Canoe-Making

August 23, 2015 - Labelle, Canada

It has been an extremely exhausting, fun, busy, and successful week in Quebec! As I mentioned in my last post, we were staying with Peter and Ali, who are my dad's aunt and uncle, and they have a summer house near Mont Tremblant (their town is La Minerve, not Labelle, but I could only mark Labelle on this website!). We only ended up having five days instead of the two weeks we initially planned, so the whole thing was a bit of a race against the clock. We were attempting to build two fourteen-foot plywood-epoxy canoes, and we did remarkably well for five days but didn't manage to get them finished. Right now they're in Peter and Ali's basement, with the outsides almost finished, but the insides still very rough and none of the extra things on yet. More on the actual process later!

The first afternoon/evening we were there, Bryony (Peter and Ali's daughter and my dad's cousin), her husband Mark, and their sons Noah and Abel were visiting, so we got to spend some time with them, which was really nice. Bryony and Mark are lovely, and the boys are very cute and smart, and so sweet to each other and everyone else. It was also great to spend our first afternoon and evening relaxing with them before we got to work.

The next day, Ali and Peter took them to the airport, so it was just the four of us there all day. After a relaxing morning, we launched Peter and Ali's two canoes, and set off on Lac des Mauves with a packed lunch. The one that Lucas and I were in is the first canoe Peter and Ali built, and it's absolutely beautiful, and theoretically looks like ours will when they're done. We spent the morning paddling through the lakes, playing a game I learned from Killian in Jordan called “the Wombat Game.” It's one of those word games where you have to guess the rule, and I found it very fun of course because I had guessed the rule in Jordan, but it was quite frustrating for Luke and Dad! Around lunchtime, we came around a familiar point and made it to a special sheltered little island. Last time we were here, we came to this island with fully loaded canoes and camped on it for a few days. Despite some initial troubles finding a place to put our tent, the island was perfect: small enough to swim around (and we did), but large enough to explore, with rocks to sit on, a tiny island next to it to keep our canoes on, a place to watch the sunset, beautiful trees, and a faint path carpeted by pine needles and surrounded by wild blueberry and wintergreen bushes. It was so cool to get to come back to it this year, to walk the path again, visit the place where our tent was, jump off the rocks again for a swim, and eat lunch there. After exploring we canoed back to Ali and Peter's house, which was much easier than the way there since the wind was with us this time.

Although the island is within a wildlife reserve, it's too small to have many animals. That is not true of the land around Ali and Peter's house, though! It was amazing the amount of birds and animals we saw right next to their house, even without going into the woods. There are deer in the field almost every evening, two chipmunks, hummingbirds, butterflies, and of course thousands of crickets and grasshoppers. Peter and Ali have birdfeeders (the deer often raid those in the winter) and they feed the chipmunk peanuts.

Mom made many of the meals while we were there, and they were delicious of course! We also got to try some of Ali and Peter's favorites, including pesto and olive bread they buy in the village and broiled cheese-and-tomato dip. The best part was that Peter and Ali subscribe to the idea of long, leisurely meals, so we would spend hours relaxing and talking over food to break up the hours of work on the canoes.

Despite my absolutely true descriptions of hours of work, building the canoes did end up to be really fun. We are going to go up again next summer to put the finishing touches on, but we managed to do most of it and we left with them at least looking like canoes! Here is an overview of the process. First of all, unfortunately plywood planks only come in lengths of up to eight feet. Since we were trying to build fourteen-foot canoes, we spent a lot of time the first few days gluing forty half-planks together to make the ten planks we needed for each canoe. That comprised stapling the boards down, carefully mixing and stirring resin and its activator together, painting the boards and applying fiberglass tape. Even that would have been fine if not for the fact that we mixed several batches of resin incorrectly over the course of the gluing, and had to do some boards as many as four times because the resin wasn't setting! After those were finally done, we took them down into the basement and assembled the canoe. We laid the planks on sawhorses, drilled hundreds of holes, and tied them all together with cable ties! In the past, Peter has used copper wire, but cable ties were much simpler even though they didn't pull the canoe quite as tight. Lucas and I cut bulkheads out of plywood, and we shaped the canoe around them and three temporary formers. We clamped and tied the ends, and it finally began to look like a real canoe! Lucas and Peter spent a full day adjusting the first canoe, tightening ties, adding more holes or copper wire where needed, and fitting stubborn planks. Then Mom painted the cracks with primer, then with sealant, on both the inside and the outside, and we waited twelve hours for them to dry. We took out the cable ties, sanded the whole boat thoroughly, then carefully draped a fiberglass sheet over outside of the whole thing and smoothed massive quantities of resin into it with plastic scrapers. This took about an hour and a half on the first canoe, and was extremely stressful, but it was really cool to watch the resin making the fiberglass turn clear and the wood showing through. Finally, Mom used a foam roller to put on two more coats of resin. We got both canoes to this point, and the outside is done except for a last coat of varnish, but the inside still needs fiberglass, resin, and varnish. Then there are all the small things that we'll do when we come back – putting in the small decks on the front and back, attaching the seats and thwart, and any other finishing touches. The seats and thwarts are beautiful, made of wood and cane, and Lucas and I also sanded them and gave them three coats of varnish while we were there. Phew!!

Now that I'm done with that adventure, I'm ready for another one. As I write this, I'm leaving tomorrow for the real start of my gap year, after only three days at home. I'm taking the Greyhound to Boston, then I'll be flying to England for a few days to stay with my grandmother and get my bearings, and then on to France. I spent most of yesterday packing: a backpack for France (which hopefully is small enough to meet even the budget airlines' carry-on restrictions), and a suitcase that I'll leave in England with supplies for Costa Rica. Lucas is starting school on Thursday, and I'm quite glad to be doing something different this year, but it's terrifying to be leaving so soon. He's going to drive me to the airport to catch my bus, and then I'll be off. I feel woefully unprepared, but I'm trying to trust that I have some of the skills I need and that it will probably turn out well! Anyway, next time you see me I'll be across the Atlantic yet again, and I'll tell you a little bit about what I'll be doing next!


Pictures

Family Dinner
Camp Fire
Out on the lake
Our island
 
 

4 Comments

Patty:
August 26, 2015
Greetings from me to Granny Bull! Have fun!
Mom:
August 26, 2015
The canoes were an awesome adventure!!!! Bon voyage my love. I am so proud of you.
Kathleen Dodge:
August 26, 2015
You have been preparing for this all your life, Becky. And the real wonder is the courage you summon - to open your hand and let go of what you hold so dear - so that both you and they may joyfully embrace this journey we call life. The gifts of every lesson learned and every mile you have trekked remain with you. You are closer to home than you imagine.
Lola:
October 9, 2015
Dangit just remembered I never figured out the Wombat game...

On the other hand, this is all so cool! Though I personally don't see how you can stand going without a textbook for so long. :P

Composite materials FTW!
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