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modern materials, old world design concepts


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This past Sunday, as part of a trip to DC, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian.  On display in the lobby as one enters are home made boats.  I approve   :P   Not only is the kayak an accurate design and built by descendants of the designers, but they are made with similar materials to what we use.  There are also home made models of boats given to children. as toys.


Thought people here might enjoy the photos:


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These boats embody the "Rocket Ships From Dirt" concept I try to live my life by. The originals were built from stuff found in the Arctic! I mean, even a totally modern SOF kayak is hands down bang for your buck winner. Dirt cheap and awesome!

I think these old kayaks are a great summation of what humans are, and are capable of.

Except for that weird dinosaur bone rock thingy. What IS that they set the boat on?! ;)

Thanks for the pics.

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I've been fortunate enough to know some of the old masters and each had "opinions" about the "new newfangled" materials. Interestingly enough, they got on board with plywood and water proof adhesives (begrudgingly). I wish Chapelle and Herreshoff could have survived long enough to see epoxy in today's form, though I'll bet I know what they'd have thought. In the their hearts, they'd prefer the traditional methods, but if it was their boat, they'd make the plywood deck look like it was laid, so they wouldn't have to sleep in a wet spot. Herreshoff would have jumped all over modern construction and materials, knowing how much materials and time they'd save. He'd bitch and moan about how it doesn't seem "yacht like", but quickly acknowledge the benefits of the application. I too appreciate the traditional ways, but I'm too old to make a career of hand honing a sheer clamp, so out comes the power plane. Chapelle didn't trust plywood, calling it unreliable and what he remembers it was, until the last 15 years of his life. I've never built a SOF, but if I did, I'd use power tools and consider alternatives, such as foam filled carbon tubes for the structural elements and skin it with this rayon/polyester blend fabric I saw the other day. Really light, stretchy and I'd consider polyurea, cyanoacrylate, epoxy, or even rubber coating to seal it.

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The old masters that dreamed up these boats and invented them ain't even in the same ballpark with some opinionated yacht designer, no matter how classy.

The people that invented this type of craft were genius, and the stakes were very much higher than escaping a shadow, or claiming a Cup. There were, still are, many different types of kayak and canoe made in the old style, but almost always made from modern materials. For one thing, skin will rot if it ain't cold enough outside. For another, most people don't have to use driftwood... These types of boats were, still are, used in some gnarly conditions that would destroy most boats.

We all use modern materials here. The boats built on this forum are all plywood framed, wooden stringered, polyester lashed and clothed. There is no pining for the old ways, just a pining for the old boats, the superbly modeled craft birthed of necessity.

You want to try carbon nano tubes bonded with super glue and covered with synthetic woven ant hair, we're all ears. I think the ant hair will be itchy. :)

By the by, if you use nylon fabric, you'll pretty much have to cover it with some rubbery goop. I've tried just about everything for covering these types of boats over the years (including paper), and polyester is my favorite. #10 cotton duck is a close second. All my boats just get some porch and floor paint.

I still think I get a little charge out of the "traditional" anthropometric build with mortises and steamed ribs and all, but this fuselage frame style is a quick, neat way to build a boat. You should build one, PAR!

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Very few of the "old masters" actually dreamed stuff up, though Herreshoff was a resourceful engineer and did invent several things in his day, but these weren't some much building methods so much as gadgets. Building methods seem to evolve more so than get invented. Plywood on frame was an evolution of plank on frame, for example. Taped seam was invented, but early versions were simply plywood over frame, with taped seams. Eventually the engineering was done and framing elements started to decrease, until we got to what we have today and frameless boats with just taped seams and the furniture serving as part of the structural elements.


You probably wouldn't have liked Chapelle very much. He was brilliant, quite arrogant and full of himself on first meeting him. Once you got to know him, his arrogance and self assurance came to be something else, one of a guy that had been doing this stuff all his life, was well recognized and had a head full of every little detail you could imagine. I got to know him at the end of his life and I liked him, but he was a handful if you didn't know what to expect.


I don't think I'd build a SOF (though would like to). This is simply because once finished, I'd have to paddle the damn thing, which isn't something I've ever liked much. To me, if you have to paddle, it means you've run out of gas or the engine or the wind has died. I suppose I could put a trolling motor on it's butt and putter around.

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