A Canadian in Michigan by Jim Jones, Leonard, MI, USA
Submitted by Jim Jones
As a kid in the '50's, there were lots of boats in my life. My family had a cottage on Jack Lake north of Peterborough. I lived for the summers spent paddling, fishing, swimming and just messing around in boats. The cottage was five miles from the nearest road, so these boats were more than for recreation - they were a necessity. Dad bought the cottage in 1953 and one of the first investments to follow was a 16 foot Peterborough "Fisherman." He had earlier acquired a 5 horse Johnson that went perfectly with the Peterborough. Practically everyone on the lake had a Peterborough with the occasional Lakefield thrown in. All of these boats were beautiful and durable. We would disappear for hours exploring the lake...no cell phones or GPS to track us down but always returning with fish, frogs, or snapping turtles plus some serious sunburn. I guess that's when it all started.
As the years went by, other priorities took over. The cottage was sold and was later struck by lightning and burned to the ground but those cedar strip beauties never left my mind. Yeah, I've owned my share of Fiberglas but always wanted to own another real wooden boat.
Retirement in 2007 offered my chance. I knew that people were building cedar strip canoes and happened to mention to a friend that I'd like to build one. To my amazement he said, "did that." My answer was "how soon can I see it," and I was all in from there.
I started surfing the net and exploring all of the resources I could find. One of the most impressive was bearmountainbboats.com. My wife and I decided to make the trip from southeast Michigan to Peterborough for more investigation. We met with Ted and Joan who both assured us that we could turn a bundle of sticks into a very respectable boat.
We returned to Michigan a day later with all of the raw materials we needed. The only hitch came in the form of an overzealous customs inspector at the US border who somehow doubted the veracity of our story that this was a non-profit venture and that we were going to make a boat with this stuff. (Fortunately, this diverted his attention from the contraband peameal bacon we had hidden in the truck bed.)
My advice from here to anyone having doubts is "jump in with both feet - the water's fine." Just follow the book. It's amazingly well thought out.
According to my wife, Pat, a side benefit of the entire process is that I would get up in the morning, have breakfast, and disappear into the workshop, not returning until cocktail hour thus keeping me out of the kitchen during those early retirement days.
Ever try paddling the Betsie River in northern Michigan? Our advice - rent a canoe from the livery! It all started normally with gentle rapids, salmon swimming upstream, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. Then came the snag reaching across the stream just at chest height. Then another one! We also found out that the Betsie is noted for its bowling ball size rocks. We emerged several miles downstream soaking wet and with scratches but no real damage to our canoe (only our egos). We definitely proved the strength of the strip and Fiberglas construction.
There have been many other enjoyable outings and trips - too many to note. I even procured a 1937 Elto PAL 0.9HP motor and built a bracket to fit the canoe. It's great for those times when no one is looking and you just can't paddle any more.
When I was finished, I took my canoe out to the lake and had some fun. I tried not to worry about the nicks and scratches and found that they polished out easily. I later decided to clean it up and find a worthy charity to accept the benefits of my labor. I gave the canoe to the Byron, Michigan VFW. They raffled it and raised $3000 for veterans, orphanages and community schools. The wonderful couple who won the raffle planned to gift it forward to a deserving veteran. Nothing could have made me feel better about all of the hours spent gluing and sanding. The next step, start over and do it again. I corrected many of my past mistakes, and experienced some new ones but always made improvements along the way. It's hard to imagine a more fulfilling hobby.