In the late 19th century there was something of a craze in canoes. The canoes of the time were built by a variety of craftsman across the northern tier of the US and throughout Canada. Up in Canton, NY, J. Henry Rushton gained a reputation for building high quality “Canoes, Pleasure and Hunting boats”. Like many of the builders of the time his construction techniques drew more on the European tradition of lapstreak planks fastened to ribs than the Native American birch bark canoe. Mr. Ruston bragged to one customer, “It is wonderful how few pounds of cedar, rightly modeled and properly put together, it takes to float a man.” The man he was seeking to float was George Washington Sears, a sportswriter who went by the pen name “Nessmuk”. Nessmuk wrote about wilderness traveling in small boats and advocated, “Go light, the lighter the better, so that you have the simplest materials for health, comfort and enjoyment.” Nessmuck asked Rushton to build him a light weight boat. The result of that request was "Sairy Gamp" a 10 pound canoe that Nessmuk toured around in many of the Adirondack lakes.
One obvious way to make a boat light is to make it small. J. H. Rushton would not have made a 10.5# boat if Nessmuk had wanted something 20 feet long. I chose 10 feet as a nice round number that works well for a lot of paddlers. The double paddle canoe type was an obvious choice as it provides a lot of capability in a simple form. Another benefit of the cedar strip or "strip-built" method is it allows a lot of freedom in designing the form of the boat. The little canoe I drew up has a section of tumblehome up near the gunwale that adds freeboard while staying out of the way of the paddler. This tumblehome also added form stiffness to the boat. While this shape could probably be fabricated with traditional methods, it is quite easy to build using narrow strips.
To keep the weight down I used 1/8” thick hardwood strips for the prototype, but it would work well with thicker cedar strips. The resulting vessel is a fun little 15 lbs canoe for lightweight paddlers (about 150 lbs) that will handle a good deal of abuse as long as the users aren’t looking to run whitewater. While not quite as light as Rushton achieved, it is still a very easy boat to lift and it should hold up very well to extended use. For those normal people who weight more than 170 lbs, it would be easy enough to stretch out the forms spacing to 12 inches, resulting in a 12-foot long boat that would carry heavier paddlers (over 200 lbs).
Included in the Plans:
- Six 24" x 36" [61cm x 91cm] Drawing Pages including: An overall drawing, a full size "stacked" form drawing showing all the forms and then all the forms drawn individually and at full size. Also included are patterns for a thwart with integral backrest.
- Kayak Building Notes: These notes provide supplemental information such as bill of materials for each design.
- Building Strip Planked Boats - The Nymph is one of the designs discussed in this book and it details the whole process.