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Monday, January 31, 2011

Rock beats Paper. . .at least in this case.

After a little over ten hours of use on calm, flat water, it was time to put the Paper Canoe to a little stress testing.  Less than an hour upstream from Washington D.C. there is a nice section of moving water on the Potomac near Seneca, MD.  We'd test it here.

We put in at Violets Lock, went upstream just bit, and then turned southward to move from the Maryland side of the Potomac towards Virginia, and Donald Trump's newly acquired golf course (incidentally, while renovating the course he very courteously had over a mile of riparian buffer ripped out so his clientele could get a view of the river while sitting in the clubhouse.0) .


We pulled up on the Virginia shore to stretch our legs and get ready for the faster moving water and the many small, twisty channels on this side of the river.  And by 'getting ready' I mean we took the opportunity to lighten our coolers a bit.

Not far down the channels and the canoe was doing splendidly.  We rafted up next to an enormous downed tree, lodged in the center of the channel for many years and tried to ignore the beckoning call of the rope swing dangling from an extremely slanted sycamore on the bank.  Many times in the past I'd succumbed to its siren song, but this was early November with water just a bit too chilly, so we simply sat, chatted, and lightened the coolers some more.  Looking upstream you can just make out one of the drops the canoe went over nicely. . .

Unfortunately the smooth ride was not to last.  As we continued down stream the turns got tighter, the twists went faster, and the rocks loomed.  Many turns were made with a well timed paddle stroke, but sadly, many more were made by the force of the water pushing the canoe broadside against a massive rock.  Although I couldn't see any leaks, I could tell the canoe would not end up as pretty as she started (and that wasn't a high mark to begin with!)

We made our way out to the main channel and chose to stop on the exposed rocks below a section known as the Seneca Breaks.  This is just an incredible section with wide, scenic views, cool breezes, and again ample opportunity for cooler lightening.  You can see the canoe is a bit banged up.

Still no leaks!  So we take the opportunity to play a bit in the rapids and moving water.  You can see how the scrapey shell and rock bottom could be unforgiving for paint, varnish, and paper. . .

Eventually we knew we had to move on, so we made our way back across the main channel of the Potomac to make the very short portage across the towpath in order to place the boats in this watered section of the C&O canal.  Here the relatively calm, flat water gives us an ideal route to paddle easily back towards our vehicles.  It is also a great section for spotting wildlife.  We saw numerous turtles sunning themselves on logs, a few kingfishers darting from tree to tree, and even got the chance to get close enough to this great blue heron with enough time to take out my phone, figure out how to take a picture with it, and watch him fish for many minutes.

Back at Violets Lock the take out would reveal the grim news... the Paper Canoe suffered major deformations on both sides.

But still NO LEAKS!  It was a fantastic trip, fair weather, good water, and great times.  And we answered the question of wether or not the Paper Canoe could do a Class II. . .YES! (sort of.)  I'm certain a more skilled paddler would not have made her work as hard against the many rocks, and she wouldn't have needed to endure the many scrapes, but all in all I'm amazed at how well she endured, and I didn't have to swim or wade back to my car.

With over 13.5 hours on the water, much of it inhospitable for her, she's done quite well, even if she won't win any beauty contests.

Happy Messing About!


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Voyages Begin!

Potomac River near Poolesville, MD. . .

Put in at Edward's Ferry for the first time in the paper canoe and met some friends in their kayaks.

After making sure it didn't sink, and would go where I pointed it, went to play around on the water and test the different sitting positions.

Water was warm, no wind, and a great sunset made us feel like we didn't need to rush to get back before dark.
This was as close as I would get to christening the craft, as I didn't know if it would take a blow to the bow too well, and of course I didn't want to waste any beer. Ended up spilling some in the bilge anyway. . .

Paddled back to the launching area in the dark, enjoying the stillness and some more libations. While sitting in the relative darkness, a fish bigger than my hand jumped out of the water port side, flew in front of my face, and re-entered starboard side. I thought this was a good omen for the first splashing of the paper canoe.

Voyages continued. . . The first splash had the boat floating for a little over 3 hours, with only a solo adult passenger. The next would require an addition of two kid passengers. Again, a warm September, starting at the Mouth of the Monocacy where it enters the Potomac. In the background of this picture you can see the Monocacy aqueduct. When it was in service, it allowed barges on the C&O Canal loaded with goods move over this water on their way to Georgetown or Cumberland.
Weather was warm and sunny, with no wind, and the kids thought they'd try the boat as a fishing platform.
I had never intended to have multiple passengers in this boat, but Mom was out at work that day, so we improvised. The kids are sitting on Thermarest camp chairs which offer some back support, and I'm resting my back on the kneeling thwart, swivelled into a comfortable angle.

Seems to be just enough room up front for a 7 year old. . .

And here is the room behind me. You can see I'm sitting on my PFD, and if you look closely you can see there is room for some weapons of mass distraction: several squirt guns and a Disny Princesses fishing pole. . .

And room in the stern for a 5 year old to plot her next move toward river domination. . .

Out on the Potomac we caught site of a bald eagle

Which was soon scared off, but our friend Shawn thought there must be some fish nearby there, so he went to give it a try with his expensive flyrod...

While some of us enjoyed other hobbies. . .

The 5 year old eventually convinced her minions to commandeer the paper boat, and thus launch the plot for river domination. . .

Of course, the plot continued onto land, as they scaled the rocky ramparts. . .

Lots of splashing on the water, lots of exploring, lots of snacks and beverages, and a good time was had by all. And in the end, the Disney Princesses fishing pole caught as many as the expensive flyrod!
Total floating time after this point on the paper boat: 7.5 hours

More hours on the water

Later in October I took the crew to the Monocacy again, though this time the 7 year old wanted to captain his own boat. Hadn't put the paper boat on the car with another vessel yet, and wasn't sure how it would do with different compression/ load strains.
Loaded them like this, and everything seemed fine. . .
Started off going upstream this time, and of course the youngster on his own took off like a colt. Little sister and I glided along at a much more leisurely pace. . .

Stopped for snacks, exploring, and stone skipping near a railroad bridge crossing. Made for a good view of a train and exciting noise as it crossed.
Then went back downstream to meet up with the Potomac River. Water was low and choked with weeds. We tried some fishing, and fortunately the fish didn't bother us at all.
We tooled around some, and called it a day. Had to drag the boats back up stream and through the weeds to get back to the boat ramp. Still didn't seem to slow the young'un down much.

Had sloshed a lot of water into the paper boat, and hadn't brought a sponge. The latex 'Drylock' coating on the inside seems to be allowing it to delaminate a bit, but this is what the stern looked like after roughly 10 hours of floating on the water. . .

Hasn't melted quite yet.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Then There Was Boat. . .

Here you can see the first inner stem I had set in place.  These were two steam bent quarter inch think pieces of the pressure treated decking.   I then glued them together and let them sit for over a week.  I finally got them glued into place, and screwed to the outer stem, already in place.
Once the stems were in place, I decided to give the whole interior a coat of the latex 'Drylock'.  Mistake. You can see below how it seemed to make some of the strips of paper that had been varnished together sort of de-laminate.  I then glued and screwed in the keelson.  This was also laminated together from two quarter inch thick pieces, but the bottom piece I made about half an inch less wide than the top, and centered underneath it.  Once the whole thing was in, this gave me a short 'lip' to put the ribs under while I bent them in place and fastened them at the top with just a single screw into the outwhale.  Towards the top of this picture, under the temporary thwarts, you can see some scrap pieces being used as wedges to help the ribs stay pushed up against the paper hull until the glue dried.

Another coat of latex stuff and then a dry fit of the inwhales and the thwarts.  Looking back, I should've added more ribs.  Although it would have been more weight, they really do make the hull a lot more rigid and help it to stay in shape.  (Wait til you see how the hull looks after its adventure down a class II. . .)
Just a close up of the gunnels coming into the stem.  The stem and all of the excess paper were trimmed flush later.  There's a small block of wood that was screwed to the outwhales to keep them in place while they were drying still on the mold.  Now that the inwhales are screwed to the outwhales I guess it serves no purpose, but it is still in place.

The stainless steel nut, washer, and eyebolt (can't see the 'eye' here) were left over from a disassembled garden swing.
Another dry fit of the inwhales and thwarts.  I would eventually assemble them all together as one piece on the garage floor, and then staple in the fabric decks, just like upholstering a couch.  The fabric is from an old deck umbrella that succumbed to a sudden gust of wind. Once the fabric was stapled onto the inwhales, I glued and screwed the whole assembly in place to the outwhales.

I added some quarter inch floor boards, just glued down onto some of the ribs where I thought I'd be putting my weight most of the time.  Of course I just ripped them from the decking I had and painted them with the oil paint I had.  The breasthooks are just half inch pressure treated ply, and of course it was from scraps I had laying around.

I put almost any kind of filler I could find to seal the stems and the keel to the paper hull: liquid nails, 3M 5200, silicon flashing sealant.  All of them were tubes that had been open for a least a year, and the 5200 was more like 5 years old!

The 'nicer' looking thwarts and the swiveling kneeling thwart were made from some scraps of cherry floorboards.  After just a quick sanding I broke down and oiled them with some teak oil.  It does come out looking a lot nicer than the pressure treated pine does

.And here it is, ready to go!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Off the Mold!

Here you can see a close up of a few paper layers after they've been wetted with the varnish.

Looking closely, you can see some of the clamps I used to hold the paper to the inwhale while the varnish dried. The PVC clamps were great for this, but wouldn't be wide enough to hold the gunnels in place while glueing.
After about 40 hours of labor, 11 layers of paper, and one 3 x 8 section of fiberglass screen meant for a screen door, I ran out of varnish. (The fiberglass screen was stuck across the bottom of the canoe between layers 4 and 5 of paper.) Once the varnish was dry, I smeared on a layer of latex primer. This was probably a mistake, as I found out later oil based products tend to stick together better than mixing them with latex. Next time I'll skip latex stuff altogether.
Once everything was dried I flipped the hull to start planning the gunnels. Here you can see all of the clamps used to keep the strips of paper secure while drying.
For the wooden parts I was going to use scrap wood and used 2 x 6 pressure treated pine decking. This old decking had been replaced by composite decking to match a new deck extension, but was less than 10 years old and was still very solid. What else was I going to do with roughly twenty 18 foot long deck boards? I was pretty certain that out of all that material I could find at least four pretty solid gunnels.
Pressure Treated Pine??!!? Yes, I should probably apologize to all the serious boat builders out there, but remember I was trying to only use materials I already had on hand, or stuff that was going to be thrown away. I wasn't about to spend money on proper boat building wood. And besides, I reasoned the paper was likely to give out long before the pine would.
I used a guide attached to my circular saw to rip the 2x6 into three quarter inch widths. This gave me outwhales which are 3/4" by 1 and 1/2" . I attached them by glueing them on with Titebond III (had it already, of course) and screwing through the inwhales and hull of the mold boat into the new outwhales to hold them in place while the glue dried. Remember the PVC clamps and binder clips weren't wide enough!
Meanwhile, I also steam bent quarter inch thick sections of the pine over the stems and lashed them in place with as many straps as I could find. I eventually glued two such strips onto each end, giving the boat 1/2" outer stems. Later, I would use some of the same steam bent material to create 1/2" inner stems which would be glued to the paper skin and screwed onto the outer stems. Looking back, steam bending probably wasn't necessary. When I later bent some ribs into place I merely soaked them in water for an hour, and they took the shape of the hull fairly easily.
I also doubled up the quarter inch strips of pine to lay a 1/2 inch keel down the center. It was glued to the paper and stems (wood butchery evidenced through a very poorly planned scarf joint with the stems) Later I would do the same to the interior, laying in a 1/2" keelson glued to the paper and screwed into the keel.
Here the hull is just removed from the 'mold', my poor Mad River that had been encased in this paper cocoon for over a year.
LESSON LEARNED: Just go ahead and slice the stems, or someplace, to get the hull off. Mine ended up tearing near the stern and all the duct tape in the world couldn't make it right again.
In this picture I've placed a temporary thwart to help keep the shape, and I've had to re-glue the gunnels to the hull where they ripped off due to the tearing. At least you get to see the binder clips in action.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It Started. . .

Calling this a "paper canoe" is really not accurate, as by mass it is clearly more wood, paint, and other sticky stuff. It is more like a skin on frame craft where the paper skin is fairly rigid and the wood frame is fairly minimal. Also, the paper skin was built first and then the wood frame was integrated into it.

Roughly two years ago I came across a fascinating web site created by Ken Cupery which detailed the rich history of working boats made from paper. I had been interested in boat building for many years, but had never considered paper as a building material before this. After running across Mr. Cupery's website, I began to look upon several unused rolls of paper at my worksite in an entirely new light.

I am a teacher at an Outdoor Education school, where we don't typically rely on bulletin boards like most classrooms have, as we are outside with kids most of the time. Yet many years ago an elementary school donated to us several rolls of 'bulletin board' paper thinking we could put them to use somehow. I had seen these rolls of paper moved from one storage area to another several times, yet remaining largely untouched over six years. I decided they would be put to a higher purpose than dust collection.

About January of 2009 I decided my canoe, a very old Mad River Courier (14'7" long and 32" wide), needed to have its wooden gunnels removed, sanded, and re-oiled. With its outer whales off, I reasoned it would make a perfect mold to start layering with paper. And so it began. . .

The paper being supplied, I began to look for the other materials I would need. I had on hand the better part of a gallon of spar urethane leftover from a project, and at work I was able to find two partly filled gallon cans of polyurethane which were scheduled for disposal. This seemed to be a decent amount of sticky stuff that might render paper strips fairly water resistant.
It occurred to me I might be able make the entire hull out of spare parts or recycled materials. It became a challenge to use only materials that were scheduled to be thrown away or that were lying around with no designated purpse. I did not want to spend any money on construction.
With this in mind, I raided the office supply closet for 3 boxes of 2" binder clips and the kitchen supply closet for a roll of plastic wrap. This was a good start.

I rested the canoe on four sawhorses placed so their tops ran parallel with the keel line and would make contact with the interior of the hull. This allowed me to clamp the strips of paper to the inwhale over the entire length. I took a roll of paper which was roughly three feet long and band-sawed it into several rolls which were 4 to 6 inches wide. I wasn't sure how to saturate the paper with the spar urethane, so I started the first strips clamped in place dry, and would use a paint brush to 'wet them out' after they were in place.

It was easy to clamp a layer into place, brush on a lot of sticky stuff, and then clamp another layer at roughly a ninety degree angle to previous layer. At least it was across the middle of the hull. When I got to the stem areas, things got a little trickier. It was really difficult to fold four inch strips of paper across a nearly vertical stem, have them lay flat, and clamp them in place. I started tearing one inch wide strips to go across the stems, but it was still tough to get them to stay in place long enough for the urethane to dry. I experimented with letting the urethane get tacky before placing the strips, but never really came across an effective, easy solution.

UNIVERSAL LAW DEBUNKED! Duct Tape is NOT the solution to all structural/constuction problems! When the ends weren't covered sufficiently, I applied several strips of duct tape around and over the stems. The good news is it was strong and stuck in place. The bad news is it wrinkled over time, possibly due to paper shrinkage, and left incredibly uneven wrinkles all over both ends of the boat. I'd have to deal with it later.

UNIVERSAL LAW CONFIRMED! You will never have enough sticky stuff when you actually need it (without a lot of planning)! After about 7 layers of paper, I had exhausted my supply of spar urethane and polyurethane. Here is where I had to compromise my values a bit. . . I actually spent money.

However, I still kept with the "recycled" theme and went shopping at our neighborhood ReStore. This is a "Habitat for Humanity" project where anyone can donate building supplies, and then customers can buy them at a greatly reduced price. The proceeds go to support Habitat's mission. So for six dollars I found a previously opened gallon can of "exterior varnish" - that was the actualy title on the label, and the can looked to be decades old, but the contents where fine.

Three dozen binder clips were not enough, so I found an old length of 4 inch PVC pipe, ran a cut down its length on a table saw, then chopped it into half inch or three quarter inch wide circles. These made perfect clamps for holding paper strips onto the inwhale.

In the picture to the left you can see the difference between a strip of dry paper, and the layer which was already wetted out. In this particular case I was covering a gap that was left from the previous layer.

UNIVERSAL LAW CONFIRMED! Ignoring problems early on, hoping they'll just get better on their own later, seldom pans out. I had been skimping a bit on the varnish or poly as I was brushing it on, and after drying I could see voids, distinct air pockets between layers. There were also many, many raised wrinkles and seperated edges. With each layer I would blindly hope that the next layer would help to 'smooth things out', but in reality once a wrinkle was there, it just seemed to be compounded and made for more air pockets in later layers.

If I were a salesman, I'd describe these as 'hull integrated micro bouyancy chambers'. But I know they will likely be hundreds of little sponges as time goes by, and this is where the paper will degrade first. Oh well.