Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Bought a New Canoe!

Well, OK, it's not a "new" canoe, not by any stretch of the imagination. But, it's new to me. I am now the proud owner of a 1973 Chestnut Pal 16' canoe, and a significant restoration project.

When this canoe came up in the local classifieds, I was only tentatively interested. However the longer I thought about it, the more the idea of owning a classic cedar canvas canoe got under my skin. The Pal was atop my list of models that I was interested in - at 16' long it's small enough for me to paddle solo, yet can accommodate two paddlers on day trips - it's likely use in my hands. It's a classic and versatile prospector design that should handle a load well and be manoeuvrable in moving water. It also happens to be the same age as me (who is also in need of some restoration work).

It's in decent shape but with a fair bit of work needed - the varnish looks fairly good on the inside but with many cracks (from drying out of the wood?), and the paint is bright on the outside. However, the canvas has cracked so it will need to be recanvassed and then the canvas filled and painted. Before I get to the canvas though, there is a broken rib that should be replaced that has been repaired with fiberglass and epoxy. I am hoping the ends of the ribs are in good shape and will not need to be trimmed and scarfed. The stems look OK at first inspection, but I'll need to get in there for a closer look. I also hope that the planking checks out OK. The varnish will either need to be chemically stripped or (hopefully) cleaned and scuffed prior to a new application. The gunwales have rotted after years of outdoor storage so I'll not waste any time there with any salvage attempts.

I have already signed up to be a member of the oft-cited forums of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, and I am pretty sure that this blog will be my new best friend:

Once I have the canoe in my hands, I can better asses the damage and what needs to be done. I then have an important decision to make:

  • Restore to original, or customize to suit?

The purist in me says that it must be restored to preserve the original, but the practical side of me says to make it the way I want. Keep the heritage, but customize the canoe to suit my needs - a concept that's likely sacrilege to some. Not adhering to the original opens up some options, but on the other hand this is a classic canoe and no matter what I do will never be light and fast so I might as well just stick to the original. If I restore to original the decisions are pretty simple - just repair everything to factory specs. However, if I want to customize it, there are some decisions I'll need to make:

  • Colour? Green & red were the factory colours, and it's currently a beautiful green. Blue is nice, yellow too, but red is fastest. 
  • Keel? A shoe keel 3/8" thick & 2 1/4" wide is currently present as per the original. But it's not strictly needed and Mike makes a some good arguments for leaving it off here.
  • Yoke? The original has only a flat thwart. A contoured yoke would make the portage more comfortable.
  • Seats? The original has cane seats and the seats in this canoe are due for repair or replacement. They have quite a small caned area, and if replacing I could enlarge the seat for more comfort when paddling heeled over.
  • Gunwales? There may be potential to pare down the gunwales to save some weight. 
I'd love to hear from you on what approach you think is best, and why. I am only just starting to learn about cedar canvas canoe restoration, so if you have any resources (books, websites, etc.) for me, please send them my way. Of course I'll document the restoration here on the blog, though I probably won't get into the project until the fall or winter.

A couple of initial pictures:

The rest of the photos can be found at