An old wooden boat brings back memories, spurs imagination

July 11, 2012 

— Word from the waterfront announced that the boat Karen had hauled at Taylor’s boatyard. First reports indicated she’d been taking on water. Karen is an old-timer, of a similar Core Sound vintage as our near ’bout 79-year-old Silvia. Both of wooden construction, Karen also spent several decades commercial fishing. Recognizing its easy going and economical lines, John McCallum and his crew raised it, polished her up and converted it into yacht class, complete with teak decks and varnished mahogany.

When I mentioned to the gang at morning coffee that Karen would be perched in the boatshed while undergoing a new bottom job, a friend offered his sage observations that the problem is “wood rots.” His watercraft is a modern outboard type that skitters across water like a scared squirrel. He’s also forever reminding me that Sylvia is slow, never mind that I am, too. My thinking is if I am in a hurry, boats are a mighty poor choice; I’ll find an airplane. As for rot - my childhood neighbor insisted that nothing but God and the mountains are forever. This was before plastics, mono-fishing lines, busted rods, drink bottles, nuclear waste and old fiberglass boats.

All this past week or so, my fishing guide, Gene, and I have been seeking low-sweat ways to improve living. With the mid-summer heat now at full blast, we decided the time had come to create our own long-dreamed-of customized, hand-crafted, fly-fishing rod.

I started fishing as a child, using a willow branch. I graduated to cane poles and have tried to keep up to date. I’ve used willow branch, tubular-steel, fiberglass, nylon, Kevlar and a whole assortment of rods created from various modern and wondrous materials.

Perhaps some readers are old enough to remember the first production of fiberglass was marketed by Shakespeare, the company, and touted as the “Wonder Rod.” An instant hit, it was advertised to catch more, bigger and better fish, to be virtually unbreakable, to project lures farther with more accuracy than anything made from “old fashioned” materials. Monofilament lines have proven superior to cotton or linen, but somehow, after experimenting with a dozen materials, I haven’t found the action of synthetic material rods to be notably superior to the old fashioned hand-crafted bamboo fly-rods.

The day was too hot to spend broiling beneath the peaking July sun, so I dug out the makings for creating a fly-rod. Bamboo rods consist of long-grained, heat-tempered and resin-treated Tonkin bamboo. Six strips finely tapered and glued together, become the foundation and are followed by forming/fitting cork grip, reel seat and guides. The guides are then wrapped with silk thread before varnishing.

The development of split bamboo rods in the U.S. is credited to H.L. Leonard of Bangor, Maine. Others, such as Hardy and Orvis, entered the crafting and today some of their creations are valued in the thousands.

Rod crafting is an excellent and educational way to spend a few days. The result is, you might create a masterpiece that Rembrandt or Picasso would envy. In summary, sometimes those old gems, be they paintings, fishing rods or wooden boats are examples of functional artistry.

Admittedly wood rots, but at least it doesn’t add to the growing group of forever-polluting garbage, including mono-fishing lines, plastic rods, drink bottles, old fiberglass boats and radioactive waste.

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