Local boatbuilders ride a 600-year tide of history

By Bill Newcott  |  Photographs by Carolyn Watson
From the Holiday 2019 issue


The 20-foot-long, cobalt-blue lake canoe occupies much of the length of David Greenhaugh’s driveway. Even to a guy who doesn’t know a dinghy from a deck boat, the workmanship is striking, the artisan’s attention to detail unmistakable.

Just above the bow, the canoe’s triangular deck plate — made of hard cherry wood — is stained like a fine piece of living room furniture. Inside the canoe, the gloss of white paint is smooth enough to see my reflection. 

Between the white inside and blue exterior, embedded in the long, sweeping starboard gunwale at the top of the hull, a thin red strip of stained wood runs its entire length. This is the only evidence that the shell of this canoe is constructed entirely of redwood.


“I cut the strips myself in my workshop,” Greenhaugh says, running his hand along the smooth ridge.

I imagine him setting to work on a pile of choice lumber. In my mind’s eye he hews long lengths of virgin redwood, freshly timbered from the American Northwest.

Then he interrupts my reverie.

“It used to be a pickle barrel,” he says.

Assuming this is some sort of nautical joke,

I laugh.

“No, really,” he smiles. “I found this huge old pickle barrel in Atlanta, about 14 feet in diameter and probably 10 feet deep. It took many truckloads to get the wood up here.          

“I cut it down into strips. I narrowed it into a quarter-inch by five-sixteenths, I guess. And I started from there.”

With painstaking precision and unfathomable patience, Greenhaugh glued each flexible strip onto a frame. When the last piece was set in place, he had a canoe.

He bends a bit, tilting his head so his eye can trace the gentle arc of the gunwale.

“It’s a good boat,” he says. And Greenhaugh should know. He’s owned “eight or 12” boats and built three of them.


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