We’re on the road again, in Montana at my sister’s place on our way to Washington with an interesting load. The truck is mostly filled with tools that I use when I am making boats. Behind is a trailer with four canoes and four kayaks. I have the numbers in my head because I made six of those boats and I know them intimately. I have them in my head because traveling with boats means that you need to stop at boat inspection stations that the state departments of fish and game have set up to prevent the spread of invasive species. Boasts must be cleaned and inspected when traveling from one body of water to another. We were inspected twice yesterday and we will be inspected three more times before we reach our destination. For the most part the boat inspectors are boat people themselves, so I get a lot of positive comments about my boats. It is a rather impressive sight to see them all together. The two boats that I did not make myself are kind of speciality boats, one whitewater canoe and one whitewater kayak. People can see from their shapes and use why such a boat would be much more difficult to make and why modern plastics work better than wood for their function. Despite the fact that both of those boats are red, however, they don’t steal the show on my trailer. The theme of my boats is varnished wood and people appreciate the handcrafted craft and are quick with compliments. Going anywhere with home made boats makes starting conversations easy. It is a rather impressive load.
Winding down last night in a little cabin by the river with the clouds drifting by the moon and the stars appearing in the spaces between the clouds, I was thinking about how I got to this place. After all, it doesn’t really make sense for me to be the owner of 10 boats. I previously hauled two additional boats out to Washington. I haven’t used 10 boats in the same summer ever in my life. They kind of rotate, depending on what kind of paddling I am doing. And I have become old enough that whitewater paddling is mostly a thing of my past, not a practice of my future. What is more, I did get rid of one of my boats this past spring, so for a while I owned even more.
I justify the move in part because we have grandchildren. The boats will be used by others. They aren’t just for my pleasure.
On the trailer is the first canoe I ever owned. I was active in our church’s camp at Pilgrim Cove in Idaho. The camp owned four or five canoes and I loved to paddle them around the lake when I was at camp. They were older fiberglass canoes and they were heavy. They were stable for the campers to paddle and would carry a heavy load. The camp program when we arrived didn’t really emphasize boating for more than afternoon recreation time. Over the years a group of us developed a true waterspouts program. For a week campers would come and participate in structured learning. We’d make sure that every camper was CPR certified and had been trained in water safety. We had instruction in paddling canoes, sailing windsurf boards, and small boat sailing. We ended the week with a whitewater raft trip for all of the campers. The camp was wildly successful. We began chartering a bus to transport youth from Portland, Oregon to participate. We had our own t-shirts each year and it wasn’t difficult to recruit adult leaders for the camp. I always had an EMT at the camp and a pastor who served as chaplain.
Putting together the camp meant that I learned the exact cost of boats as I had to help the camp obtain new canoes, wind surf boards and sailboats. I did a lot of “horse trading” and facilitated the donation of a couple of craft. I found used boats that fit the camp’s fleet and built up the storage space to accommodate the additions.
I also developed a desire to have my own boat to use during the other times of the year and when I visited other waters. With a young and growing family, a new boat simply didn’t fit into our budget. I had learned about a source for boat plans in my work for the camp and plans didn’t cost that much money. I ordered a set of plans for a canoe and before long I had set up building forms on the back patio of our home and was scavenging lumber yards for pieces of cedar and cutting strips on an old table saw that had belonged to Susan’s grandfather. Before long it started to look like a boat. When I launched it at a reservoir it floated and didn’t leak. That boat has traveled a lot with our family. It has been down the Yellowstone River in Montana and dipped into lakes across the Northwest and part of the midwest. I obtained a used mast and sail and built a mast step, leeboards and a rudder for the boat. It is one of the boats on the trailer headed for Washington. It is one of the boats that the inspectors check out when we stop at their stations.
There are stories for each of the boats on the trailer. There are many different kinds of boat builders. Some build because, like me, they want a boat. They are interested in paddling or sailing and so they are focused on using the boat. Some build because the like the process of building. They enjoy joining wood, cutting and carving and sanding until each piece fits perfectly. I think I’m a bit of both. I enjoy paddling and intend to do a lot more of it in my retirement years. But I also enjoy building. I’m not only moving my boats, but also my tools, even though I don’t yet know whether or not I will have a place to build or store boats. I know I will have to get rid of some of the boats. I have too many.
For now, however, I have to admit there is a bit of pride when someone asks, “Did you make those?” I usually say, “Yup! It isn’t as hard as it looks.” The hard part isn’t making the boat. It is figuring out how to pass it on to someone else who wants a boat.