Major repair; advice needed


I'm not sure yet whether the owner of this WWII-era OT Yankee will want to sink the money into this boat that would be required to make it serviceable, but I'm interested in how to attack it in any case. The attached thumbnail shows the problem: in a two square foot area at the base of the stern stem every member is rotted away. The tail of the stem is completely gone, only remnants of the most acutely-bent ribs remain, the planking is gone. All of the shapes can still be discerned, and the extreme end of the canoe is intact. It is clear that most of the elements in the aft 4 feet of the boat will end up being replaced or repaired, but my question has to do with stabilization, preservation of shape and order of replacement of parts. I am reluctant to open the thing up further without a good plan. (actual disassembly will be complicated by the steel tacks holding planking to ribs, but that's another problem). Can I bend new ribs over the outside of the canoe in a case like this, that is, would there be a hope of getting the shapes close enough in this way to produce a fair repair? Should I try to replace at least some of the planking to start with, even though there is little to fasten to, so that there will be something to seat the new ribs against? It's sort of a catch 22. Replicating and replacing the stem itself should not be too great a problem once there are some ribs to notch around and fasten to. Getting to that point is the question.

I know the burn pile or book case is the obvious solution, especially since this is not what most would call a high-value boat. That said, how would you fix go about fixing it?

Don in Vermont


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As the man with the rare steak once said "I've seen ones hurt worse than that survive". That said, it becomes a matter of personal attachment to the canoe, uniqueness and replacability - and only the owner can answer that. It this boat a family heirloom or have a unique place in the family's history? They may want to go through the expense and trouble. If not?...

My opinion on order of business would be:
1-Make sure the remainder of the boat is stable and fair - replace or repair inwales if necessary
2-replace bad stem - you might have to fasten some temporary stringers along the hull to keep it aligned.
3-replace every other rib to be sure you maintain the fair line
4- replace planking
5-replace remaining ribs

Others may have different (and probably better) ideas. Good Luck!
Major Repair Advice

I have had a similar problem with my OT. Use a piece of stiff aluminum strip and screw it along the keel line, with a strip of planking material underneath the aluminum strip. Machine screw it through a number of good frames, both for and aft of the problem areas.

Bend new frames on the opposite end of the canoe, one frame closer to the end than the position you need it for.

Take the bent frames, drill a hole in the center of the frame and then machine screw it through the aluminum strip at the correct position. Do not fasten the frame ends to the gunwale. Leave them unattached until all new frames and planking are installed.

Use strips of ash or another stiff wood, and clamp them along the sides of the boat longitudinally. You'll understand what I mean, once you start doing it. You need to do this in order to pull the frame into the hull with clamps. Start at the temporary aluminum keel and begin planking, alternating from side to side, until you get to the gunwale. At that point, you could fasten the frame end to the gunwale.

Remove the aluminum keel and replace with a strip of planking material. I would glue it with Gorilla Glue. Also, because your new plank ends will not likely have at least three frames of separation from adjacent planks, you may wish to Gorilla Glue the planks to the frames as you plank the canoe. This is generally frowned upon by the officianados, but in my case, which was 10 times worse than yours, I figure I had to do everything possible to keep things together. I also realize that my 1913 HW is so brittle overall, it would never survive another rebuild, so it doesn't matter to me if it cannot be dismantled at another time. It is true that water-soaked planking will create stresses where the planking is glued to the frame, but I decided to take the chance and just make sure that I use a lot of wood sealer in order to minimize the swelling.

This is a very slow-going job. It will be very aggravating if you do not understand this. When I first encountered this problem with mine, I seriously considered torching my canoe. What kept me going was the realization that I would not be worth my mettle if I was going to lose to a piece of wood.
I pretty much concur with Mike, that is about the way I would go about it. One thing I would consider doing would be to transfer half the missing ribs from the other end. Since you are dealing with at least some of the ribs under the stem, there could be a fair bit of mining to get to them, but it might make fairing the hull up a bit easier... If you have to replace ribs beyond the missing stem, I would definitely consider doing this.

Be sure to read the latest issue of Wooden Canoe, where the folks out west put the end back on a Penn Yan that had been chopped in order to put an outboard on. You'll probably pick up some good hints there.

The big question really is, is it worth it? This might be a valid case for a bookcase, where the owner can enjoy it every day still, and if they want a usable canoe, there are lots of better restoration projects out there.

Thanks Mike, Christian and Dan for the suggestions. As I have not heard back from the owner after sending an estimate for repairs, I expect I will not actually do this job, but I'm interested in learning how to do this kind of repair anyway. I must admit that the idea of completely disassembling the intact end of a canoe to fix the other is a daunting prospect - I would be more inclined to try to temporarily reinforce the damaged portion of the hull from the outside so that new ribs could be bent in. In any case, I bow to experience and realize that different paths may lead the same way. I'll let you know what happens if I actually do this job. Thanks again for your interest.