Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Adirondack Guide Boat - too much technology?

Plans of the Adirondack guide boat from the Mystic Seaport Museum which sells them for $75.

Lines of the Adirondack Guide Boat from the Mystic Seaport Museum
Description of the Adirondack Guide Boat  from the Mystic Seaport Museum site:

Guideboats are bottom-board boats with natural knees used as frames: the dory-building technique taken to the extreme. Builders developed a smooth-skin lap strake construction method now known as the guideboat lap. The small boats-like the 13' Parsons boat at 57 pounds and the 13' 6" Blanchard boat at 53 pounds-were best suited to be carried in to fish small ponds, for which they were called "raiders." The 16' guideboats are considered the best compromise between speed and carrying capacity, work­ing well solo or carrying a guide and sport with their load of camping gear. The 16' GHOST weighs just 64 pounds, while the 15' 7" Cole boat weighs 59.   The plans drawn by Dave Dillion do not require lofting; full dimensions are provided for each frame. Hallie Bond's Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks provides more historical information.  Today, guideboats are successfully built as frameless strip-planked boats and as semi-strip-planked boats with glued joints over laminated frames.  From 87 Boat Designs by Ben Fuller.  Boat is owned by the Adirondack Museum(64.170.1), Blue Mountain Lake, New York.  Plans drawn in 1984.

So the other day, a friend of mine called me to see if I wanted to see his new/old guideboat that he had bought on craigslist for about $1k.  The boat was an original built about 100 years ago.  The boat was still mostly intact.  There was one hole in it that had been patched and most of the planking was still sound except for a few places where the planks had opened up.
Ribs/frames were in two halves with their bottoms overlapping and nailed together as well as screwed to the floor plank.  Each rib was sawn from natural crooks, that is wood whose grain roughly followed the curve of the rib. A number of ribs near the center of the boat had the same shape. Toward the ends of the boat, the ribs gradually became narrower. Builders appear not to have had lines for these boats. Instead, each builder had templates for their ribs. None of those seem to have survived. The lines shown in the drawings above were taken off boats that have made it into museums.
The planking edges were beveled and lapped with the laps clinch nailed to each other.
As I understand the process, the ribs were first attached to the bottom plank and then the planks were screwed to the ribs.
The guide boats had a relatively short life span. Apparently, they were designed specifically for the guide trade in which the guide needed a boat big enough for two people but light enough to carry between lakes lacking road access.  As soon as roads were built to the lakes and resorts built on their shores, the need for the guides went away and with them their boats.
Finally, I would like to share some unease I had with this boat when I was first exposed to it.  My unease stemmed from the fact that this boat required an industrial economy to build.  Not only did you need a professional boat builder with a band saw but you also needed thin planks and lots of small screws and nails, none of which you could readily scrounge from your immediate environment. The guide boat clearly did not meet the post-apocalyptic stamp of approval, that is, it would be impractical or even impossible in a world that lacked a sophisticated industrial economy to supply all its component parts and tools to manufacture them.

The Post-Apocalyptic Boat Building Stamp of Approval

One of the insights I recently had was that any boat that was built outside of an industrial society in the past could also be built in a post-industrial society of the future, with some reservations.  The reservations are primarily about building materials available in the past may not necessarily be available in the future.
Since I build skin on frame boats in the manner that was developed in the Arctic before it came in contact with industrial civilization, I am also partial to any kind of technology that could be sustained in a pre- as well as post-industrial society.  Actually, I must correct myself.  I do not build kayaks using pre-industrial technologies.  I mostly build replicas of pre-industrial kayaks with the help of industrial tools and supplies.  Every once in a while I go primitive and use mostly scrounged materials to build a kayak just to prove to myself that it can be done.
In any case, what gets the post-apocalyptic stamp of approval is any technology that could have been built using pre-industrial methods and materials which supposedly would also work in a post-apocalyptic or post-industrial society.  Of course we are not in a post-apocalyptic situation here in the developed nations, so we can only speculate what is possible, but if we look at any so-called third world or "developing" nations we can see that people there have to improvise and get ingenious with what they can lay their hands on, all of which gets the post apocalyptic stamp of approval.

Kayak and umiak of St Michaels. Note steam boats in the background and local residents with European clothes.  Obviously, these people had access to industrial technology and materials but at the time, still made their own boats of pre-industrial heritage with the help of industrial tools and materials.  Nevertheless, if they were still around building boats in the manner shown in the photo, they would get the post-apocalyptic boat building stamp of approval. 

Post-apocalyptic Boat Building

Why build skin boats?  I've been asking myself that ever since I started building skin boats.  I've come up with a bunch of practical reasons such as low price but that's not really why I built them. First and foremost I liked the looks of skin boats.  But right up there with good looks was also a yearning for self-reliance.  I wanted to be able to build a boat that at least in principle I could build entirely from scavenged materials with simple tools that if need be I could make myself.
For the sake of convenience, I use electrical tools to cut the wood and synthetic fiber cloth as a skin and petroleum based paint to seal the skin so I don't really build an entirely off the grid boat.  But I like to imagine that I could build a boat strictly from found materials in the manner that people of the Arctic once did.  In a way, the Arctic before the arrival of the Europeans was very much like what a post-apocalyptic (PA) world would be like.  No stores, no factories, no electricity.  Everything you wanted you had to scrounge or barter for.
But a PA world would not look exactly like the pre-industrial Arctic.  A PA world would have a lot of stuff from the industrial world still laying around like scrap metal, wire, plywood, tar and even ready to use hand-tools.  A PA world would not be a stone age world necessarily.  It would be a world that had very little new stuff in it. If you wanted new stuff, like a new kayak for instance, you or one of your friends would have to make it themselves.
Could I build a boat entirely from scrounged materials in a PA world?  Probably.  More than likely, if I wanted a boat with some cargo capacity, I would probably scavenge plywood, and make it out of that.  I don't know what would be available in the way of sealers to keep the boat from leaking, but I could probably find something.
If I wanted to build a skin on frame kayak, that would be fairly easy.  Plenty of construction lumber installed in buildings. I am assuming that I could get some hand saws.  The hardest thing to find would be a suitable skin.  I imagine myself scrounging tarps or awnings and sewing those together, again, assuming I could get a hold of some needles or maybe even make them from bone.  If the tarps were plastic, they wouldn't need a sealer.  If the tarps were not plastic, I would have to figure out a way to make them waterproof.
Hunting sea mammals for skins would be more or less out of the question.  That would require more skill than I have.  Even if I could manage to kill a sea lion hauled out on a beach by stealth, I would need four skins to cover a kayak.  Getting four skins would be way too ambitious.
But how exactly did people of the Arctic build their kayaks in a pre-industrial world?  We have some ideas but Europeans have been going to the Arctic since the 17th century and most of the kayaks now in museums were built with at least some access to steel tools and also possible to milled lumber.
The pictures below show what kayak building looked like in the transitionary period when people in the Arctic still built kayaks, but had industrially sourced tools and materials available to them. The kayak type being built here is Eastern Arctic, that is Canadian Arctic.  These kayaks were long flat and stable and if you killed a seal, you transported the carcass on the wide back deck of the kayak.

Here's a guy in his open air workshop, no special jigs or benches or other sort of stuff you would expect to find in a boat shop. But he does seem to have a handsaw that he is using to trim something in the cockpit area of his kayak.
This guy is sitting in his workshop.  He's using some rocks to level out the deck of his kayak.  He's got the rib blanks stuck into their mortises, all ready for bending and trimming. Or maybe he is going to do three-part ribs with hard corners.  Also not the canvas tent in the background. 
Here two people are working at putting  a skin on the finished kayak frame.  The skin is canvas, not seal hide so one or two people can do the job.  Putting on seal hide usually was a task for many women since the hides had to be kept wet and pieced together which required way more sewing than was practical for one woman to do by herself although it was probably done solo sometimes by necessity. Also not the wood plank in the foreground, evidence of milled lumber brought into this location, probably by ship. Also note the long wide and flat back deck suitable for transporting  the spoils of the hunt.

So what can we say about boat building in an imaginary PA world? Probably possible as long as nobody has any set ideas about what is allowed in the ways of tools and materials.