Friday, October 30, 2015

More Canvas Canoe Tarp Rigging Options

After completing the quick 10x10 canvas tarp shelter made from a painter's dropcloth (see post HERE) some nice yard time was spent fiddling around with setups.

My preferred method of shelter is to have one exposed side not only for the view but also for heat from a radiant fire. So as posted on before, a favourite tarp pitch is the "Adirondack Wind Shed" very reminiscent of the Whelen leanto. It needs just 4 ground stakes on the tarp and two guylines for support.

Tarp pitched in a "Whelen style" leanto

Here's an old web image featuring a whelen lean to setup with the canoe in front to add an extra bit of protection from the elements. Personally, I would have the canoe propped up much further away and have a small reflecting fire built.

Another option for pitching is a more enclosed shelter with open ends at the front. This one is supported with a single paddle at the head and another paddle in the rear is used to lift up the drooping middle for a little more interior space.

What's nice about this setup is that with the foot area completely staked down, one side can be opened up and pulled back to give a bit more coverage but still retain an open feel. Basically with a bedroll thrown in there, your upper body can be exposed to a warming fire with your lower body more covered by the tarp.

One side opened up for ventilation

Another classic setup with nearly full enclosed protection is the so-called "Tarp Tent" that is featured in lots of different old camping books. Claude P.  Fordyce 's  Touring Afoot  (1922) has a great description on making one along a with a clear image of its setup.

The 1916 Abercrombie and Fitch catalog also featured this design for the outdoorsman...

For a while, the NorthWest Woodsman was selling a high end version and his webpage tutorial on setup is still great reading on the pitching method.

Generally this pitch works best with a rectangular tarp but it can still be done with a 10x10 square design resulting in a more narrow and compact solo shelter (roughly 5.5' high at the entry x  5' wide x 7.5' long).

However, my 58" paddles are too low to raise the front entry to practical levels. For that reason, one would need to find something in the bush or use a canoe pole. For this yard demonstration, I just used a piece of 8ft - 2x2 lumber. It was rigged with two prussic cords that held in position once everything is tensioned. One is connected to the top of the tarp with a carabiner, the other supports some guylines.

Single Pole "Tarpaulin Tent" pitch

The door flaps can be staked closed as in the above picture, angled out or fully pulled back to give a bit more air and space.  It requires a minimum of 7 stakes to pitch properly plus the guyline. Of course it could be rigged with two lashed poles to free up space in the entryway but I didn't have another piece of suitable lumber to play with here.

Here's another view of the interior  with one door flap angled out and another folded fully back...

As a last resort or in a quick downpour, one could always rig a quick shelter with the canoe paddles and pole like so...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Historic Paddle Illustration: Mi'kmaq Paddle Art

An interesting article entitled, "Art Sales: colonial Canadian art reawakened", in The Telegraph discusses how auction sales of 19th century colonial artworks are fetching record prices. In particular, 2 famous paintings featuring Mi'kmaw bark canoes and paddles that were estimated at between  £25,000 - £40,000 went for a whopping  £530,500,  more than 13 times the high end estimate! It apparently was sold to an unidentified Canadian buyer.

The first piece,  Mi’qmak Indians hunting Canada geese, features a typical "humped" Mi'kmaq Ocean canoe with rounded ends riding the ocean waves powered by a blanket sail.

Mi’qmak Indians hunting Canada geese
ca. 1850
Artist: Unknown

The female bow paddler has her infant secured to her back with a cradle board and is paddling with a paddle shape very unique to this First Nations group - a spear like blade with recurved shoulders and no grip end.

This paddle design has been described as an early Micmac paddle after a sketch which still exists in the National Maritime Museum (London) and reproduced by Adney & Chappelle.

Fig. 4: Adney & Chappelle
Bulletin - United States National Museum
Smithsonian Institution; United States. Dept. of the Interior

The second painting,  Mi’qmak Indian camp on a bay with Mi’qmaks shooting Canada geese, also features some lovely lateral shots of these bark canoes along with better illustration of the paddle shapes and decorated blades

Mi’qmak Indian camp on a bay with Mi’qmaks shooting Canada geese
ca. 1850
Artist: Unknown

A closeup of the male hunter on the bottom left shows a paddle resting across the gunnels. The paddle blade features a distinct scroll pattern and no discernible grip on the end either. In the zoomed image, it also looks like his one leg is wrapped over the paddle shaft for a sort of brace before taking the shot with his rifle.

The other female bow paddlers once again feature the spear like paddles with curved motifs for decoration.

If this second painting looks familiar it's because I posted about another version back in 2009. That copy now resides in the National Art Gallery of Canada. Clearly painted by the same unknown artist, the oil and canvas version is said to be of poorer quality than the one just sold at auction.

"Micmac Indians"
Unknown Artist, circa 1850
oil on canvas
45.7 x 61 cm

National Gallery of Canada (no. 6663)

I've read that many ethnographers have praised the details in these artworks as very accurate portrayals of Mi'kmaw embroidery and material culture so it should give a wonderful clue as to paddle forms and decoration of this time period.

January 2018 Update: A replica of the stern paddle has been complete. Click HERE for that post.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Abbe Museum 2015 Paddle Art

The 2015 Gathering Gala for the Abbe Museum once again features decorated canoe paddles as part of their fundraising event. This year's exhibit page has 2 paddles that caught my attention because of their focus on traditional Wabanaki designs.

The first is the Wabanaki Tree of Life Paddle by Gina Brooks. Here's a picture and the artist's writeup below:

Gina Brooks
Ash paddle

“My intention is to share examples of Wabanaki art, with their diverse and powerful designs – many of which have also served a very practical purpose in the everyday lives of living and breathing Wabanaki people. Beyond technical rendering of the subject, I have extensively researched the historical background of Wabanaki material culture and the spiritual, symbolic significance of distinctive traditional designs. My design, the Wabanaki Tree of Life, represents both our traditional symbols and our creation from the ash tree – represented by the ash leaves within the curve itself. This paddle represents how we function as a people with our symbology. Because of a deep connection to the earth, the symbology links us to each other. When you dip the paddle, it renews and strengthens that relationship. It gives us the strength to be ourselves, and to show it – all of these symbols reinforce our connection to the earth and to each other.” 

The other interesting paddle to my eyes is by well known birchbark artisan David Moses Bridges. It looks to have en etched layer of birchbark fused onto an ash paddle blade:

David Moses Bridges
Passamaquoddy Ash paddle, birchbark

David Moses Bridges is from the Passamaquoddy reservation at Sipayik. David's great-grandfather, Sylvester Gabriel, passed away when David was a young boy, leaving behind several traditional tools and intricate plans for how to build a birchbark canoe. Having never made a canoe with his grandfather, David eventually went on to boat building school so that he could learn to read his grandfather's instructions. After working with master canoe builder Steve Cayard, David has now built three canoes by himself, and participated in over 20 collaborative programs, many of which have taken place within Wabanaki communities, bringing an almost lost art back to its people.

David's birchbark etching reminded me of birchbark stencils used to decorate paddles. I'm aware of 2 such examples in my research - one is documented in Frank G. Speck's Symbolism in Penobscot art (1927)  - Figure 12, Page 43

The other is an artifact in an artifact in the Smithsonian's NMAI collection posted on the twitter feed of the Associate Curator of the National Museum of the American Indian

Abenaki, Paddle Stencil (detail)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Historic Paddle Photo - Quebec Laurentide Guide Update

Found the source of one of my favourite historic photographs (see original post here).

Canoe Guide, Laurentides, Quebec
Type: Original Photogravure
Expired Ebay Link

The original Ebay seller dated it to 1926, but I came across the same image in the August 1914 edition of  Rod and Gun in Canada (Vol. XVI No. 3 ) thereby dating the image to an earlier time.  You can just make out the loaded pack cloth  filling up the hull.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Luke McNair Larch Split Paddle & Canoe Build

Luke McNair has been very busy with some fantastic canoe and paddle related projects (previous posts of Luke's wonderful carvings can be read here and here). He recently sent me a progress update along with some photos.  They include a shot of him hard at work splitting a log of Larch with a hand-carved maul and some wedges.

 Out of this log, a beautiful paddle was carved by axe and crooked knife. He has become most proficient with these woodworking tools.

In addition to this, Luke has been very busy building a Wabanaki style canoe, but using canvas as a substitute for birch bark. His facebook page has some great pictures of the build process so far. I'm not on Facebook but was able to log in using my wife's account and copied some of the photos here. Most impressive is that he is able to build this thing inside his home! After I built my 3ft bark model on our dining room table over the spring of 2008, my wife made me promise NEVER to carve inside the house again or ELSE! I listened and the marriage has survived. Here are some photos of Luke's inspirational build...

Building frame

Carved thwarts

Canvas attached to the hull

Ribs temporarily set and sheathing being carved

Adjusting the sheathing

Canoe ends looking good

Some readers might also recall another builder in the UK, Elspeth Soper, was also building a canoe using this method (documented in Garth Taylor's 1980 book Canoe construction in a Cree cultural tradition). A visit to her blog has revealed that the Cree style canoe is also finally done - congratulations! Here is an exciting shot of Luke descending down a rapid in Elspeth's canoe...

Very much looking forward to more updates and eventually witnessing Luke's canoe on the water..

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chestnut Playmate / Peterborough Mermaid acquisition

Excited to pick up another wood canvas canoe this weekend.  She was advertised as a 14' Chestnut. Not too many of those tend to pop up in the classifieds so it peaked my interest.

Over the years I've read many positive things about the 14 foot pleasure models by Chestnut & Peterborough Canoe companies. Sometime after 1954-1955, Chestnut began marketing a 14 footer named the Playmate which featured a narrow ribs only 1-1/2" wide with 1 1/2" spacing. Back and forth with the seller revealed the dimensions of his boat were consistent with this model.

 These boats seemed quite narrow, the outwale to outwale width is just 30 inches with a depth of 13" at centre thwart. In comparison, the width of my other 14' canoe is 32" with an 11" depth.  I was also happy to see that there was no visible restoration work on the ribs or stems. The previous owner stored it properly because the ends look pretty good too. Normally this area is the first to rot heavily and need replacement.

The outwales look like oak and have scarfed joints that are just coming apart where the glue has failed over time. Oak rails were apparently common on 14' pleasure canoes.

Scarfed oak outwales

A chunk of the outwale has been broken off or maybe chewed by a curious critter? Same for a small piece of the inwale although this taste test looks more recent.

Broken / Torn piece of outwale

Nibbled bit of inwale

It sort of reminded me of this bit of canoe art...

Not sure if the seats are original. They do look quite aged. Certainly the steel hanger bolts are a recent addition. The seats will need to be re-done but not sure if I'll bother re-caning. Might go with something more utilitarian since the intention is to use this as a solo tripper.

 Original brass carriage bolts in the back; steel modern bolts in the front

The paint on the canvas is heavily cracked and it looks like it's only been one colour for the life of the canvas - red. Took off a few paint chips and the filler is still pretty decent. I might just gently scrape, sand and slap on some primer and paint just to get a season out of her before attempting to recanvas.

Crackling paint job


The Chestnut decal in the seller's original advertisement looked pretty authentic so I went in thinking this was a narrow-ribbed Chestnut Playmate. When I got there, however, I notice a non-Chestnut serial number stamped on the stem: 1814 5453. The first number looked like a Peterborough model code - 1814 is the model number for their 14foot Mermaid model.

Chestnut Decal

Serial Number

I've posted on the Wooden Canoe and forums to get some feedback from the experts there. Given the overlap in production history between Peterborough and Chestnut, it doesn't seem that odd that it was built as a Peterborough and then slapped with a Chestnut decal - making it a hybrid of sorts...a Peternut.

The other advantage of the Peterborough code is that it offers a rough date range that a Chestnut serial number cannot provide.

Since Peterborough officially went out of business in 1962 (some sources state production ended in 1961), the presence of this code would mean it would date to before that period.

More updates to follow...

July 2016 Update: The superficial restoration has been Part 1 post.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Drop Cloth Tarp Shelter Project

Here's a lengthy post about another gear project I've been working on. For a while I've wanted to try making a 10'x10' canvas tarp from an inexpensive painter's drop cloth. While not as lightweight and compact as modern silnylon tarps, I like the fact that they are rugged and spark resistant. I've already had to repair an 8x10 silny tarp twice because of its poor abrasion resistance and don't want to burn holes in my Cooke Custom Sewing 10x10 tarp obtained a few seasons back.

Along with a canvas bedroll cover, I intend to use the heavier canvas tarp as a basic canoe shelter in the shoulder season when flies are at minimum and a warming fire can be confidently built to reflect heat.

Anyway, many bushcraft sites discuss using canvas painter's drop cloths as an affordable base material. Something like this...

9x12 Drop Cloth from local Home Depot

I've read conflicting reports that the 8oz plain weave drop cloths from hardware stores are too loosely woven to be effective shelters in heavy rain. Others say the weave can be tightened by hot washing and drying a few times before applying a basic waterproofing agent. Just when I was about to pull the trigger and buy one, I found another brand being offered on sale with a much larger coverage of 12'x14'. Not only that, it was woven with what appeared to be a tighter twill weave. Here's a web image of the brand (although this is a pic of their 8'x12')

Bennett Brand Twill Woven Drop Cloth

I like the versatility of a square tarp that can be pitched in a variety of ways. Most notably, a type known as the "Adirondack Wind Shed" is a favourite because one can sleep laterally warmed by a fire and have a exposed view.

This is very reminiscent of a smaller Whelen Lean To shelter as demonstrated in the following YouTube video:

So with this goal in mind, the project was begun. First the tarp was washed twice in hot water and machined dried with high heat to "tighten the weave". Not sure if this was necessary for this twill woven drop cloth but I followed the advice of posters on forums who suggested this be done before any cutting and modifications to the drop cloth take place.

Next the huge tarp was draped over the work station in the basement (aka ping pong table). One interesting thing was that the single "centre" seam on this 12'x14' behemoth was not actually centered on the tarp - instead it was around 4' from one edge.

Huge Tarp covering the table

I laid out the tarp and marked where it would be cut with masking tape to result in a 10x10 square.  Given that the outer edges were already stitched with a basic seam, the cuts were positioned so that only 2 sides would be raw edged after cutting.

Marked out with masking tape

After checking out the measurements, the drop cloth was cut out. Keeping in mind that I don't have  a sewing machine, at this stage I moved on to the waterproofing process and had plans to deal with the raw edges later. 

I had obtained a bottle of NikWax Cotton Proof - a wash in formula for cotton canvas gear years ago thinking I would use it on the restored canvas Woods 200 pack. The Nikwax didn't seem to have an expiration date so figured now would be the time use this thing. I followed the hand washing instructions listed on the label which involved using the whole bottle (300 ml) while sloshing the tarp around in giant tub .

About to waterproof with Nikwax Cotton Proof

Afterwards, the tarp was transfered to a smaller 5 gallon bucket, submerged and soaked in the milky white solution for an additional 5 minutes.

Soaking in a 5 gallon bucket

The solution was then drained and the tarp lightly rinsed off with the hose. The tarp was then hung and air dried since I was worried the tumbling action of the dryer would further fray the unfinished cut edges. Luckily a breezy weather day took care of the drying process fairly quickly.

Hung up to dry

It was then brought back in to deal with the raw cut edges and centre seam. Like I said, we don't have a sewing machine but figured I could do a quick temporary job on the seams with pretty strong duct tape. I have a roll of white Gorilla tape that is pretty impressive stuff. Of course, nothing will properly replace the need for stitched edges but for the time being simply folding the raw edges in some of this heavy duty tape did the trick until I can get a used sewing machine and learn how to use it. A strip was also taped to the underside of the off centered seam.

For tie outs, I just used the old method of marbles and a little cordage. In total 8 of these were used so that there were tied out points every 5'. The beauty of this  crude system is that the tie out positions can moved anywhere on the tarp for some pretty interesting pitches (another post about that soon).

Tie out with a marble and 3mm static cord. Duct taped edge on bottom

Here is the tarp all folded up. Yes it is bulkier than silnylon. Yes it is heavier. But I plan to get more the one usage out of this by using it as my pack cloth for the tump roll method described here and will likely use it on minimal portaging trips

Never been great at folding

With some free time days later, it was set it up in the backyard to give the waterproofing a quick test run. While most sites show the "Adirondack Wind Shed" pitched with a horizontal ridge line tied between trees, I wanted to see if it could be free standing using paddles as supports. On the left is the partially completed Sassafras Penobscot (version 2) and on the right is the Sassafras Tripper blank that has yet to be carved. Here is the result with 4 ground stakes and 2 guylines lines for support. The awning is tied out to patio table for this pic, but my intention would be to have the overturned canoe serve as an anchor point when out in the field.

You might've notice the blue and cream nylon things on the top of the paddle grips. This was my temporary solution for paddle tarp cups posted about earlier. Once I got the system figured out, they really allowed for better tarp pitching that just tying lines to the awkwardly shaped grips.

Basically I'm re-purposing some narrow nylon bags that I use for stakes and guyline cordage. Each of the nylon bags has a small rock tied with cord around the side. The bag with this tied rock is then is placed upside down over the paddle grip.  The cord loops of the tarp are simply slipped over this rock and then the paddle placed vertically into position. When the guy lines are secured to the stake bags' drawstring and tensioned, the whole thing is pretty solid.

Here is a closeup if none of that made sense...

Tarp loop hooked over rock tied to stake bag; guyline tensioned on bag's drawcord

As an extra bit, another line was run between the 2 paddles and tensioned to support the "awning" but giving the heavier weight of the canvas, there is a pronounced curve. When I did this setup months ago with my 10x10 silnylon tarp, the awning was flatter. Still I can live with it in calmer weather.

This pitching style creates a sloped rear to allow for coverage in modest rain with a height of just over 4 feet at the awning. As a bit of scale, my wool kilim is roughly 65" inches long. Lengthwise, there's more than enough space under there for my bedroll and some gear.

After leaving it out overnight to see if any winds would slacken the line, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the thing didn't budge. This included a visit by the local racoon gang living in my neighbour's shed. One of them tried to climb up the backside and left his muddy paw prints on the tarp

Raccoon prints on the back side

Anyway, some water was sprayed on with the garden hose and it looks like the Nikwax coating did its job. Water droplets immediately beaded up and flowed down the back of the tarp

Waterproofing wash beading water droplets 

I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out for a piece of homemade gear made for minimal cost. In another post, I'll pitch it in a few different ways (with and without paddle supports) and report back.

Another View 

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