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Meet The Boat Builders of Jackson

Recently, it was raining so hard in the South that people started joking about building an ark. Little did they know, a group of Jacksonians is already doing the next best thing: building a 15-foot canoe.

Leading the group is A. Henry Archino, the only member who has experience in traditional boat building. Henry began working at Old House Depot after he moved from New York to Jackson in the fall of 2011, when his wife began teaching at Millsaps College. In New York, Henry had worked with at-risk high school students at a nonprofit youth development organization called Rocking the Boat.

According to the organization’s website, “Students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways, revitalizing their community while creating better lives for themselves.” Henry spent six years with the Rocking the Boat, serving in a variety of roles. He finished his last two years at the organization as the Boat Building Director.

"My experiences at Rocking the Boat taught me that boat building is much more than just the technical skills involved," says Henry. "It pushes you to be creative, to solve problems, and to rely on your fellow group members. I have used these lessons learned though boat building in all aspects of my life." 

Last fall, a couple of Henry’s friends in Jackson expressed interest in learning to build a boat and began meeting at Old House Depot one evening per week. Participation soon grew to around eight people, through word of mouth. Since November, a shared goal has come into focus: To build a fiddlehead canoe together.

“I think everyone is here for a different reason,” says Henry. “It’s a spectrum between the social element and the skill development. Some people come to hang out."

The group began by selecting an original canoe design by Henry Bryan, a longtime Canadian boat builder, and chipping in to buy the plans. “Bryan's fiddlehead design was the first boat that I saw built,” says Henry. “So much of this boat can be built with reclaimed wood, whereas some designs require mostly new wood.” Henry gestures around him at the stacks of reclaimed wood in the Old House Depot warehouse. “We’re building the boat completely with the materials we have here.”

Since November, the boat building group has been immersed in a process called “lofting,” which entails drawing out the boat design at full scale from three different points of view: the top, the front, and the sides. The group members have meticulously measured and plotted points on a grid from each of these angles, then reconciled them to ensure the boat will have fair curves and smooth lines. Within the group, there’s a range of expertise, from beginner to experienced carpenter. Two members are city planners and engineers, who have frequently shared their knowledge during the mathematically detailed lofting process.

Just this week, the group moved from the design phase to the boat building phase. The team will starting by building the boat upside down, assembling the stems, frames and the bottom. Then, the body of the boat will be created by overlapping bent planks of cypress, a lightweight and flexible wood.  In order to bend the wood, they will use a process called steam-bending. This involves wrapping the planks in towels, pouring boiling water over them, and covering them in a tarp to keep the heat in. They will repeat this process every 15 minutes for an hour until the planks become pliable. 

The canoe is slated to be finished in April. The finished product will be 15 feet long and 30 inches wide, and convertible from a one-person to a two-person vessel. When finished, the boat will belong to group member Tait Karlson. He plans to explore the reservoir which is near to his home, and other Mississippi lakes and rivers.

If the rains begin again and you're wishing for an ark to brave the deluge, the boat building group at Old House Depot are the folks to see.

Newer entry: Treasures from Far-Off Places

Older entry: Beakers, Bricks, and More