|First, a solid platform called a strongback is built. It's like a long box
which is engineered to stay straight and level. A series of cross
sections of the hull (forms) are cut out of plywood or particle board
and mounted on the strongback, with careful attention to alignment
in all three dimensions, top side down. Strips of cedar are then
clamped to the forms two at a time, and glued to each other to keep
them in place. The strips have a "bead" or rounded edge on one
side, and a "cove" or groove on the other edge so that when they
mate they can fit into each other without leaving any gaps. They
have to be bent around the forms, but are only 1/4" thick and 3/4"
wide, so they follow the shape of the hull fairly easily except at the
stems (ends of the canoe) and the turn of the bilge, where they have
to be coaxed into place with some creative clamping methods. I
didn't have to steam any of the strips to get them to go where I
wanted them to. At the ends, the strips attach to a stem which is
laminated from steam bent hardwood and shaped by hand to the
angle at which each strip meets the stem.
After the stripping is done, the whole hull is shaped smooth and
round by "fairing" the hull with planes, scrapers and sanding to
eliminate the flat sides of the strips and the "corners" where the
strips mate with each other. I created a huge amount of dust, but it
smelled great, being cedar, while I was doing it.
Once the fairing was done, woven fiberglass is lain carefully over
the hull, and epoxy is spread over the hull and glass with a small
squeegie, roller, and brush. The glass is white before the "wetout"
and turns completely clear when the epoxy is applied. After the
epoxy cures for a day, additional coats are applied to fill the weave
of the fiberglass cloth until the glass has disappeared completely.
A second layer of cloth about a foot wide is applied over the
centerline of the hull for extra abrasion resistance.
At this point the hull has some strength and can be removed from
the forms, turned over, and looks like a canoe!!! The whole fairing
process is now repeated on the inside of the hull (much harder on
it's concave surface, than on the outside which is convex). Then the
inside is glassed like the outside. The strips are less than 1/4"
thick and of very light a fragile wood, but the "sandwich" construction
with two stiff layers of fiberglass and epoxy on either side of the
strips makes a very light, strong and "stiff" hull which is completely
You'd think I was just about done at this point, but that took only a
few weeks of working 4 or 5 afternoons and evenings a week. The
rest took another year!
Next the "wae" were made of cherry and maple. These are ring-like
frames which go inside the hull where the "iako" or outrigger arms
attach to the hull. They provide stiffness to the hull where the
stresses are maximum, and a place to attach the iako. They are
epoxied into the hull with a mixture of epoxy and sawdust, and
glassed to the hull to provide additional strength. Bulkheads were
then shaped to fit into the hull to provide support for the decks and
to make watertight chambers under the decks for flotation and dry
storage. I purchased plastic deck plates for access to the dry
storage areas, but didn't want any plastic showing on my canoe. I
mounted the flanges to the backs of the bulkheads, and epoxied the
round cutouts to the plates so that when in position the only thing
showing was wood. Strips of ash were bent and epoxied to the
inside of the hole so that no plywood edges would show.
Handholds were shaped and epoxied and screwed to the finished
After gluing and glassing the bulkheads in place, the inner ash
gunwales were shaped and then epoxied and screwed to the
inside of the top edge of the hull. The gunwales are 2 1/2" wide and
1/2" thick, and had to be bent with the help of a heat gun and some
very creative clamping to make them fit the ends of the hull.
Now it was time to make the decks. I had to do some creative
engineering to make the decks rounded and shape the "manu" or
bow and stern projections. The decks were made of Alaskan cedar
for it's light weight, and light yellow color to keep in the tradition of
Hawaiian canoes. The manu were shaped primarily with the front
end of a belt sander, then finished by hand sanding. The decks
were then shaped smooth and rounded and an inlay of the
petroglyph "paddleman" was put into the rear deck. Finally the deck
was glassed top and bottom.
At this point, we went back to Kauai for the Winter, and I was
fortunate to finally get to ride in a sailing canoe, with Nick Beck. We
were out in 8-10 ft. seas and 25 knot winds, and FLYING!!! I learned
a couple of important lessons that day. I knew immediately that my
open canoe would have been full of water in about 5 minutes out
there. I had to have a cover for the canoe for rough weather sailing.
I also watched Nick steer the canoe with a paddle, and could see
that there was going to be a BIG learning curve before I would be
comfortable going out in anything but very controlled conditions.
Back home in the Spring, I mulled over several ideas on how I could
attach a cover, and finally opted for a rail just below the gunwales
with lacing holes for a cloth cover. Again, no plastic or metal
showing anywhere on the canoe. I also made a splash guard for
the forward deck to divert some of the water away from the canoe.
The outer ash gunwales were then epoxied and screwed to the
upper edge of the hull, and the screws were countersunk and
covered with ash plugs. Finally the decks were epoxied in place
and everything faired to fit. The seats were made from Alaskan
cedar with mahogony around the edges, and supports glued and
screwed to the hull.
Next came the iako. I laminated them from 1/4" mahogony and
maple stock, and bent them without steam or heat in a jig of blocks
that were screwed to the floor in the shape of the iako. After a dry
run, they were epoxied together. I made a single ama set for
paddling and a double set for sailing.
The "amas" (outrigger pontoons) were made next of blue styrofoam
with a center plywood piece for stiffness. I made a hot wire cutter
from an old model railroad transformer to cut the rough shape
without creating a lot of styrofoam dust, but the final shaping had to
be done with sandpaper, and for a week or two I was covered in
blue dust from head to foot. The amas were then glassed with two
layers of fiberglass, and epoxied to fill the weave. Pylons were then
shaped to fit the iako, and glassed to the amas with pegs for
The final steps: I made blocks for the wae to raise the iako off the
water a few more inches for sailing, so that they wouldn't catch so
much of the waves in rough conditions. I discovered a slight twist in
the hull at this point, and shaped the blocks to compensate for the
twist so that the iako would be parallel to each other and horizontal
with the waterline. The last touch was a lee board which was made
of maple and shaped by beltsander and hand sanding.
It is mounted on the side of the hull and will act as a kind of keel or
centerboard to keep the canoe from slipping sideways in the water
so much and to keep the canoe tracking straighter when sailing.
Nick Beck was kind enough to make an 18 ft. carbon fiber mast,
boom and sail for me. When it came, I made a mast step and
support at the front ring frame, again after having to figure out
exactly how I would do it, and VOILÀ, I was done.
I figured there was no way I'd make my shop dust-free enough to
varnish and finish in time to ship to Kauai for the Winter, so I took
everything to Chuck Young's furniture refinishing shop where he
sprayed on 3 coats of HMG's high UV resistance Coma Berenice
varnish for a beautiful high gloss finish.
I'll ship it to Kauai in December heavily bubble-wrapped with LKB
Trucking. Nick turned me on to them as a company which has
transported several of his canoes to Hawaii without incident.
Shipping cost $711 plus $150 worth of heavy duty bubble wrap.
I'm going to spring for a luau for the canoe club I belong to in
Hanalei, and have a traditional Hawaiian canoe blessing before
putting Ke Kalakupua ("The Magic") in the water. Sharkey Agulera,
a sailing canoeist who owns Aloha Canvas on Kauai, is making me
a cover, and trampolines to go between the iako for "hiking out" to
balance the canoe when sailing.
The hull weighs 85 lbs, and I'll be able to get it on top of my roof
rack by myself for transport around the island. I'll use it for paddling,
deep sea fishing, whale watching, and just sailing for fun.
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