Building Baby Raven
by Steve Fisher

Let me begin by explaining why I’ve built this boat. Weather permitting, my wife and I enjoy paddling every morning. She paddles a Hornbeck, very light and attractive. I paddle my L’il Kate. Two problems have arisen; the most important is that she would be more comfortable sitting in a raised position for easier entry and exit. The second issue is that I want her in one of my boats.

I’m a big fan of Selway-Fisher designed boats and recently found the Baby Raven at 12’ and approximately 35lbs as the answer to my problem. The only question was the feasibility of paddling this boat with a 250cm double paddle. An e-mail to Paul came back promptly with a positive answer.

Marine ply is difficult to come by to say nothing of the expense. Since I wasn’t going to leave this boat in the water and would do glass and epoxy on the exterior and epoxy and tape on the interior, I decided to go with 1/4” Luan. My local lumberyard had pretty decent looking stuff for $8.50 a sheet, so into the back of the pickup went 4 sheets.

I began by squaring up the 4 sheets, screwing them together and drawing out the panels. Using my curved aluminum-cutting guide I began to cut. The Luan isn’t bad but I must admit that I was spoiled by my previous use of okume. The Luan eats up saber saw blades and splinters quite easily, but has turned out to be a more pleasing material than I expected.

Construction is straightforward stitch and glue with no surprises. I have not been a very effective maker of scarfs for joining panels and butt blocks don’t appeal to my esthetic sense, so I have been using fiberglass tape. I used 2” 6oz tape in this case, and it was ok for the side panels, but I reinforced the center section with 3mm ply extending 12” (305mm) on either side of the bottom center seam. 4” tape would have been better.

You might note that I use plastic wire ties in place of wire. I got tired of being punctured by wire when walking around the boat. The warning here is that plastic ties do not remove easily when epoxied so stay away from the ties when doing seams. Pull the ties and then fill in the gaps. Another thing I do is to epoxy the seams as I put in each panel. Before the epoxy sets I spray acetone along the seams and quickly wipe off excess epoxy. It makes for a much neater job and saves lots of sanding. A mask is definitely desirable as the acetone fumes are not pleasant, at least to me. After all the seams were epoxied from the inside of the boat and set up, I then pulled the ties, filled in the openings left by the ties, then turned the boat over and carefully filled all the exterior seams. A rough sanding of the exterior, a coat of epoxy sealer followed by glassing the hull with 6oz fiberglass, and the exterior was sealed and ready for the keel and paint. The interior was epoxy sealed with 2” fiberglass tape added to the seams. Gunwales were installed in and out. A seat was added per the plans. Another sanding of the exterior followed by primer and a quick coat of color, orange picked by my wife, and I could no longer resist the temptation to put it on the water.

The weather in the northeast has been horrible but a little rain could not prevent me from giving the Baby Raven a try on the water. It was great, very stable, tracked well and the 250cm double paddle was perfect. Breast hooks have been cut and will be installed before final finishing. The boat is a bit heavy for my taste (45lbs) so I’ll be sparing with the balance of the painting. Renee should love this boat with its stability and ease of entry and exit, but unlike her Hornbeck she won’t be able to carry it to the waters edge. A small price to pay to paddle a boat built by a loving husband.

I’m tempted to build another Baby Raven with some modifications. For starters I’d use 4mm rotary cut or marine okume. I’d tape seams in and out with 3” tape, seal with thinned epoxy and, after careful sanding, would varnish rather than paint and prime. I forgot the most important mod and that would be to continue to reinforce the center seam.

The Baby Raven is now finished except for final painting and Renee has given it her stamp of approval. I was a touch nervous on her first try because it was a bit windy, but all went well. I still helped her in and out, but the next day we went for a much longer paddle, and I got to talking homemade canoes with a fellow out in the middle of the lake. Renee got impatient and paddled to shore and got out all by herself making this canoe an unqualified success.

As you can see from the photos of the completed canoe, it has been decorated in a feminine motif complete with daffodils, stars and moons.