Repair Project - Freight Damaged Northwoods Canoe 15' Morris Replica


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Recently, my neighbors hosted a garage sale for their son’s soccer team and, among the items for sale, was a new, but freight-damaged 15' B.N. Morris replica built by Rollin Thurlow at Northwoods Canoes. To my untrained eye, the damage looked minimal and, after discovering that the list price of a new one was $3,900, I decided that I needed a summer project. I ended up trading a 1970s vintage Schwinn tandem bicycle that had been hanging in my garage for over twenty years for the canoe, which came complete with two, brand-new, Shaw and Tenney paddles that retail for about $85 each. The soccer team ended up getting $350 for the bike so, if you want to be picky; my net cost for the canoe was about $180. This assumes, of course, that I would have actually sold the bicycle. I prefer to think that I got the whole package for free.

After I had the canoe on sawhorses on my back patio and subjected it to a more careful inspection, what had appeared to be a few, easily repairable ribs was actually twenty-one cracked and broken ribs extending from just aft of the forward seat all the way aft past the rear seat, almost to the aft hand thwart. The worst hull deformation was amidships on the starboard side. The starboard inwale was also cracked but repairable.

Thankfully, before I started any amateurish repairs, I found this site, which ultimately lead me to Mark Adams in Reno. Mark suggested that I contact Rollin Thurlow and see if I could purchase some pre-bent ribs which would greatly simplify my task.

Rollin was very helpful and was happy that someone had acquired the canoe and was going to repair it. The original owner had won the canoe from a jerky company and wasn't really interested in owning a canoe, especially a damaged one, which is why she'd donated it to the soccer team's garage sale. I immediately placed an order for the ribs, tacks, nails, etc.

At this point I've replaced ten of the twenty-one ribs and have my time down to a little over an hour per rib. I've also transitioned from the "can I do this" stage to the "I can do this" stage. The nice thing is that all the wood is new so I don’t need to deal with color-matching or rot and having ribs that were professionally bent on the original form is a lifesaver. Removing the broken ribs has been a bit problematical since the varnish that seeped underneath them has glued them to the planking so they aren't simply "falling out" as I'd expected. I picked up an inexpensive oscillating, multi-function tool at Harbor Freight Tools which has been a lifesaver in cutting the ribs into sections along the plank seams. Once they're cut into short sections, I'm able to remove the pieces by carefully driving a flexible 3" drywall knife under them. The tool is easy to control by hand to within 1/32 – 1/16” tolerance and the fine-tooth, straight blade is thin enough to fit between the planks without doing any damage.

I’m posting a “before” photo that Rollin sent me of the canoe before it left his shop along with some photos of my progress to date. Hopefully I'll be able to ultimately post a beautiful "after" photo sometime in the not-to-distant future.

I'd like to thank Mark Adams and Rollin Thurlow for their support and encouragement.


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I wondered what became of that canoe. I was discussing shipping options with Rollin a few months ago and he shared the horror story of the Morris. Best "free" canoe I've ever heard of!
I suppose that being here in California, away from the canoe heartland, probably worked to my advantage. Otherwise, I'm sure someone would have heard the story from Rollin, tracked it down and snapped it up. It won't be free once I'm done but it will be worth it. We have a lot of good paddling around here (near Sacramento) with the California Delta and all of our lakes, mountain and otherwise.

I will need to learn how to paddle properly since most of my paddling experience is in a kayak.
What's the back story on the shipping damage? Rollin's shipped four canoes to me in California (one of which was a yellow 15' Morris - so now there are at least two in the state), and no problem whatsoever.
IIRC, Rollin built a crate around the canoe for shipment by truck. By the time it reached CA most of the crate was gone. Of course the carrier had no idea how it got crushed.
My understanding is that the recipient, who'd won the canoe, didn't know what they were looking at and accepted the shipment without noting any damage. This opened the door for the carrier to deny responsibility. Fortunately, Rollin had been paid by the jerky company who sponsored the contest, and the winner didn't really want a canoe in the first place. Nonetheless, I'm sure Rollin hated to see something he'd created suffer the fate it did.
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You sir, now belong to the Hall of Salvage Saints. If I understand correctly, you went from "can I do this " to "I can do this" *before* re-canvassing? I'm just saying.....

Welcome to the club!
Mark said he'd help me with the canvassing, so I won't be on my own. It was the part that had me the most concerned until I found Mark.

I also re-counted the ribs and I'm replacing 22, not 21 as I originally stated. Twelve down, ten to go and I've spent 30 hours so far.

Is there a Salvage Saint T-shirt?
I wondered where that canoe went. I faithfully checked into that contest site every day. Obviously I didn't win the canoe - damn- but I did win the Coleman lantern, which I can't use because health issues prevent me from camping.
Best, Denis

Just a few words of encouragement. Keep at it because when you are done you are going to have and enjoy one of the nicest paddling W/C canoe models. I'm sure Rolin's 15' Morris reproduction is exact to the original hull. I am fortunate to have a 15' 1905 Morris and it is the nicest paddling canoe that I have ever been in.

It's so encouraging to read everyone's comments each morning as I get ready to start working on my canoe -- the internet is an amazing thing. Although my wife is very supportive of me, she groaned when I told her that some of you have ten or twelve canoes. I have my share of boats, but, so far, they're all different (sailboat, kayak, Folbot, inflatable dinghy, broken canoe).

For those of you who are interested, here's a link to the 2010 news release that announced the contest that awarded the canoe as a prize:
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Sounds like you already have a start on a serious addiction. It's my understanding that there is a twelve step program for canoe enthusiasts. As I understand it though there is an additional canoe at each step along the slippery slope...I mean along the road to recovering a canvas canoe...I meant to say recovery! I'm currently on step 6 in the program. See how confusing this addiction can become. Have a great time as you wallow in your addiction and enjoy what looks to be a great project. Keep the pictures coming. It's good to see progress.

The shipping company was Yellow Freight. I worked with their customer Rep to insure that the canoe was packaged right. I had to build a plywood box around the canoe and have the canoe padded inside and took out extra insurance on the shipment.. So we did all that , took pictures and sent it on its way.
When the canoe arrived at the customers in CA. the bare canoe was sitting on the base of the plywood box. There was no padding and no box. There was blue plastic kind of jammed around the canoe but that was something that was not in the original box. I had pictures of the canoe as it was shipped and as it was received still inside the delivery truck.
The customer had thought that was how the canoe was originally packaged and signed for the canoe only to discover the damage after the truck left.
Obviously something had been dropped on the canoe crate crushing it and the side of the canoe. Who ever did the damage them cleared away the remains of the box and tried wrapping the canoe in the blue plastic.
I made a claim to Yellow Freight but they denied it with the comment that the customer signed for it so its not their problem. As for the pictures of the canoe as it was sent and received they said "Pictures can be doctored". I could not of received less help from Yellow Freight!

Yes, six canoes. Allow me to clarify. One canoe that's been restored, one thats in the process of being restored, and three that are "restorable" to different degrees, oh...and two halves of the same canoe (it was included with one of the restorable ones)how could I turn it away. And I'm new at this...gotta love it:)
I've reached a milestone!

All the damaged ribs have been replaced and I've replaced the section of damaged planking. I talked to Rollin on the phone yesterday and ordered the canvas and filler so, on to re-installing the top row of planking, sanding and varnishing. Mark Adams is going to help me canvas in mid-August.

I sure am glad that the rib damage didn't extend into the bow or stern any further than it did. The last two ribs near the stern were a bear to fit. I've replaced 22 out of the 32 full ribs in the canoe. I was amazed as to how much stronger the canoe got as each broken rib was replaced.

Total time to date = 37 hours, average time/rib = 1 hour, 38 minutes, including plank removal, sanding, plank replacement, etc. I don't think Rollin is going to get any competition from me.