A group of multi-talented Eglinton men have pulled together to build a Canadian ‘Laker’ canoe as part of a local community collective’s ongoing effort to help raise all boats in the Derry village.
It all came about when Eglinton Men’s Shed members hooked up with Gerard Harkin of the Driftwood Canoe Club in the city to embark on a remarkable voyage of discovery.
The group meet twice a week in the Benbow Industrial Estate to practice a wide array of handy crafts but this is their first attempt at building a boat of any kind.
And it’s come along swimmingly thanks, in large part, to its members’ vast wealth of tradescraft accumulated over several working lifetimes.
Ronnie Ross, one of the club’s founders, says the men were looking for a new project when they decided to invite Gerard, a teacher at the North West Regional College (NWRC) who enjoys getting out on the Foyle whenever he can, down to give a talk.
“This man came down and challenged us to build a boat,” jokes Ronnie.
Sam Parkhill, a retired chippy with over 50 years’ experience, says he enjoying the challenge but admits building the boat has been a bit of a leap from his old stock in trade.
“That’s our first effort. I was a joiner for 50 years but it’s a different skill,” he says.
Gerard agrees: “There’s a big difference between joinery and boat-building but there’s the skill working with the wood.”
Says Sam: “Me and Martin Dolan [a fellow club member and ex-joiner] were working on it. He built 300 houses in Eglinton there. He was a joiner 40 years ago but he hasn’t done any of that since then.”
Gerard, who has built several ‘Lakers’ - a flat-bottomed North American model of strip canoe designed for stiller waters - has been hugely impressed with the men’s work so far.
“It’s fantastic. The second one will have a lot to live up to. There are different types of Canadian canoes and this one is flat-bottomed so it’s for calm water.
"We’ve [the Driftwood Canoe Club] built four of these. We want to build one in a week at the Clipper festival along the quay so people can see it taking place, get it on the water, get it finished.”
Over the coming weeks the men will be busy putting the finishing touches to the vessel, which is structurally complete but still needs to be sealed with fibreglass cloth and epoxy resin.
Seats and yokes will also have to be fashioned but all being the well the canoe should be finished by July when the Clippers sail into town for the Foyle Maritime Festival.
Gerard says there’s an opportunity to develop a local DIY craft industry around such events while getting more and more people out enjoying the River Foyle.
“We’re hoping that when the Clipper comes back in two years’ time we might have 30 of these.
“They are not native boats but we don’t care. The Foyle is not used enough. We’re trying to change that. We need a another pontoon where people can get east access to the water. The boat club is too far out of the road.”
The canoe is certainly one of the group’s more eye-catching creations but its members are constantly using their handyman’s skills to create a range of products, such as planters and bird and bat boxes, which are used by local children at the Broadbridge and Eglinton primary schools just up the road.
Mrs. Mairead Tracey, of Broadbridge PS, says: “It’s amazing. The planting boxes are to be shared in a shared education project that we are doing.”
Mrs. Nyree McCool, from Eglinton PS, agrees: “It’s fantastic it really is.”
In the pipeline is a project involving the creation of jig saw style wooden kits that the local pupils will be able to assemble themselves.
“We’re going to be making flat pack bat boxes so the children can put them together,” explains Sam.
Ronnie adds: “We do the work for free. Giving back to the community, that’s what we’re all about. As long as we can keep the lights on, cover the overheads.”
Next on the agenda is the establishment of a garden to the rear of their current premises.
“We want to get a garden going so we’re looking to see if anybody has any polytunnels they are not using, or gardening tools, that would come in handy,” says Ronnie.