The paper canoe

"`Nice? It's the only thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolute nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing -- about -- in -- boats; messing -- -- ' ... ` -- about in boats -- or with boats,' the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not." --Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows

While I hold to the same sweet notions Ratty eulogises here, I have to admit that I am an academic boatie without water transport. When I was growing up near Port Phillip Bay I’d spend my days scooting over its surface in paddle boards and surf skis. Now, so many years later, I yearn for the exercise. I don’t mean "exercise" in the sense of hard muscle work, but the pure joy of simply messing about.
That means that there is no compulsion to fish or to surf or be anywhere special by three o’clock in the afternoon.
My guess is that this sensitivity makes me very Victorian. Not geographically Victorian as in the bit that hangs off the southern end of New South Wales, but I yanker for the days when boating such as this was all the "in" thing.
APOLOGETIC NOTE TO BLOG READERS: If you aren't at all interested in messing about in boats or paper canoes and dogscooters and other fancies I suggest you either skip the next bit or surf back where you came form. Normal blog transmission will resume tomorrow.
On both sides of the Atlantic it was a gentlemen’s preferred adventure.
Check out the literature. Not only is Ratty speaking to us from afar but Jerome K. Jerome entices us with his tale of Three Men in A Boat and Nathaniel H. Bishop logs his jouney of 2500 miles to the Gulf of Mexico in his quaint DIYer, The The Paper Canoe (Vehicle pictured below left)
I fear that a pepped up Evinrude or a sporty jib promising a spill if you don’t lean over--I mean really lean over-- to winward leaves me cold (and probably wet).I guess I’m a real back to basics person. A luddite.
If you have been following my affairs here you will note that I am the proud owner of a dogscooter. I can now boast that I have notched up six months with this great MOT -- means of transport -- and hope to sing of its credentials in later post. I have turned my back on bi-cy-cling per se and now am a dedicated push scooterer.(Example pictured below right: thats' not me but thats' the design of my dogscooter which I got my neighbour to build for me)
However, that’s a digression but a subject nonetheless on which I hope to publish a dessertation in these pages at my future convenience.
The problem is that I’m land bound and my fancy is to go seafaring on a craft of my own construction.
Since I cannot hammer a nail or saw a straight line I am so handicapped in this quest that only by the most creative of lateral thoughts could I hope to resolve the technical hurdles that I would need to overcome in order to build , for want of a better term, a boat.
But hey I can sculpt -- you know, with clay and stuff. It comes so naturally to me. This suggests that I should, if I had my druthers, embark on digging out a canoe as in the past tense of "dugout "canoe.But selecting and logging the appropriate tree isn’t a convenience in the suburbs.
So my quest is to sculpt my row boat come sailing skiff out of some other material.
This is where the madness steps in. For the moment I’m exploring further my "paper canoe" options.Yes. Paper.
You will find a few references on this topic on the web -- here, here and especially here -- all of which are creative exercises in exploiting cheap readily available materials to make such an unusual object as a paper boat that floats.
Back in the 19th century small paper craft -- such as canoes and skiffs -- were in regular batch production on the East Coast of the United States, and Bishop’s journal attests to what could be tackled in one of these vessels.
The problem is that today -- this side of the late 19th century paper revolution which made daily newspapers and single use toilet tissue possible -- paper is a lot different in structure and recipe.
Herein exists a fascinating history in itself which relates to the whole ethos of woodchipping old growth forests but which unfortunately I can't go into here.Nor can I relate the fascinating story of papier mache blends especially those emanting from the Indian sub continet.
So you have to be very creative if you want to pursue the real McCoy.
I have been experimenting. My first experiments were with paper and (I kid you not) cement. You may think a "cement canoe" is as bizarre a notion as a paper one. Without going into the recipe for my cement slip and my construction details the problem I encountered was that I couldn’t get the paper to take up the cement and after a week’s floatation the craft took in water.
Now I’m experimenting with paper and aluminium foil in various layering approaches held together by a cellulose based glue and with mesh reinforcing.
If you were wondering if there was method in this, there may be if I get on the right side of Flicks Law.

If I do I will keep you posted. In fact, I have begun a blog dedicated to logging my paper canoe activities. Listed on my blog roll, you can also visit the story chapter by chapter here.

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