New Generation Learns the Art of Boat Building
Many thanks to the Calgary Herald for permission to use this article.
The Link URL to the Herald is here: http://www.calgaryherald.com/health/generation+learns+boat+building/9348166/story.html
Last winter, Richard Drabble built a wooden canoe in his house. The five-metre project sat in the engineer’s dining room for months.
“We couldn’t have any visitors all winter,” Drabble said. “My wife was very understanding.”
In August, the couple took it on a University of Calgary Outdoor Centre two-week, 250-kilometre canoe expedition down Saskatchewan’s Churchill River.
While paddling down the water in his handmade creation and reminiscing about the boats he had worked on since creating a kayak with his father in England at age 11, Drabble decided he would start a program to teach Calgarians how to build boats.
“It is a bit of a dying art,” he said. “It’s important to teach younger folks how to do it.”
He believed a boat building group could be an opportunity for people, especially a younger generation, to learn a non-digital skill. It would be a chance for participants to create something to help them appreciate Canada’s vast wilderness and rivers.
“This is a generation that sits behind computers and is too sedentary . . . we need to encourage the younger generations to make stuff,” Drabble said.
He pitched the idea to staff at the U of C Outdoor Centre and a temporary boat-building space was soon secured. The Calgary Boat Building Academy was born and, in November, a 12-week Build Your Own Boat course in partnership with the U of C Outdoor Centre began. Four teams, including a family, a father and his 18-year-old daughter, and a young couple signed up. By the spring, four handmade boats will be ready for the water.
The volunteer-run academy has taken over the main floor of a large brick heritage building near river pathways on Memorial Drive and 10th Street. Curious passersby peek in the windows and come inside to ask questions when people work on their boats.
Doug McNeill signed up for the course with his wife and their three daughters, aged 11, 15 and 16.
“We’re trying to make it a family project, just because it’s something that’s so very different,” McNeill said, in between stitching his canoe’s planks together with wire.
The boat-building course has been an opportunity for the family to bond by partaking in a project that’s unfamiliar to both adult and child. Once built, the family will use their creation at their cottage in B.C.
Three times a week, Drabble and four volunteer leaders help participants like McNeill build their boats, which take about 100 man hours to create.
The Calgary Boat Building Academy is in its early stages, but Drabble said interest is growing rapidly. There’s talk of offering a build your own stand-up paddle board course in the future, and courses that teach more advanced methods of boat building. The group is “by community for community” and the only cost for participants is materials. The academy is being incorporated as a not-for-profit and a meeting is scheduled in the current location for Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. for any community members interested in the new group.
Material kits for the in-progress boats were ordered from the U.S., but Drabble said he’s keen to design the boats in Calgary and have materials cut by local shops in the future.
The five-metre-long canoes are made by assembling pre-cut planks of plywood around temporary frames and using wire stitches to hold the pieces together. Then the seams are glued, the stitches are removed and the boat is sanded and covered with glass fibre cloth and epoxy resin. Finally, gunwales, seats, thwarts and a yoke are added. The finished product will weigh just 60 pounds and will be self-buoyant and incredibly durable.
Course participant Steven Wapple is looking forward to using the canoe he’s building with his fiancee on the Bow River.
Wapple believes the June flood has scared some Calgarians away from enjoying river activities, but said the disaster has also offered an educational opportunity for citizens to better understand the city’s water and safe water practices.
“(The river) is a great thing we have right in our city. It’s super accessible . . . Lots of things have changed (because of the flood) so it’s like getting to know a whole new river,” said Wapple, who co-ordinates the U of C Outdoor Centre’s rafting and paddling programs.
Wapple guided Drabble on the two-week adventure down the Churchill River this summer and said he admired Drabble’s “beautiful” handmade boat on the trip. He was eager to help make the boat-building course a reality and spend hours creating a boat of his own.
“In today’s world, people get what they want very instantaneously, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s just nice to put in the time and the effort,” said the 23-year-old.
Drabble, who still vividly remembers launching the first boat he built into the English sea decades ago, said in Canada, a country with a rich canoeing history, there’s also a heritage aspect to boat building.
Whether boating on rivers, lakes or the ocean, being on water is an enjoyable, and classic, outdoor experience that also serves as an opportunity to appreciate nature and water, Drabble said.
And, Drabble believes it’s an experience that’s enhanced when adventurists hit the water in boats they’ve spent dozens of hours creating.
“The experience of being on the water in boats is so much heightened by being in a boat that you built yourself,” he said.