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Wooden boat enthusiasts gather for annual Fairbanks float

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Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012 12:27 am | Updated: 10:36 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Amid the usual mix of jet skis, motor boats, rafts and plastic kayaks floating down the Chena River on Saturday was a particularly interesting flotilla that included a a pair of long wooden kayaks with rudder pedals, a couple of wood-canvas canoes and an umiaq, a wide Eskimo-style boat.

The collection of handcrafted boats wasn’t there by coincidence. It was the third annual Wooden Boat Rendezvous, a celebration of boat craftsmanship organized by local boating club the Fairbanks Paddlers. About a dozen boats participated, including a few paddlers in less-traditional boats who came along to watch.

At the take-out at the University Avenue Bridge, participants got a chance to walk around and admire the different crafts.

“I got the idea from the Museum (of the North),” explained Jimmy Gaydos of Fox, who wore a Tlingit-style cedar bark hat with abalone shells, as he took his umiaq out of the water. “It’s adapted to the Arctic.”

Gaydos has come to the event each year with a different homemade boat. This year’s version was a lashed-together wood frame covered with a nylon shell. Gaydos has had the boat 10 years and has taken it on river and ocean trips. Traditionally it would be made of walrus skin, so Gaydos dyed his nylon brown.

“I went to Walmart looking for walrus skins and they’re fresh out,” he said.

Coty Mayo, an engineering student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, also had wood frame nylon boat. His was a bright green kayak marked with the logo of an outdoor clothing brand he wants to start someday. He made his boat this year and was taking it on the water for the third time.

Larry Fogleson, who paddled a refurbished wooden canoe made by Maine-based manufacturer Old Town, sees a bright future for hand-built boats in Fairbanks. He recently started a Fairbanks chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association and said social boat building events like rib-bending or canvas stretching parties usually draw a good crowd. Fogleson said he likes hand-built boats because he admires their craftsmanship and because they’re just good boats.

“The boats are a lot more useful than people think,” he said. “They’re really not that delicate or effete and they can take a beating.”

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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