Worth the Wait! by Jim Slavin, Estevan, Saskatchewan, Canada
By Jim Slaven
I started canoeing as a young boy and have been hooked on it ever since.
I bought the ,"Canoecraft" book when I was 23 years old. It took another 23 years for me to finally order my first canoe kit. Now at age 47 I can finally paddle my own hand built canoe.
I met my wife 5 years ago and couldn't help but notice the 13 by 20 foot heated shop beside her house. Barb finally relented and moved me in 4 years ago. I couldn't wait to see inside that shop. once inside I realised it was packed to the rafters with years worth of her and her kids storage. I somehow convinced Barb that in order for us to do a complete and much needed kitchen renovation in her house we would need to empty out that shop to have space for refinishing the cabinets. Over the next couple of years the shop was emptied. As we both enjoy canoeing I was able to sweet talk Barb into allowing me to build a canoe first before the kitchen reno. I Thought I could complete the canoe in 6 months but it took well over a year.
I am by no means a carpenter. I've refinished some tables and chairs in the past and that is about the extent of my woodworking experience. Building a canoe for the first time would not be simple for anyone. I have proof though that it is not impossible. I found that the most important thing to possess is patience. If I had free time in the evening or on weekends I would go to my shop and slowly tackle each step. I would work for hours shaping , sculpting and sanding (maybe even drink a few beers) and reading the instructions over and over to make sure I understood what had to be done before I proceeded. I dreamt about building this canoe for so long that I was determined to make the most beautiful craft that I possibly could. I gained even more patience by the time I finished. If I got really stumped, and I did a few times, I emailed Ron of "Canadian Canoes" and he graciously answered my questions. And more than once I didn't really agree with some of the instructions, (sorry Ted, or maybe I just couldn't understand the instructions.....or it could have been the beer) so I improvised and thankfully it worked out for me. Yes I found canoe building challenging, but if I can do it then I believe that anyone can build a canoe. This was the most fun, exciting, and fulfilling endeavour that I have experienced to date.
I live in Estevan, in the south east corner of Saskatchewan. We have next to no trees, very few lakes and rivers and wind all day every day. I swear , my next canoe will have a mast and a sail. Like everybody else living down here, we make the best of what we have. Our initial canoe launch was two weeks ago near Alameda Sk. on the Alameda dam. It was actually a calm evening, the water was like glass, beautiful! We built a 15 foot Ranger, I could not be more pleased with how she handled. She sits high on the water and paddles and tracks superbly! I'm thankful that I did install a keel. To make our first canoe trip even better, I caught a pike, a walleye and drank a beer. That's a Saskatchewan hat trick right there!
My only regret in canoe building is that it took me so long between the time I bought "Canoecraft" to the time that it took me to actually start building my first canoe. And yes, I'm sure this will be my first of many canoes. Now that I've learned these unique woodworking skills I want to keep practicing and improving my canoe construction and knowledge. It was fun to design my own fish and put the design on the inside and outside of the hull. I'd always wanted to try wood inlays which this project finally gave me the opportunity. Each deck is done with opposite wood species inlayed. Attempting to build a canoe gave me the courage and determination to try this. It's not perfect but I'm happy with my first attempt at inlays. Building this canoe has raised my confidence level and made me see that I can build anything I set my mind to.......... as long as Ted gives me some instructions.
The sense of pride of gotten from paddling a canoe that I built, priceless! The cost of beers drank in my shop while building my canoe, $2,346.00 painful!
The next project I have planned is going to be way more difficult and death defying than building a canoe. I plan to build another canoe before renovating Barb's kitchen! Wish me luck!