Take-down Pirogue

Hi Chuck

Attached are photos of a pirogue (from a kit from Uncle John's) I built a year or so ago. I saw a similar one (for a nesting canoe) in your design contest about a month back, and thought about kicking in my two bits. Then today I reinstalled my scanner, and I thought I would send you some photos and a description. (Plus my subscription is up soon and I thought this might buy me an extra month or two.)

le mec (click to enlarge)

I live in a third floor apartment in Cologne, Germany, with a relatively small living room that my French wife reluctantly allowed me to build a boat in (they don't call them freedom wives for nothing). That put two constraints on building a pirogue for me; storing the thing in the apartment during the construction, and after, and how to get her down three flights of stairs when I wanted put her in the water.

So I ended up building it in two pieces, each with a transom. Essentially you make the thing like any other simple cheap canoe/pirogue boat. But instead of scarfing the sides and bottoms together, you join them to transoms. The sides are 1/4" birch plywood, and the transoms are 1/2" birch ply.

(click to enlarge)

After building the two hulls I drilled through the transoms, two holes near the top and two holes farther down, but well above the water line, and bolted them together through rubber spacers to help absorb any flexing stress. The removeable gunwales were each laminated out of two 8-foot strips of 3/8"x1"x 8' clear pine. You epoxy the two pieces together and then clamp them in place to take the curve of the sides permanently (wax paper kept them from sticking to the sides). I added another two strips of 3/8" x 1.5" clear white pine on the insides of the two hulls to reinforce the hull where the removable gunwales bolt through with carriage bolts and wing nuts. (This is all pretty clear in the photos, I hope) Then you turn the boat over and sandwich the keel over the gap between the two hulls with two 2-foot strips of aluminum, drill through, and bolt the thing together.

The paddles were made of left-over 1/4" ply and a 1" dowel.

Because I was building in the living room, I didn't think even my freedom wife would put up with a fiberglassing job, so I built "Le Mec" (roughly, The Dude) with epoxy and chine logs, pulled all the screws and replaced them with wooden pegs, and just painted the plywood with a latex house paint. We have had her out a couple of times, and she handles about as well as any other more or less flat bottomed canoe I have ever been in. With the removable gunwales and the aluminum strips she does not flex. One thing is that the gap between the two hulls under water seems to add some drag and cuts Le Mec's top speed, so I added a strip of close-celled foam in the gap and that helped. When not swimming the local waters, Le Mec serves as a shelf in the living room and a coat rack/shelf in our entrance hall and living room.

She is very light, about 20 pounds, and the two pieces are very easy to handle up and down the stairs. It could be that there are other apartment-living and frustrated pirogue builders out there who might take inspiration from this method of getting on the water. I hope so.

I also built another pirogue in the south of France as a house present for some friends with a house on a river we were staying with (actually it was our honeymoon (I have a really good wife)) and "Le Ragondin" ("the nutria" a kind of giant aquatic hamster that has infested France, and the southern US since Napoleon decided to import them to Lousiana and France to serve as fur animals), got her maiden voyage on Le Gardon river in Provence in April. She was basically the same design, but built in one piece. I just sort of hacked her out of odds and ends of wood I tracked down in the neighborhood there over a couple of days. Rough, but she floats.

My next project will be based on the swamp boats they use near my wife's home town in southwestern France. They have a canoe stern for paddeling and a wider, scow front for capacity. Mine will also have a rudder, lee board and small sail. It will be a 5 mm ply, stitch-and-glue and fiberglass job. The idea is to make a boat that is light enough to paddle and portage easily, but with enough room to sleep at anchor if I can't find a camping place for the night. I am a journalist by trade and plan to take a trip down La Loire river in France and write a book on the trip, with a little wine, food, history and natural history thrown in. But we are expecting a baby in June, so it might be a couple of years before I can put it all together.

Take it easy and hope you are well.

Brian Anderson
Kleingedank Str. 10
Cologne, 50677 Germany