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Date: 7 February 2015. Tern Time.
Guest author Douglas G. Pollard Sr. aboard S/V Sea Legs.

To date, our most prolific author for The Writer's Block is Douglas Pollard, Sr. His latest entry is about restoring an Old Town Canoe. I suspect all of us have regrets about choices made when younger and this tale touches on that. Mostly though it's about a fixer-upper named Tern.

In the spring of my eleventh year I was shown a canoe hanging in a shed at a farm near home by a schoolmate. He wanted to buy it and wanted me to go half-ers with him. Well my half was five dollars and I had my half from mowing lawns.

A couple weeks went by and he still didn't have his half. I dug a ditch, got ten dollars for the job, bought a canoe and lost a friend. I have never gotten over feeling guilty about it either.

She was an eighteen foot Old Town Canoe with *sponson sides. She looked pretty bad with all her varnish peeling, her thin planking was rotted in places and both tips had rotted out and needless to say her canvas was shot. She had been hanging upside down in a leaky old shed for years.

A sponson is an attachment that keeps your canoe from tipping over. It adds floatation at the *gunnels. I've created something similar on Algae. The fenders add stability, much like a sponson would.

*Gunnels are the top edge of the hull. "Over the gunnels" is a bad thing as you are getting water in your boat.

The sponson is generally one long tube placed on each side of the canoe. J.

Thinking back I probably got robbed at ten dollars in those days.
I think the year was 1945 and ten dollars was hard to come by.

We had a basement I could work in. By myself under my father's directions I stripped her down by removing her sponsons, canvas and mahogany trim. I replaced the rotted sections of planking with orange crate wood that was about 1/8" thick, perfect for the job and had the advantage of being free.

Her frames were still in good shape except for the tops of them up high in her ends.

[Improper storage often causes a lot of problems. Proper restoration is not easy. J.]

We took her outside and I scrubbed her down with lye and hot water. She was varnished inside and had several coats of paint. It was blistered and peeling. The lye softened things up one coat at a time.

We had some old window frames behind a shed and I broke pieces of glass out of them to use as scrapers. They worked pretty good. I could score them with a piece of tool bit from my fathers lathe and break them pretty much to the shape I wanted. I cut them rounded to fit the curvature of the inside of the hull.

Broken glass is sharp on all edges so I cut myself several times everyday. One of
my older friends, a buddy of mine said I was saving her by way of blood transfusion.

Airplane dope was bought at the local airport really cheap because it was gunmetal blue, mixed by accident and so was nearly worthless. Many boys in the neighborhood including myself built model airplanes so airplane dope and its ability to tighten cloth was always desired/used.

The canvas to cover the hull was paid for by mixing mortar with a hoe in two separate mixing boxes for a neighbor who was building a cement block home.

I will never forget the shouts at me by the cigar chewing old Italian brick layer. Too wet, too dry, more mortar, too dry, keep up boy or I'll get me a wop to mix my mortar.

I have never done anything harder in my life.

On Monday I had been replaced by a black fellow nearly grown with shoulders too wide to go through the average door.

The old brick layer called me puny. I guess he was right but I got paid enough to buy my canvas and I was too excited over that to care.

Rebuilding the tips of the canoe was a pay grade above my know-how so my older brother who was a really good woodworker and worked part time for Owens yacht Company rebuilt the tips for me using mahogany.

By late fall the boat was covered and painted. She was powder blue with white on top the sponsons. Her interior and trim were varnished.

This photo of a similar canoe is courtesy of Charlie:

Find more about this wonderful canoe at:

The lye had bleached the wood and it really was pretty. The mahogany trim was stained and set out dark against the really light colored interior. The contrast was a real eye popper.

I was somewhat of an artist for my age so I named her Tern and painted a flying tern, white with yellow feet and bill on each side of her bow.

For Christmas I was given a really beautiful set of rather expensive paddles for her. My father painted them blue with the varnished wood going down in a 'v' almost to the bottom of the blade. They had a narrow white band around the top of the shaft and a half inch stripe up and down the vee with the rest of the blade natural with several coats of varnish. I was more proud of those paddles than any thing I have ever been given by anyone.

Bear Creek is off the Patapsco River. That's in the northern part of the Chesapeake.

We had a warm week in January and my father and I went canoeing. And I learned to properly paddle a canoe. We boys paddled that canoe all over Bear Creek and every other nearby piece of water that summer.

The End.

Douglas G. Pollard Sr. aboard S/V Sea Legs.

The canoe photograph is from Charlie
and is used with his permission. See more at:

 Charlie's Antiques


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Categories: Boat Talk, Boats, Characters, Gear, Locations, The Writer's Block

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