TOM BRYANT: 'The Mosquito': Self-Built Canoe Tackles Reservoir Park
In the spring when sweet gum and maple leaves get about as big as they will for the year and the woods become that special spring green that lasts for only a week or so, I get a hankering to wet a paddle.
I mean a canoe paddle.
It could be just drifting slowly down a black water river like the Little Pee Dee or cruising a cypress lake tucked way back in the Green Swamp, or, as in my younger days, roaring through Bull Sluice rapid on the Chattooga River. There is only one way to really travel this time of year, and that's in a canoe.
Last week Jim Saunders, a friend from my early MCLI days, e-mailed me a photo of a canoe that he had built in his garage. Now, Jim has the reputation of being an outdoorman par excellence, but building a canoe? This I had to see, especially since the photo showed a boat that looked as if it would have a full-time job holding together in a swimming pool, much less a river or lake.
On the phone Jim said he would launch his canoe at Reservoir Park the following day and I was welcome to watch. I told him I would be there with a throw rope attached to a life preserver just in case he needed it.
Jim had already unloaded the little canoe and was ready to put in when I drove up to the lake. The canoe was modeled after the old canvas and wood boats of yesteryear and looked as fragile, if not more so. We talked as we walked to the shoreline.
With his blond hair, rugged build and engaging smile, Jim could be the poster child for the all-American boy. The fellow has never met a stranger. He gets along with everybody. Jim grew up in Moore County, graduating from Pinecrest High School after a round of a couple of prep schools, including Baylor and Blue Ridge. When I asked Jim about the prep schools, he grinned and said, "Lots of pretty girls."
"After high school and to kinda get my feet on the ground, I took an Outward Bound course and loved it so much that they hired me full-time for the next year. It was a great job. I was based in Rockland, Maine, and spent the season sailing on the Atlantic and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Man, it was a job right down my alley.
"She's stronger than she looks, Tom. I wouldn't want to put her on a river. But for a lake boat, she'll do all right."
I watched as Jim launched off the end of the pier and was indeed surprised at how well the boat took to the water.
"I built her out of mahogany and oak strips. The wrap is a special material that is extremely strong."
Jim said it took about 100 hours to build "The Mosquito," as he jokingly calls the boat. There's a decal of a mosquito on the port and starboard sides of the bow.
"I was working on her one evening when a bug flew in the garage, and I mashed it on the side of the gunnels. It was the biggest mosquito I've ever seen. Goes right with the name, don't you think?"
Jim paddled around the lake putting the little craft through her paces, and then came back to shore. He picked the boat up at the end of the dock and carried her to the bank. "She only weighs 18 pounds," he said as he sat the boat on the ground.
"After Outward Bound, I came back to Moore County and worked as beverage manager at the Carolina Hotel. I had a great time but ultimately decided to help out my dad and went to work for him."
Jim's dad, Bill, owns the Prudential real estate company, Gouger, O'Neal and Saunders.
"A few years back, I got my contractor's license and have built a couple spec houses on my own. You can see I've been pretty busy, but not too busy to keep my hand in the great outdoors."
Jim and his bride live with a chocolate lab and sheltie pup in Southern Pines. "My family is right here, and we get together a lot. My mother, Anne, and my wife, Kimball, and I just went to Charleston last weekend."
We were standing at the tailgate of Jim's '86 Ford pickup that he lovingly restored. Jim named the truck George. It was a beautiful morning with a crystal clear Carolina blue sky. I commented about what an asset Reservoir Park is to the town of Southern Pines.
"You know, Tom, the hiking trail around the lake was my Eagle Scout project. Dave Drexel helped me put it together."
Makes sense, I thought after we had said our goodbyes and I drove away from the park.
The all-American boy would be an Eagle Scout.
Tom Bryant can be reached at email@example.com
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