Over the past few years I have tended to neglect this website, and instead put a lot of content, photos and commentary on the Birchcanoes Facebook page. This has worked well, but often when guests went from the Facebook page to the Birchcanoes.com website, they were disappointed by the out of date content. The trick now will be for me to maintain the Facebook page, while no longer neglecting this site, so I am going to start a blog, which might intermittently chart our progress These will be roughly in date order, but I plan to do two soon: one will be about our current situation, hoping to be building canoes again shortly, and another is planned to be a sort of history of Birchcanoes to date. As canoe building progresses, I might add additional blog posts and photos, if people agree, but I doubt this will detail every canoe built.
Our workshop has not had any canoe building courses since last October, and we are hoping to start back on 29 March as per Boris's timetable, with residential guests staying in the cabins from 12 April. The workshop has not been idle however, and has sometimes been very busy, with such jobs as cutting gunwale strips, making laminated paddles, and making and mending wooden sledges being examples. The result has been the usual accumulation of mess, and the arrival of all sorts of bits and pieces which have cluttered the place. So getting ready to open up again has taken some doing. Planes to be sharpened, new blades to be fitted to saws, new bits of kit to have homes found for them, the list goes on. A key change has been making more of a space for canoe building in our lean-to, somewhere past canoe builders from a few years ago will perhaps recall.
The lean to is now home to a camp kitchen which fills the end nearest the river. The other end used to get the westerly wind swirling round it, and occasionally driving rain would make it pretty unpleasant. So I have put in a temporary wall on the south-westerly end, which has left the place considerably more weather proof. Coupled to that I have extended the roof somewhat, and added a drain to catch any rainwater flowing in from the yard. Since these two changes, the floor has kept dry despite some significant downpours.
The lean to has also had a new bench made for it ( a work in progress,but quite useful. Lights and a radient heater, shelves, a cupboard or two, and a wood store have also been added. It is still open on the East side, towards the field, so potentially ideal for socially distanced canoe building in the summer months.Inside the workshop itself the benches have had one of their regular make-overs with fresh polycarbonate tops, so allow the canoes to be built on them without being scratched by lumps of resin on the original surface. More space has been made, so there is either space for 3 canoes to be built at once, or 2 canoes in a more socially distanced manner. Mostly we will do the latter.
Our next canoe builders have been wanting to come since last July, so it will be lovely to be able to fulfil their hopes as our first canoes of the 2021 season. Who knows,there might even be some photos of their build to show you next week!
Lorem We often tell guests that we have been building canoes since 1993, but it goes back further than that. We built a plywood rowing boat back in 1991, and in fact the story goes back further still. When I was about 7 I found a strong wooden packing case and tried to make it into a houseboat. I had grand ambitions, and could imagine it floating happily down the nearby River Dove. It must have been much smaller than my memory of it, because we eventually made it into a bogey (a go cart). When I was 15 my best friend from school made a canoe at home with his father. I was inspired. Later he married my sister, and one day on a visit I was leafing through a canoeing magazine of his when I encountered an advert from Selway fisher "Build your own canoe, send for plans". I sent for the plans for the Beaver, a surprisingly complicated boat for a first build. The Vale of Belvoir is nearby, so we called it the Belvoir, so as to laugh at all the people mispronoucing the local name, which is itself a mispronunciation of the original French.
The children were at primary school, but were bright enough to loft the plans to full size, and we cut the panels out using a jig saw, and stitched them together using copper wire, in the true Mirror dinghy style. This was our first experience of polyester resin and glass fibre ( we used car repair stuff).
We built the Belvoir from 4mm Birchply and painted it with green fence paint.
On the water Belvoir was remarkably able, easily paddled, and lightweight. We had a lot of fun with her. She is still with us, albeit retired from active duty.But what we had not reckoned on was the impact building her would have on us. We had learnt about stitch and glue. We had learnt about the fun of building a canoe as a family, and the fun of taking that boat away with us on holiday to the Lakes, and even on the sheltered waters of sea lochs on the West Coast of Scotland.
So we started to consider other designs, and there followed a fascinating time, making tiny canoes for the kids from sheets of DIY plywood. Our own designs, utterly lacking in finesse, utterly lacking in awareness of what boats need to make them stable. We made our first longer canoe in around 1994, and a friend asked if he could come and make one with us. The rest is history.
In 1995 we bought the old redundant railway station at Brooksby, then a pig farm, and took on a project which will last me the rest of my life, and potentially the rest of the kids lives! We were disappointed that the river which runs by the property was a roaring torrent, and we warned the kids that it would be out of bounds. The roaring torrent continued for weeks, convincing us that the river was in fact of no use at all for our canoes and we continued to drive off to the Grantham Canal to find suitable places to paddle. But then the river subsided again into its normal state, which is how it flows for around 300 out of 365 days a year. Quiet, peaceful, clear, with fish to watch, and a stretch of nice flat water for about 350 metres upstream of where we established our landing stage.
By 1998 we had it ready to move in, and we soon repurposed the pig farm mill as our workshop. We still only did occasional canoes with friends, but I was beginning to realise that there could be something worth marketing. The Dot Com boom had taught us the value of a snappy title, but canoe.com and such like names had all been snaffled. Using two words was the thing. The canoes had all been made using birchply at that stage, and outside the workshop there is a glorious brave birch fighting its way into maturity out of a crack in the old platform. Birchcanoes it was.
We were still a long way from today's lovely canoe design. But we were inching forward towards knowing enough to design it. That is a story for another post.
" If you look for a really happy person, you will find them building a boat"