In college I became obsessed with building a canoe. They say the state of Minnesota could be traversed north to south and east to west with nothing but a canoe and the willingness to hike it a couple of miles, at most. Whether or no this was true didn’t matter. Just the idea of crossing the state by water captivated me.
All of the indoor time in college didn’t help matters. I was cooped up in class and studying for weeks at a stretch, all contributing to a loose perception of time. I also worked late nights at the library to pay student loans. Most days I didn’t know what time or day it was.
But it was at the library that I was able to source all manner of technical and hard-to-find texts on the subject of canoe building, plans, and techniques old and new. I decided I wanted to build a canoe that could sustain a solo trip across the state, if indeed it could be done.I missed working with my hands and needed something to occupy my time indoors during the long brutal winter, anyway. After a few months of research, I stumbled on a book which had just come out. It had an obviously appropriate title and it was here I found the actual plan:
by Henry “Mac” McCarthy
Turns out Mac now sells this plan on his website here: Feather Canoes. At the time there was no website and I opted to loft the design from the description in the book.
The only problem was the plans called for some specialty lumber, cut to specifications, and some specialty tools…oh, and some exotic epoxies and specialty woven fiberglass, and brass fasteners. I drafted a budget that totaled upwards of $700. Although some materials were required, others could be substituted, and still others could be bartered or traded. My budget was, I thought, reasonable. So I did what any enterprising young student would do, I approached the most obvious investors, my parents.
While a well-reasoned project plan and budget were sufficient for my mother, an accountant by trade, and the family money-manager, for my dad it was an opportunity to stump me in some good-hearted sportsmanship. He agreed to finance the project on condition that I answer a riddle within 24 hours. My mother rolled her eyes. He continued:
A merchant has a fox, a rabbit, and a head of lettuce and sits on the edge of a river. He has a small raft capable of carrying only himself and one item at a time, but without his supervision the fox will eat the rabbit, and the rabbit will eat the lettuce. How can he successfully transport all goods from one side of the river to the next without losing the lettuce or rabbit? The dilemma, of course, is that there is no other way across.
It took me a few minutes to reason through it and provide the answer, all the while thinking it out loud. This was a game we played, which we both enjoyed. He gladly bankrolled the canoe after that. And that’s how the this project started.
Here’s more information on the boat, design sketches, and a very nice variation of it by Newfound Woodworks in New Hampshire.
I have not canoed across the state like the idea that originally captivated me. But I have crossed a lot of rivers and lakes on it. It’s canoed in 4 different states, and still hangs in my garage, ready for another solo camping trip exploring distant waterways.