The DY Special, prelude

In early September last year I was cruising Craigslist for random boats, as one does, and saw something scary.  I kept coming back over the next week, and eventually told myself that were the thing still for sale when I came back from a hunting trip, I would call about it.  There was little doubt the thing would still be, as the thing was a few dodgy pictures and brief description of a composite canoe that had been repaired in a horrific manner, all for sale in a small central Montana town very far from almost everything.  After some negotiation I had the price cut in half, and woke up very early on a bright day in late September to drive 400 miles round trip and bring home a Sawyer DY Special canoe, 1985 vintage.

The gentleman from central Montana was the original owner, who after years of using it in the BWCA and various Montana lakes, ended up taking it down the middle Yaak River with a lady friend on board. I’ve floated the middle Yaak (below town, above the falls) in a packraft, and it isn’t especially rocky nor especially twisty, but I can imagine that a 17 foot canoe with no rocker would on that stretch be hard work. The gentleman intimated that the influence of his companion led to unwise choices, and much boat damage. Long story short, his repairs amounted to 3/4″ redwood planking, inside and out, glued to the hull, screwed through the hull to each other, tapered at the ends and edges, edged with spray foam or gorilla glue, and then glassed over with what appears to have been 4-6 oz glass and vast amounts of auto epoxy. He completed this repair and then put it away in his barn, where it stayed, lent out once, for the past 15 years. That one use was cousins crossing the Missouri just above Fort Peck during hunting season, and my assumption is that it was they who (as the gentleman put it) sat on the middle of the hull when it was upside down, adding some substantial but not full thickness cracks to the widest section of the tumblehome.  I put a paddle and PFD in the car on the retrieval trip, and spent 30 minutes on the way home stretching the arms, and ensuring that the boat mostly held out the water.

Once home I dove into the first big question, which was how much horrid work it would take to get all the crap out of the boat, the end goal and second big question being what it would take to properly restore the Sawyer to a functional composite boat.  In its day the DY Special was a full racing boat, nearly 17 feet long, quite skinny, with no rocker at all.  By current standards it is a good bit wider and more stable than a race boat, suggesting that with a proper rebuild the canoe could be a fast and wind resistant option that could, with effort, be piloted down class II rivers, things like the Blackfoot or North Fork of the Flathead, in addition to making the flatter rivers and many lakes more enjoyable than any other boat we own.


Getting all the planking and glass off wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, due to the poor epoxy work. The bow end wood was extensively rotted inside, as the glass job was just enough to let a bit of water in, then keep it there. After ~4 hours of cutting, prying, sanding, and a wee bit of swearing, the hull was almost back to the original state, with the addition of a bunch of cracks, 3 dozen screw holes, and a section towards the stern (where I assume his lady friend sat that fateful day) with water intrusion under the outer layers and plenty of puffy/crunchy kevlar fabric.  Extensively heating screw heads with the orbit sander was the key move.  Unfortunately, being sandwiched between those wood layers for so long has crunched up the keel line of the DY Special, with 2/3s of the boat being 1 to 1.5 inches oilcanned below where it ought to be, and in places, rippled.  Fixing this would be the main design constraint.


The internet came to my rescue, and a week after putting the canoe in the back yard I had computer drawings of the original hull, as a guide to get things back into shape.  Fortunately that solution was simple, in the form of a 14 foot 2×4 beveled along the edge and forced into the boat with vertical blacks against the thwarts.  Doing that sent a crack along the keel line though the middle 2/3s of the hull, but with the whole hull shape now correct, that was a minor concern.  Another 5+ hours of sanding inside and out to get off the resin and globs of crap, and get the stock fabric fuzzed out for a good bond had everything ready for lamination.


My main concern at this point was that I’d spend a couple hours putting a couple hundred dollars of fabric and epoxy resin on the canoe, only to remove the board and have the hull pop down.  Ensuring this didn’t happen, and adding considerable hull stiffness in the process, had me spending an unreasonable amount on an 8 inch by 20 foot strip of 3k carbon plain weave, which would be the first layer.  With that, in theory the only shortcoming of the canoe would be the many holes in the hull, and my desire to have enhanced abrasion and crash/pin/wrap resistance.  That, and cost considerations, had me looking at Innegra plain weave.  Innegra is, in essence, 100% polyolefin (polypro) fabric, with high impact, abrasion, and deformation resistance, which is ideal, and in addition is affordable, especially compared to carbon, aramid, and their variations.  So I got 10 yards of 3.6 oz/yard innegra plain weave (900 denier! big, light threads) to reinforce the whole hull and the bottom and bow in particular.  All this fabric, along with a gallon of epoxy resin, cost over 300 dollars.  Not a whole lot if the finished product proved as good as I hoped, but a helluva lot if my lamination repair didn’t work.

But at that point, there was no choice apart from embracing the excitement and nerves, and getting it done.  Fortunately, everything appears to have worked well enough, and had I not run out of epoxy, would have the lamination work finished.  In the next update, we’ll have build pics, and provided February doesn’t freeze the lower Mo completely, a boat in the water.


One response to “The DY Special, prelude”

  1. I know you don’t write this blog to receive praise for what you do but this is awesome. From keeping something out of the landfill, to bringing a dead but exulted thing back to life, to simply proving to yourself you can do a thing, to (maybe?) saving a buck vs. buying something new, this is downright great!

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