Opinion

OUT ON A ALIMB: Derelict canoe floats me back to my happy youth

Like a flag, the orange tarp tugs at my conscience, reminding me constantly of an unfinished project.

Unfinished is an understatement. Get started is the right phrase.

I first saw it overturned on a rack attached to a dock in Haida Gwaii. Fire engine red. White lettering: Sugarfoot II.

I’ve always wondered whatever happened to the first Sugarfoot but that will remain a mystery to me. The owner of Sugarfoot II, at the time I first set eyes on it, was a mystery to me then and, of course now.

But the 14-foot cedar and canvas canoe was soon to come into the sphere of my family when my oldest brother bought it.

Like all cedar and canvas canoes, it’s aged cedar ribs were stained to a dark patina. Like the taste of a fine wine maturing, it’s wood grain darkened as it absorbed hours of exploration. I taught myself how to roll it over, empty it out and get back in. I taught myself bad paddling habits but my technique was good enough to propel me around the saltchuck near my home.

The red canvas was still in good shape then but eventually it would get used and abused, particularly after my brother gave to his younger siblings when he upgraded to a 16-foot Peterborough-style cedar and canvas canoe.

As a teenager living on the shores of Tasu Sound, I paddled Sugarfoot II throughout the saltwater inlets of my remote mining town home.  Hours and hours of exploration embedded a naturalist ethic in me that persists to this day. The single most reason I love canoes is probably due to the pleasure I got as a youngster from Sugarfoot II. Responsive to the paddle, she could dance on the water.

As a small boat, she wasn’t meant for big water but in sheltered bays and inlets I’d investigate the interface between tidal shallows and graveled delts, between dark waters and rocky shores.

Sugarfoot II and I parted company years ago when it remained behind in Tasu and I moved north, then eventually south.

Then I moved north again as a young man starting a career, a career that eventually brought me to Campbell River. Circumstances conspired to have Sugarfoot II join me here.

She is in woeful shape now: Canvas is peeling off,planks are cracked, ribs are broken, and gunwales and inwales are worn and sprung loose. But there’s no rot. And she gives me hope. Hope that some day I’ll dance with her on the water once again.

For now she sits, wrapped in bright orange plastic...waiting. Waiting for me to restore her to former glory. I’ve read about all there is to read about restoring canoes. I’m reasonably adept with tools. I have enough of them to do the job. What I don’t know, I can teach myself.

So, she sits under the orange tarp, patiently waiting. The time has come to get started. I’m tired of listening to the tarp flap in the wind. Like a flag.

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