The Adirondack Guideboat-The 90 Miler-a Reprise

Sign announcing the 90 Miler.

On this weekend every year the Adirondack 90 mile canoe race is run.  The race starts in Old Forge, NY and ends in Saranac Lake, NY.  Since the second leg begins literally in my backyard, I will check it out.  Two of my friends, John and Jon, are in the race so I will see how they are doing.

Our neighbor, Tom Bissell, graciously allows his field to be used as a staging area.  There are probably 500 contestants who hale from all over the US and some foreign countries.  The racers start arriving shortly after the finish of the first leg yesterday and soon Tom’s field becomes an impressive parking lot.

I head out early looking for the guideboat racers.  There aren’t many but they are a hardy crew.  Here are some of them.

Some of the guideboat racers in the 90 Miler.  Note the wheels in one boat to help get through the Raquette Falls Carry.

Here is another guideboat racer.  He looks fresh and ready to go.

A 90 Miler guideboat racer.


I come upon Stephanie and her Dad, Steve.   They are the only ones racing in a traditionally built guideboat. Stephanie tells me the boat is over 100 years old and she will be retired after this race.  I was impressed with what fine shape their boat was in.  They believe the boat was built by John Blanchard of Raquette Lake and wonder who might help them identify the builder.  I suggest Hallie Bond , the former Curator at the Adirondack Museum.  Here are Stephanie and Steve beside their boat.

Stephanie and Steve with their boat.

I find John with a friend of his.  They are talking about the rigors of the first day’s race.

John and a friend.

This year water levels are quite high due to the abundant rainfall we’ve had all summer.  This meant traversing Brown’s Tract was made that much more difficult.  The greater flow in this serpentine stream was a bigger obstacle for the racers and the turns seemed sharper.  Brown’s Tract is only a mile long as the crown flies but is three miles long as a boat goes.

Guideboats find Brown’s Tract quite daunting because the creek is only five feet wide in some spots.  The “wingspan” of  guideboat, counting its beam and oars, is about 16 feet.  Guideboaters talk about “crabwalking” their boat through portions of the Brown’s Tract.  By crabwalking they mean using their oars to push off the bank to keep moving.

Another wrinkle was that  beavers had erected a dam across the Tract.  It sometimes takes more that one try to get over the dam and back in the race.

A further obstacle was the Marion River.  Once out of Brown’s Tract the racers head east across the South Bay of Raquette Lake into the Marion River.  The river is high and flowing against them.  Some complained that they could barely move against the current

At some point one of John’s oars got jammed against a bank.  The forward momentum of the boat caused it to careen around and cracked the gunwale.  This slowed down their progress.  John is racing with his son Dalton.

Emergency repairs were made.  Here Jon, the new owner of the guideboat Thankful, views the damage with John. Jon is racing in a four man canoe and, at this point in the race, is in third place by four minutes.

Jon inspects the damage to John’s boat.

Here is a closeup of the emergency repair made to John’s boat.

Emergency repair made to the gunwale of John’s boat.

I asked John how long each leg of the three leg race took him.  He said probably more than seven hours.  That is a whole lot of rowing, or paddling, if you are in the stern seat.  John wears gloves but also tapes his hands to protect against blisters.  Blisters apparently don’t bother him.  If they pop he washes them in the clean lake water and is off again.

John’s taped hands.

The guideboat “wave” was called and off went John and Dalton on the second leg of the 90 miler.

John and son, Dalton, off on the second leg of the 90 Miler.

I was impressed with camaradarie of the racers and their upbeat spirit.

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The Adirondack Guideboat-Another small craft

Mention lightweight to any member of my family from grandchild on up and they know exactly what you are talking about.  Lightweights are light weight pack canoes that came about out of a desperation to find a better way to go on canoe camping trips.  Here is a lightweight.

A lightweight canoe on a Long Lake beach.

More on these charming craft after I tell you what drove me to build one (actually I have built about a dozen lightweights).  My son Stew and I decided to take a canoe trip starting in the Saint Regis  Canoe Area in the Adirondack Park.  It was to be a three day trip that would take us through the Canoe Area and into the Saranac Lakes and ending in the Lower Saranac Lake.

The only canoe we had at the time was our 90 pound Coleman “Tupperware” canoe as I call it.  We soon found that the carries we were to encounter along our chosen route would test along our fortitude.  We would need to traverse the Nine Carries Route and the Seven Carries Route.  You get the idea.  The carries were not the only problem.  Soon after getting underway we encountered a huge white pine blow down across one carry.  It required lifting our canoe almost head high in order to shove it over the obstacle.

The payoff occurred when coming out of the St. Regis Canoe Area.  We needed to find our way through the network of ponds that led into Upper Saranac Lake.  On the carries we portaged the canoe upside down so our visibility was quite limited.  This caused us to miss a critical turn on one carry.  We began walking down a very nicely paved path with mowed grass on each side.  I said to Stew “This doesn’t look right.  Let’s drop the canoe and take a look around”.  We dropped the canoe with a clatter and a bang (there were metal pails for washing dishes hanging from the boat.  We were quite a sight!).

It turned out that we were right next to the first tee of the Saranac Golf Course and there were several gentlemen ready to tee off.  This was bad enough but our “detour” took us out of the way by about a half mile.

As soon as I got home I began to search for a better option for canoe pack trips.  I came across Geodesic Airolite boats by an inventor, Platt Monfort.  These boats essentially consist of a light wooden frame covered with aircraft heat shrinkable Dacron.  Platt promoted his boats as easy to build and they certainly are.  The boat shown above is 24 years old and weighs about 18 lbs.  My family loves to paddle about in them and I have sold four of them.  They are sturdy and can carry about 200 lbs.

One of our lightweights was inadvertently left outside over the winter.  Algae had grown on the covering which was need of replacement anyway.  Here it is before removing the old covering.

Lightweight canoe before removing the old covering.

After removing the rub strips and stem band the old cover is taken off.  Next, a fabric adhesive called Heat N’ Bond is applied to the inwales.  It is applied with an iron.

Applying Heat N’ Bond to the inwales.

The aircraft grade Dacron (3 oz per yard) is spread over the frame and attached to the inwales.  This is done by applying a hot iron along the inwale to activate the Heat N’ Bond adhesive.

Dacron cloth over the frame.

The Dacron is heat shrunk starting at the center of the boat and moving toward each stem.  I use a steam iron which works really well.

Heat shrinking the Dacron using a steam iron.

At each stem the Dacron is wrapped around and adhered using Heat N’ Bond.

Wrapping the Dacron around the stem. Dacron is cut away where the stringers meet the stem. Heat N’ Bond was previously applied to the stem.

The Dacron is now glued to the stem using an iron.

Gluing the Dacron to the stem.

Heat N’ Bond is applied to the end of the stem so that the Dacron on the left had side can be attached.

A final check to see if the Dacron is taut all around.

A final check of the heat shrink.

Now the excess cloth is trimmed away.

Trimming excess cloth along the shear.

Trimming excess cloth off the stems.

The cloth is given three coats of marine spar varnish to render the hull water tight.

Appying marine spar varnish to make hull water tight.

The boat is now like new and ready for many more launches.

Lightweight canoe with its new cover.

One really fun thing about these little boats is that the translucent skin lets you see the water passing by as you paddle.  Here the boat is lying in shallow water and you can see bubbles clinging to the hull.

Bubbles cling to the skin covering.

The wind was so bad that I had to wait for a calmer day to paddle out in the refurbished lightweight.  Here is a view from mid-ships in the lightweight canoe on a sparkling clear fall day on Long Lake.

Cruising on Long Lake in a lightweight canoe.

Notice that the waterline is visible that the sun reflects off the waves and onto the covering.

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The Adirondack Guideboat-Author’s Night

Every second Tuesday in August there is a happening in Long Lake, NY.  In case you are in town and not paying attention, a large circus-like tent goes up in the center of town just before the event occurs.  That is the first sign that the happening, Author’s Night, will soon be coming to Hoss’s.  So what is Author’s Night and who is Hoss?  And what does this have to do with guideboats?

Author’s Night gathers as many of those who have written books (or songs) about the Adirondacks who wish to attend.  Some of the writers live within the Park but that is not a requirement.  Author’s Night started out small, maybe a dozen authors, but has grown until this year over 90 came.  Below is the original sign used to publicize Author’s Night.

Original Author’s Night sign.

Note that in 2009 Author’s Night was 25 years old.  So that makes this the 33rd year of Author’s Night.

The Hosley’s, John and Lorrie, own Hoss’s Country Corner in the center of Long Lake.  Now, the Hosley family has been in Long Lake for at least two generations.  John’s father was Doc Hosley who was the physician in Long Lake for many years.  The new medical center in Long Lake is named after Doc and his wife Janet.

Hoss’s Country Corner is a general store that sells just about everything.  As you might expect, since they sponsor Author’s Night, they have a great collection of Adirondack-themed books.  Here is Hoss’s Country Corner.

Hoss’s Country Corner

I am always amused by the bear out front.  Bears are Long Lake’s official logo so it is fitting to have two of them out in front of the store.

Bear in front of Hoss’s.  The bear is rolled in at night.

The Author’s Night hosts, John and Lorrie are most gracious.  All authors in attendance are treated to a sumptuous BBQ dinner beforehand at Long Lake’s  Mount Sabbatis pavilion.

Author’s have a meal before the start of Author’s Night.

The burgers are great.

Cooking burgers for the authors.

The overlook from Mt. Sabattis gives a stunning view of Long Lake and the North Country.

View from the Mt. Sabattus pavilion.

Mount Sabattis was named after a Native America guide who lived in Long Lake and who endeared himself to the early settlers there.

Here are the Author’s Night sponsors, John and Lorrie.

Hoss and friends.

Lorrie Hosley.

All right, lets get back to Author’s Night (AN).  Since I have written two books on the Adirondacks; Tale of an Historic Adirondack Guideboat and how to Build One and Guideboat Paddles, an Adirondack Treasure, I have attended AN for at least ten years.

I love to attend AN because it gives me a chance to show off my guideboat, Showboat.  Many who attend AN are unaware of guideboats and enjoy learning the rich history that evolved around them.  At one time Long Lake was at the very heart of guideboat production.  It may have even been where the first Adirondack guideboat was built.

So I load Showboat on its trailer and we head for Hoss’s.  Here we are arriving there.

Showboat arrives at Hoss’s for Author’s Night.

Authors are given a spot under the tent so that they can greet the guests and talk about their offerings.  Fortunately my spot is at the end of the row of tables so I can pull Showboat up next to the table.

All set for Author’s Night.

Every year I get to meet some old friends.  One of them is John Michne who authored a book on building the Virginia, a guideboat originally built by the Grants of Old Forge, NY.  John’s book complements mine since it presents an alternate guideboat building technique, wood strip, from mine on the traditional method.  Here is John at his table.

John Michne at Author’s Night.


Here is John’s book.

John’s book.

A good crowd attended Author’s Night this year no doubt drawn by the festive atmosphere and the beautiful Adirondack summer evening.



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Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Sally’s Guideboat

It seems that every guideboat has its very own story.  So it is with Sally’s boat.  A friend of mine, Sally, mentioned that she had just sold her guideboat.  My ears perked up and I asked her to tell me about it.  She said that it was a small-sized  guideboat that was the only build of a friend of hers.  When I found she still had the boat I invited myself over to see it.

Here it is.  It has been kept under a shed roof and is in fine shape.

Sally’s guideboat

Sally told me it was built by Richard Storm of North Creek, NY for his wife. He worked at the Gore Mountain Ski resort where he suffered a back injury.  This rendered him partially paralyzed.  He powered through his disability by building a pole barn and then this guideboat.

The boat is indeed a small guideboat measuring just under 12 feet (11’11”) with a beam of 37 1/2″.  Here is friend Sally taking measurements of it.

Sally taking measurements of her guideboat.

One very odd thing about this boat is that it only has one rowing station.  It is in the bow.

An oar strap on Sally’s boat in the bow rowing station.

Note that the strap needed quite a thick extension piece above the gunwale to make it vertical.  This is unusual since the gunwale should only need some minor planing to remove some of its upper surface to make the strap plumb.

The real oddity about this boat is the single rowing station, that being in the bow.  It means that, to properly trim this boat, two people would have to go out together in it.  Apparently this was the case since the builder built it for his wife and they would always go out for a row together.

This boat is one of the Raider class that I talked about earlier.  Raiders were smaller guideboats that were used to get back into remote ponds and “raid” them.  Here is a Parson’s built Raider that measures 14′ 3″.

A Parson’s Raider guideboat.

Note that the Parson’s boat has two rowing stations just like its larger cousins.

Alas, the marriage broke up and Richard took the guideboat to Rapid City, SD.  This was a mistake since the boat totally dried out in the low humidity there.  Richard sent it back to the North Country where it was repaired by Bunny Austin to seal its many leaks.

Bunny Austin

Sally then took ownership of the boat and it has been living with her ever since.  One further mishap with it was an errant pine bough that fell and punched a hole in the hull.  Bunny was called upon again and repairs were made.

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Building an Adirondack Guideboat-A twentieth Anniversary


“A fourteen ship that weighs only sixty pounds and carries a thousand pounds over rough water; which is safe; which travels easily four miles per hour; which never leaks; and which lasts, with ordinary good care, for twenty years-needs to be made by a man who knows how, and who is passionately fond of being honest.”

William Boardman, Lovers of the Woods

Boardman summarized in a few words all the attributes of that lovely, revolutionary   wooden craft called the Adirondack guideboat.  Only the statement “which lasts with ordinary good care, for twenty years” might be questioned.

This is the twentieth year of life for the first guideboat that I built, the Frances C. We have gone out together almost every summer day, sometimes regardless of the weather, for twenty years.  How has she fared?  Pretty well, I would say.  Except for the time I forgot to turn her over on her rack.  She filled with water during a springtime storm and fell off sustaining a nasty gash.  But repairs were done and the scar is a reminder to me to be more careful of her.

In honor of her twentieth birthday she gets a sprucing up.  She will get a total cleaning up and a new coat of varnish.  First she needs to be brought up to be under cover on our screened porch in Long Lake.

The Frances C. under cover.

I brought in a couple of young fellas to sand her top to bottom with 220 grit paper.

Sanding the Frances C.

After sanding the hull I go over it with tack cloth to remove any trace of dust.  Then varnishing can proceed.  I use Epiphanes Wood Finish Gloss marine spar varnish.  It is a great product that provides wonderful protection while being easy to apply.  I tip the hull up to make it as horizontal as possible while I apply the varnish to reduce its tendency to run.  I use a foam brush which gives a nice, uniform coat.

Varnishing the outside of the hull.

Now, the inside of the hull.  This is a bit more complicated because of the ribs.

Varnishing the inside of the hull.

With her new coat of varnish its back to the water with Frances.  Will she last another twenty years?  I’d say the prospects are good.  Her planking is made of Atlantic white cedar, a wood that is almost totally rot resistant.  The property of this wood was recognized by the early settlers on Eastern Shore of Maryland.  They used this cedar as boundary markers knowing that it would last for decades if not hundreds of years.  The downside of this wood is that it tends to split easily.  Oh, well, take the good with the bad.

Another thing going for the Frances C. is its laminated ribs.  The combination of thin strips of ash held together with resorcinal resin makes an extremely strong, tough rib.

Another treat for me was that our fifteen year granddaughter was here with us for the summer.  When I suggested she take Frances out for a row she exclaimed, “But I’ve never rowed a boat”.  I said “So here is a chance to learn”.  She did and before you know it she had the hang of it.

Granddaughter rows the Frances C,



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Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Guideboat for sale

Well, the time as come to part with one of the guideboats I have built.  There are three in the garage under the house so they are a bit stuffed in there.  Besides there is another being built.

After much agonizing I have decided to sell Thankful, the latest guideboat in the stable.  It was a difficult decision since I revere them all.  Anyway, here is the story on Thankful.

Thankful is a reproduction of a guideboat built in 1893 by the esteemed builder Caleb Chase for the owners of Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb, NY. The original, named the Queen Anne, was cherished by the Pryun family who then owned Camp Santanoni.  This boat was handcrafted just as the original except for its laminated ribs and stems made of Spanish cedar.  No glue or fiberglass was used in constructing the hull.   It features:

  • Spanish cedar planking with inter-plank joinery sealed with tiny copper tacks driven and clinched every inch  to render the hull watertight.
  • Hand caned seats and seat back, all made of cherry.
  • Cherry gunwales.
  • Decks of bird’s eye maple and cherry.  Panels are “book-matched” to give an unusual figure.
  • Five coats of marine spar varnish to protect against moisture and UV radiation.
  • Traditional guideboat oars of cherry 8 feet long.
  • An authentic reproduction of a Chase guide’s paddle, made of cherry.

Length overall: 15 1/2 feet, Beam 38″. Weight: approx. 65 lbs.

Price: $7000.  If interested call me, Gordon, at (302) 690-3280 or email me at

Here are some photos of Thankful.

Thankful upon launching on Rich Lake in Newcomb, NY.

Top view of Thankful.

View towards bow.

View of stern seat.

Bow stem showing lamination.

Bow deck showing “figure”.

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The Adirondack Guideboat-the Buttercup Steam Boat

Last time we talked about the vast changes that the age of steam brought to the Adirondacks.  The railroads brought tourists from New Your City to the heart of the North Country via an overnight trip.   Steamboats then carried passengers fresh off the sleeping cars to the large resort hotels in Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes.

Guideboats served a role too.  There were many boarding houses and other small hostelries that were not served by the larger steamboats.  Guides provided a kind of taxi service for these smaller establishments. They also provided transportation on lakes that had no steamboats, like Long Lake.  Long Lake was a major corridor for those heading north to Saranac Lake and beyond.

The advent of steam-based transportation was, at first, a boon to the guides.  The railroads brought an abundance of tourists and sportsmen needing their services.  The advent of stream was a double edged sword, however, as we will see from the story of the Buttercup.

Behind Long Lake’s municipal office building is a peculiar looking structure.  It is basically a roof over a chain-linked fence that houses the Buttercup.  Below is a photo of it.

The Buttercup enclosure.

The sign at the enclosure gives the story of the Buttercup as follows:

“On September 12, 1959, the long-lost steamboat Buttercup was found on the bottom of Long Lake by amateur scuba divers George Boudreau and Franklin McIntyre.  The Buttercup was the first steamboat on Long Lake.  It was scuttled by the guides in 1885 because it was taking away their business of rowing visitors and sportsmen through the lakes in guideboats.

The same night that the guides sank the Buttercup, others blew up the dam six miles below the foot of Long Lake.  It was ten years before another steamboat appeared on the Lake.

Buttercup was part of a grand scheme put forward by Dr. Thomas C. Durant and his son, William West Durant of Raquette Lake, to provide a continuous, comfortable transportation route from Raquette Lake to Saranac Lake by railroad car and steamboat.

Interesting artifacts found in the boat are displayed with it.  They include the brass steam whistle, the steering wheel, the steam gauge, some of the spindles that supported the roof, and the axe which was used to cut the hole (on the port side near the engine) which sank the boat.”

Here are some photos of the Buttercup:

View of the Buttercup taken from the bow.

The deck of the Buttercup.

Buttercup’s engine. It is a “one lunger”, or single cylinder steam engine.

View of Buttercup’s stern.

The propeller on the Buttercup.

Just about everybody in Long Lake knows the story of the Buttercup.  In fact, it is so renown that a play was written about it and given by the town citizens a few years back.

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