My 1907 Old Town Charles River Canoe, No 6414

It was an Uncle Henry’s find many years ago. A fellow in Searsmont had her and I remember it came to him through his wife’s family. The canoe was upside down in wet grass. The rails and decks were rotten, the tops of both stems, and and plank ends both sides of the stems were gone. But the frames were all good, the planking except for two small sections was good, and the lines were true and beautiful. So began a six year renovation.

Old Town’s Original Factory Order.

It took weeks with a heat gun and scraper to remove the layers of fibreglas on the outside, and the buildup of varnish and paint in the inside. I scarfed some sound wood onto the stems, filled in the planks with some fir clapboards I had lying around, and fitted new inside rail and decks. I knew she was beyond canvass, so I planned from the get go a layer of cloth and epoxy, and sanding the hull up as much as I dared I applied the skin. Marrying the hundred year old frame with petrochemical based materials took some soul searching, but I didn’t know what else to do. The canoe had already had two generations of fibreglas coatings, so it seemed better to do what I did and give the boat a new life than nothing at all.

After the wood repairs, ready for cloth and epoxy

The work moved ahead in fits and starts. I moved several times during the project, and there was never a good place to work on it. Many times I considered dragging it out to the burn pile. Someone suggested bookcases, but I can’t imagine a more ignoble end to a good canoe. Better to be burned. When I thought about how the old growth planking and frames were likely upward to 400 years old, I thought I better keep going. The final steps were completed in the living room. It takes a good woman to welcome a canoe into her living room.

                                         The Charles River at Lobster Lake

I’ve taken this canoe on several trips on the West Branch, and one trip to Allagash Lake. It paddles well, and it’s plenty stable. I can stand up and pole. The catalog claims new she weighed 65 lbs. Now it weighs 70 lbs, and is getting a bit much for the sixty four year old back  to heist up and down from the car roof rack. Not to mention the portages.

Now, with a solo Allagash trip on the near horizon I’m wondering what to do. Some kevlar canoes weigh little more than half what the Charles River weighs. They’re pricey, but so would a ruptured disc in the wilderness be pricey, never mind cause the ruination of a good canoe trip.