Building a New Old Classic, Part 1

22 09 2008

The last couple years I’ve been learning how to playboat and how to handle modern short boats in general.  It’s been a tremendous learning experience and loads of fun.  For all the advances in modern boats, though, there’s one thing they just don’t have, and can’t have, based on simple physics: SPEED.  A fast boat means a long boat, and a long plastic boat means a heavy boat, which defeats the whole purpose of having a long boat in the first place. Fast, light boats are simply not available in the marketplace except for highly specialized craft like squirt boats or slalom boats.  Great at what they do, but they come with heavy trade-offs in terms of comfort, safety, and cost.

When I started paddling in the early 70s almost everyone built their own boats for the simple reason that good whitewater boats were unavailable any other way.  The few commercially made boats were so inferior that they couldn’t be expected to last more than a few river trips without major repairs.  The modern paddler who wants a high performance river boat is presented, ironically, with the identical dilemma, i.e. the boat he or she wants isn’t made or sold anywhere.

Luckily, the old boat-building culture hasn’t disappeared completely.  Stashed in workshops and under decks across the country are untold numbers of boat molds awaiting the attention of the discriminating paddler.  My favorite long boat of all time was the Prijon Olympia 400, aka Augsburg, designed by Toni Prijon for the 1972 Olympics in Germany.  This boat is a contemporary of the Hahn C-1 that is still popular with C boaters in some areas of the country.  I’ve always felt the handling characteristics and aesthetics of the Prijon were superb and I still have the old one I built ca. 1973, although UV degradation has made it unpaddleable.

I casually inquired around the DC area for quite a while before I discovered that Carter Hearn (father of paddling legends David and Cathy Hearn) still had an original Augsburg mold.  This mold was made by Ted Waddell, one of the best local custom builders throughout the 70s.  Carter agreed to let me use the mold.  Carter’s son Davey and his wife Jennifer operate Sweet Composites, a complete source for all boat-building materials and equipment.  After quite a bit of dithering, I finally committed to the project, bought the materials and picked up the mold from Carter.  So, for the first time in at least 20 years I’m building a boat.  Here’s how it starts.

Picking up the mold from Carter\'s place

Carter helped me load the 80+ lb mold onto my car.

The mold opened

It may have been decades since this mold was opened.  It was amazingly clean and ready to go.  Ted Waddell built outstanding molds and boats.

The deck mold, ready for cleaning

This is the deck portion of the mold.  A little cleaning with water, get the cobwebs off and it’s about ready to go.  Note that the cockpit hole has been covered up; this indicates this mold was intended for vacuum bagging.  I’m sticking to old fashioned hand layup for this project, keeping it simple after a long layoff from the trade.

The mold halves hanging in the shop.  Ready for some more cleaning and then the real show.

Here the mold halves are hanging in the shop, the hull below to be worked on first, the deck hanging above out of the way.  They will take some more cleaning, waxing, and covering with mold release before we’re ready to start laying glass.

More to come as the project develops.


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One response to “Building a New Old Classic, Part 1”

28 09 2008
Chuck (13:21:32) :

very cool project! Hope to see it attaining up the gorge soon!

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