Boats

When our family arrived in Rapid City in the summer of 1995, we were quite a caravan. I was driving our Mitsubishi Montero with a canoe and bicycles on the roof. I was towing our camping trailer and the car sat a bit low on its springs. Behind me, Susan was driving our Chevrolet Astro Van, with 140,000 miles on the odometer and a leak in the transmission. It was fresh out of the shop with a new radiator, an event that affected the timing of our arrival. Inside of our vehicles, in addition to our family of four were two friends visiting from Australia.

I thought of that day yesterday as we drove into Rapid City in our pickup truck, which was practically empty. The truck gets good fuel mileage when it is empty and we had driven from Billings, Montana without the need for a fuel stop. What was on my mind, however, was the simple fact that I was coming to South Dakota without any boat for the first time in over a quarter of a century. We took the last of our cables and kayaks to Washington on this trip. For the first time in a long time I don’t have a boat if I wake up on the perfect morning to go to the lake.

Back in 1995, we owned only one canoe. It is a nice boat - a 16’ wood strip canoe, made from scratch. I cut the strips on an old Sears table saw. I didn’t have a planer, so they were a bit uneven in thickness. I didn’t have a router table, so they weren’t cut cove and bead, but rather each strip had been trimmed to fit with a hand plane. There are a couple of gaps where the wood didn’t fit perfectly, filled in with epoxy to keep the boat water tight. That boat had already seen some adventures, including paddling on Payette Lake, the Snake River, and Lucky Peak Lake in Idaho. It had been on a river float on the Yellowstone in Montana, including a swamping that dumped my wife, my daughter and me into the river.

By 1998, when our family took a vacation and visited the Seattle area and Whidby Island, we had a different boat with us. I had made a smaller “Wee Lassie” canoe out of inexpensive fence-grade cedar obtained at a lumber yard in Rapid City. The little boat had its first water trials in Sheridan Lake and paddled very well. I put a seat low in the center of the boat and usually paddled it with a double paddle. While out in the Pacific northwest I took my brother for a ride in that boat on the Puget Sound. It was a very calm day, but with the two of us in the little boat there wasn’t much freeboard. I was a bit jealous of the kayakers in the water, a feeling that prompted me to build a kayak the next year.

You can see the pattern emerging. After the kayak, I built another tandem canoe. Then there was the opportunity to restore a wood and canvas canoe, the purchase of a small recreational kayak during a visit to the Old Town factory in Orono Maine in 2007, and a skin-on-frame kayak launched later that same year. When our grandson was born, I wasn’t sure how comfortable his parents would be with him riding in a canoe, so I built a 15’ rowboat. The Chester Yawl handles beautifully and has been paddled in the Puget Sound many times as well as in a lot of lakes. Our grandson’s name is Elliot and “Mister E” with a double meaning intended was just the right name for that boat. Along the way I picked up a couple of whitewater boats, a kayak and a canoe. When our first granddaughter was born, a boat in her honor seemed in order and I started a long and slow project of an expedition kayak that is now nearing completion. I’m getting behind, however. We now have two more grandchildren, so perhaps there are more boat projects in the future. You can see how the boats multiplied over the years. At some point we purchased a trailer and an eight boat rack so that we could haul a group of boats safely.

But I have hauled all of my boats to Washington. They are in a storage facility near our son’s home. I have no boats in South Dakota. I guess that means I’m committed to this move.

During the next couple of months I need to be focused on completing that move, which means working at packing and getting the house ready to sell, taking care of the details of a home sale, loading a truck with the rest of our possessions and making at least one more round trip from South Dakota to Washington. There is a lot of work and not much time for play. And there are other ways to have fun at the lake besides paddling. Still, it just feels a bit strange to be here without any boat in my garage. This is the first time since just after we moved into this house that there hasn’t been a boat hanging from the rafters. The garage looks a bit empty even though it is filled with a car and items being staged for our move.

I subscribe to a small magazine called “Messing About in Boats.” It is a monthly magazine, printed in black and white and filled with stories of people who like to build, repair, restore, paddle and sail boats. Most of the articles are about people who are woking with limited budgets and learning how to make do with the supplies at hand. There are a surprising amount of articles about people, mostly men, who collect a few too many boats and who need to go about the process of reducing their inventory. That will be a challenge of the next phase of my life. I did succeed in giving away one of my canoes this year.

Still, after we have moved and when we are ready to come back to South Dakota for a visit, you’ll be able to see me coming. I’ll be the one with at least one canoe of the roof of my rig.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!