A Full-rigged Nautilus Canoe




Inquiries regarding the history and durability of paper boats occasionally reach me through the medium of the post-office. After all the uses to which paper has been put during the last twenty years, the public is yet hardly convinced that the flimsy material, paper, can successfully take the place of wood in the construction of light pleasure-boats, canoes, and racing shells. Yet the idea has become an accomplished fact. The success of the victorious paper shells of the Cornell College navy, which were enlisted in the struggles of two seasons at Saratoga, against no mean antagonists, -- the college crews of the United States, -- surely proves that in strength, stiffness, speed, and fineness of model, the paper boat is without a rival.

When used in its own peculiar sphere, the improved paper boat will be found to possess the following merits: less weight, greater strength, stiffness, durability, and speed than a wooden boat of the same size and model; and the moulded paper shell will retain the delicate lines so essential to speed, while the brittle wooden shell yields more or less to the warping influences of sun and moisture. A comparison of the strength of wood and paper for boats has been made by a writer in the Cornell Times, a journal published by the students of that celebrated New York college:

"Let us take a piece of wood and a piece of paper of the same thickness, and experiment with, use, and abuse them both to the same extent. Let the wood be of one-eighth of an inch in thickness -- the usual thickness of shell-boats, and the paper heavy pasteboard, both one foot square. Holding them up by one side, strike them with a hammer, and observe the result. The wood will be cracked, to say the least; the pasteboard, whirled out of your hand, will only be dented, at most. Take hold and bend them: the wood bends to a certain degree, and then splits; the pasteboard, bent to the same degree, is not affected in the least. Take a knife and strike them: the wood is again split, the pasteboard only pierced. Place them on the water: the wood floats for an indefinite time; the pasteboard, after a time, soaks, and finally sinks, as was to be expected. But suppose we soak the pasteboard in marine glue before the experiment, then we find the pasteboard equally as impervious to the water as wood, and as buoyant, if of the same weight; but, to be of the same weight, it must be thinner than the wood, yet even then it stands the before-mentioned tests as well as when thicker; and it will be found to stand all tests much better than wood, even when it weighs considerably less.

"Now, enlarging our pieces, and moulding them into boats of the same weight, we find the following differences: Wood, being stiff and liable to split, can only be moulded into comparative form. Paper, since it can be rendered perfectly pliable, can be pressed into any shape desirable; hence, any wished-for fineness of lines can be given to the model, and the paper will assume the identical shape, after which it can be water-proofed, hardened, and polished. Paper neither swells, nor shrinks, nor cracks, hence it does not leak, is always ready for use, always serviceable. As to cost, there is very little difference between the two; the cost being within twenty-five dollars, more or less, the same for both. Those who use paper boats think them very near perfection; and surely those who have the most to do with boats ought to know, prejudice aside, which is the best."

An injury to a paper boat is easily repaired by a patch of strong paper and a coating of shellac put on with a hot iron. As the paper boat is a novelty with many people, a sketch of its early history may prove interesting to the reader. Mr. George A. Waters, the son of the senior member of the firm of E. Waters & Sons, of Troy, New York, was invited some years since to a masquerade party. The boy repaired to a toy shop to purchase a counterfeit face; but, thinking the price (eight dollars) was more than he could afford for a single evening's sport, he borrowed the mask for a model, from which he produced a duplicate as perfect as was the original. While engaged upon his novel work, an idea impressed itself upon his ingenious brain. "Cannot," he queried, "a paper shell be made upon the wooden model of a boat? And will not a shell thus produced, after being treated to a coat of varnish, float as well, and be lighter than a wooden boat?"

This was in March, 1867, while the youth was engaged in the manufacture of paper boxes. Having repaired a wooden shell-boat by covering the cracks with sheets of stout paper cemented to the wood, the result satisfied him; and he immediately applied his attention to the further development of his bright idea. Assisted by his father, Mr. Elisha Waters, the enterprise was commenced "by taking a wooden shell, thirteen inches wide and thirty feet long, as a mould, and covering the entire surface of its bottom and sides with small sheets of strong Manila paper, glued together, and superposed on each other, so that the joints of one layer were covered by the middle of the sheet immediately above, until a sheet of paper had been formed one-sixteenth of an inch in thickness. The fabric thus constructed, after being carefully dried, was removed from the mould and fitted up with a suitable frame, consisting of a lower keelson, two inwales, the bulkhead; in short, all the usual parts of the frame of a wooden shell, except the timbers, or ribs, of which none were used -- the extreme stiffness of the skin rendering them unnecessary. Its surface was then carefully waterproofed with suitable varnishes, and the work was completed. Trials proved that, rude as was this first attempt compared with the elegant craft now turned out from paper, it had marked merits, among which were, its remarkable stiffness, the symmetry of the hull with respect to its long axis, and the smoothness of the water-surface."

A gentleman, who possesses excellent judgment and long experience in all that relates to paper boats, furnishes me with the following valuable information, which I feel sure will interest the reader.

"The process of building the paper shell-boat is as follows: The dimensions of the boat having been determined upon, the first step is to construct a wooden model, or form, an exact facsimile of the desired boat, on which to mould the paper skin. For this purpose the lines of the boat are carefully drawn out of the full size, and from the drawings thus made the model is prepared. It is built of layers of well-seasoned pine, securely fastened together to form one solid mass; which, after having been laid up of the general outline required, is carefully worked off, until its surface, which is made perfectly smooth, exactly conforms to the selected lines, and its beam, depth, and length are those of the given boat. During the process of its construction, suitable rabbets are cut to receive the lower keelson, the two inwales, and the bow and stern deadwoods, which, being put in position, are worked off so that their surfaces are flush with that of the model, and forming, as it were, an integral part of it. It being important that these parts should, in the completed boat, be firmly attached to the skin, their surface is, at this part of the process, covered with a suitable adhesive preparation.

"The model is now ready to be covered with paper. Two kinds are used: that made from the best Manila, and that prepared from pure unbleached linen stock; the sheets being the full length of the model, no matter what that may be. If Manila paper is used, the first sheet is dampened, laid smoothly on the model, and securely fastened in place by tacking it to certain rough strips attached to its upper face. Other sheets are now superposed on this and on each other, and suitably cemented together; the number depending upon the size of the boat and the stiffness required. If linen paper is used, but one sheet is employed, of such weight and dimensions that, when dry, it will give just the thickness of skin necessary. Should the surface of the model be concave in parts, as in the run of boats with square sterns for instance, the paper is made to conform to these surfaces by suitable convex moulds, which also hold the paper in place until, by drying, it has taken and will retain the desired form. The model, with its enveloping coat of paper, is now removed to the dry-room. As the paper skin dries, all wrinkles disappear, and it gradually assumes the desired shape. Finally, when all moisture has been evaporated, it is taken from the mould an exact fac-simile of the model desired, exceedingly stiff, perfectly symmetrical, and seamless.

"The paper is now subjected to the water-proof process, and the skin, with its keelson, inwales, and dead-woods attached, is then placed in the carpenter's hands, where the frame is completed in the usual manner, as described for wooden boats. The paper decks being put on, it is then ready for the brass, iron, and varnish work. As the skins of these boats (racing-shells) vary from one-sixteenth of an inch in the singles, to one-twelfth of an inch in the six-oared outriggers, the wooden frame becomes necessary to support and keep them in shape. In applying this invention to gigs, dingys, canoes, and skiffs, a somewhat different method is adopted. Since these boats are subjected to much hard service, and must be so constructed as to permit the occupant to move about in them as is usual in such craft, a light and strong frame of wood is prepared, composed of a suitable number of pairs of ribs, with stem and stern pieces cut from the natural crooks of hackmatack roots. These are firmly framed to two gunwales and a keelson, extending the length of the boat; the whole forming the skeleton shape of the desired model. The forms for these boats having been prepared, as already described for the racing-shells, and the frame being let into this form, so that the outer surface of the ribs, stem and stern pieces will conform with its outer surface, the paper skin is next laid upon it. The skin, manufactured from new, unbleached linen stock, is carefully stretched in place, and when perfectly dry is from one-tenth to three-sixteenths of an inch thick. Removed from the model, it is water-proofed, the frame and fittings completed, and the boat varnished. In short, in this class of boats, the shape, style, and finish are precisely that of wooden ones, of corresponding dimensions and class, except that for the usual wooden sheathing is substituted the paper skin as described.

"The advantages possessed by these boats over those of wood are:

"By the use of this material for the skins of racing-shells, where experience has demonstrated the smooth bottom to be the best, under-water lines of any degree of fineness can be developed, which cannot successfully be produced in those of wood, even where the streaks are so reduced in thickness that strength, stiffness, and durability are either wholly sacrificed or greatly impaired. In the finer varieties of 'dug-outs' equally fine lines can be obtained; but so delicate are such boats, if the sides are reduced to three-sixteenths of an inch or less in thickness, that it is found practically impossible to preserve their original forms for any length of time. Hence, so far as this point is concerned, it only remains for the builder to select those models which science, guided by experience, points out as the best.

"The paper skin, after being water-proofed, is finished with hard varnishes, and then presents a solid, perfectly smooth, and horny surface to the action of the water, unbroken by joint, lap, or seam. This surface admits of being polished as smooth as a coach-panel or a mirror. Unlike wood, it has no grain to be cracked or split, it never shrinks, and, paper being one of the best of non-conductors, no ordinary degree of heat or cold affects its shape or hardness, and hence these boats are admirably adapted for use in all climates. As the skin absorbs no moisture, these boats gain no weight by use, and, having no moisture to give off when out of the water, they do not, like wooden boats, show the effect of exposure to the air by leaking. They are, therefore, in this respect always prepared for service.

"The strength and stiffness of the paper shells are most remarkable. To demonstrate it, a single shell of twelve inch beam and twenty-eight feet long, fitted complete with its outriggers, the hull weighing twenty-two pounds, was placed on two trestles eight feet apart, in such a manner that the trestles were each the same distance from the centre of the cockpit, which was thus entirely unsupported. A man weighing one hundred and forty pounds then seated himself in it, and remained in this position three minutes. The deflection caused by this strain, being accurately measured, was found to be one-sixteenth of an inch at a point midway between the supports. If this load, applied under such abnormal conditions, produced so little effect, we can safely assume that, when thus loaded and resting on the water, supported throughout her whole length, and the load far more equally distributed over the whole frame, there would be no deflection whatever.

"Lightness, when combined with a proper, stiffness and strength, being a very desirable quality, it is here that the paper boats far excel their wooden rivals. If two shells are selected, the one of wood and the other with a paper skin and deck, as has been described, of the same dimensions and equally stiff, careful experiment proves that the wooden one will be thirty per cent. the heaviest. If those of the same dimensions and equal weight are compared, the paper one will be found to exceed the wooden one in stiffness and in capacity to resist torsional strains in the same proportion. Frequent boasts are made that wooden shells can be and are built much lighter than paper ones; and if the quality of lightness alone is considered, this is true; yet when the practical test of use is applied, such extremely light wooden boats have always proved, and will continue to prove, failures, as here this quality is only one of a number which combine to make the boat serviceable. A wooden shell whose hull weighs twenty-two pounds, honest weight, is a very fragile, short-lived affair. A paper shell of the same dimensions, and of the same weight, will last as long, and do as much work, as a wooden one whose hull turns the beam at thirty pounds.

"An instance of their remarkable strength is shown in the following case. In the summer of 1870, a single shell, while being rowed at full speed, with the current, on one of our principal rivers, was run into to the stone abutment of a bridge. The bow struck squarely on to obstacle, and such was the momentum of the mass that the oarsman was thrown directly through the flaring bow of the cockpit into the river. Witnesses of the accident who were familiar with wooden shells declared that the boat was ruined; but, after a careful examination, only the bow-tip was found to be twisted in a spiral form, and the washboard broken at the point by the oarsman as he passed between the sides. Two dollars covered the cost of repair. Had it been a wooden shell the shock would have crushed its stem and splintered the skin from the bow to the waist."

Old and cautious seamen tried to dissuade me from contracting with the Messrs. Waters for the building of a stout paper canoe for my journey. Harvard College had not adopted this "newfangled notion" at that time, and Cornell had only begun to think of attempting to out-row other colleges at Saratoga by using paper boats. The Centennial year of the independence of the United States, 1876, settled all doubts as to the value of the result of the years of toil of the inventors of the paper boat. During the same year the incendiary completed his revengeful work by burning the paper-boat manufactory at Troy. The loss was a heavy one; but a few weeks later these unflinching men were able to record the following victories achieved that single season by their boats.

The races won by the paper boats were:

           The Intercollegiate Championship:
                            Freshmen and University.

The International Championship at Saratoga: Singles, Doubles, and Fours.

The National Championship, N. A. of A. 0.: Singles, Doubles, and Fours.

The World's Championship at Centennial Exhibition: Singles, Doubles, and Fours.

The Professional Championship of the United States.

And every other important race of the season, besides receiving the highest honors at the Centennial Exhibition. The right to make boats of paper in Canada and in the United States is exclusively held by the Messrs. Waters, and they are the only manufacturers of paper boats in the world.

Rob Roy Canoe

It is not many years since Mr. McGregor, of London, built the little Rob Roy canoe, and in it made the tour of interesting European waters. His example was followed by an army of tourists, and it is now a common thing to meet canoe voyagers in miniature flotillas upon the watercourses of our own and foreign lands. Rev. Baden Powell, also an Englishman, perfected the model of the Nautilus type of canoe, which possesses a great deal of sheer with fullness of bow, and is therefore a better boat for rough water than the Rob Roy. The New York Canoe Club have adopted the Nautilus for their model. We still need a distinctive American type for our waters, more like the best Indian canoe than the European models here presented. These modern yacht-like canoes are really improved kyaks, and in their construction we are much indebted to the experience of the inhabitants of the Arctic Circle. Very few of the so-called Rob Roy canoes, built in the United States, resemble the original perfected boat of Mr. McGregor -- the father of modern canoe travelling. The illustrations given of English canoes are from imported models, and are perfect of their type.