by Katie McKy
Although Mike Whitlock often paddles a handsome, pedigreed canoe — a green Kevlar Mad River Explorer with wood trim — he also rescued a canoe. Whitlock, a 54-year old mechanical engineer who lives in Cortland, NY, found this scruffy but loveable canoe at a garage sale and was immediately taken by the beguiling lines beneath its black and purple metal-flake auto paint. However, it was simply a hull; the seats, trim and gunwales had long rotted away. The seller told him it had been a racing canoe. Intrigued, Whitlock paid the $125 and commenced a year of reclamation. But even after turning the long-neglected junker back into a beautiful, red vessel once again capable of voyaging, Whitlock still wonders about the history of his rescue. Where did it come from? What model is it? The garage sale find remains a fiberglass mystery.
What do you know about your canoe?
It's a 17′ fiberglass Garner. I don't know the model name or even if it had one. The only marking is the Hull ID #, which is GMT61441M76H. I'm guessing the '76 perhaps stood for the year of manufacture. GMT is Garner Marine Technologies, an out-of business boat manufacturer in South Carolina. I contacted the original owner, whose name was Garner, but didn't get a response. I would love to learn anything I could, such as a catalog cut, a model name, any information on how many were made, and what it looked like originally.
What did restoration entail?
It took me a more than a full year to restore. I removed all the old paint down to the original gel coat, repaired a rock bruise, and gave the rough, stained interior a coat of brown pigmented resin. Then I located a 19' long piece of ash clear enough to get four gunwales out of it and sawed and planed them to size. My best friend restores wood/canvas canoes in Michigan and he guided me through the process of sinking them in a pond for a week to soak them, then bending and clamping them to the hull to dry in place. Once dry, I trimmed them, then drilled and screwed them to the hull. I traced patterns for a carry yoke and thwarts from another canoe before cutting them out of the remaining ash.
At that point, I placed a couple foam blocks in the hull for seats and put in on our backyard pond so my wife and I could see if it paddled well and was stable enough to put more effort into. We were delighted! It accelerated fast and was smooth and stable. I then removed the gunwales and thwarts and gave the canoe several coats of burgundy Pettit Easypoxy enamel, rolling it on and tipping it off at the advice of my friend. Other than the hull, the paint was the most expensive part of the restoration! I then put the gunwales and thwarts back on, and installed a pair of used cane seats that came out of another canoe. The last touch was the walnut decks. I took apart the decks on another canoe to see how they were made and installed so I could copy them. Altogether, it cost $400.
Was it worth it?
This all took me into late October, but one nice, sunny day we were able to take it out on Labrador Pond for its maiden voyage, along with our chocolate lab, ZuZu. It was a beautiful day and a relaxing paddle. We fell in love with the boat! It turned out to be even better than I suspected when I first laid eyes upon the narrow entry and fast-looking lines of the empty hull. Being in the Adirondacks, there are many enthusiasts of old canoes, and I'm constantly getting comments from people who think it's a wood and canvas hull. It was a "silk purse from a sow's ear" project that started as a way to get an inexpensive extra canoe for paddling with family. But once it was finished, its beauty and paddling characteristics won us over. Now it's one of our favorites.