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Dearest Gypsy

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

I don't know when I saw my first wood strip canoe, but one that captivated me graced the dock of a ranger station in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park. The sun glistened off her as I paddled up, and I knew that she was the most beautiful canoe I'd ever seen. I have since seen several others, but none prettier than that Canadian boat.

I don't remember when I made up my mind to build a strip canoe. I bought a couple of "how to" books. Then, one recent winter, I "screwed my courage to the sticking point," and built "Gypsy."

I designed her hull shape for fishing stability, paddling efficiency and light cargo loads. Building a plywood form was the first step. I could picture her flowing lines as I sighted down the keel line of the plywood forms. Then the task was to bend the wood strips along those lines.

Bending them, glueing their edges together and anchoring them to the plywood forms, I soon learned how much, or how little, stress narrow, basswood strips could take... "Oops, not that much! Oh, well. Now which is the next best looking strip?"

Building a wood strip canoe is simple-in theory at least-and straight-forward. From a sheet of stout plywood, cut patterns (forms) of the hull's cross section at various distances along its length, then mount them upside-down on a frame of 2-by-6s. The first wood strips are tacked or stapled to the bottom of the forms, and they will be the top of your boat when it's finished.

Then staple the next strips to the previous ones, and so on up the forms. Fitting the last few strips together at the bottom is a bit challenging, but just think of it as a giant jigsaw puzzle, and you get to cut your own pieces to fit! Glue between strips is the only thing holding the hull intact when the staples are removed, so I was generous with glue, using nearly a gallon of the stuff for a 16-foot boat.

Then the staples are removed, the gaps between strips are filled, and the hull is scraped and sanded smooth. Two layers of fiberglass on the outside hold the hull together. Then it can be taken off the forms, turned upside down, scraped and sanded, and a single layer of fiberglass can be added to the inside. After that, all that's left is finish work: decks, seats, gunwales and

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