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by Dave Gentry - Harrisonburg, Virginia - USA

For the last couple of weekends, I was privileged to work with a great group of folks who are dedicated to helping out our nation's veterans in a way we can all relate to - boating. Through the efforts of the Florida Maritime Museum (FMM), located in the old Gulf Coast fishing village of Cortez, I helped volunteers from the local Heroes on the Water (HOW) chapter build a small fleet of kayaks for use by troubled soldiers past and present.

Heroes on the Water's mission is to provide physically and mentally therapeutic "healing and rehabilitating kayak fishing outings" for vets all over the nation. To do this they need boats, and their volunteers can't always provide enough. That's where I and the FMM came in for the Sarasota FL chapter. A small, but growing part of the FMM's mission is to provide education and hands-on experience with small boat building, and here was a chance to both do that, and to help out a worthy cause at the same time.

So, I and volunteers from the museum and HOW came together to build some kayaks. We spent two consecutive weekends building recreational style skin-on-frame (SOF) kayaks - specifically my Chuckanut 12 design. The C12's are short, beamy, stable, have big, user-friendly cockpits, and can be built in just a few days by a dedicated group.

Chuckanut 12

Luckily, Florida in March has somewhat better weather than much of the rest of the country, and we had four perfect days for outdoor boat building on the museum grounds. Day one started early on Saturday with a talk about safety and tool use, and then by diving straight in. In the usual manner of SOF construction, somewhere in the middle of the day, things had gone from a pile of sticks to a recognizable boat shape, and things moved nicely along (for the most part) from there.

By Sunday afternoon the frames were complete and ready to be skinned and coated the next weekend.

Hmm, I had the whole week in between, though. What is there to do in Florida in March? Play tourist, of course! Sadly, my wife was stuck up in the snowy north country, but I had a couple of other visitors to knock around with.

First off was an excursion with Cortez skipper Geoffrey Kendrick. Geoff recently built himself a traditional ketch rigged Cedar Keys sharpie, designed by Reuel Parker, and takes folks out sailing in a foot of water, wending in and around the historic waterfront and the many islets dotting the bay. Nice!

We also rented some awful plastic kayaks for some lovely poking about among the mangroves. This is one of my oldest friends, the lovely and talented Ingrid.

And, no trip to the area would be complete without gawking at a sponge diver or a few manatees. Sadly, yes, those are propeller scars on those poor sea cows.

Back to work the next Saturday saw us skinning the boats. Though there are several methods, we skinned these in two pieces - hull first, then the deck. The material (uncoated 8oz polyester) is fastened along the gunwales, and the seams will later get covered by a rubrail.

Skinning went quickly, then the fabric was tightened up even more with an iron, which shrinks the fabric. Even my Mom, who came down for a few days, got into it! I guess she's had some experience, though it never rubbed off on me.

By quitting time we had a coat of paint on the boats,

and by Sunday afternoon all the boats were painted and the final trim - rubrails and cockpit coamings - were installed.

Of course we threw one into the pond, and there was much cheering when it didn't sink (or leak)!

After that it was all over except for the picture taking.

All in all, a successful couple of weekends . . . the museum got to show off, I got to get away from the snow for a while, some great folks learned how to build a boat, and a bunch of veterans get to benefit as well.

My thanks to FMM staff and volunteers who made this all happen, and to the guys from HOW who threw their time and effort into this great project!

Learn more about the Florida Maritime Museum.

and Heroes on the Water.

Dave Gentry

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