The collaborative journey of boatbuilding

The Northside Safety NET interns recently transformed a blank canvas and a pile of pine into a 15-foot skin-on-frame canoe with only a wood steamer, power drill, Japanese handsaw, some chisels, and a plethora of clamps.

Boatbuilding is a magical, hands-on process that channels energy and teamwork to create a real, durable exploration vessel. Our instructor from Urban Boat Builders, Anais Boyd, led our group through the build on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the spring. We opened each meeting with stretching and a check-in question to ground us before beginning the work. Under Anais’ spunky and youthful leadership, we steam bent, footballed, clamped, lashed, sanded, sawed, and drilled scraps into a canoe; they encouraged us to use our leadership abilities and nurtured our budding woodwork skills.

Part of the building process involved steam bending pine wood strips to create the shape of the canoe.

The first day we steam bent the canoe stem and ribs that would make up the skeleton. Our first of many teamwork tests, steam bending requires a dynamic blend of individual speed and agility and group coordination. We had 30 seconds to pull the piping hot pine strip out of a steaming tube and form it to a half-moon mold with an iron band, clamps, and grip strength. Beforehand, we decided our roles and practiced the movements; if we didn’t get it formed in time, the wood would stiffen and snap. Anais set their timer, and it was game on. The group navigated the undercurrent of nerves with swift harmony until the last clamp was fastened.

In the weeks that followed, self-doubt grew into self-confidence as we built the boat step by step. Through exploratory learning, interns tried each task and learned what they did and didn’t enjoy. The value of teamwork shined when one person excelled at a job that others disliked; if someone hated the monotony of lashing, they could measure and drill holes on the rub rail.

After hard work and eager anticipation, launch day finally arrived. We maneuvered the boat out of the second story window, lowered it to the ground with ropes, and fastened it to a trailer stacked amongst the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s green Kevlar fleet. We loaded a little blue bus and took off for Theodore Wirth Lake.

The team found a creative way to move the canoe after completing the boatbuilding process.

With PFDs zipped and clipped and paddles in hand, we partnered up and pushed off into the water. The paddle was not unlike the build; forward movement and success contingent on the synergy between teammates. The canoe was lightweight, but sturdy, and glided through the water with ease. The semitransparent nylon skin illuminated the waves and bubbles flowing below. It was amazing to see the completed handmade boat we built from scratch floating in the water, a testament to teamwork.

Follow along as we launch into a summer full of exploration, growth, and learning.