Visiting the Workshop of an Adirondack Guide Boat Builder
Recently I stopped into Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake, NY where I met with one of the shop's owners and talented boat builder, Rob Frenette. If you have never seen or been in an Adirondack guideboat, they are really something special...
Author's Note: The following is a partial transcript of the above video. For more information on the Adirondack guideboat please view the complete video.
Standing Beside An Adirondack Guideboat
Don Meissner: "Hi folks, I’m Don Meissner and I’m here at Raquette River Outfitters with Rob Frenette. Rob, I’m amazed this is the first time I have been in here - I have heard that this was here for years, but to be standing here beside an Adirondack guideboat is really something. I've got to tell you that this boat and this area is what really drew me to the Adirondacks and has affected me for the rest of my life. It has drawn me back here again and again. So, would you tell us a little bit about what an Adirondack guideboat is and why this is so special”
Rob Frenette: “Well, obviously just the shape is what attracts most people nowadays. Just take one look and you want to know more about them because they are so beautiful. But the boats themselves - they come right from the forest and that is what’s so magical about them. All these curved pieces you see - they are spruce roots. They are grown right from underneath the ground up into the tree. So we take all the shapes just as they are grown from nature and they become the framework for the boat. That’s the start of the boat.
"Then the planking on this particular boat is pine. Usually it’s pine or cedar... A lot of the old builders they would use a cedar if they wanted a real light boat to carry into back ponds for fishing. But builders preferred the pine. It was a more stable wood and didn’t change its shape as much as cedar did.”
Don: “That’s really interesting... my really good friend, John Clark, is the one that pretty much introduced me to this region of the Adirondacks and trout fishing the ponds. He had and Adirondack guideboat and I’ll always remember the first time getting into it… he said ‘now I’m going to tell ya, at first you are going to feel tippy, but then once you become one with the boat it’s almost like it becomes magic and you can take this thing almost anyplace.’ It has tremendous capabilities."
Rob: “Well you can see the bottom board is narrow and that’s what they call the initial stability. When you get in it it feels really tippy. But the hull flares all the way to the gunnel so as it goes over it becomes more and more stable. When you get out on a lake and it’s really rough, the waves roll by it - it’s just the most stable craft. We used to go in races with this and when we’d get down to Raquette Pond, the solo canoes would start flipping and we would say 'we’ll go finish the race then we will come out and we'll pick you up.'”
Rob: “Yeah, they did not handle the rough water as well as these boats... The nice thing about fishing with them, especially when you are in trolling mode, is if your rowing along trolling and you put the oars down the boat just keeps on carrying and keeps on its drift. It’s really nice. If you’re in a Radisson, which has kind of replaced these in the waters, if you stop rowing the oars the boat just stops. You lose your momentum.”
Don: “That’s really interesting. Honestly I don’t think you can consider yourselves initiated into the Adirondacks, especially Adirondack fishing, unless you have been in an Adirondack guideboat. The two go hand in hand and here’s what I’d like to do now - I’d like you to show me the finished product. Do you have one handy?”
Rob: “Yeah, I can show you one of the boats.”
Don: “Alright let’s go take a look at that.”
The Finished Product
Rob: “A guide wouldn’t have all this in his boat. He’d probably keep it real simple. He probably wouldn’t have the back rests. He wouldn’t have the floor boards. So when the hotels came and they were taking people out just for day trips they would put these floor boards in. Then if you go to guys that built camps and boathouses and were just using them on that lake they would have these floor boards in. ut the typical guide that took people down through the lakes wouldn’t want all that extra weight, so his boat would be stripped.”
Don: “With an Adirondack guideboat you’ve got beauty, you’ve got history, you’ve got incredible craftsmanship, you’ve got amazing utilities, strength, and dependability, but everything is light. And that works so much easier because you are not struggling against the weight of the craft itself.”
Rob: “When you are working on the boat it's amazing... I'll have a plank in my hand and the plank is so fragile it has feathered edges and is 3/16th of an inch thick and you’re like, how can these hold? I’m building boats for guys that are 6'5" and 200 some pounds. You think, how is this going to keep them afloat? And it’s the whole unit when it’s put together - it’s kind of like those airplanes - they’ve got small pieces but when you put it together they work.”
Don: “I want to thank you for sharing this with us today but you said earlier, that a lot of times you are kept awake at night worrying about the different subtleties to make this so special. Well, you are really going to have to get your sleep now because once people see these, I think it’s really going to captivate a lot of people.”