel window and saw several men fishing from sturdy rowboats.

It reminded me of the Biblical passage “When he had gone a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat preparing their nets.” Gospel of Mark Chapter 1.

Moroccan fishermen tending their nets.

I asked our guide, Zaid, if I might meet with the fishermen and look at their boats.  Now Zaid is a special kind of person.  Having grown up in a very remote part of Morocco in the Atlas Mountains, he can relate to a Moroccan of any background, be it a nomad, Saharan desert farmer, or ladies starting their own cooperative in a small village.

“Meet me at 5” he said  and off Fran and I went.  The fisherman we met, Mustafo, was a jolly fellow who knew lots about our politics as it turned out.  Here he is:

Mustafo, a Moroccan Fisherman.

Here we are together.

My new friend, Mustafo.

Now the boats were quite sturdy.  They appeared to be wherries since they had a flat bottom and ribs, probably steamed to shape.  Here is a look at the bottom of one:

Moroccan fishing vessels are apparently wherries.
Another view of the floor of a Moroccan wherry.

They are sturdy enough to venture out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Here is a photo of part of the fleet.

Part of the Moroccan fishing fleet.

Now  a few of rowboats had outboard motors.  I was told that only the larger vessels used outboards. I only saw the boats being rowed. They were always rowed with the oarsman standing up.

Rowing a Moroccan wherry.


Moroccan oars are made in two pieces, the loom and the blade.

The above photo shows how the oars were made, in two pieces.  This done probably to facilitate ease of repair.  When the blade wears out it is simple enough to bolt on a new one.

I learned that the fishermen usually spent all night fishing,  They catch a variety of fish; whiting, monk fish, sole, and sea brean.  The Moroccan government allows the use of these boats for fishing

So, yes there are work rowboats still in use today.

This year’s 90 Miler

As you might remember, the Adirondack 90 miler runs from Old Forge. NY to Saranac Lake in 3 days.  It is essentially a canoe race although guideboats enter as well,  This year eleven guideboats entered the race.  Guideboats have an inherent handicap as will be seen.

90 Miler sign

On the second day of the race, the contestants start at lower Long Lake.  They assemble enmasse in Tom Bissell’s field early on the second day of the race, which this year was Saturday, September 7th.  Tom Bissell’s field adjourns our summer home so I get to hob nob with the contestants every year.  I hopped out of bed early on race day and went straight to the field which was crowded with cars, people and boats.

Tom Bissell’s field on race day.

I was particularly seeking out my friend John Homer, whom I knew was racing a guideboat.  Thanks to cell phones, I caught up with him as he was entering the field.

John before the race.

John is a fun guy.  He has a great sense of humor.  When his wife, Deneen who is his pit crew, asked him if he needed anything else.  He answered, “I could use a good nights sleep”.

“So how did the first day go?”, I asked him.  “The wind was terrible” he replied.  I remembered that there was a strong westerly wind yesterday. Guideboats must use the traditional pinned oars that were elected by the early guideboat builders.  They have the distinct disadvantage of not being able to feather them on the recovery stroke.  So on the recovery stroke it feels like an invisible hand is pulling you backwards.  Canoeists don’t experience this problem since they can feather their paddles (turn the blade sideways to avoid the wind on the return stroke).

John said that there was something of a traffic jam in the Brown’s track wilderness traverse due to a beaver dam.  The race organizers decided that to avoid chaos at the dam only one boat would be allowed to pass at a time.  So boats lined up at the beaver dam awaiting their turn.  Once you got to the dam you had to climb out of your boat, drag it over the dam, and be on your way.

John’s other member of his team was Dave, whom he recruited from Hornbeck Boats where they both work.  Hornbeck makes the now famous lone pond single person canoe.  Here is Dave wrapping his hands with tape to avoid blisters.

Dave, John’s crew member.

I asked John if the bugs were bad.  “No” he replied, although “there were some at the beaver dam”.  He said a sweat bee decided to hop a ride and stayed with them for about a half hour until they chased it away.

While I stood around waiting for the race to start I was conscious of the preparations that were necessary for the upcoming day’s row.  Food and energy drinks were stowed.

Some nourishment for a long day of racing.

The boat has to be tended to as well.  It will be carried, upside down, over the mile-long Raquette River carry.  Here is John making sure nothing comes loose when he and Dave carry the boat upside down over the carry.

John securing the yoke before the Raquette River carry.

Others have devised an easier way to negotiate a carry.  Steve and his son Derek have a set of wheels.

Steve and his guideboat.
Dekek and Mom.
Wheels in Steve and Derek’s boat

Steve said that they wouldn’t use the wheels on the Raquette Falls carry because the carry was so rough. But once you commit to using the wheels they must carried along even though they won’t be used again.

There were other versions of canoes in the race such as this nine person war canoe.

War Canoe

So race time is nigh and John and Dave head for the beach for the guideboat start.  I head for the Long Lake bridge where I can see the boats pass by on their way down the lake.  Here are John and Dave as they approach the bridge.

John and Dave underway.

Here is a view of the boats heading away from the bridge and down the lake.

Away down the lake.

John made these comments after the race.  “The 90 miler was great this year.  I had a new partner, David Fish, who did outstanding.  Dave had never rowed a guideboat until the 90 miler began.  We were both so busy we couldn’t find the time to train at all.  Day one was difficult but fortunately Dave is a natural at rowing and caught on quickly.

The weather was outstanding each day.  It did rain a little on Day 2.  By the third day Dave and I were dialed in.  We both were synchronized and before we knew it the finish line was in sight.  Dave is a true guideboater and is already planning to do the 90 miler next year in a guideboat”.

Here is a photo of John and Dave in the race.

Dave and John in the 90 miler.

“I also attached a photo of all the vets (including myself) that were sponsored by the U.S. Veterans Rowing and kayaking Foundation.  It is great to be a part of this organization.”  (John served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  Thank you for your service, John).

90 Miler Vets. John is in the middle

Next time we float Richard’s boat.

Guideboat returns home to Long Lake.

I have learned that the Adirondack peoples are especially fond of family, town, and country.  This is a story of one Adirondack person’s  love of family and the part a guideboat played in that affection.  I was drawn into that tale when I received a call  from Keith Austin.  Keith is a fifth generation guideboat builder in Long Lake.  His Great-Great Grandfather William started building wooden boats on Long Lake around 1850.  Anyway, several years ago Keith was asked to restore an antique guideboat.  Its owner wanted to know its provenance (pedigree) because they wanted to sell it after it was restored.  Knowing who built the ship often adds to its value.  Anyway Keith asked me to drop by and see if I could determine who built it.  I told him I didn’t feel particularly qualified but I would give it a shot.

My first view of the boat was as it was standing upright.  I hadn’t a clue who may have built it. It was indeed a very finely crafted boat and was certainly built by one of the elite builders of the Adirondacks.  But whom?  I was about to give up when, for some reason, I asked Keith to turn the boat over.  Aha! It was then plain as day who had built it.  The bottom board was widest, not at the midships as with most guideboats, but more towards the bow.  This is called “cod-headed” construction according to my friend Tom Bissell.  Tom said that this hull design was all the rage around the turn of the century.  Even warships were built this way in the belief that it would make them a faster vessel.  Tom said the only guideboat builder he knew that employed a cod-headed design was George Smith of Long Lake.  So I told Keith that George Smith had built the boat he was restoring.  My judgement of its builder was later confirmed when Debbie, Keith’s wife, began caning the boat’s seats.  On the underside of the seats was inscribed “Smith”.

Word spread locally that Keith was restoring a Smith guideboat and that it was for sale.  This prompted a gentleman in Long Lake to make an offer on the boat.  When it was turned down he let Colleen Smith, granddaughter of the builder, know of the boat.  She, in turn, offered a bid that was still under the asking price.  When it was made known to the owner Colleen’s  relationship to the boat her offer was accepted.  Colleen was overjoyed because a boat made by her beloved grandfather would be hers.  It turns out that this guideboat had resided on Lake Champlain since the early 1950’s.  Now it would come home at last to its birth place.  Here is a photo of Colleen.

Colleen Smith, granddaughter of George Smith, guideboat builder.

Here is Colleen’s guideboat built by her grandfather, George W. Smith.

Colleen’s guideboat built by her grandfather, George W. Smith of Long Lake.

One sterling quality of Adirondack people is their support for one another.  When Colleen voiced her concern about acquiring her grandfather’s guideboat saying “But I have never rowed one” to friend Richard Dechene he stepped right up.  He made her sit on the floor and taking her hands he made her rotate her hands and arms through the complicated movement necessary to row a guideboat.   “Sure you’ll have some bruised knuckles at first but you will soon get the hang of it.”

It is somewhat ironic that the Smith guideboat spent so much time on Lake Champlain.  It was from the Lake Champlain region of Vermont that the two originators of the guideboat migrated to the Adirondacks.  You have already heard of one, William Austin, who came to Long Lake in 1850.  The other, William McLenathen, uprooted and went to Saranac Lake about the same time.  He began building boats for Inn Keeper W. F. Martin.

So re-launch day of Colleen’s boat became quite an occasion, one written up in an online journal the Adirondack Almanack.  Local support for Colleen was wonderful, as expected.  Tom Bissell let her use his boat house at Endion to store her boat while she wasn’t using it.

Tom Bissell’s boat house at Endion.

(Endion is Haudenosaune word meaning “home”.  Frederic Remington, the painter and sculptor of the Old West, was cruising down the St. Lawrence River when he encountered some Native Americans on the shore.  He called out “What place is this?” They replied “Endion” which in their language meant “home”.)

Friends with deep connections to the guideboat turned out for the re-launch on July 19th.  As written up in the Adirondack Almanack, “Three generations of Smiths were on hand to witness the soaking and launching. Long lake native Gail Emerson was also there. Her grandfather Wallace Emerson was a contemporary of George W. Smith and the two granddaughters stood side-by-side on the shores of Long Lake for the historic re-launch.”

Here is a photo of Colleen rowing her grandfather’s guideboat on re-launch day.

Photo of Colleen rowing her grandfather’s guideboat on re-launch day. Photo was taken by Alexandra Roalvig.









Fred Burns-The last of the Long Lake Traditional Guideboat Builders

I came to know of guideboat builder Fred Burns through my friend Richard Dechene.  Fred was Richard’s grandfather, who Richard and his cousins called “Boobah”.  Fred was quite a fellow.  He built a beautiful home in Long Lake at age 75.  He then started building the first of 13 guideboats at age 76.  Richard wrote this about him for Sulavik’s book The Adirondack Guideboat;

“…my grandfather was the type of man who kept everything and recycled it.  My guideboat (built by Fred) has plywood decks.  I believe all of his boats had them but I am not one hundred percent sure.  He built thirteen guideboats , usually in the winter in his shop. His (builder’s ) jig was homemade  using large wire spool ends for his circular ends and drilled holes through them so he could angle the boats however he wanted.  His tools were always in great shape and very sharp.  As a child I knew never to touch them.  The handles were always varnished and commonly colored  rings were painted around the base of them.

I think the most interesting thing about (my grandfather’s) boats was that they were totally built with hand tools.  He owned a few power tools but rarely ever used them.

I can remember spruce stumps in the woods covered with canvas tarps.  He prepared these so that he could cut his ribs from them with his cross cut saw.

My father would usually get the planks for the sides and grandfather would hand plane them into tapered boards.  There were always piles of curly shavings on the floor which made a great fire starter.

In the spring, launching day was always a big event for us.  (Grandfather) would set his new boat on his homemade cart and pose for pictures.  Then he would walk it to the town beach, about a quarter of a mile away, and launch it.  He’d take it for a spin to see how it handled and returned to see if anyone else wanted to test it out.  This was always fun for us.”

I was privileged to have access to family albums that contain photos of Fred building his guideboats.  Here are some of the best showing him at work.

Here Fred has selected a spruce tree to provide stems and ribs for his next guideboat.

The stumps will be dug out of the ground and flitches cut for root stock.

Cutting flitches from a spruce stump.

Fred’s son gave him a chain saw but he preferred to use a cross cut saw and cut flitches by hand.  Richard remembers hearing the monotonous “shish-shish’ going on for what seemed like hours as the flitches were cut.  Richard’s house was close enough to his grandfather’s so that he could clearly hear the cross cut saw at work.

The flitches were allowed to dry for at least a year and then cut into ribs and stems.  Here Fred fastens the ribs to the bottom board.

Attaching ribs to the bottom board.
Finishing attaching ribs.

Planking was done using a rotesserie style builder’s jig.Fred’s guideboats employed seven planks per side rather than the usual eight.

Planking with the aid of a rotesserie style builder’s jig.

Cutting off the nib ends of the ribs.

Cutting off the nib ends of the ribs.

The deck

Then time came for the launching of Fred’s latest guideboat.  The boat shown here was called Snow White because it was so light in color.  It was built in the winter of 1978-1979 and was launched in July 1979. Since Fred was born in 1892 that makes him 87 when he built the Snow White.  Here is Snow white on Fred’s home made cart built from salvaging items from the Long Lake town dump.

The Snow White guideboat on Fred’s home made cart. Off we go to launch her.

Arrival at the lake shore.

Arrival at the lake shore.

In she goes.

In she goes.

A trial spin.

Fred prepares to board the Snow White guideboat.
Ready to row.
Off we go!

Richard tells a rather amusing story about his growing up although was not very amusing from his grandfather’s point of view.  When Richard was nine years old or so his Mom let him learn to drive.  Every morning he would take the family car out for a prescribed route for a short distance from their house.  It would end with Richard backing the car into the garage.  On one occasion there was a guideboat on the floor of garage.  Richard didn’t notice the guideboat.  Car and guideboat had a tragic meeting.  When grandfather Fred viewed the aftermath, an awful look came over his face,  he turned on his heel and left.  Mom and son felt awful.  Richard thinks the boat was salvaged by fiber glassing it.

Richard tells me that a daily ritual for his grandfather every morning during the summer months was to trundle his guideboat down to the town dock.  He would then row it up to the upper end of the lake about 8 miles away and back.  Phew, hard to believe that of an 80+ year old.  Not this kid!


John Homer-New Age Guideboat Builder

John Homer is a good friend of mine.  We met while I was an interpreting at the Museum for Allison while as she built traditional guideboats in the Museum’s boat shop.  John, although not a native Adirondacker, possesses all the characteristics of one.  He is creative and resourceful and not afraid to do things he has never done before.  A local magazine, LOCALadk, recently published an article about him that I will reproduce here.  The article is entitled “I am LOCALadk John Homer of North Creek, Owner: Adirondack Rowboats Paddle and Oar”.  Here is John as he appears in the article.

John Homer, courtesy of LOCALadk magazine.

About two weeks ago I toured John’s shop.  I found it spacious and full of all sorts of projects.   John is indeed a creative fellow.  Here is a general view of his shop.

A general view of John Homer’s boat shop.

The article about John in LOCALadk reads as follows:

“A passion for the rich history of the Adirondacks’ and a desire to learn more about it, eventually introduced John Homer to Adirondack guideboats.  John soon visited the Adirondack Experience in Blue Mountain Lake and spent hours in the boat museum where he  studied the lines, the technique, and the craftsmanship, (used to build guideboats) and knew he wanted to use his woodworking skills to build a boat with similar qualities.  He followed down a path that that has allowed him to follow, learn and ultimately build boats he has come to love.

After serving his country for 22 years on active duty  in the Army (many thanks for serving, John), and having been stationed at Fort Drum, NY, John and his family moved to the Adirondacks.  He built his first boat in 2008 after buying half of an antique guideboat which was used to help teach himself how to build his own.

John with antique guideboat.

He also had some help and advice along the way from several well-known Adirondack boat builders.  He is forever grateful for the knowledge and expertise each shared with him.  The boats John has built are not, however, true Adirondack guideboats because he has made some modifications to them.  He refers to them as Adirondack row boats.  Here they are:

John with one of his boats.


Another view of John’s boat.
John with one of his boats.

(I feel john is being a bit modest claiming that his boats are not Adirondack guideboats.  He has evolved that craft into yet another beautiful creation.  He is following in the footsteps of Willard Hanmer, guideboat builder in the 40’s and 50″s.  Willard recognized that he had to use mechanical assists whenever possible to make a guideboat as economically as possible.  It is good to see that the old art of building a guideboat is not static but has blossomed!)

Aside from the boats themselves, John makes canoe paddles and oars as well as oarlocks.

John with one of his paddles.
John with a guideboat carrying yoke he is making.

John works with Hornbeck Boats and creates all the oars they sell for for their rowing boats.  At Hornbeck, he also works on finishing the hull of the boats once they are pulled from the molds.  This stage of the process involves working with wood for the backrest and seats.  A privilege I am sure he is humbled by is applying the telltale red stripe along the hull that has become a trademark for Hornbeck.

John also designs and makes his own hardware for part of the oarlocks.  He does this using the same time-consuming and tedious procedure called sand casting. This is a metal casting process in which sand is used as the mold material.  The sand is held in a metal box, cape and drag, which John fabricated.

A mold used to cast guideboat straps.

This path eventually led John to the Adirondack Canoe Classic, or as most people refer to it, “the 90 miler”.  Like its name implies, this is a 90 mile paddling (or rowing) race over 3 days.  John participated in his first race in 2009, with a boat he built himself.  He has raced 7 times now and enjoys rowing the race in a boat made with his own two hands.  He has competed solo as well as with friends.  (John told me of one 90 miler where the winds reached  gale force.  The waves in Raquette Lake were whipped up to four feet high.  John said he had to look up one moment to see his friend in the bow and then down a second later to see him as each wave passed them by.)

The perfect Adirondack day for John would  be to get up early and spend it in his guideboat/rowboat, fishing and exploring some remote pond or lake, where it’s quiet and peaceful.

If you are in the market for this type of hand-built boat, visit John’s website or check out his Facebook page : Adirondack Rowboats Paddle and Oar.”

John did make a beautiful oar and paddle bag for me as shown below.  He is also making a carrying yoke for my guideboat Showboat.

Guideboat oars, paddle and bag to hold them made by John.

Next time we plug the leaks in an old guideboat.



Minnow Pond-Part 2

Last time we hiked into Minnow Pond, a pristine body of water that the Adirondack Museum has set aside for a wonderful Adirondack adventure.  In the brand new boathouse are stored antique guideboats and other wooden craft that you can rent for a nominal fee.  Here is a view of the boathouse just as the 3/4 mile trail from the Museums main campus arrives at the pond.

View of the boat house from the trail.

The boat house was designed to reflect the Great Camp style of  Adirondack architecture.

Front view of the boat house on Minnow Pond.

A view of the cedar posts and use of twig architecture.

Cedar post and beams and intertwined twigs reminiscent of the Durant Great Camp style.

I was looking forward to rowing a Caleb Chase Raider that was probably built in the late 1890’s.  I have an affinity for Chase boats having reproduced one of his guideboats that happened to have a rich history.  Raiders were smaller guideboats, about 12 feet long, that were used to get back into remote pond where the fishing was supposed to be better than on the larger lakes.  Here is the Chase Raider.

The Caleb Chase Raider guideboat.


Side view of the Chase Raider guideboat.

Alas, when the Chase boat was launched it listed noticeably to one side.  It was decided to give this old girl the day off and launch a Blanchard Raider instead.  Here is the Blanchard Raider.  It was built by James Blanchard of Raquette Lake in the early 1900’s.

Here’s the Blanchard Raider ready to go.

I found the Blanchard boat easy to row and that she tracked well even in a stiff quartering breeze.  Here I am.

Rowing away from the dock.

Once  got away from the dock and a few hundred yards down the pond I noticed how pristine Minnow Pond was.  There was no evidence of the “insult” man can perpetrate on Nature’s beauty; no waterfront homes or docks.

Next time:  a visit to John Homer’s boat shop.