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Please, I Just Need A Little Quiet Time

    by Tom Peters FORBES October 4, 1999

Cape Poge, Martha’s Vineyard—My new house is in the shadow of the old Cape Poge lighthouse. As far away from organized American society as one can get. End of the world. More or less. Access only across the beach by four-wheel drive with deflated tires. No electricity. Solar panels. No phone, sporadic cellular reception. We are isolated by design.
      I read in Forbes that in 25 years my computer will be smarter than I am. My human role called into question. But here I am. At 5: 15 a.m. On Cape Poge Bay. Rowing my Steve Kaulback Adirondack Guide Boat. Waters glassy. My prow slices the surface. I disturb several diving cormorants. I am transfixed. I am in touch. I am human. I am not on I-280 in Silicon Valley. Stuck amidst 28-year-old millionaires in a traffic jam. I have–can you believe it?–thoughts.
      I’m a Divergence kinda guy. I want to walk a different path. I find that increasingly hard to do as convergence converges. Maybe it’s my semi-annual review of In Search of Excellence. That book was born of curiosity and being naïve. My pal Bob Waterman and I went out in search of companies that worked. We found an abiding concern for people that went beyond lip service. A passion for listening to customers.
      That book was a product of space. Of a Fresh Look. I have a fetish about “fresh looks.” I think Steve Jobs is a Classic Fresh Look Guy. So, too, Charlie Schwab. And Marc Andreessen. And damn few others. I don’t know Steve J’s tricks. But I bet he has some. I bet he needs and gets space. Somehow. The opportunity to be human. To think. At Cape Poge. At 5: 15 a.m. In a Steve Kaulback Adirondack Guide Boat. Great stuff. Trust me. Or, please, at least think about it.

About the Author

Tom Peters is the author of In “Search of Excellence,” “A Passion for Excellence” and dozens of other books. Shortly after selling him his first boat we went to a world-wide closed circuit conference on business management in Burlington, Vermont. When the screen grew bright we saw Tom Peters standing there, introducing and interviewing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Tom has altogether purchased 3 of our boats. #1. Left his hands when he was selling his ocean-side house on Martha’s Vineyard. The prospective new owner asked if the boat was included?  2. Tom’s doctor told him he needed to slow down and told Tom sell his replacement boat. Which he did. 3. After a year of being boatless, Tom said, “Screw the doctors.” and ordered his third boat.))


The Adirondack Guideboat – A North Woods Classic
      By Tom Schlichter  On The Water   Mar 24, 2016

I’ve always had an eye for canoes, kayaks and small wooden vessels that rely on true manpower to glide silently into the wilderness while hardly making a sound or wake. I find especially enchanting those of glorious wooden construction. The contours, the lines and the meticulous workmanship of hand-crafted models built one at a time by serious artisans can take over 300 hours to splice, glue, clamp and tack together. Once completed, however, they are sleek and shiny, silent and efficient, beautiful and rugged.

For me, at least, such craft are portals to simpler times before the ever-present drone of powerful engines, highway noise in the distance, jets overhead and unrelenting Internet connectivity. Not that I’m one to shun all modern conveniences; it’s just that I find these vessels easy to romanticize. They help me paint in my mind a beautiful picture of Nature in perfect balance, even if such a reality truly predates my own existence on this earth by at least a couple of eons.

While I had no great difficulty coming across a variety of kayaks, dories and canoes to jealously admire while growing up on Long Island, there was one style I never came across during my youth. It appeared to be a slightly wider canoe, with a high bow and seats that faced each other. It was rowed, as opposed to paddled, and I sometimes saw it featured in artwork on covers of national fishing and hunting magazines. Often, the drawing would show it packed with fishing or hunting gear and general provisions – or with a big-racked buck being ferried back to hunting camp at the end of a successful day.

I knew this wasn’t a traditional kayak or canoe, but it would take me several years before I finally figured out exactly what kind of vessel had so captured my imagination.

“That would be an Adirondack guideboat,” laughed Ian Martin as I related my story and told him I was in my 20s before finally seeing one of these classics somewhere near New York’s Saranac Lake. “They really are beautiful boats and, while they may look like a canoe or kayak at first glance, they’re quite different. Think of them as a cross between a canoe and a dory, with the best features of each amplified in a sleek, quiet, efficient shell.”

Martin knows of what he speaks. Along with his brother, Justin, the 34-year old entrepreneur owns Adirondack Guideboat in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont the most prolific builder of Adirondack-style guideboats in the country. The brothers first got into the business back in the late 1990s, working at Mad River Canoe. After putting in some quality time with the famous canoe manufacturer, Steve Kaulback and Dave Rosen, owners of Adirondack Guideboat, invited them to join their team after hearing from townsfolk that this dynamic duo were solid boat-builders and masters at working with composites. Over the next few years Ian and Justin worked their way up the company ladder, learning all the skills necessary to not only build the guideboats but to run the entire enterprise.

“From building guideboats to selling them, ordering materials, working shows and making sure each canoe was manufactured to the customer’s exact specifications,” explained Ian, “we learned the ropes from Steve, who designed the vessels and Dave, who sold them. When the company relocated to the Carolinas, we decided to stay here in Vermont. By that point, Dave had bought out Steve. He had seen our drive and knew that we wanted more than anything else to be building boats. In 2012, he set us up with an owner finance offer that allowed us to buy the company. For us, it was the opportunity of a lifetime—doing what we love—and we jumped at the chance.”

But why Adirondack guideboats instead of canoes, kayaks or even rowboats? “Well,” continued Ian, “having built canoes and guideboats, there seemed to be little doubt as to which was the more practical and efficient mode of transportation on the waters of the Adirondack region. “The guideboat wins, hands-down, in just about every important category.”

Adirondack Guideboats were built to haul gear and provisions over long distances with minimal effort.
Indeed, the guideboat was designed to be substantially different in performance from canoes and kayaks. First appearing in significant numbers during the 1830s, these craft were built to haul gear and provisions over long distances with minimal effort. They were made to be stable yet sleek, fast, and lightweight so they could cover a lot of water and still portage easily between rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. They came into vogue as an elite class of hunters, anglers and adventurers began to search for ways to escape the frenzy of city life, so guides used them to ferry sportsmen back and forth, transport provisions and bring harvested fish and game back to camp.

“Really, these vessels were built to be the pickup trucks of their day,” expounded Ian, “but they ended up being much more. For thousands of outdoorsmen who returned to the Adirondacks again and again in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they became part of backwoods legend and lore. These craft were built to serve as fishing boats, hunting boats and hauling vessels. They were designed to be carried by a man for a mile and rowed for a week.”

At the height of the guideboat’s popularity in the 1890s, Adirondack guides were pursuing customers as much as game. The stories a guide might tell, the game or fish his ‘sport’ might bag, the meal he might cook—all of this was part of the outdoors package being sold and it’s what kept sportsmen coming back year after year.

The Adirondack guideboat influenced commerce, culture and helped grow the fledgling rowing sport in the Lakes Region of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Constructed of local pine, spruce, cedar and 8,000 tiny tacks and screws, they flourished for perhaps 60 years. With the advent of the automobile and access roads, however, their influence waned as they were no longer needed for regional transportation.

Today, the basic design lives on, finding favor among recreational rowers and anglers or boaters with a nostalgic taste and desire for practicality. Ever evolving, today’s models, mostly made of Kevlar, are even lighter, faster, more stable and easier to row than their predecessors. For those who use them, the beauty and grace of these elegant craft remain an integral—and practical—part of the wilderness experience.

The seat of an Adirondack Guideboat is positioned just above the floor for a lower center of gravity and greater stability. While they may look fairly similar at first glance, there are major differences between guideboats and canoes or kayaks. With high bows and wider amidships, the guideboat is far more stable. Adding additional stability, the seats are positioned just above the floor for a lower center of gravity than canoe seats which are generally suspended from the gunnels.

As noted earlier, guideboats are rowed, not paddled. This provides greater leverage, optimizing manpower for more speed and distance covered with less effort. The seats on a canoe or kayak face in the same direction so that the paddler and passenger are always looking forward. In a guideboat, however, the rower and passenger face each other which promotes conversation, greatly increases usable space, makes it easier to net fish, and can simply provide for a more pleasant experience when it comes to companionship and camaraderie.

“With a guideboat,” says Ian, “there is almost no extra effort needed to go against the wind or current. Canoeists and kayakers usually want to be near shore or stay in the lee on a windy day to avoid a chop. With a guideboat, you determine the course most times rather than allowing the conditions to dictate your route. Just point your bow and go where you want – even in a heavy chop.”

 Adirondack Guideboats are meant to be rowed, not paddled, making them better suited than canoes for headwinds and choppy waters. The true “need” for a guideboat may be a thing of the past, admits Ian, but these days people want the best for their recreational endeavors. So, whereas a canoe is easy to acquire and quite affordable, guideboats, which cost considerably more, are still very much worth the investment if you can afford it because they are a much more effective, stable and efficient way to travel without having a motor.

While “Adirondack guideboat” is a general term for these vessels, there are different styles available. Ian and Justin’s company, for example, offers several Kevlar models including a 12-foot Ultra-Light Solo Packboat for $2,400, a 12-foot Vermont Packboat for $2,900, a 14-foot Vermont Fishing Dory for $4,480 and a 15-foot Adirondack Guideboat for $4,430. They also offer hand-crafted cedar guideboats ranging in price from $14,960 to $18,040, depending on length. If you are a do-it-yourself kind of outdoorsman, a quick Internet search will turn up several different guideboat kits available online.

For anglers, Ian highly recommends the 14-foot Vermont Fishing Dory because it features a reverse chine on the hull that provides extra stability and additional open space near the floor. This model is so stable that, once you have the feel for it, it’s possible to stand up and fly-cast.

John Gibbons is a longtime fan of Adirondack guideboats, but it wasn’t until four years ago that he finally found himself at a point in life when he could buy one.

“Buying a fishing dory from Adirondack Guideboats was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he stated. “I just love these boats for the way they look, their style, versatility and practicality. I’m six feet, four inches tall and two-hundred and forty pounds, so kayaks have always been an uncomfortable fit and I have a habit of tipping canoes when I enter and exit, so the stability of the guideboat is a real plus. I also like how easily they glide – they are perfect for trolling, which I do a lot for walleye and pike. I had mine set up with custom rod holders and trolley anchors installed at each end of the boat so I can anchor precisely for smallies in a river or largemouths on a lake. It’s a pretty sweet setup.”

Gibbons also likes how comfortable these vessels are, noting that he often tours for six or seven hours at a time!

“I’m a pretty big fella,” he chuckles, “but this is like rowing in an easy chair. I love it.”

Ian and Justin are continuing to grow Adirondack Guideboat and are quite positive about the future. On firm business footing at this point, they take pride not only in building beautiful boats, but in preserving, continuing and adding their own stamp to the guideboat tradition.

“We’re still a small company, but we know how to get things done,” summed up Ian. “We currently make about 150 Adirondack guideboats a year, and we figure there are about 3,000 currently afloat. That’s pretty good when you consider we have only five people in the company and that Justin and I actually make about 80% of the hulls ourselves.”

If nothing else, the company’s small size ensures great quality control since there’s little chance to pass the buck, and it’s hard to find anyone who has a complaint about these vessels. In keeping with tradition, each one is beautiful, well designed, custom built and backed by pride.

Those old-time guides on the Adirondacks’ most remote waters wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Adirondack Guideboat’s New Ultra-Light

Packboat: Ideal for Solo Adventurers  

    The Robb Report Dec 18, 2015

    For a nearly two centuries, Adirondack guideboats have been regarded as one of the highest examples of the boat-builder’s art. Originating from the waterways in the Adirondacks in the early 19th century, professional sporting guides required a boat of unimaginable versatility: something a man could carry for a mile and row for a week. To serve as a fishing boat, a hunting boat, a hauling boat, and luxury transport. To be quick, efficient, and stable, in calm and rough waters. Necessity is the mother of invention, and accordingly, Adirondack guideboat design was born.

    While now used less for necessity, and more for sport, adventure, and luxury leisure, these boats are still being made by hand by Adirondack Guideboat, from their facility in Vermont, where the company has been handcrafting guideboats for three decades. The company is now owned by brothers Justin and Ian Martin (both in their 30s), who build every boat together -often wordlessly – an instinctive synchronicity, which speaks volumes of their skill.

    The Martin brothers, wunderkind-like artisans of boatbuilding in the US, recognized a need for a boat that a solo adventurer could load, portage, and travel with easily. Accordingly, their newest design is the 12’ Ultra-Light Solo Packboat. It has the same hull design as their 12’ Vermont Packboat, but weighs only 34 pounds, a significant 14 pounds lighter than the standard Packboat. The Ultra-Light Solo design is accomplished by the use of more Kevlar and a modified lamination pattern, yet still maintains a 300 pound capacity. The boat includes cherry trim, center seat, adjustable foot brace, and interior gel-coat. There are Kevlar skid plates on each end of the boats to protect them from impact when coming to shore. Each boat is handcrafted and takes about 40 hours from start to finish (they also offer several other Kevlar boats, as well as stunning cedar guideboats, which take about 300 hours to build).

    A guideboat utilizes the efficiency of a rowing boat, but without a rowing boat’s traditional heft. Often mistaken for a canoe, a guideboat is actually much faster, as its design has been modified to account for the speed realized with the efficiency of rowing (as opposed to paddling), especially when the weather picks up, and the water gets rough. The boat is more stable than a canoe because the occupants are sitting lower, almost on the bottom of the boat. The oars are pinned and aligned, and the oar handles cross in front of you, taking advantage of the physical mechanics of efficiency and ease of motion, ideal for anyone looking for either adventure or relaxation on the water.


Workers Turned Owners Keep Vermont Boat Business Afloat
by Dan D’Ambrosio, USA-TODAY July 16, 2015

NORTH FERRISBURGH, Vt. – Ian and Justin Martin begin pulling on layers of rubber gloves in preparation for building an Adirondack guide boat at their business of the same name along U.S. 7.

“I think we spend about $15,000 a year on rubber gloves,” Justin Martin said, without hyperbole. “We go through about four cases every two weeks.”

The gloves — worn 10 at a time and then snapped off in succession for a fresh glove — are to protect the brothers’ skin from the polyester resin they will use to adhere layers of Kevlar to a guide boat mold sitting on stands in the middle of the room. At one end of the boat a large roll of bright yellow Kevlar fabric hangs on the wall, ready to be pulled over the mold and swabbed into place.

Adirondack Guide Boat is a familiar business to many Vermonters who have driven by the blue steel building and its rack of brightly colored boats out front, with the message painted on their hulls: “These are Adirondack Guide Boats.”

What many people may not know is that the Martin brothers, former Adirondack Guide Boat employees, now own this boat-building business and plan to take it to a new level, starting with a new timber-frame building to replace the tired home it has occupied for about 20 years.

The Martin brothers learned their trade at Mad River Canoe in Waitsfield as teenagers, and quickly established themselves as hard-working and preternaturally skilled at the “lay up” of composite boats, as the process of applying layers of Kevlar or fiberglass to build a hull is known. Soon, their reputation preceded them in the business. Former Adirondack Guide Boat owner David Rosen learned that when Hinckley yachts in Southwest Harbor, Maine, tried to hire the brothers away.

“The real magic these guys had initially was composites,” Rosen said. “Hinckley is a very prestigious yacht company. I had a bidding war with Hinckley to keep them. I out-bribed them.”

The brothers pull ventilators over their heads and pour hardener into the resin, contained in old plastic milk jugs with the tops cut off, stirring quickly with wooden sticks.

“You can see when you add the hardener to it how it changes color,” Justin Martin said. “That’s how you know it’s doing the chemical reaction that will make it harden. We have about 25 working minutes with this batch.”

The brothers bought Adirondack Guide Boat from Rosen late in 2012 after working for him for about a decade. The company had been founded in the early 1980s by boat designer Steve Kaulback. Rosen joined Kaulback as a business partner in 1996, then bought him out in 2011 before selling to the Martin brothers.

Brothers Justin and Ian Martin, who have made a name for themselves building high-quality composite boats, have taken over the Adirondack Guide Boat business on U.S. 7 in North Ferrisburgh, VT. 

Justin Martin, 36, got a job at Mad River Canoe first, in 1998. Ian, 34, followed about a year and a half later. “I was just 18 years old, out of high school needing money to have fun on the weekends, never thinking it would be a lifelong career,” Justin Martin said.

Justin Martin started by putting in seats and gunnels. He got his brother a job in the wood shop when Ian Martin was a senior in high school. Both brothers moved up quickly in the company. “They had a pay-for-performance sheet that was supposed to be a three-to five-year program,” Justin Martin said. “Ian and I maxed out in less than a year.”

When the Mad River company moved to North Carolina in 2001, the brothers declined to go along, despite being offered double the salary and moving expenses. They preferred to stay in Vermont.

The Martin brothers used to build six to eight boats a day at Mad River. Now they build about six boats a week.

Using rollers, the brothers first coat the inside of the mold with resin, then pull the Kevlar sheet into place, cut it on both ends so it can be folded into the tips at the ends of the mold, and coat it with more resin to adhere it to the bottom and inside walls of the mold. There will be three more layers of Kevlar cloth to come, as well a skin coat layer of fiberglass, and seat cleats for caned cherry seats.

“It looks simple but when you try to manipulate that cloth some guys in the middle of it take their respirators off, put them on the ground and walk right out because the cloth isn’t doing what they want it to do,” Justin Martin said.

On top of everything else, breathing is restricted in the mask, and sweat builds up. “You have to stay calm and get it done,” Justin Martin said.

As the brothers work, with scissors, rollers and paint brushes affixed to the ends of long wooden handles, dipping into their resin jugs, they bring to mind synchronized swimmers. They mirror each other’s actions at each end of the boat and along the edges, perfectly matched in the tasks they have perfected building some 5,000 boats together over about 14 years.

“We kind of know our own duties,” Ian Martin said. “We have everything down, even to cleaning the scissors. We do the same thing every time.”

After leaving Mad River Canoe, Justin Martin went to work for Steve Kaulback and David Rosen, and convinced his employers to hire his brother as well. “I had to convince him why we needed another laminator,” Justin Martin said. “I said, ‘We’ll prove to you why you need us.'”

Kaulback and Rosen quickly appreciated the “fineness” of the work the brothers did.

“You can make a heavy boat very fast and very cheap, you almost spray it out of a garden hose with chopped up fiberglass and resin, but it becomes an incredibly heavy, inelegant, unportable boat,” Rosen said. “Laying up a boat this finely is incredibly hard.”

But it results in a 15-foot boat of classic design that looks great, and only weighs 70 pounds, Rosen said. That’s for either the Kevlar version, costing $4,430, or the wooden version like the one Martha Stewart bought from the company for $15,840.

Stewart’s boat sat in the front office of the business last week, in for some minor repairs. The boat’s hull is formed from strips of western red cedar, with spruce ribs and stems, and cherry deck, gunnels and seats. A coat of fiberglass protects the wood both inside and out — a far cry from traditional Adirondack guide boats, which first appeared around 1850.

Those boats, Rosen said, weighed about 20 pounds less than a modern boat because they didn’t have any fiberglass or epoxy.

“They just had the very light cedar and perfect joinery,” he said. “Soaking up the water, the wood would swell, which is part of what kept it watertight. The joinery really had to be perfect.”

Rosen said guides preparing their boats for the season would sometimes put them in several feet of water with stones in the bottom of the hull.

“We’re talking about 1850,” he said. “The technology available then was quite different.”

Adirondack guide boats are not canoes, as the boats that act as signs out front of the Martin brothers’ business once said. For one thing, you row rather than paddle, and sit backward in the boat. You also sit lower in the water, which provides greater stability.

“Rather than being so top heavy like a canoe, when you broadside the waves a guide boat makes you feel like you’ll ride up and over the waves,” Justin Martin said. “They’re a little wider, and you get much more efficiency out of rowing rather than paddling. You have a lot more leverage.”

In a canoe, it’s wise to hold close to the shore when it’s windy. Not so with an Adirondack guide boat.

“These you can aim across the lake and go,” Justin Martin said.

Adirondack guide boat traditionalists dislike Kevlar, but the brothers are undeterred. “We always say if builders back then had the technology we have today they would have used it,” Justin Martin said. “They wouldn’t have had to sink their boats every year to make them swell.”

The brothers, who are equal partners, paid $300,000 for the business, with owner financing from Rosen over 10 years. They also bought the building and land in North Ferrisburgh from their former landlord for $250,000 in another owner-financed deal.

The first full year they owned the business, in 2013, the Martins increased sales from about $560,000 to $869,000.

“We spent $860,000 to do it, but that’s business,” Ian Martin said. “We had our income. We’re not doing badly that way at all. It does cost a lot of money to market the boats.”

The Martins have a formidable competitor in Stephen Gordon’s Guideboat Company in Mill Valley, California. Gordon previously founded Restoration Hardware. He tried to buy a 50 percent interest in Adirondack Guide Boat and give the brothers an initial order of 100 boats to launch Guideboat Company’s website, but again the brothers decided to stay their own course.

“We knew this wasn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, it was more or less securing our future in Vermont,” Justin Martin said. “Because as a boat builder in Vermont you’re going to soon be in Rhode Island or somewhere on the coast, New Jersey or Maine. There’s a lot of opportunity, but not in Vermont.”

Gordon wished the brothers well — and vowed to compete with them.

“He might take sales from us on the West Coast, but he’s not damaging us,” Justin Martin said. “If anything he’s helping us.”  Justin Martin said he sold a dozen boats after Gordon dropped his first 100,000 Guideboat Company catalogs.

“This year he upped it to 500,000 copies,” Justin Martin said. “I get people calling me all the time who never knew about guide boats until this guy in California sent them a catalog.”

Next on the Martin brothers’ agenda is a replacement for the — shall we say — “venerable” building on U.S. 7. One day last week a guide boat enthusiast from Virginia who was familiar with the Adirondack Guide Boat web site paid a surprise visit to the business and was left somewhat deflated. The building is utilitarian in the extreme, nothing but stained concrete on the inside and faded steel on the outside.

“You do all that here?” the stunned visitor said.

The brothers are planning a two-level, timber frame building with a showroom, retail and perhaps even rentals. Exactly when that will happen has yet to be determined.

“We want a place where people can come and get the whole experience,” Justin Martin said. “We need someone to get the feeling they’re at their camp on the lake. Make it look more like Vermont.”

About this Article

When it started out, this was to be an article in our home-town newspaper, the Burlington Free Press. Which, it turns out, is owned by Gannett…which also owns USA-Today. Which reprinted the article to the tune of 16,000,000 copies. We thought our phone wire was going to melt. (Not that we are complaining.)


Two Brothers In Vermont Are Bringing Wooden Boats Back To The Water

           By Jodi Henke      Country Living

It’s not every day you see a wooden boat on the water. Justin Martin and his brother Ian caught the boat-building bug while working for a canoe company in high school. Today, the two own a company in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, called “Adirondack Guide Boat”.

Guideboats date back over 150-years and are known for their efficiency and stability. They resemble a wide canoe and are rowed with oars instead of paddles, and perfect for fishing or a lazy day out on the water.

Justin says each wooden boat is hand-made, and they do their best to buy the materials locally.

“We build the wooden boats out of Western red cedar. We basically buy it out of Massachusetts, but obviously it comes from the West,” says Justin. “We use spruce for the ribs and the bottom board, and the stems, and we use cherry which we actually get locally for the trim, the gunnels, the decks, the seat, and all the other small parts in the boat.”

It’s not easy making a guideboat. Justin says it’s a painstaking process that literally takes hundreds of hours just to build one. They integrate modern technology with old craftsmanship dating back to the 1800s.

“We use fiberglass on the exterior of our wooden boats that you can’t see, but it’s there, and it basically encapsulates the wood so it’s not subject to what the boats in the 1800’s were,” says Justin. “When it was cold, they would dry up and you could actually see through the cracks in the boats until the spring when they submerged the boats back in water, and the wood swelled back out so the boat would actually float again. With our boats, that’s not a worry anymore.”

Justin says they sell the boats finished or as kits to be put together.


Justin and Ian Martin: Boat Building Brothers

         By Joanna Werch Takes Woodworker’s Journal  Feb 16, 2016

When Justin Martin was just out of high school, he described himself as pretty typically “looking for something to have fun and make some spare money.” In his case, that meant getting a job at Mad River Canoe – and finding himself immersed in a love of boat building.

Within six months, Justin had gained an understanding of the boat building process and found himself in leadership positions. He also brought his brother, Ian, into the work through a work-study program during Ian’s senior year of high school.

By the time Mad River Canoe moved to North Carolina in 2001, Justin and Ian found themselves committed to Vermont-based boat building, and began working for Adirondack Guideboat.

It was there that they built their first wooden boats.  “They gave us a kit and they timed us,” Justin said. “We had to follow the manual and not get a lot of help. It took us 300 hours to build a 15-foot guideboat.”

Since then, he and Ian have probably built about 30 more wooden boats – and they’ve become owners of the company, purchasing it in 2012.

The majority of Adirondack Guideboat’s work is composite boats, rather than wooden, but even in those cases, there is wood involved, on the top of the boat, with pieces like the trim or the seats being made from cherry.

“The majority of our woodworking is making small parts to go on boats,” Justin said. They make things like a fishing rod holder, or motor mounts, and “we build our own oars. That’s pretty much another full-time job.”

Since coming to Adirondack Guideboat, the brothers have increased efficiency, Justin said. “We’re using better jigs and better tools. We’re now purchasing bigger and stronger stuff, that makes our jobs easier.”

Most recently, that was a resaw, which has replaced the use of a table for a lot of milling work. “We’ve saved a lot of material,” Justin said. “We’re doing the job safer and definitely more efficiently.”

They’ve also reduced the weight of one of their boat offerings. A 12-foot ultra-light solo packboat that used to weigh in at 49 pounds has now been reduced to 34 pounds. “Every material you use, you try and get both strength and also a light weight,” Justin said.

For the wooden boats that they build, that means Western red cedar, with the additions of cherry, spruce for the ribs and pine for the bottom board. “Cedar is really porous, which makes it lightweight,” Justin said, and, when the boat is finished, fiberglass is applied to the outside, then epoxy applied over that. “That helps strengthen the cedar as well,” he said.

The Adirondack Guideboat wooden boats are strip-built, Justin said, with their ribs a particular source of pride. Whereas many boat builders will use a form cut out with a CNC router, Justin and Ian use a steambox to create a form for laminating the spruce ribs. “Our ribs are in the boat; that gives you the shape and the function,” he said.

While they can build the hull of a boat in a few days, “there’s a lot of tedious work sanding,” Justin said, “finishing out the build so it’s smooth, using a hand plane. “

But, he added, “Every time you build a boat, the final product makes it worth it. If you’re making something you love, it’s not just a job, it’s something you enjoy. We’ve always been boaters, and owning a boat business in Vermont that’s successful is a dream come true.”


The Hippest Fashion Accessory?

     by  Robert Sullivan, VOGUE  Sept, 2003                 

     Who would have imagined, in this day of plastic, banana-shaped kayaks and hysterical Jet Skis, that the Adirondack guideboat would be the boat of the moment? Steve Kaulback did, and the idea hit him that day when – after leaving Brooklyn, where he taught at Pratt, to get back to nature in Vermont – he experienced one for the first time. “I literally stepped out of the boat and said, “I am going to be a boatbuilder”
    Now a Vermont-based craftsman, he designs what he calls, “Floating sculptures,” his modern rendition of the nineteenth-century classic. Meticulously constructed out of strips of cedar and planks of white pine, touched with cherry, they are simply works of art. The $14,000 price tag for the best Kaulback has to offer confirms this. (Though there are also less expensive versions, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000).
      Katie Ford, President of the Ford Modeling Agency, knows beauty when she sees it. Katie owns one of Steve’s 12-ft boats. Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, owns two of Steve’s boats; and John Cheffins, the President of Rolls-Royce, owns one of the top-of-the-line cedar guideboats.
     A cross between a rowboat and a canoe, the guideboat looks like something out of a Thomas Eakins painting. And it really moves, too. At the Wooden Boat show, in Mystic, Connecticut, it’s oars beat an outboard motor. Taking it out for a ride myself, I could row upstream while feeling as if I were floating down.
      Recently I flew across the continent, from New York to British Columbia, measuring America at 35,000 feet by the places I would love to row an Adirondack guideboat. First, of course, there was the Hudson, then the Mississippi, then the Flathead in Montana and the Columbia.
     Their website offers a 17-ft version which has enough room for three, along with their gear, and in which you will sit on natural cane seats with a cherry backrest. Or you could get a little packboat, which Kaulback originally designed for his daughter. With any of their boats, the problem is always the same, once you get in, you won’t want to get out

About the Author

Bob Sullivan might well be one of the most fascinating people you are ever likely to meet. He is a contributing editor at Vogue…and yet one of his books is about rats. To research his book, he, among other things, sat in a New York City alley with night vision goggles, watching and taking notes on what the rats were doing. The previous month he was attending fashion openings in Paris with Vogue picking up the tab. We sent a description of Bob’s rat-related activities to David Letterman’s website and a couple of months later Dave says, “And now, let’s cut to rat boy in the alley with our Late-Night Night-Vision Rat-Cam, Bob, are you there?”)

     When his  article on our boats was published in Vogue, Bob called to apologize. He said, “The original article was 3,500 words….they cut it down to 500 words.”  We said, “Bob, don’t apologize. That you got it in at all is a miracle.”

     Bob has written a book on the Jersey Meadowlands and another on contemporary Native Americans hunting whales out in the ocean  in  traditionally built dug-out canoes. Bob has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times and, it seems, hundreds of other magazines and newspapers. His writing is funny and smart and quirky. If you get a chance to read something Bob has written, you won’t be disappointed.


How Would You Soothe The Soul?
     by Warren Berry  Newsday

       There’s this moment when you realize that time is passing…..that you’ll never look quite right again in that short skirt. Or that you’re more likely to find a basketball settled at your midriff than in the hoop.
       You’re primed for your very own mid-life crisis. Not to panic. This may be the perfect time to contemplate something you’ve always wanted – that sublime self-indulgence, from your secret fantasy car to the perfect, pampered vacation. After all, if you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, why not make it a good one? That’s what we asked a Newsday staff writer, Warren Berry to do: Pull out the stops, fantasize away. He writes:
        During my first mid-life crisis, my boss caught me daydreaming over a yacht ad. “Never, never let me catch you even thinking of buying one,” he said. “Every time I push off from my mooring my damned boat cost me $400 minimum!”
        I didn’t – and still don’t – see much appeal in that. No, give me some mellow. I discovered my dream boat in a most unlikely place – a little museum in upstate Blue Mountain Lake. The Adirondack Guideboat has both history and beauty going for it. Often mistaken for a canoe because it is double-ended, this nearly two century-old craft began as the workhorse of the turbulent mountain lakes.
        It was designed to carry a hunting/fishing guide and his wealthy client – “the sport,” as he was called in the early 1800’s. With its low center of gravity and its seemingly over-long oars, the guideboat even proved itself in a 22-mile race in the open Atlantic off the Massachusetts coast.
       But forget speed; it’s the boat’s delicacy that gets you. Some people call it “floating art,” and as such it’s attracted a diverse new class of “sports,” including the CEOs of Rolls- Royce and Ford Modeling agency, and the man who writes about CEOs, management guru Tom Peters.
      Today, this most up-country of boats is made by two down-staters who moved north…..Steve Kaulback, 57, who once taught design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and his partner, David Rosen, 58, who was raised in the South Bronx. From their shop in Vermont their dozen employees will build you a wonderfully agile guideboat made of Kevlar with cherry trim and lovely accessories for $3,900.
      But the model that got one guy from Phoenix to buy one off the Internet, the one that gets Vogue magazine to come up to the Vermont workshop for a look, is the boat that has been compared to fine musical instruments and fine furniture. Only eight or so of the wooden boats are made each year and they’re painstakingly assembled from strips of cedar and pine and cherry. This 16-foot rowboat can cost you $12,800.
      The other day, Rosen sent down his latest batch of pictures of guideboats being used by contented men – and a distinctly beautiful woman. “For some,” he says, “the operational definition of a mid-life crisis – or maybe it’s a person’s second mid-life crisis – is when you notice the boat more than the woman.”
      He adds, “I’m not at that point yet. But it’s getting close.” 



A1830’s Craft A Hit at the Atlanta Boat Show
      by Thomas Stinson  Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA, GA:  Eight bucks gets you into the Atlanta Boat Show, a fair fee for the suspension of reality. For $420,000 more, you can take home a 94-foot, four-bedroom Sumerset Houseboat, with a slide off of the top deck and twin Jet Ski berths on the stern.
      Speed freaks will wonder about the mysterious $6 million Soviet-built C003 – ostensibly a rescue craft that goes 150 mph – sold to a German investor by some bankrupt Russian general and on public display for the very first time. The massive hydroplane Miss Budweiser is here, hoisted menacingly above the floor like some crimson pterodactyl.
       Aisle by aisle, Building C at the Georgia World Congress Center is crammed with this stuff, 500,000 square feet of every possibility offered up by Fiberglass, sail and the combustion engine. And after hours wandering the acres of fishing boats, bass boats, bay boats, pontoon boats, fighting chairs, luxury yachts and dinghies, one is compelled to flee the place for the quiet of the hallway.
     Which is where you find Steve Kaulback, sprinkled with sawdust as he builds a wooden boat by hand. Not just any boat, but the honorable Adirondack guideboat, a rare and elegant craft that simply isn’t being built anywhere else anymore.
       The five-day boat show ends tonight, and surely no one has answered questions from more curious people than Kaulback, a reconstructed Vermont hippie who has found a career portaging this famous vessel from the early 1800’s to today’s boat-buying public.
       “This was an historic boat,” Kaulback said. “It ought to have a chance to go into its third century. And that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s some 160 years old, and it’s still about the fastest fixed-seat rowboat ever made. People are walking away from here just scratching their heads.”
         Do not call it a canoe, however. The Adirondack guideboat dates back to the 1830’s when the Adirondack region of upper New York State was growing into a touring and hunting destination. The traditional canoe design did not fare well in the windy and choppy conditions and native outdoorsmen began building these sharp-ended craft with a tumblehome stem design (angled inward and downward) so the boat would more easily slip past the wind. The boat also needed to be lightweight, because the widespread lakes of the region necessitated frequent portaging.
        A popular early version of the craft was created by J. Henry Rushton, a Saranac Lake builder in the 1800s, whose design specifications were first spread out before Kaulback in a life-changing moment in 1979.
       After teaching printmaking at the Pratt Institute in New York City, Kaulback fled to Vermont in 1972, where he dabbled ruthlessly. He worked hand-pressing apples into cider at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. (indeed, as he takes a slight bow, for a few years Kaulback was known as “Mister Cider.”) He then took a woodworking course when eventually led to home renovation work. A forthcoming marriage 25 years ago prompted him, seeking steadier work, to set up his own wood shop outside of Burlington. He just didn’t know what to build, at least until he encountered Rushton’s designs.
       “To me it was all about the aesthetics of the boat,” explained Kaulback, bespectacled and graying but hardly seeming his 56 years. “I wouldn’t have built the boat if it wasn’t beautiful.”
        The classic Adirondack guideboat is suitable for framing. The hull is fashioned of strips of Western red cedar. The ribs and stems are made of spruce and the deck, 8-ft long oars, gunwales and seats are made of cherry wood. The whole craft is then sanded (and sanded some more) and then covered on the exterior with nearly-invisible fiberglass, the interior of the boat being coated with epoxy and the entire boat immaculately varnished with Imron, a clear-coat from the auto-industry. The net result is stylish enough that Vogue magazine just ran a piece about Kaulback and his company.
        Some people come to Kaulback’s exhibition as if entranced. Chris and Mark Kaufman of Ansley Park, looking for watercraft for a new lake house, never got to the show’s main gate, spending their time gazing at the half-dozen boats Kaulback had on display in the show’s lobby.
        “The boat-making is very good…but the carpentry is overpowering,” Mark Kaufman said. “It reminds you of the old station wagons with the wood paneling, and all the oldies you see on Lake Rabun. It has that character.”
       For others, the pull is even deeper. Steve Donohue owned a plumbing business in Santa Fe when he picked up one of Kaulback’s brochures during a fly-fishing vacation to Vermont. That was nearly five years ago. “I went for a tour of his factory,” Donohue recalled, “and an hour later, I walked out with a job and I’ve been there ever since.”
       Donohue has been at Kaulback’s side throughout the past week, bending and gluing the cedar strips to the hull.
       Expensive? You bet. Fully built, cedar boats range in price from $11,600 to $14,600. Kits, which require from 200 to 300 hours to build, cost between $3,200 and $4,350. Kaulback also designed and builds Kevlar versions of his wooden boats. Depending on size, trim and wood selection, the Kevlar boats range in price from $2,000 to $4,500.
      In the early years, Kaulback was lucky to deliver 15 boast a year. Now with a shop filled with full-time employees, they may turn out 200 boats per years, perhaps 30 to 40% of them being sold via the Internet. (The President of Rolls-Royce bought one of Kaulback’s cedar guideboats off of the Internet. When he stopped in to visit Kaulback’s shop, he asked, “How has the web worked for you?” Kaulback’s laughed and said, “Well….. we caught you, didn’t we?”)
      So it is that you can buy a dock system at the boat show, and boating jewelry too, after you’ve taken a class on “Crank Bait Secrets.” And, just in case, there are no fewer than nine finance booths set up in Building C to facilitate boat loans
      The boom only re-proves America’s fascination with boating, with 17 million recreational craft owned nation-wide. Americans lavished $30 billion on boating in 2002, and that figure rose more than 6% last year, according to Melisa Malone of the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, sponsor of the event. And, that was in a slow economy. “See you on the water,” says Kaulback, as we shake hands and he waves goodbye as I head out into the cool night air. Indeed, see you on the water.   


Guideboat Memories
by  Willem Lange  Vermont Public Radio                                            

ETNA, NH — It was a May afternoon in 1958, just 41 years ago — one of those days that all of us experience now and then: a day when, as if topping a ridge, a newly expanded world spreads out before us, full of things undreamed of.  I’ve never forgotten the scene.
      The day had started prosaically enough.  I’d been fired from a carpenter’s job for pretending competence I didn’t yet possess, and had immediately been rehired as a laborer at a mysterious place called “up t’the lakes.”  Bill Broe, a grizzled old guide with a sort of Ronald Coleman mustache and an impeccable green Jeep was to be my new boss.  “Bring your toothbrush,” he said, “and extra socks and underwear, and a warm frock, and a rain jacket.  We ain’t comin’ back out till next week, but you won’t need no food.  There’s lots of it in camp.”
      We went to his shop in the village and loaded his homemade trailer with bags of concrete mix and asphalt shingles.  A few miles out of the village, we let ourselves through a locked gate and drove several miles on a private dirt road that followed a crystalline infant river.  Finally we topped a rise and started down the other side, and my world began to expand.  A slender arrow of a lake stretched ahead of us between cliffs of solid Adirondack granite.  Below us, at its foot, stood a big clapboarded boathouse with an expansive dock.  We pulled up and got out.
      “Go get us the big gray boat on the bottom tier,” the old man started — “No, wait.  You’ve never been here before.  Let me show you.”  He opened the door, and there before us stood one of the wonders of the modern world: three tiers of priceless old wooden Adirondack guide-boats. I might as well have opened King Tut’s tomb, but for the aromas of varnish and sun-warm spruce boards inside.  The boats were arranged by owners; many families had three, one above the other in their family color.
       “You ever row one of these?”  He could tell I hadn’t.  “Well, let’s load this one up, and you can learn right now.  But by god, boy, watch your knuckles!  The oar handles cross in the middle, and I don’t want you crippled up before we even get there.” 
     I could hardly believe how that boat, loaded with Bill and me, several squares of shingles, our packs, and some fresh groceries, slid through the water.  Bill sat in the back, smoking, indicating occasionally with one index finger or the other which way to bear.  The long oars flexed as I pulled, sucked, and snapped straight at the end of each stroke.  In about half an hour, Bill was nervously conning me through the rocks of the inlet, and we unloaded at the start of the one-mile portage into the next lake, where there were more boats.
    For the next year, those boats were an essential part of my new world.  We used them as transportation, like pickup trucks; but they were far more than that.  They were as much a part of that pristine private wilderness as the deer that looked up to watch us pass and the otters playing along the riverbanks.  I had favorites, and constantly tried to beat my old best time for rowing the length of the lake. And then, suddenly, it ended.  I got married, went back to school, moved away, and started raising a family.  But I never got over wanting a guide-boat of my own.  Trouble was, I just couldn’t afford it.    
       Then, just a year ago, I was browsing a small watercraft show at Lake Fairlee in Vermont, and there it was: a gleaming, varnished boat hanging in a pair of slings.  I just stood there, smitten, gazing like a kid at Joe DiMaggio and his wife, all at once.  The builder saw me staring and asked, “You ever seen one of these before?”  I nodded.  “Take it for a spin.” 
        I don’t sit down on a four-inch high seat quite as sprightly as I used to, but once settled in, I remembered it instantly: the bending cherry oars, the leap forward with the first stroke, the water going by improbably fast.  About halfway through the spin, I thought, “I’ve been waiting forty years to get one of these.  I haven’t got the time to make one myself.  This guy makes them, right here in Vermont.  I don’t have any money to speak of, and probably never will.  But in just a few years I’ll be too old and sick and stupid to handle one of these things.  The time has come.”  A couple of months later I scraped together the deposit.
        A week ago Friday the boat-builder rumbled up my driveway with my boat.  It’s painted, rather than varnished, the way the originals were in the 1800s.  It’s got a carrying yoke for portaging, and a lovely, curved folding seatback for fishing.  Just looking at it is a sensual experience.  If you’ve never seen one, describing it won’t help; its design dates from the days of the battleship Maine, and it’s got the same old-fashioned tumblehome stem and stern.
        Three days passed before I dared to experiment with moving it.  During that time I made a ramp for skidding it to the truck, a padded roof rack to carry it, and a dock for launching it.  Finally I took it out for its first voyage.  Still nervous, I left the dog at home and my wallet in the truck.
        It’s like fishing in an armchair.  Lighter than a small canoe, it darts from place to place, and at rest rocks gently from side to side with the rhythm of my casting.  The seat of my pants is just about at water level, so the trout come splashing to the net right beside me.  It’s a wedding of two art forms consummated in the most beautiful of settings.  And I can tell, this boat has been a constant lesson to me. If you have a really special dream, don’t wait too long. ‘Cause, let me tell you, you’re a long time gone, y’know?.      

About the Author

    Willem Lange has worked as a Adirondack guide, a preacher, a bartender, a construction laborer, a cab driver, a bob-sled run announcer, a bookkeeper, a ranch hand, a high-school English teacher, a carpenter, a contractor and from 1968 to ’72 he directed Dartmouth College’s Outward Bound Center. In 1973 Will founded the Geriatric Adventure Society, a group of outdoor enthusiasts whose members have skied in the Himalayas, bushwhacked on skis through most of northern New Hampshire, and paddled rivers north of the Arctic Circle.
      For 25 years he has been writing a weekly newspaper column, A Yankee Notebook, which appears in newspapers all over New England. He is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Television and Vermont Public Radio and his traditional reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (in its 29th  year) has become so popular that it is  broadcast worldwide on Armed Forces Radio.
        We first met Willem at a small boat show in Eastern Vermont. He was looking at one of our boats when we said, “You familiar with these boats?”
        He nodded  and it has been a kind of romance ever since. Willem wrote a newspaper column on our boats, A Stradivarius Of A Boat Built By North Country Carpenters, which became a radio commentary on Vermont Public Radio. Next he was rowing his boat on Vermont Public Television, rocking from side to side, lifting a trout from his net and letting it slide back into the water, all the while telling the story of the boats which so captured his heart. He wrote the article in Northern Woodlands Magazine and put his boat on the cover of a collection of his stories, OK, Let’s Try it Again.
        One of the best parts of being involved with these boats is the people we meet, whom we later get to call friends.


   by Cliff Gromer, Contributing Editor, Popular Mechanics

    At The New York National Boat Show
         Packing the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with 1100 watercraft, marine-related gear and miscellaneous items not really related to anything at all, the show was the place to come to forget about winter temperatures and streets adorned with plow-carved snow bank art. It was a place to fantasize about good times, warm times. Having fun on the water with friends and family.
       The floating toys, which weren’t floating but stationed securely to the Javits Center floor, ranged in size from luxury floating hotels to inflatable (and conversely, deflatable) tenders, and wooden boats with two-oar power. The buzz among the exhibitors was the sudden bankruptcy of OMC, (Outboard Motor Corporation, the combined company formed by the merger of Johnson and Evenrude.) 
       OMC’s vast unused space at the New York Boat Show was given to a tiny company from Vermont which hand-builds Adirondack guideboats and guide boat kits……while the boat show is usually devoted almost exclusively to powered craft, one exhibitor, Adirondack Guideboat, takes water travel back to its roots. Adirondack Guideboat’s handcrafted boats, in either Kevlar or wood, boats remarkably true to original designs dating back 170 years.

     These are fast boats that have an enviable record in winning races, boats destined to become cherished heirlooms—unlike many powerboats with which, as the saying goes, your two happiest days are when you buy the boat and when you sell it. These classics almost never show up on the used-boat market. The guideboats are really beautiful in the true sense and seaworthy both in salt and freshwater. They also can haul lots of stuff. Models range from the 12-ft., 46-pound Kevlar PackBoat that starts at $1750 to the top-of-the-line, 17-ft. 10-in. wooden guideboat for $13,600. Wooden guideboat kits, which you lovingly screw together plank by plank, go for 3 grand for the 15-ft. model. Add or subtract $150 per foot. Truly, these are boats you can hug. 


Adirondack Envy

,   by Jim Leinfelder MountainMan Times

         We Minnesotans are a self-satisfied bunch. It’s not that we brag on the things we like about ourselves in the manner of, say, Texans or the French. We quietly take great satisfaction in our preference for hot dish, losing football teams, and sentences that begin with “so” and end with “then,” as in, “So, yer’ gonna’ goh over tuh’ Gramma’s cabin on Sundee fer some hotdish while yuh watch duh Vikes lose, then?”
         We are also an unabashedly canoe-centric people.
         But gradually I’ve been coming to this vague awareness of the Adirondack guideboat. When and how this awareness began I can’t say exactly. But, the spark was recently fanned into flaming lust by a chance conversation at our local Orvis shop in which I learned that they were bringing the Adirondack guideboat to Minnesota. The Adirondack Guideboat Company (of Vermont) is growing and expanding their dealerships out west, locating them strategically in Michigan, Wisconsin and now Minnesota.
          One look at the boat and I was a convert. We’ve had so many unwelcome arrivals in our waters ….. milfoil, zebra mussels, and, if you can believe the local FOX affiliate, a piranha…but this exotic, the  Adirondack guideboat, well, it makes just so much sense out here.
         The guideboat’s shape is superficially much like the canoe. But, despite first-glance similarities (born of the universal fluid principles that govern moving over water), canoes and guideboats aren’t even kissin’ cousins. As canoe folks know, today’s kevlar and aluminum canoes owe their origins to the Indian tribes of northern Minnesota and Canada.
          The Adirondack guideboat, as its name implies, traces its roots back 170 years to the roadless, lake-spattered stretches of the Adirondack region of Upstate New York. Early settlers adapted what they remembered of the 18th Century saltwater wherries, European dories and the lumberman’s bateaux to their new rustic lives in the Adirondacks. For most of the nearly two centuries since then, the Adirondack guideboat has remained relatively unknown outside of upstate New York.
Dealers out here are betting that the guideboat will win a place in the hearts of canoe-fixated Minnesotans. Instead of high tech poly pro fleece and Gore Tex shells, think Abercrombie & Finch split bamboo fly rods and oil cloth hunting coats from the era of Hemingway and the Roosevelt up on Mount Rushmore.
         Adirondack Guideboat Inc., founded by Steve Kaulback in 1979 and now co-owned by David Rosen, ship boats all over the country and even have a few customers in boat-savvy Sweden, England and Holland. Their boats range from a 12-foot and 15-foot kevlar version to a cedar guideboat …which is so beautiful that I am at a loss for words. (Not an easy accomplishment.) At the Orvis opening in Minneapolis, I saw a violin tucked into the curve of one of the cedar boats and I thought, “How appropriate.”
          I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time studying the company’s website. I fantasize the waters I will row when I get one of their boats. I even sent a link to a friend who writes about nature for a variety of national magazines. And, as it happens, the bug has bitten him as hard as it did me. In September of 2003 Vogue published his article on the Adirondack guideboat. (Yes, you read that correctly, Vogue.)
          The price for these boats range from $2,000 to $4,400 for the kevlar and glass boats up into the low-five digits (as in $13k) for their wooden boat. For the woodworkers amongst us, there is a kit whereby we can build one of the wooden guideboats for ourselves. (And, I confess, I recently placed my order for a 16’ cedar kit…hoping that the gods who watch over overly-ambitious craftsmen will be watching over me.)
          Happily the company gives tech support over the phone or by e-mail. At the moment they have 20 guideboats under construction in places as diverse Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, England and Scotland.
          In 1895, Henry Van Dyke wrote about the guideboat: “They are one of the finest things that the skill of man has ever produced under the inspiration of the wilderness. It is a frail shell, so light that a guide can carry it with ease, but so dexterously fashioned that it rides the heaviest waves like a duck and slips through the water as if by magic.”
       We love the small rivers and lakes of Minnesota. In those contexts, the canoe’s agility trumps the speed of the guideboat. However, when the water opens wide, and the winds begin to blow, when you’ve got a ton of gear to carry, I’ll take a guideboat every time. I wonder if you folks back in the Adirondacks know how lucky you are to have so sweet a boat so close to home?

About the Author


Jim Leinfelder lives in Minnesota. He writes for Minnesota Monthly Magazine, is a producer for Minnesota Public Television, for NBCNightly News and for Dr. Phil.

Our first contact with Jim came in the form of an e-mail in which his opening words were, “Yet another writer who wants to do an article on the Adirondack Guideboats, this one for Minnesota Monthly.”            

Jim went on to write that article and in the course of becoming an acquaintance and then a friend, Jim said, “You know, if you could get Bob Sullivan interested in your boats…..that would be something. Bob is big time.”           

As it came to pass, Bob became interested in our boats…he wrote an article about them for Vogue. And then, last Thanksgiving Jim came from Minnesota to visit Bob and we were able to finally put Jim in one of our boats. It was a cold November day, the wind was howling….blowing perhaps 30 knots, from south to north on the Hudson. When we pulled into the parking lot at the river and saw the river we said, “Jim, you’re really going to have some fun out there.”            

When he came back to shore, Jim said, “I’m a life-long canoeist….if I hadn’t been out there myself I wouldn’t have believed it. That boat is incredible.”             

Later that day, when sitting in the boat on Bob’s lawn, measuring it for size, Jim pulled out his MasterCard and said, “I’ve got to have one. How much for a kit this size?”


Coming Full Circle with Adirondack Guideboats

     by Kenny Clarke  Paddler Magazine   

    The venerable vessel once used to penetrate thick Northeast forests is now a symbol of boat-building prowess
    I was born in a remote town in the eastern Adirondack Mountains of New York. My parents’ house sat high on a hill that was referred to by the locals as Coot Hill. I’m proud to say that “Coot Hillers” are known for, let’s say, being a little wild maybe even somewhat hillbilly; rock fights, BB-gun wars, and Dukes of Hazard-style Matchbox car jumping contests were common pastimes among children on Coot Hill.
       During less troublesome forays my father would take my brother and I on what we called “canoe trips.” Together we would travel about some remote waterway or chain of lakes deep within the Adirondack Park for five to seven days at a time. At the put-in we would meet up with two or perhaps three other father-and-son combos; they would be paddling shiny green and red canoes. We, on the other hand, didn’t have a canoe; our boat was a 15-foot Adirondack guide-boat. It was a good-looking craft, gray with black trim.

      There was nothing “canoe” about this boat, though; seven-and-a-half foot oars, manned by my father, powered it. Since my brother was older he was given a short paddle to push off from rocks during technical sections of a river, a point of contention a few days into our adventure, as I sat jobless in the bow. “Quit your bitching,” my brother yelled from the back of the boat, a phrase we had learned from our grandfather. Swearing wasn’t normally allowed in my family (Coot Hillers had to draw the line somewhere), but my father had heard enough of my complaining and let it slide that one time.
      Looking back I’ve often wondered about our guide-boat and its place in the rich Adirondack history. At the height of its development the sleek Adirondack guide-boat, like the gray and black one we had used, was a double-ended craft that averaged about 16-feet in length. Weighing 70-75 pounds, it was easily carried by a single person in the traditional manner: carrying yoke across the shoulders, boat overhead. It could be rowed in either direction and was nearly 40 inches wide at the beam. The guide-boat was almost always equipped with two sets of oarlocks, which allowed the rower to change positions depending upon numbers of passengers and loads hauled. They were traditionally made of wood gathered from the forest, such as cedar, spruce, and pine; and a skilled builder could produce a finished guide-boat in about 300 hours, excluding the oars.
       At one time many believed that this curious craft was “invented” by a full-blooded Abenaki Indian named Mitchell Sabattis, who, according to the book The Adirondack Guide Boat, was “…a prodigious fellow who killed many moose, panthers and bear, played the fiddle, and led the singing in the church.” With little evidence to support this claim, a more likely answer is that the boat evolved from a small watercraft deep within the boreal forests of the Adirondacks in the 1830s, a time when travel by water was commonplace.
       As the areas surrounding the region were basking in development, the Adirondacks remained an impenetrable wilderness; to gain access to the area early explorers turned to the regions 3,000-plus lakes and ponds, 30,000 miles of streams and 6,000 miles of rivers. The flowing environment provided a pleasant alternative to the overland bushwhacking that was previously necessary to travel in the area. Although bodies of water were numerous, stretches of land often required the traveler to portage his craft for a mile or two; thus increasing the need for a lighter craft capable of transporting the heavy loads of the trappers and traders of the day.

        By the 1840s, an influx of visitors sought refuge in the Adirondacks from urban life, which in turn ushered in a new era for the guide-boats and their owners. Those seeking adventure in the great New York wilderness came to be known as “sports,” and there was no better way for a “sport” to experience the wilds of the region than in an Adirondack guide-boat. Then the guiding era moved in, providing a new source of income for the locals and placing even greater demands on the guide-boat. Now, more than ever, the need for an easily portaged craft that could haul gear–as the “sports’” payload was often unpredictable, ranging from meager to extravagant–further drove the evolution of the already highly refined guide-boat. For the first time in its history aesthetics became an important aspect of the craft, as inexperienced “sports” often chose the guide with the best looking boat for their adventure.
       By the 1860s and ’70s things were once again changing in the region. Visitors were placing less emphasis on hunting and fishing than on recreation. With this boom came the great hotels of the region, each with a small fleet of guide-boats for their guests to use. As the people found new ways to have fun and additional ways to travel, including the train and steamship, the guide and his guide-boat rapidly slipped from fruition to obscurity, ultimately being replaced by the gasoline-powered outboard engine in the early to mid 1900s. The fabled guide-boats were tucked away under porches, stored high in garages and put on display in museums.
       It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday, a ringing phone awakens me. The caller from the East Coast has not figured out time zones; his 10 a.m. equals early for me. It’s my brother. After I curse him for calling so early we talk about the standard stuff: who’s not getting along with whom, women, work, news… Toward the end of the conversation he mentions that he has found a mini guide-boat, made and designed by some guys on the New York border in Vermont. He tells me it’s made of Kevlar and weighs only 46 pounds. He wants one…

          Five months later I am once again awakened early, only this time it isn’t a telephone ringing–I was having a dream. On Eagle Lake deep within the Adirondacks I was rowing an Adirondack guide-boat, gray in color. An early morning fog was rising off the water; it had rained the night before. Through the fog I could see maple trees dotting the shoreline, the trees in autumn transition from green to orange and red. As quickly as the dream began it was over and I was awake. I knew it was time to visit the Northeast. Less than two weeks later I arrive in that same remote town in the eastern Adirondacks where I was brought up.
          After a few days of catching up I sit down to take care of business–e-mails that have been piling up for about a month. As I begin a white business card with a cryptic message catches my eye. It reads, “Kevlar Packboat, 46 lbs, $2,300.” Next to the business card is a blue brochure from Adirondack Guide-Boat, a company owned and operated by Steve Kaulback and David Rosen in Ferrisburgh, VT. Leafing through the brochure, I discover that they offer a variety of different guide-boats ranging in price from a modest $2,300 to a prestigious $13,600 for a wooden version. I decide to skip the e-mails (they can wait another month) and investigate further on the company’s website.
      I find that Steve Kaulback, who holds a BFA from the Pratt Institute in New York City, is masterminding the design and production half of the Adirondack Guide-Boat partnership. He’s been designing and building boats for 23 years and, from what I can tell, isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. It appears that David’s passion is just the opposite of Steve’s; he takes care of the business end of the relationship, marketing, staffing, money, and the like. I browse an article on the website that has Steve labeling Rosen as the “PT Barnum of watercraft,” which, I guess, makes Steve the guy who saws women in half and puts them back together.
        At 2 o’clock Steve rolls up to the front of his shop in a giant, old station wagon, which vaguely reminds me of the one from National Lampoon’s Family Vacation, faux wood trim and all. On the car’s front quarter panel is a large placard magnet that reads, “Adirondack Guide-Boat.” After my brother and I meet Steve, I comment on what a great car he has, half in awe, half in wonderment that anyone would still drive one. “Yeah, it’s my favorite for hauling boats,” he responds. “If someone made one about 5 or 6 inches wider you could haul a full sheet of plywood in the back, then you’d have something special. They just don’t make them like they used to.” I imagine Steve motoring down the highway taking up one-and-a-half lanes, sheets of plywood hanging out the back, three or four Adirondack guide-boats loosely strapped to the car’s enormous roof rack. Somehow this is fitting.
       We make our selections of three boats to demo. The first is a 12-foot Packboat, with an enhanced trim package; my brother has been staring at it. And the second is a full-sized, navy-blue 15-foot Guideboat. Steve tells us about one of his customers, Paul Neil, who rows a 16-foot wooden Guideboat in open ocean races. A picture of Paul hangs just inside the shop door, and you can see his head, the tip of an oar and the bow of the guide-boat. Masking the rest of him and the boat are two giant swells of ocean. We stand around the photograph and laugh.
         As I push off from the small dock in the 15-foot Guideboat Steve proudly proclaims, “Son, that’s the fastest guide-boat made.” After three strong pulls on the 8-foot oars, I’m 30-yards from shore. He was right, this boat is fast. With my hands crossing in front of me, right hand over left, I brace my feet and take another sweeping stroke with the soft maple oars, propelling myself 15 more yards away from Steve. Four more strokes and I meet up with my brother who is playing in the 12-foot Packboat, fire-engine red. The afternoon sun is pouring over the small pond and his boat is reflecting red and gold in the shallow water as he lazily casts his fly-fishing rod. Ten-and-two, 10 and-two, 10-and-two…With each stroke the boat gently rocks back and forth, faithfully catching its hard-line chines on the surface of the water.
           Back at the shop Steve takes us through the process of building Kevlar boats. Against a wall I see one of the heavy-looking boat molds, the inside highly polished and bright green. Next to the mold rests a freshly plucked burgundy Packboat. Upon closer examination I can distinguish the layers of Kevlar, strategically sandwiched between sheets of fiberglass. Steve gives us his take on the state of boat-building in America, the words roll from his tongue like poetry. “Today, boat makers are bastardizing all natural detail, putting out Tupperware boats and scoffing at the detail that our grandparents used to know.” As I run my hands along the boat’s sensuous lines, I am reminded of an expensive sculpture, the type you would see displayed on a pedestal in an elegant home or museum. “We take pride in our boats,” Steve continues. “Attention is paid to every detail. We try to think of everything.”
         He explains that this is the company’s 198th boat of the season. By year’s end the company will have made about 250, minuscule numbers by commercial boat-building standards. But according to Hallie Bond, curator of boats at the Adirondack Museum, these numbers are monumental in a market that produces less than 30 guide-boats per year, most of which are made by homebuilders and one-boat-a-year craftsman. At the annual No Octane Regatta for wooden boats, held each June in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y., you’ll find Kaulback’s vessels dotting the shoreline amidst the vintage guide-boats. It’s safe to say that Adirondack Guide-Boat isn’t merely dominating the market, are creating it.
        After finishing our tour Steve smiles and asks if we’d like to see where the wooden guide-boats are made. We jump at the chance and five minutes later are inside another small shop, only this one’s floor is riddled with sawdust, sandpaper and sharp chisels, no Kevlar.
        Propped in the middle of the room are two 15-foot, wooden guide-boats, the first of which is in its early stages of creation. We meet Giles Hoyler, 24, who is expertly attaching strips of western red cedar to the boat’s skeleton of spruce ribs. The second is further along and in the process of being sanded. Looking closely at the boat’s bow I see that someone has taken great care in painstakingly adjusting the 700 or so tiny brass screws so that their slotted heads are perfectly aligned with each other. This particular boat, Steve explains, is scheduled to make an appearance at a Rhode Island furniture show in about two weeks.
         After we see the wooden boats Steve leads us outside where he has something that he wants to show us. In the back of the shop we find a guide-boat relic sitting high in a carpeted rack, which Steve estimates to be from the 1880s, the heyday of guide-boat design and production. On the ground are tattered pieces of fiberglass that he has previously scraped off the boat’s wooden frame. At first glance it looks similar to the two boats inside of the shop but Steve is quick to point out that they are quite different, directing our attention to the vessel’s bottom board. It is at least 3 or 4 inches wider than Steve’s design, miles of difference in the guide-boat building world. “This one is beyond repair,” remarks Steve. “I’ll fix it up some and it will go to someone who wants to put it on display. Hang it on the wall, you know.”
        Finishing up, my brother decided that he couldn’t go home without that cute little red boat. After settling up, we thank Steve for spending time with us and for letting us abuse his demo boats. We part ways and begin the 45-minute drive back to New York. The vision of the old guide-boat, with its coatings of antique paint, is still wandering around my head. I imagine the boat, in a better state, cutting through the water of some remote waterway deep within the heart of the Adirondacks, the morning fog lifting, the leaves of maple trees changing color. Somehow I know that I will be haunted by this boat in dreams to come.


Boatbuilder Lets Tradition And Elegance Be His Guides

       by Tom Meade,     The Providence Journal

      The last time an Adirondack guideboat appeared in Rhode Island was at the Fine Furnishings Show. This week it returns. A craftsman from the Vermont company will be building a cedar guideboat during the Providence Boat Show, which opens today at the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Dunkin Donuts Center.

      David Rosen, one of the owners of the company, said today, “People often say they are like floating furniture or floating art.”  So eye-catching is the boat that the September issue of Vogue ran a story about the design by Rosen’s partner, Steve Kaulback, and some of their discerning customers.
      “Katie Ford, the president of the Ford Modeling Agency, knows beauty when she sees it,” wrote Robert Sullivan in the article in Vogue, “She owns one of Steve’s 12-ft boats. And Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, has two of Steve’s boats, and John Cheffins, the president of Rolls-Royce, owns one of Steve’s top-of-the-line cedar Adirondack guideboats.” The first double-ended guideboats appeared in the Adirondacks in the 1830’s when sports – genteel outdoorsmen – from New York City and Boston would travel to the vast mountain range to go fishing and hunting. A guide needed a boat that was stable with enough capacity to hold himself, a sport or two and supplies. But the boat also had to be light enough for the guide to carry overland from one mountain lake to the next. And the Adirondack guideboat was born.

       “It’s a mystery design,” said Rosen, “It looks somewhat like a canoe, but it also looks as if a British boatwright took to the woods where he came up with the design.”
       The original boats were so thin and lightweight they were called “egg shells.” (One of the builder’s who contributed to the extreme light-weight of the boats was William Martin, also called “Egg-Shell Willie.”)  Today, a 15’ cedar model weighs 70 pounds, only 2 or 3 pounds heavier than a comparable Kevlar model. Kaulback, who once taught a Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute of Design, has modified the original design to enhance its beauty and performance.
        At first glance, an Adirondack guideboat bears some resemblance to a canoe because it is double-ended, but that is where the similarity ends.
        “If you’ve got a hard wind, you don’t want to be out on a large lake or the ocean in a canoe,” Kaulback writes. “In 1998, in a 90 mile race across the Adirondacks, 81 canoes and kayaks were blown to the side of Racquette Lake by a hard wind. Thirty-four were flipped by the waves and all had to be rescued and towed off the lake by boats with gasoline engines. No guideboats required that service. These boats were made for heavy water and hard wind, conditions common in the Adirondacks. If you made your livelihood from your boat, which is what the guides did, you’d better be able to get your sport safely back to shore, with gear and game intact.
       “There are some situations in which a canoe will out-perform a guideboat or a pack boat (which is a down-sized version of the guideboat.) Those conditions are when whitewater is present, when a canoe’s directional instability becomes an asset, not a defect. To intentionally direct a canoe sideways is called ‘ferrying.” In the proper context, ferrying is an invaluable tool. But that virtue becomes a defect when the boat is taken to water wider than a narrow mountain stream. And when the wind kicks up, which it always does, the canoe will go sideways. Guaranteed.”
       The guideboat is propelled by a rower seated close to the bottom of the boat. The center of gravity is inside the boat. In a canoe, the center of gravity is usually around the paddler’s belly button, above the gunwales, making it less stable.
        Long oars also contribute to the guideboat’s stability and speed. In an informal race at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, Rosen, rowing a guideboat, beat an inflatable dinghy powered by a 6 horsepower outboard.
    The real attraction of the Adirondack guideboat, however, is its ability to turn heads. The cedar and spruce version, which touches of cherry and woven cane seats, looks as though it cold have floated out of a Winslow Homer painting. (On the company’s website, there are photos of boats that have played prominent roles in weddings.)
       The nine employees of Adirondack Guideboat, Inc. build about 200 boats per year, and Rosen says, he and his partner are dedicated to keeping everyone on-board throughout the long Vermont winter. To that end, they are slightly discounting their boats during the month of January. 


. Simple Pleasures

        by Brooks Townes   Professional BoatBuilder

        Adirondack guide boats are light, fast and responsive. They’re shaped like pure sculpture, and they’re going to become far more popular shortly, mark my words. To many of us, they are simply the sweetest rowing craft around, and your Rovings writer has rowed a broad sampling of craft, from boxy paint floats and Avon Red Crests to Maine peapods, Whitehalls and wherries, to shells and working Grand Banks dories – plus a lot of boats I’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten a friend’s Adirondack guide from years ago.
       These boats are not well known very far from upstate New York where they were developed by nobody knows who about 150 years ago. Locals in what was then really a wilderness crafted these boats of burden to haul “sports” into the wilds to hunt and fish. Wealthy city slickers had discovered the Adirondack Mountains as a place for manly recreation – but not too manly. They didn’t want to row themselves around.
        Built to easily haul two men, their gear, two dogs and a deer, they take surprisingly little energy to row great distances. When solo and sitting still, take one strong stroke of a 70 lb. guide boat’s bendy overlapping oars. The acceleration is startling, the speed attained surprising. Built cleverly to be strong and burdensome, they were easily carried through the woods on one man’s shoulders. They still are. 
         The memory of my friend’s guide boat prompted an abrupt U-turn while driving through Vermont recently. I’d spied a plain metal building by the side of the road with several guide boats out front and a sign – “Adirondack Guideboat, Inc.”  Inside in an open-mold a woman was energetically rolling polyurethane resin into 6 oz. E-glass, pushing resin and Aerosil and dispersion (color pigment) through the weave. Next would come layers of 5.6 oz. Kevlar – from three to seven depending on strength and rigidity requirements – and on top of that would go a layer of 10 oz .E-glass. 

      “We keep rigidity with the Kevlar just where we need it,” said Production Manager Randy Stewart, quick to credit business founder and co-owner Steve Kaulback with the engineering. Kaulback also designed the 15′ boats, taking the best of famous canoe builder J. Henry Ruston and the best of a couple other long-gone but highly regarded guide boat builders. His standards are high. The boats are beautiful, strong and faster than most. They weigh 68 lbs.
       Kaulback also builds beautiful cedar over spruce versions with epoxy laminated stems and frames and cherrywood interior parts. He’s been building and refining those for a couple of decades. He began building fiberglass versions 15 years ago and has used Kevlar for eight years. In all, the company has sold close to 1,500 boats. It recently added 12′ Kevlar “PackBoat” weighing 46 lbs.
       “Last week we did our 100th composite hull, plus 10 wooden boats on top of that,” Stewart said in November. Depending on fit and finish, the wooden boats can cost as much as a new small car.  Kevlar versions sell for far less – some $3,900 complete with oars. Now, with energetic partner David Rosen handling the business end (garnering free ink in Forbes and Yachting and on Vermont Public Television and Radio, for example), the company is poised to expand. Rosen and Kaulback are considering taking on investors. They’re looking for the right people to add to their 19-person crew, and they’re sure the wider world is ready for the treat of a good guide boat. 

About the Author


Brooks Townes has been writing about boats for WoodenBoat Magazine, Professional Boatbuilder, National Fisherman  and dozens of other magazines for the past 30 years. What we find astonishing is…… he still has the same zest about boats and water and the people who build them as he did when he was a cub reporter trying to figure which end of the pencil goes into the pencil sharpener. 
      We first met him when he was driving from Maine over to the Adirondack Museum to research these boats. As he drove past our shop, from the corner of his eye he saw a guideboat being built in the parking lot. You know the people who brake for flea markets? Well, Brooks brakes for boats. He turned around and came inside to see what was going on.
        One thing led to another and Brooks wrote an article on our boats, and then bought one for himself. It’s a dark blue kevlar boat, 15-ft with cherry trim. Every week or two we receive an e-mail telling us of his next or his just-completed guideboat-adventure. He’s working on flying a kite from his boat, using the kite for propulsion. If you happen to see a dark blue guideboat overhead, with a rower and kite attached, we can probably assume that, “Brooks, you made the kite too big.”


The Best of the Best

      by Robert Ferrago   The Robb Report

  I have clambered aboard some of the world’s most extreme powerboats, but I have never felt as much fear getting into a vessel as I did when lowering myself into an Adirondack Guideboat. Central to my trepidation was the temperature of the water supporting the 16-foot cedar hull – it was only a few degrees above freezing. One wrong move – easy to make when positioning your body in a 72-pound boat with a 41-inch beam – and I could have become an unintended member of the Polar Bear Club. Luckily, David Rosen, who along with its founder, Steve Kaulback, owns the Adirondack Guideboat Company, had a firm grip on the guideboat’s polished cherry gunwales. As I found my balance, pushed off and began my first tentative strokes, I realized that even if my winter-time New England rowing adventure was insane, at least I had an excuse: I was in love.
     “It happens all the time,” Rosen said later, in a decidedly warmer setting. “People see one of our cedar boats at a show and zone out. It reminds them of fishing with grandpa at the lake or a little boat they made when they were kids.”
    The Adirondack Guideboat also reminds people of a canoe – which it is not. Although both vessels have a roughly similar shape, a guideboat’s hull sits much deeper in the water than a canoe’s. The guideboat’s less prominent profile reduces its susceptibility to side winds, and the lower center of gravity – occupants sit approximately 8 inches lower than they would in a canoe – also increases overall stability. In anything other than a rock-strewn river, a guideboat has an unassailable edge over its more famous cousin.
   Backwoods boatbuilders developed the guideboat’s unique design in Anew York’s Adirondacks in the 1830’s. They created the craft for hunting and fishing guides who plied the region’s innumerable lakes and rivers. A guideboat had to be light enough to be carried over treacherous portages, stable in rough weather, capable of accommodating two men and their supplies, and quick enough to travel from camp to distant hunting and fishing camps and then back.
    Actually, “quick,” doesn’t quite describe the speed of the boat. As I gradually got the measure of the guideboat, I could easily believe Rosen’s claim that his company build’s the world’s fastest fixed-seat rowboats. The guideboat leaped forward with each stroke, its prow cleaving the ice-filled waters of Providence Harbor with sublime grade and effortless efficiency. No wonder guideboats have won their class in the Blackburn Challenge, a 22-mile open-ocean race off the coast of Massachusetts, for six years running.
    That said, a cedar Adirondack Guideboat isn’t all about speed and stamina. Most owners enjoy their boats on lazy summer days. They report that the experience becomes a family tradition, the boat a treasured family heirloom. And it should be – the company builds just 10 cedar guideboats per year. Along with 150 of their Kevlar guideboats. The 16-foot cedar and cherry boat costs $12,800. In Kevlar with cherry trim, a similar boat is available for about a third that price.
   Let the memories begin.


Guiding Light
     by  Cliff Gromer, Contributing Editor   Popular Mechanics 

         By all rights, this boat shouldn’t be as fast, or as fun, as it is. After all, it’s just a rowboat. But one pull on the long flexible oars will tell you that this is no ordinary rowboat. Your hands overlap as you row, and the long oars provide outstanding leverage. The response is surprising – joyful, in fact. It’s like lifting a huge beer stein that turns out to weigh virtually nothing. The oar literally flies out of your hand. Even more surprising, this sprightly wooden craft that’s so right for our time is actually a relic of the past. 
        Adirondack guideboats are one of the secrets – and treasures – of the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State. Because roads were scarce or nonexistent in the rugged, heavily forested North Country in the early to mid – 1800s, the rivers and lakes that abound in the area were the local highways of the day. Mountain men and trappers often slapped together their own boat on the spot using only available forest material and primitive hand tools.   
       These indigenous North Country boats had to haul a substantial amount of cargo yet be light enough to be carried by one man over the grueling portages that connected lake to lake.

       When well-to-do sports from New York City came up to the Adirondacks with the families for a taste of the great outdoors, trappers soon learned that working as guides for the city folk was an easier way to make a buck that trapping. The guideboat – the SUV of its day – was the only form of transportation that could meet their needs.

        Guideboat design and evolution was driven by function more than anything else. On one day, it might have had to carry two men, their gear, two dogs and a dead deer. On another day, it hauled building materials for the great camps that were going up around the Adirondacks. It had to stand up to the rough water sometimes encountered on the big lakes. And it performed with flying colors.
       Starting out as a primitive craft with straight sides and a flat bottom. North Country carry boats evolved into the guideboat design with a plank keel, or bottom board, that gradually narrowed over the years into an ellipse. As boatbuilders sought more stability from the craft, they founded and swelled out the sides. This required curved ribs for hull support as the bottom became narrower. Ribs were made from the natural crooks of spruce roots as they curved into the earth while the planking came from white pine – both plentiful in the Adirondacks. The broad side planking gave way to narrow strips, or strakes, in order to accommodate the curved ribs. The strakes overlapped one another, with the bottom edge of the upper board being beveled so it would lie flat. Eventually, the craftsmen also beveled the top edge of each board so the two fit together as a smooth skin on both sides of the hull. The feather-edged bevels were fastened with a double row of clenched copper tacks for a watertight joint.

       Lightly loaded, the guide boat has a small wetted area and, as a result, can zip along with little resistance. Add more load and the hull displaced more water, making it more stable. Guideboats by nature are very stable and track straight. They resist sliding sideways like canoes and kayaks in response to wind and current.
        The demand for guideboats at the turn of the century was met by a number of local boatbuilders who imparted their own unique characteristics to their designs. Here, it’s easy for a guideboat historian to attribute a particular boat to a specific builder.
        Motorized transport, both on roads and waterways, spelled the end of the guideboat. But this unique piece of Americana is being preserved, most notably in the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. The museum has one of the largest collections of guideboats as well as guideboat building exhibits. In addition, a small number of specialty boatbuilders have dedicated themselves to maintaining the breed. The Adirondack Guideboat Company of Charlotte, VT, offers hand-built designs in Kevlar as well as wood, epoxy and fiberglass construction. You can contact the company at (802) 425-3926 or
       Guideboats average about 15-ft in length and cost from $3,500 to $14,000, depending on material used. They truly are works of art. The Adirondack guideboat is a piece of boating history whose time has come and gone – and come again. Get behind the oars of one and you’ll know what we mean. 


Ett Flytande Konstverk


Nix, detta är inte en kanot med åror, den bara ser så ut. Men i stället en “Adirondack Guideboat,” med sa lång tradition som tänksas kan i USA. Förekomsten är mycket begränsad till och omkring Lake Adirondack i staten Vermont. I dag byggs de klassiska formerna också i moderna material, kevlar t ex. “Vi vet inte vad det ar och hur det fungerar, men det blir sjuhelsickes, starka och lätta skrov”, säger Steve Kaulback som med compisen David Rosen star bakom byggena. En 5 meter lang guidebåt i Kevlar väger nätta 30 kg och ros snabbare än vinden. “Kan man ha motor på”, fragar någon. “Javisst men värför pruta på farten”, skrattar Steve. Ett fantastiskt finstämt flytetyg – i träversionen ett “flytande konstverk.”

About This Article

 The Swedish article gave us a good laugh. Several years ago we met the Alex MacCormack in the class Steve was teaching at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine.  Alex lives on Long Island and spends his summers visiting family in Sweden. While sitting in a barber’s chair in Stockholm, reading a Swedish boating magazine, Alex turned the page and saw an article on our boats. He couldn’t believe his eyes. With his barber’s permission (we hope) Alex took the magazine home and put it in the mail to us. Until recently we didn’t know what the article said. The photo accompanying the article was our booth at the Miami Boat Show, so we know that that’s how the article came to be. Amazing how these boats get around.

Alex’s wife has translated the article for us:   “No , it is not a canoe with oars but looks like one . It is an Adirondack Guide Boat with a long tradition of usage in the USA. You can only find them around Lake Adirondack in the State of Vermont. Today the classic forms are all built with modern materials . We don’t know what it is and how it functions, we do know that the boat is very substantial and strong with a very light body . Steve Kaulback and Dave Rosen are behind the building .The 5 metre AGB weighs about 30 KG and is faster than the wind. ” Could you fix a motor to it ?” ” Yes , but why would you want to ? ” laughs Steve . It is a fantastic floating object and a floating piece of art when made of wood.”


A Guide To Romance 
by Dennis Caprio, Senior Editor  Yachting

     The moon and casts a mysterious veil over the face of your companion, seated across from you in the passenger’s chair. An owl hoots. Your oars gurgle. Your cane seat sighs as you lean into the power stroke. A mahogany tray sits on the floorboards right forward of your feet, a rattan picnic basket beside it. Your companion bends to pour champagne, so you ease off a bit on the next power stroke.

     She raises the glass and smiles, catching the moonbeam with her eyes. You drop the oars, letting them float silently, secure in their pinned oarlocks. The boat glides unattended. True to form for Adirondack guide boats, it stays on course while you make a modest toast. These boats evolved on the Adirondack lakes to take ‘sports’ from the city into the wilds of upstate New York. They are light (70 lbs, or so), fast, sea-kindly and remarkably stable, especially as the payload sinks the boat lower on its lines. In cedar strip and epoxy resin: expect to spend $12,000 – $14,000, depending on length and options.


Beauty on the Water

 by Jim Blair  Vermont Magazine                                            

        “If you think a runner’s high is high,” says David Rosen, who with Steve Kaulback owns a small boat-building company in North Ferrisburgh called Adirondack Guideboat, “wait till you try a rower’s high.”
        From their drab industrial building flow some of the sweetest-rowing, fastest and most beautiful boats you could ever hope to see. But, be warned, if the words “row boat” make you think of clunky boats, hard work and hard rowing, think again.
      Before there were roads or highways in the Adirondacks, water transport was the primary means by which people and goods were moved. The earliest guideboats appeared in the 1830’s. They were used for hunting, fishing, and transporting beaver pelts to market. Wealthy “sports” from the cities discovered the wilderness in Adirondack guideboats. Typically these boats were designed to carry a guide, two sports (as customers were called) and all their gear. Yet they had to be light enough for one person to carry.      
       In 1895 Henry van Dyke wrote about Adirondack guideboats, “They are one of the finest things that the skill of man has ever produced under the inspiration of the wilderness. It is a frail shell, so light that a guide can carry it with ease, but so dexterously fashioned that it rides the heaviest waves like a duck and slips through the water as if by magic.”
    When Steve Kaulback, whose background is as a photographer, woodworker and sculptor, first saw a guideboat being built he said, “That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” He studied the work of master boatbuilders and then began making innovations of his own. The awards and plaques on his office wall attest to how well he has done.
One of Steve’s most valued possessions is an antique tool chest given to him by his grandfather. He uses these beautiful hand tools every day; the edges of the chisels and planes are as sharp, and perhaps sharper, than when Grandpa used them long ago.
      Like many fine craftsmen, Steve blends the best of high-tech with the best of no-tech. His eye and hand are more sophisticated than any computer. The hull of Steve’s wooden boats are made of cedar, the stems and ribs are spruce, the bottom board is pine, cherry is used for the seats, oars, gunwales and trim. Steve explains, “We use each wood to its best advantage. Cherry is known as a beautiful wood, but not many appreciate how tough it is.” Each wooden boat takes 250 to 300 hours to build. Some see these boats as such works of art that they have never been put into the water. Dave, however, wags his finger and says, “If you don’t put our boats in the water you’ll never discover their true beauty.”
      Steve Kaulback and David Rosen enjoy a classic partnership, each drawing on the others strengths. Where Steve can make a chisel sing, David does his magic on the computer, out on the water or at boat shows. Steve rarely has time even to try one of his boats, while Dave looks for every opportunity to shove a boat out from shore. Even David’s son Joshua, at age 6, has been rowing for years.
       In addition to the company’s traditional wooden boats, Steve has designed a parallel line of guideboats and packboats made of Kevlar and cherry. Kevlar is that mystery/miracle fiber which stops bullets but enables boats to slide through the water with uncommon ease. The smallest of these boats is 10 feet long and weighs the same as a well-loaded bag of groceries, just 24 pounds. Yet, light as this solo boat is, it can carry a large man and his gear. And, perhaps more importantly, it is so light a small woman can put it on the roof of her car with not much effort.
      At a wooden boat show held last summer at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, David challenged a man with a 6 horsepower Mercury outboard to a race. David was rowing his 12’ packboat. When the astonished motorboater caught up –after David stopped rowing- the man asked, “How’d you do that?” David said, “Actually, I didn’t do it, my partner did. He’s the one who designs our boats.
      In addition to building boats, Steve also teaches others how to build them at their shop on Route 7. He also teaches classes at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and at the Arts Center in Blue Mountain Lake, NY and at the Arts Center in Old Forge. Students in Steve’s boatbuilding classes have included doctors, lawyers, psychologists, architects, housewives and engineers. His first boat-building apprentice went on to become an emergency-room physician.
      Just as David admires Steve’s abilities to create beautiful boats, Steve thinks of David as the P.T. Barnum of watercraft. A customer once told David, “You were born to sell these boats.”
      Unfortunately, in most of the fine aquatic museums we have here in the North Country you’ll find the same sign over and over again. “Please don’t touch the boats.” But if the urge to touch is just too strong, you might give Steve and Dave a call. Not only can you touch their boats, they’ll give you a push from shore and say, “Have fun. See you when you get back.” 

About the Author

     Jim Blair was for 30 years a staff photographer for National Geographic.  When we told a photographer that Jim Blair was doing an article on our boats, the photographer thought for a moment and then said, “Jim Blair?  From National Geographic?”
      We nodded and the photographer said, “He’s the best.” 
      Jim has covered topics as varied as Winston Churchill’s funeral, the Sikhs of India, tropical rain forests and the founding of the Peace Corps. We met Jim when he made a U-turn after seeing Steve working on a boat out in our parking lot.
  Jim has a long familiarity with Adirondack guideboats, having did the the cover shot for WoodenBoat Magazine when they ran an article on Adirondack Guideboats.

    Within a few minutes of meeting us, Jim said, “If you guys ever need any photos…. you buy the film and I’m there.”
A few weeks later the publisher of Vermont Magazine said, “Jim, we need an article on craftsmanship, you got anything?” 

      Jim said, “Well, there are these two guys up the road who …….”   
            Thank you, Jim.


Two If By Sea
    by Sean Toussiant   Vermont Business People
          Steve Kaulback and David Rosen combine a quality product with the romance of the Adirondacks at their guide boat company in Charlotte. They are complimentary business partners, with one acting like the screws that hold a boat together and the other like the varnish that draws in the wandering eye.
       At the Adirondack Guideboat Company in Charlotte, Kaulback is the designer, spending untold hours crafting wooden and Kevlar guideboats to the point that he says he rarely has a chance to take his creations out on the water. Rosen is the salesman, visiting boat shows and introducing people to the beauty and the uniqueness of the Adirondack guideboat.
      Rosen tells a story of the first time he set out for a boat show shortly after investing the Adirondack Guideboat Company in 1995. As he loaded a single rack of track-lights into the back of his station wagon, Kaulback inquired what he intended to do with them. “I’m going to use them to light up the boats,” Rosen replied. This was a new thought to Kaulback – dubbed a perfectionist by coworkers – who said he usually found the darkest place at a show to hide any imperfections or dust on his boats.
       “These are interesting boats with a long history behind them,” says Rosen, over the din and clatter of tools in the production area. “It’s now just a case of  doing more than we’ve been doing.”
       Originating in the mid-19th century by hunters and sporting guides in the Adirondacks, the guideboat varies from other paddled and rowed boats by riding lower in the water and allowing occupants to sit lower in the boat, giving them more stability and making the boat less susceptible to wind. Among other refinements, Kaulback’s contribution to the design of the guideboat is the curve of the bow, making them faster and more stable. One of Kaulback’s wooden boats has won hundreds of races, some of them out in the open ocean. Also, the boat has set course records which will not likely be replaced anytime soon.
      Kaulback has been designed guideboats for more than 20 years and has built a reputation of being one of the most accomplished boat builders in the country. Such outdoor enthusiasts as National Public Radio’s Willem Lange and Professional BoatBuilder’s Brooks Townes own Kaulback guideboats. Kaulback’s boats win high praise for design and attention to detail.
         But Kaulback is not done honing his designs. The company is experimenting with a sliding seat in their 12’ Kevlar composite pack boat (46 lbs) which will create a new pre-sculling trainer for children. The company also manufactures a pack boat with a stationary seat, a 15’ Kevlar guideboat (68 lbs) and wooden boats ranging from 13’ to 19’ in length, the 15 footer weighing 70 lbs.
       Peter Barton, co-owner of Blue Mountain Outfitters in Lake Placid, NY, said he has two of Steve’s guideboats in his shop – one for sale, one for rent.
       “I just had a couple in here who were undecided on what they wanted to try out,” Barton says. “They tried a canoe and a two-person kayak and then we showed them the guideboat. So many people want to get out on the lake that it’s nice to have another option; and they’re more affordable now that they come in glass and Kevlar.”
       When Kaulback started his business, he dealt strictly with wood, enraptured by the design and lure of the 19th century guideboat. “I realized that if I wanted any depth to my operation, I needed to start selling fiberglass boats,” Kaulback says. He then moved to a Kevlar composite – one of the latest boat building technologies and the fabric used in bulletproof vests. Kevlar has proved popular with women, children and the elderly because of its light weight and durability.
       Kevlar boats sell for about $4,000 and have a production schedule of 8 days; wooden boats take 25 days to build and cost about $12,000. With those kinds of prices, Rosen admits, their wooden boats have a rarified clientele. “The single largest bunch of our wooden boat customers are from the investment community. Then lawyers, doctors, architects, folks in aviation and a smattering of everything else. We’ve also got quite a few writers who own our boats.” (Alas, this writer is not one of them.)
       The company has a few dealers but mostly they sell their boats direct.  Kaulback says, “We can’t build as many as we ourselves sell, why go looking for trouble?”
         Rosen and Kaulback visit boat shows as far away as Chicago, Miami and they are planning a trip to open up the California market at the end of the summer. While the shows are confidence builders, they also reveal a point of frustration, because at these shows they are discovering more and more of a market, which they can’t yet accommodate.  “In terms of production, we need to move to larger facilities” Rosen says. The company is currently in negotiations for a larger, consolidated manufacturing facility.
       Kaulback and Rosen flirted with taking in investment money but then backed away from the idea. “We had no skill in that area,” Rosen says. “We were used to dealing with the financial community as customers, not as investors. We don’t know how to think that way.  One of the things we learned through that experience was that there wasn’t the excess profit that investors look for. None of the big companies want to build these boats, they know there’s no money there.”
       Rosen and Kaulback are adamant about not wavering from their niche, a lesson Kaulback says he learned from working in the canoe market with a former company
       A graduate of the Pratt Institute in New York City with a concentration in fine arts, Kaulback moved to Vermont in the late 60’s, which he fondly refers to as part of the “back to the earth” movement. His first full-time job was as a foreman for Vermont Furniture in the Maltex building on Pine Street in Burlington. “I came out of collage and wanted to work with my hands,” Kaulback says. He carries lessons from that supervisory position with him today, handing out tips – not orders – to his employees.
       While wooden boats exude a romance of a different time, Kevlar boats have proved more popular, mostly due to their greater affordability. When building the molded boats they start by spraying a mold release on a fiberglass mold and laying in sheets of Kevlar and fiberglass. Then they pick a color pigment with which to tint the resin and begin building the boat. As they go, Kevlar is added in strategic places to give particular strength in precise locations. When the resin hardens, workers paint the interior of the boat, add wooden cleats and then pop the boat out of the mold.
       Because of the limited room at the shop, a steel industrial building on U.S. 7, the hulls are then transported to a leased workshop up the road where woodworkers fasten the trim and ship them back to the boatshop for varnish and finishing touches. As Rosen says, “You don’t have to look far to find where our inefficiencies lie.”
      Behind a door bearing a sticker which a picture of a woman in a boat reads a caption which says, “A woman’s place is on the water,” Mona Tatro and Mike Graves churn out Kevlar boats. “It’s not every day you hear someone say he’s a boatbuilder,” Graves says.
      “I like building boats,” Tatro says. “I also repair canoes on the side, but it’s not the same as building a guideboat.”
      Wooden boats are built at a third location, in a 5-car garage behind Kaulback’s home in Ferrisburg. The building process in more involved, more expensive and requires far more labor than do the Kevlar boats. Cedar strips no more than an inch wide and a quarter of an inch thick are screwed into each of the 13, or so, ribs that run perpendicular to the bottom board of the boat. In addition to the screws, epoxy resin is used to attach each of the 50 strips to adjacent strips. Matching strips on both sides of the boat are then symmetrically arranged by grain and color. Finally, the boat is sealed inside and out with resin, and on the outside with a covering of transparent fiberglass.
       Despite the need for skilled labor, Kaulback and Rosen say they have had no trouble hiring employees to build their boats. “We ran an ad for administrative help and got no responses, but we have waiting lists to people who want to build boats. There is something emotional about building a boat,” Rosen says.
       “Retaining the full crew of 12 through the winter was a challenge,” Rosen admits, “but the sales kept coming and we squeaked through.” The company ships their boats, (and kits for their wooden boats,) as far away as San Diego, Texas and Alaska. Many of their winter customers prefer not taking delivery until the weather warms and they again have the urge to get out on the water. “We’ll deliver their boats to them whenever they want, but when we stop building the boat, that’s when we’ve got to get paid.”
      At the beginning of May, when I visited their shop, boats filled racks in front and behind their shop and overflowed into two tractor-trailers they use for storage.
      Kaulback saw his first wooden guideboat while working at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where, he says proudly, he was “Mister Apple.” It wasn’t until his second boat that he felt comfortable enough to take them to one of the premier shows in the country, the one put on by WoodenBoat Magazine in Newport, RI.   “I didn’t feel as if my craftsmanship was there yet, so there wasn’t any reason for me to go bragging about it.” He sold two boats at that show.
       From there, Kaulback moved into a little shop in Waterbury Center but wasn’t set up six months before the landlords decided they wanted to move and ended his lease. With his shop closed and the last boat sold, Kaulback set out for New York to make what he thought would be his final delivery.
       “I remember driving down, thinking this was my last hurrah,” Kaulback recalls.  “Then I stopped in Lake George and wound up selling a boat. What I got back in the car, I thought, “I couldn’t leave this job even if I wanted to; it’s where my talent lies.”
      Kaulback’s next shop was more-or-less a storage room on Battery Street that was so small he had to open the door to cut long boards. Moving to downtown Burlington gave him exposure and he joined up with a few acquaintances to start Rainbow Boat Works. That was when he started making composite boats.
       The company moved to a building on the waterfront and then to the Rossignol Ski building in Williston. Rainbow Boat Works branched out from guideboats and concentrated mostly in canoes, a market which was difficult to break into with competing companies like Mad River and Old Town, Kaulback says.
     The company disbanded. Kaulback reclaimed his tools and molds from the joint venture and went into the house remodeling business. He soon moved into a building on Ferry Road in Charlotte, where he made and sold composite and wooden boats. “It was a struggle, but after all of the time I’d put into it, I started gaining something of a reputation,” Kaulback says.
        Then, in 1995, his future partner walked through the door, “and it dawned on me,” Kaulback recalls, “as a one-person shop, there was a limit to how far I could go. Especially on the business side of the business. I guess I’ve always been more of a builder than an office person.”
       That may be why he and Rosen make so good a team. Sitting in a cramped office with piles of promotional material and pictures of the company’s boats, Rosen spends much of his time at the computer, bookkeeping and dealing with the firm’s web traffic, before heading out to further spread the word about Adirondack guideboats.
       A former Green Beret, after leaving the Army, Rosen went to college on the GI Bill and went up to the dissertation phase of a PhD in Sociology at the City University of New York. Then he too went to the country to work with his hands. He and his ex later developed a gourmet line of children’s sweaters based in Middlebury. Rosen says he picked up the tricks of selling after setting up their booth and wandering through craft shows with his infant son on his back.
       Rosen also had a woodworking shop of his own. The shop burned to the ground and, while watching it burn, Rosen didn’t know whether or not the building was insured. Soon he found himself at the Adirondack Guideboat shop with an insurance check in his pocket.
       Rosen, 55, and Kaulback, 54, admit that most of their time is spent building and promoting their product – an effort that seems to be paying off. They’ve had their boats at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association has extended a blanket invitation for them to bring their boats to any of their shows, thus far they’ve taken them to the New York National Boat Show and their shows in Atlanta, Miami Boat, Norwalk and Chicago. The routine at these shows is a ffamiliar one, Steve builds ‘em, Dave sells ‘em. Back home, there are 12 men and women building better boats. Stay tuned.


A Stradivarius Of A Boat
    by Scott Croft    BoatU.S. Magazine

       The statistics show that BoatU.S. members own more than one boat. For most of us, that means we have a “big” boat and something smaller, perhaps a personal watercraft, dinghy, tender or canoe. A better option than the latter or rowboat may be the Adirondack Guide Boat, called the “Stradivarius of a Boat” by some. Built on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, in Ferrisburgh Vermont, Adirondack Guide Boats are extremely fast, light and stable craft that come in sizes from 13 to 19feet. Over 300 man-hours goes into each of their magnificent wooden boats, built from cedar, cherry, spruce, white pine and ash. With fine entries and tumblehome sterns, the boat may look like a canoe when viewed from a distance, but any similarities end there. Graceful, swift and with low centers of gravity, the boats are based on designs from 1830’s Adirondack guide boats and are rowed “cross-arm” with pegged eight-foot oars that offer efficiency and speed. “The boats were designed to rowed all day by the guide, who then needed the strength prepare the day’s catch, and perhaps entertain the “sport” or paying customer, around the evening’s campfire,” says Builder Steve Kaulback. When lightly loaded, the boat is narrow, but when filled its beam widens increasing stability. The other nice thing is that you and your guest face each other, while only one needs to row. The bad news? Starting at around $12,000, the wooden boats aren’t cheap, but neither was a Stradivarius. The good news?….. Kevlar models cut that price by two thirds, and if you have the time and still want wood, kits start at $3500. For more information, visit them on the web….or ….or drop in for a visit. You’ll be glad you did. 


Building A Better Boat
   by Leslie Wright    Burlington Free Press

Ferrisburgh VT—Phil Cenzano drove for 7 hours just to spend less than 10 minutes rowing a boat on Monkton Pond. He was apparently unperturbed by the falling snow and raw wind that early April morning. “Wow! Wow! Out of sight!” an exuberant Cenzano said upon landing at the shoreline, “That thing’s a rocket!”
       The mechanical engineer from Huntington on New York’s Long Island has taken his maiden voyage in an Adirondack guideboat, made in Ferrisburgh by Steve Kaulback and company. The anachronistic and slightly unusual-looking boat rides high on both ends and low in the middle. The wide-in-the-middle profile suggests a pregnant canoe. The seats are high-backed and caned, another oddity.
        As Cenzano discovered, all the guideboat’s apparent quirks become virtues when the craft is under way. The hull knifes through the water with each dip and pull on the featherweight oars. Kaulback and his partner, David Rosen, sold 200 guideboats last year. Their 12-employee company is about to launch into unchartered waters.
        Kaulback and Rosen want to take the company from $700,000 a year in sales to $3 million in the next four years. They hope they can do it with the ease with which their boats slice through water. Adirondack Guideboat, Inc., started in 1979 when Kaulback was introduced to the boats by his brother, who was attending college in the Adirondacks. Kaulback went for a row and fell in love with the boat.
        Kaulback returned to Vermont and decided to build guideboats on his own. Kaulback, a graduate of Pratt Institute, the prominent art and architecture school in New York City, modified traditional designs and incorporated modern materials like Kevlar, fiberglass and epoxy to make the boats lighter, more durable and more affordable. In 1985 he introduced a fiberglass version of the boat. Today the company makes four basic models, ranging in price from $1,800 to $14,000. The traditional guideboat is endemic to the Adirondacks and was used by settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s for transportation and hunting. Guideboats were traditionally used as a pickup truck might have been used in a region with more water than roads.
      Guideboats were characteristically double-ended, about 16 feet long and 3 feet wide. The wide design enabled hunters to load the boats with their bounty. Early pictures show the boats loaded with deer carcasses. The boats were also designed to be light enough to be easily portaged.  Today about nine boat builders make and repair traditional guideboats, said Hallie Bond, curator of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. She is also author of the book, “Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks.”
        She said, “Steve has built far more guideboats than any other builder.” Kaulback says that he is building a contemporary replica of the traditional guideboat, with much that can be gained in the wise use of modern technology. “The water doesn’t know the difference,” says Kaulback, “all it knows is weight and shape.”
        Regardless of the debate, Kaulback has raised the profile of the regional craft, Bond, the museum curator, said. “The good thing about what he’s doing is, he’s making the guideboat available to a lot more people.”  Kaulback and Rosen would like to raise the profile of Adirondack Guideboat even further. They have considered taking in investment money but aren’t sure if that’s the right way to go.
       Kaulback says, “I’ve taken the idea and the company as far as I could go. Then I threw it as far as I could. Dave caught it and is now throwing it as far as he can. Early on in our partnership I gave him a nickname….PT Boats…. which sounds like a reference to the torpedo boats of World War II….but it’s really more about him being a PT Barnum in getting our boats out there.”
       Rosen smiles and says, “Yeah, but it’s really the boats that do the selling.”  Some think the company is going to become the next Mad River Canoe. The canoe company started in Waitsfield in 1971 and, after a merger, moved to North Carolina last year. In three decades, the light and nimble Mad River Canoe became a household word among canoe enthusiasts.
        Kaulback and Rosen aren’t so sure, “These really aren’t mass-market boats,” says Kaulback. “And we’ve only been able to find a few dealers who really know how to sell them. Mostly we sell the boats ourselves.”  Kaulback and Rosen are almost always on the road, selling their boats at shows and making deliveries on trips ranging from Wisconsin, to Minnesota, to Colorado, to Seattle and Miami. Rosen says, “I was getting the brakes done on my car and when the mechanic looked at the odometer he said, “This thing never sits still, does it?”
        Rosen laughed and said, “I never thought I’d spend this much time on the road. Washington State gets 1 out of every 10 boats that we build.  And they’ve got to pay a substantial charge for shipping. We’ve been getting quite a few inquiries from Texas. I think we’d better start looking for a winter show down there.”
       The growth the company is experiencing ($42,000 in sales in 1995 — $750,000 in 2002) won’t come from building Kaulback’s finely crafted wooden boats, which take 300 hours to construct and sell for $12,000 to $14,000. Only 6 or 8 of those boats are sold each year. Almost all of the company’s boat sales are in the less expensive Kevlar models. Rosen says, “Someone once said to me, ‘It’s a shame you have to build those Kevlar and fiberglass boats.’  Rosen replied, ‘Are you kidding? Those boats support the wooden boats. You can’t build a company just based on the wooden boat.”
       Kay Henry, a former owner of Mad River Canoe and now a consultant to the outdoors industry, has traveled the waters on which Adirondack Guideboat is about to embark. The Waitsfield canoe company started in the early ‘70s with Jim Henry’s design for a sleeker, faster canoe. “One challenge lies in educating boaters about the boat and its advantages,” Henry said. Just as people weren’t familiar with performance canoes, the guideboat concept is unfamiliar to most, especially outside of New England. Mad River’s canoes were more expensive than others on the market. A Mad River boat cost between $1,000 and $2,500. Other popular canoes at that time cost $600.
       “We needed to get boats into people’s hands so they could see the difference and I think they have a similar problem,” Henry said of Adirondack Guideboat. Production is another challenge. Mad River took advantage of technology to take the boat building process from about 30 hours a canoe to 5 hours. The material costs were higher, but Mad River was able to produce many more boats, Henry said.  Mad River also grew by buying an accessory line. Efforts to produce a less expensive boat under a different name were not successful because quality was hard to control and the idea was scrapped, she said.
       A portion of the market for the Adirondack guideboat seems to be with aging baby boomers, a growing demographic. The classic design is aesthetically and physically appealing to older boaters. “The stability of boats makes them easier to get into and out of than a canoe or kayak, and rowing is good exercise,” Rosen said. “It’s natural that folks should shift from a kayak back to a classic craft such as ours. And then when you consider the boat’s seaworthiness and carrying capacity…..” Rosen’s thoughts trailed off, considering the possibilities.
        The challenge will be to preserve the quality and reputation of the Adirondack guideboat while producing boats on a much larger scale. Kaulback is determined to keep quality a focal point. “We’re pretty stubborn about quality, it’s what brung us to the dance, we’re not going to give up on it now.” Curiously, both men say that the quality of their boats, always exceptional, has been improving. Rosen says, “We have three of Mad River’s former department heads working for us now. And their former Vice President of Manufacturing is an occasional consultant for us. There is an awful lot of boat-building talent hiding up here in the hills of Vermont.”


Vermont Dream Boats
    by David Pearson     Planet Vermont Quarterly

       There are many sublime pleasures in life, and while it is unfair to compare them, we all do (sex, for example, would appear at the top of a lot of lists). For me, one of the finest pleasures must be the absolute joy in motion that comes from putting all your energy and attention into some activity and having it flow, free and unobstructed.  I remember having this feeling as a boy climbing trees or bicycling, or in those rare dreams in which I could fly like a bird, or sometimes dancing with abandon, and I suspect it’s the same feeling that runners, with enough training, know as the runner’s high.  It is also the same feeling I had when I first took an Adirondack guide boat out on the water.  In this case, however, it has nothing to do with my proficiency as a rower – I can count on my fingers the number of times I had been rowing before. Instead, it’s an indication of the elegance and perfect adaptation of the boat itself that the two of us – a man clothed in boat-could somehow feel like a superbly fit athlete. 
      A rowboat doesn’t normally make us think of speed, of beauty, of sleekness. But the guide boat is not like a traditional rowboat.  Or more correctly, the average rowboat, since the guide boat has a long tradition in Adirondack lakes, where it was often the only practical form of transportation, dating back to the 1830s.  In overall shape, a guide boat is most reminiscent of a canoe, and many people (including me) have mistaken them for canoes at first sight.  Once you see the oarlocks and lower seats the illusion is dispelled.  The oars are part of the wonderful efficiency that makes the guide boat so much faster than a canoe. Comparisons may be unfair, but it’s hard to resist the competitive spirit.
    My daughter, her first time solo in any boat, proved faster in a guide boat crossing Lake Champlain that my wife and I, (both experienced) canoeing. In a canoe, of course, you waste a lot of energy just using the J-stroke to keep going in a straight line-a kayak would be a more fair comparison.  So the speed of the guide boat was even more impressive when we easily outdistanced two college guys in a 2-person kayak-since my wife was rowing, I could simply relax and watch their reactions.  In fairness, though, the speed and efficiency comes at some cost-it is the reach of the oars that turns muscle energy so directly into motion through the water, but that same reach makes it very difficult to maneuver at close quarters.  Going down a narrow stream is much more fun in a canoe or kayak, and so is dodging rocks in fast-moving water.  But on a lake or a river, the guide boat is a clear winner. 
      A small Vermont company, Adirondack Guide Boats, Inc, has been responsible for the renaissance of this elegant design.  Located in Ferrisburgh, south of Burlington, they make beautiful wooden guide boats, lighter-weight Kevlar ones, and a smaller model (Kevlar only) called a packboat, light enough that one person can carry it strapped to a backpack.  They also make kits for the wooden boats, and give workshops in building them.  As appealing as it would be to build your own, it would require a labor of love, since even the professionals at the company take some 300 hours to complete one.
    The cedar guide boat is clearly the most beautiful.  At least one has been sold just as a work of art, not to put in the water.  One on display in a Vermont visitor’s center met with the only unwelcome reception so far-“get that darn boat out of here, we’re sick of answering questions about it.”  Remarkably, the wooden boat is only about 10 lbs. heavier than the same-size Kevlar boat (70 lbs. for cedar, 60 for Kevlar).  The only real problem with the cedar guide boat is the price, about $13,000.  For about 20% of that, you can get the 12-foot Kevlar packboat, which at 40 lbs. is a breeze for one person to heft onto a roofrack, or carry down to the dock. It will also carry two adults comfortably, but would be overloaded with 3, or with a load of camping gear. 
        The company’s founder is Steve Kaulback, an artist, designer, artisan, and authority on the guide boat.  Trained as a fine artist and sculptor, Steve later studied boatbuilding, as well as learning, perhaps more than anyone else alive, about the Adirondack guide boat.  He is the designer of all the company’s boats, for although the design is a classic one, there has been a steady evolution towards sleeker and faster, and at the same time more stable and more beautiful hulls.  Steve’s business partner is Dave Rosen.  Though they share a love of the boats and the water, in most other respects, Steve and Dave are polar opposites.  Dave’s passion is not directed into being a craftsman or artist, but into growing a business, into organization, people, money, time, and of course into bringing in the right level of sales.  Not too many orders, since the company has been making as many boats as they can for the last few years, and has never had the luxury of an inventory of product, ready to sell.  Unless you get lucky, you’ll likely have to wait a few weeks for your boat to be built. Slowly building up the production side without compromising on quality is the responsibility of Randy, the production manager.  Originally an aerospace engineer, Randy characterizes his job as going from raw materials in the door to beautiful finished boats out the door.  In addition to these three, there are 8 to 10 more people working on the boats, building, tuning and tweaking, sanding, spreading epoxy, varnishing. 
       Inevitably, the different contributions and passions of Steve, Dave and Randy lead to a dynamic tension, and their competing ideals mean the relationship is not always an easy one.  But the result of that creative conflict is a finer product than could emerge from any single vision.  I remember an interview with the Grateful Dead in which Jerry Garcia recalled an incredibly frustrating recording session in which Jerry and Phil Lesh were constantly pulling the music in different directions.  They were fuming when the session was over, but later, listening to them, discovered the tapes were the best they’d done, “crackling with energy.”  This is what the Adirondack guide boats are, a wonderful synthesis born from opposing pulls-speed vs. stability, maneuverability vs. efficiency, beauty vs. utility.  It’s no wonder that when you row in one, you can feel such a sense of absolute peace at the same time as masterful power and speed.  The combination is addictive-if only a lake in the backyard were as easy to procure as a packboat. 


Building a Better Adirondack Boat
    by  Andy Kirkaldy    The Addison Independent

Ferrisburgh VT – Ferrisburgh boatbuilders Steve Kaulback and David Rosen have a modern take on a 150-year-old product, one which they believe combines the best attributes of canoes and rowboats. About 20 years ago Kaulback, already an experienced canoe builder and woodworker, discovered a relative owned an Adirondack guideboat. He was immediately struck by its beauty and quality.“ I got into it and just loved it right off the bat,” said Kaulback, a New York state native who now lives near his Adirondack Guideboats’ Route 7 headquarters. “It was so far superior to anything I knew as rowboats.” Before long, he devoted himself to guideboats, which were first built by fishing and hunting guides in the Adirondacks in the mid-19th century.  The Adirondacks had just become a wilderness attraction. The guides needed a way to move around their customers and their gear.

     Rowboats were slow. Canoes were unstable. Adirondack guideboats were born, and Kaulback and Rosen believe they are still unmatched. As proof, they say their boats regularly blow the competition out of the water, including a recent 22-mile sea-going race around Cape Anne in northern Massachusetts. “The design of 150 years ago is dusting them in these races. It’s pretty incredible,” Kaulback said. “And it’s further incredible that this design was by a roughneck lot of woodsmen over there just trying to solve the problem of getting their customers from one side of the lake to the other.”

       Kaulback studied different variations on the theme before coming up with his own design. The bows of his creations curve back from the waterline toward their passengers, with the extra boat under the waterline and the less square footage exposed to the wind allowing for greater stability. “Once I became enthralled with the boats, I developed my own building system,” he said. “Over time I got a concept about what was best in a couple different boats and combined them into my own set of lines.”

Guiding the Sales

      But just making a superior product proved not to be enough, even though the company has surged since Rosen came aboard four years ago to handle marketing and business development. “We’ve been trying frantically to build production because there’s such an eager demand out there,” said Rosen, who stopped in for a visit four years ago because he was curious about the boats and within a week became Kaulback’s partner.  Production has increased. As basically a one-man operation, Kaulback grossed about $42,000 in the year before Rosen, a former academic from New York City, who now lives in Bridport, came aboard. Adirondack Guideboat, Inc has grown to $250,000 in sales in 1999 and they are guessing they will do $500,000 in the year 2000. The company employs 10, including the two partners, in its one-story shop behind the North Ferrisburgh truck weighing station.

       Rosen and Kaulback believe their boats can tap into the $360,000,000 annual market for canoes and kayaks. The boats they build range in price from $1,900 to $2,500 for their Kevlar Vermont Packboat; to $4,000 for their Kevlar Guideboat, to $13,000 for their cedar Adirondack guideboat. “I know how wonderful our boats are,” said Rosen. “But the reaction people have when they go out for a demo is, “I didn’t know a boat could be this fast, this stable and this much fun.”

       Guideboats are wider than canoes, giving them stability and the ability to carry three people and their belongings. Long, side-mounted oars give rowers leverage and can move the boats crisply. For example, Rosen said he once easily outpaced a boat with a six horsepower outboard engine. Rosen has given the boats wider exposure by attending craft shows- he said he sold two of their $13,000 wooden boats in Manchester recently- both boats being bought by women as surprise birthday presents for their husbands.

Finding A Bigger Pond

       But the partners know they must make a move. The company, which they say makes about 95 percent of the guideboats built anywhere, is too small to meet existing demand, never mind beginning to tap into a nationwide market. “There’s a need for more boats than we can currently make,” Kaulback said. “We can’t stay at this level and do well.” The partners have considered expanding where they are, but have also looked at Vergennes and its Otter Creek Basin. On any site, they hope to double their work force.

     The city basin would allow them “to put our customers in boats and say, “Six miles down the river and you’ve got Lake Champlain, turn right and you’re headed towards Montreal. Turn left and you’ve got the Champlain Canal and then the Hudson,” Kaulback said. “We love the idea that Vergennes has a history of boat building, and what we have to over would dovetail nicely with the future plans for the basin area.

      But money must be raised. Rosen and Kaulback have talked with the Addison County Economic Development Corporation and are considering making another move which boosted the fortune of another Vermont company – Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Ben and Jerry’s held an initial Vermonters-only stock offering to raise expansion capital, and Rosen and Kaulback may use the same tactic with some of the same personnel.

     “Our accountant is now researching it,” Rosen said. “He says he hasn’t been this excited since he set up Ben and Jerry.” Both are confident success is just a matter of expansion. Kaulback gestured at Route 7 and said he thinks sales whenever he sees another boat on top of a passing car. “As long as they have those roof racks, they’re going to be looking for alternative watercraft,” Kaulback says, “We’ve just got to step up to the plate.”


 Floating Art: The Adirondack Guideboat
      by Willem Lange    Northern Woodlands

            I saw my first Adirondack guideboat at the age of 23, in the spring of 1958. It was love at first sight.  I had just moved to the mountains to seek my fortune (a tremendous strategic blunder), and been hired as a laborer at a mysterious place called “up t’ the lakes.” Everybody who used the phrase spoke it with the reverential tone usually reserved for “Shangri-la.” My boss was named Bill Broe. He was an elderly guide impeccably dressed in Pendleton and Woolrich togs, and he drove a polished green Jeep with a Packard hood ornament. This was clearly to be a cut above by usual employment. “Bring your toothbrush,” he told me, “and anything else you’re going to need, except for food. I’ll bring that. We ain’t comin’ back out for at least a week.” 

       We let ourselves through a locked gate and slowly drove over three miles on a dirt road following the crystalline upper Ausable River. Finally we topped a rise. Spread out ahead of us lay a gleaming lake hemmed in on both sides by black granite cliffs; below us, at the foot of the lake, stood a large, clapboarded boathouse with a broad dock. We pulled up, got out, and carried our gear and food for a week’s stay up onto the dock.

       “Let’s take the big boat,” said Bill, as he opened one of the sliding barn doors of the boathouse. There before us was displayed one of the wonders of the world: three tiers of beautiful old wooden guide-boats, many of them varnished like old violins, and others painted in distinctive family colors. Bill’s “people,” as he called them, owned three boats painted in light gray.

       We took the biggest boat from the bottom tier, a beamy 18-footer, slid it into the water, and loaded our gear into the middle. Bill set the oars into a pair of locks up near the bow, settled himself into the stern seat, and told me to go ahead and row. “Be careful, though, boy!” he cautioned. “The oar handles cross in the middle, and I don’t want you crippled up even before we get there.”

     I could scarcely believe how that big boat, loaded with me and Bill and a couple hundred pounds of gear, slid through the water. The oars were spruce and quite long. Bill had made them, slender as reeds and quite supple. They bent in arcs as I leaned back, then snapped straight at the end of the stroke with a slight sucking sound. In no time at all, it seemed, we were entering the mouth of the river at the end of the lake. Here Bill grew nervous; there were rocks there, and he made it quite clear that we were not to so much as touch one. He laid a hand on each gunwale, the left one with a cigarette between two fingers, and indicated with little gestures which way to bear as we threaded the river. We left the boat there, slid up into an open boathouse, and carried the gear across a one-mile portage with an old-fashioned one-wheel L.L. Bean deer carrier. At the end of the carry, we piled into yet another gray boat for the voyage up a second lake. It was the beginning of a love affair that has lasted for four decades so far.
        For thousands of years, before roads were built almost everywhere, small boats were the fastest and most practical means of transportation. Each part of the world, depending on the needs of its natives and the materials available to them, developed its own unique watercraft. The kayak and umiak of the North were built of bone, driftwood, and aquatic mammal skins; the currach of the Irish coast of sticks and skins, and later tarred canvas; and the dugouts of the tropics of huge hollowed-out trees. In the Adirondacks, where perfectly straight-grained softwood lumber was everywhere and every man was a carpenter, the wooden boat was a natural development.

         The early woodsmen needed boats that were light enough to move easily on land, stout enough to carry substantial loads, shallow of draft and easy to build. If they happened to be swift as well, that was an additional benefit. Nobody knows who built the first guide-boat, because there was none. It’s simply a name that over the years became attached to the small craft used by the early Adirondack guides. As sportsmen began to visit the mountains in ever-increasing numbers during the 1840’s, these boats were already evolving into a specialized design that was pleasing to the sports’ aesthetic sensibilities as well as responsive to their needs. 

       When a current guide-boat owner carries his boat on the roof of his vehicle, passersby will occasionally call out, “Good-lookin’ canoe!” And it does look a little bit like one- if you discount the tumblehome stem, wide-flaring gunwales, and two sets of oarlocks. But it isn’t one; and more important, it’s not descended from one. The native American bark canoes were entirely different in structure and shape, and were not built much in the Adirondacks, if at all, mainly because of the lack of suitable birch trees. The guide-boat is clearly the invention of men who had some experience with 18th-century salt-water wherries and dories and lumbermen’s river bateaux. They were familiar with the technique of building a boat of planks attached to a flat bottom board and curved ribs. So this was the method they used to transform a mundane necessity into an art form.

      Woodsmen, whether splitting and stacking firewood, hunting deer, or performing carpentry, are as competitive as anybody else. The most able of them became the most famous (and the best-paid) guides before and after the Civil War. The descendants of those men are still guiding today, but mostly at the private clubs of the Northeast. Their woodsheds are as neat as guestrooms, their pot roasts are ambrosial; and their varnished boasts, pulled up onto their special sloping docks in the sunshine, gleam like Stradivari violins.

       Traditional Adirondack boats could hardly have been built anywhere else, for they utilized the unique features of two native trees, spruce and pine. Old-growth Adirondack pines were the giants of the forest. Not far from our hunting camp in the Town of Keene stands an old-timer fully six feet through at the butt. Long ago someone began to attack it with an axe, and was either dissuaded or gave up; the tree survives. Native white pine was clear, straight-grained, and easy to work – not to mention the delicious aroma it lends to a workshop. Kenneth Durant, in his definitive work, The Adirondack Guide-Boat, still available in paperback, describes what just one tree could do for a builder:

        Warren Cole…about 1901…came upon a great pine, near the Long Lake West Road, measuring six feet across the base. He bought it for ten dollars. The lumberman told him he was wasting his money on an unmanageable monster; the tree butt log was too large for any local mill. Cole split it in half with wedges. From the two half butts and five additional 16-foot logs, all quarter-sawn, came several thousand of clear planks, which lasted Cole to the end of his boatbuilding career.

       The white pine boards, quarter-sawn for close grain and planed to a quarter-inch thickness, provided the feather-weight shell of the boat. Spruce had quite a different function. Loggers in a stand of spruces, felling during the winter, typically left waist-high stumps. The boat-builders salvages these stumps, especially the roots, which they grubbed out of the ground with axes, saws, shovels, crowbars and splitting wedges. The curved grain, from roots up into trunk, were sawn into slabs whose natural bend provided light, slender ribs and stems. Today, curved spruce roots of sufficient size are pretty much a thing of the past, and builders instead laminate ribs and stems with softwood strips and marine epoxy glue.

       Simplifying the construction to its elements: the builder starts with a pine or cedar bottom board, usually no more than three-quarters of an inch thick, about eight inches wide in the middle and tapering to points at the end. He imparts a slight “rocker” to the bottom towards the ends to add responsiveness in handling and to help the boat rise to waves. To this board he then fastens between two and three dozen pairs of delicate curved ribs, widely flared in the middle and narrow at the ends, to give the hull a fine and hollow entry at the bow and stern. Then the “siding” is added: thin pine boards tapered to a feather edge and overlapping in traditional boats, and narrow strip planking fastened with epoxy in modern ones.

        Trim boards and accessories are often cut from fine hardwoods. My own boat, designed and built by Steve Kaulback at Adirondack Guide-Boat in Charlotte, Vermont, is trimmed in cherry- gunwales, seats, oars and risers – and is an inexpressible pleasure just to look at. The seats and seat backs are caned, the center seat back curved for comfort and adjustable for either reclining or fast rowing. There’s also a little notch carved into the top of the rear seat that neatly receives a fly rod for trolling and assures that the rod won’t go overboard if a big fish strikes.

        So much for the visual impact. The real proof of these beautiful boats is in their use. Most people approach an empty guide-boat the way a greenhorn approaches a skittish horse. And not without reason; some of them are known to be cranky. Charlie Broe, old Bill’s brother, and the guide for whom my boat is names, said once, “You can chew gum all right when you row one of them boats, but you want to have a wad in each cheek!” That’s a slight exaggeration. I’ve rowed hundreds of miles in guide-boats and never come close to dumping one – except a little 12-foot beauty on the Lower Ausable Lake built in 1874 with the old wineglass stern. That one gave me some anxious moments. But even in my present debilitated condition, with artificial knees, and the center seat only four inches off the floor, I can get in and out of my boat with relative equanimity.

        The first thing you notice, after you sit down, is that the oar handles cross in the middle of the boat, right in front of you. This takes almost no getting used to, and the leverage it produces is vastly greater than that of the short oars most of us are used to. It also means you’re not straining your pectoral muscles, with you hands spread wide apart. The second thing you notice is that the oars bend – a lot. But when they straighten at the end of the stroke, and the boat leaps forward faster than you’d think possible, you’re hooked.

        I love to fly fish from my boat. Leaning back in the curved seat, oars ready to make any adjustments for wind or current, and my landing net by my left hand, is about as good as life gets. The seat of my pants is right about water level, so there’s no awkward bending down to net the fish as they come alongside. I can release them easily without lifting them from the water.

       All this near-perfection doesn’t come cheaply. A 15-foot guideboat in fiberglass or Kevlar sells for about $3,800, and the wooden model close to $13,000. Clearly, for most of us it’s a pretty heavy commitment. I waited 40 years to get one, myself – 40 years of wishing I had the money and knowing I never would. And then, a couple of summers ago, I visited an old friend on Chateaugay Lake who had a fiberglass model made by Steve Kaulback. I fished from it all one afternoon; it was like dancing again with a long-lost love. And just by coincidence, a few months later, I encountered a beautiful, varnished wood model at a small-boat show in Fairlee, Vermont. David Rosen, Steve Kaulback’s partner, saw me admiring it, and invited me to take it for a spin.

        The boat just flew through the water. It took me all the way back to 1958. I was a young guide again, working for Bill Broe and zipping down the lakes to pick up our people’s mail. And I thought, “Dammit, I’ve been waiting 40 years to get one of these things! I’ll never have the money for it. But in just a few more years I’ll be too old and sick and stupid to even pick one up! The time has come!”  I ransacked my savings, sold a canoe, and made a deposit on a Kevlar boat.

      David called me, “We’ve had a meeting here at the boat shop, and we’ve decided that you’re not a Kevlar boat. You’re wood. Let’s see if there isn’t some way we can get you into a wooden boat.” Well, gathering the money wasn’t easy, and the wait was almost interminable, but the following spring David rumbled up my driveway with my new boat. I had ordered it painted like the old timers’ boats – see the Winslow Homer painting “The Blue Boat” – and with its varnished interior and cherry fittings, it was so beautiful that I just gazed at it for literally three days before I dared move it from the garage floor to the top of my truck.

       So the Adirondack guide-boat is still alive. Like many highly developed and specialized organisms, it fills but a tiny niche in the world. But it fills it beautifully.


About the Author

    Willem Lange has worked as a Adirondack guide, a preacher, a bartender, a construction laborer, a cab driver, a bob-sled run announcer, a bookkeeper, a ranch hand, a high-school English teacher, a carpenter, a contractor and from 1968 to ’72 he directed Dartmouth College’s Outward Bound Center. In 1973 Will founded the Geriatric Adventure Society, a group of outdoor enthusiasts whose members have skied in the Himalayas, bushwhacked on skis through most of northern New Hampshire, and paddled rivers north of the Arctic Circle.
      For 25 years he has been writing a weekly newspaper column, A Yankee Notebook, which appears in newspapers all over New England. He is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Television and Vermont Public Radio and his traditional reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (in its 29th  year) has become so popular that it is  broadcast worldwide on Armed Forces Radio.
        We first met Willem at a small boat show in Eastern Vermont. He was looking at one of our boats when we said, “You familiar with these boats?”
        He nodded  and it has been a kind of romance ever since. Willem wrote a newspaper column on our boats, A Stradivarius Of A Boat Built By North Country Carpenters, which became a radio commentary on Vermont Public Radio. Next he was rowing his boat on Vermont Public Television, rocking from side to side, lifting a trout from his net and letting it slide back into the water, all the while telling the story of the boats which so captured his heart. He wrote the article in Northern Woodlands Magazine and put his boat on the cover of a collection of his stories, OK, Let’s Try it Again.
        One of the best parts of being involved with these boats is the people we meet, whom we later get to call friends.


A Stradivarius Of A Boat Built By North Country Carpenters

      by Willem Lange   Vermont Public Television

       When you see the real thing, there’s no question in your mind about it. The reaction is visceral, as well as aesthetic – like coming upon an exceptionally beautiful woman, listening to Mozart perfectly played or casting a dry fly to a large native trout.
       I came upon one last Saturday, a few miles west of Ely, New Hampshire. It’s owner had placed it in canvas slings to keep it up off the ground and show it to best advantage.
       The shape caught my eye from 50 yards away; it looked right, and the closer I got, the better it looked. The owner saw me caressing it and obviously slipping off into a reverie. “Would you like to take it out for a spin?”
      We carried to down to the pond. He settled the removable cane seats and slipped the lovely cherry oars into the old-fashioned cast locks. Sitting down on the low seat wasn’t as easy as I remembered it being, and I was nervous as a cat about getting away from the dock without a bump.
      But with the first stroke, it all came back. The oar handles crossed each other in front of me, right hand above left, with tremendous mechanical advantage. As I pulled they bit into the water and bent in satisfying arcs, making light sucking sounds on the surface.   The boat accelerated instantly, with no bow wave and only the tiniest wake trailing from its pointed stern. I was far from the youngest voyager on the lake, but I was easily the fastest. I rowed for half an hour, caught up in memories of boats just like this that I’d known more than 40 years ago.

      The Adirondack guideboat, it’s called. It got its name sometimes after 1850 when sports and tourists discovered the Adirondacks and were taken care of by native guides, whose boats were as much a part of their work as are cameras to photographers.
      Ralph Waldo Emerson, visiting the mountains in 1867, wrote, “We chose our boats; each man a boat and guide, — ten men, ten guides, our company all told.” The early boats were often rough and fairly heavy. But over time, the necessity of portaging them along with all the gear – as well as their guides’ desire to impress others with their craftsmanship – made them even lighter, graceful and beautifully finished.
      They’ve never spread much beyond their original home, though an odd one will turn up now and then in the most unlikely place. During the Second World War, an American infantry platoon, trying to cross a German river under fire, mustered all the small boats it could find and, to its great surprise, came up with a genuine “Long-Laker,” which a young soldier from northern New York could row.
      I saw my first one in the mid-50’s, when I went to work at a private forest preserve in the Adirondacks. There were dozens of them in the boathouses of the preserve, from a tiny 1874 cockleshell with a graceful wineglass stern to 18 foot freighters. With their tumblehome stems, they looked like the battleship Maine. For me, it was love at first sight. I rowed my “people” and their gear up and down the lakes in the sleekest boats, took them fishing in the more stable, and carried freight – shingles, bags of cement and lumber – in the big ones. Once an older guide and I hauled a huge load of building materials by stacking the long lumber across the gunwales of two boats side by side, piling roofing on top of it, and rowing up the lake with one oar each.
       Describing how they were built and what materials has been the subject of books, but for obvious reasons, they were almost all native material. The ribs were split and sawed from the natural curve of spruce roots, dug up and dried after the loggers were gone. The planking was of the clearest quarter-sawn pine, shaved to sometimes less than a quarter of an inch thick. Stradivari himself, if he could have seen what rough woodsmen and north country carpenters were able to accomplish with the simplest tools, would have gnashed his teeth with envy.
       They were wonderful for fishing – as long as the sport didn’t insist on standing up to thrash his fly rod back and forth. They were just a little cranky, and the smallest ones in particular would give an alarming lurch if you so much as lightly eased one bun on the seat. One old guide had a boat that he said was “just lovely to row, but if you’re chewing gum, you wanta have a chew in each cheek.” But because the oarsman usually moved to the front seat when he had a passenger or a fisherman in the back, the distance between them was handy if the passenger wished the guide to change his flies for him. It was not handy if they wished to share some lunch or a swig from a flask.
      Mother and I took our honeymoon in a guideboat, rowing up a perfect mountain lake to its inlet, then switching to a paddle to take us the next mile or so to a derelict hunting camp. A photograph of that boat, pulled up on its dock, is an irresistible mix of grace and poignancy.
      Well, all that was long ago, and until last Saturday I’d rowed a guideboat only once, several years ago, since then. But I remembered that, like people, you can only guess by looking at them how sweet they’ll be. Some beauties turn out to be barges, and some very plain ones are so much fun to row that you never get down to fishing.
       This one looked sweet—modern materials and techniques, traditional lines, varnish on cedar boards as golden as maple syrup. And then the smooth run, the soft suck of the flexing oars, the shore skimming past…..Oh, my! It’s one of those experiences in life that, if you aren’t able or likely to do them anymore, are just wonderful to have done once upon a time.


Designer Of Adirondack Boats

Inspired By A Higher Authority

     by Helen Jankowski   The New Haven Register

        It is a clear late June morning and the sun is just rising on Lake Champlain. My Adirondack guideboat slices through the still water with an easy pull on the oars. From a distance, the voices of two fishermen in a drifting outboard carry over the ripples, noting the boat’s classic lines. A couple paddled toward me in a kayak stops to ask about the boat. I feel like a celebrity!
       I’d come to Vermont for a few days to learn more about this fascinating boat being built in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. David Rosen believes that Steve Kaulback, his partner and the designer of these lovely boats, “goes someplace spiritual” for his Adirondack guide boat designs.
       Created in the 1830s to be light enough for one man to carry yet sturdy enough to bear the weight of three men, two dogs and two dead deer, the classic boats are lovely to begin with. Kaulback took the best features of his favorite builders and added his own innovations including a Kevlar option and ergonomic seats.
       One of the nice things about a guide boat is that passengers face each other, unlike a canoes where the forward paddler and his back to the other. Kaulback says the boats are particularly popular with women, kids and older adults who want a stable-but-lively boats… that are beautiful and fun to row.
       “My attraction to this boats was really aesthetic from a sculptor’s point of view,” says Steve, who began making the boats 21 years ago. He calls it a happy miracle that a boat as sophisticated as this appeared when and where it did. “You’d think it more likely to have happened in Boston Harbor than by these rough men of the Adirondack woods,” he said.
       Characteristic of guide boats is that they want to go in a straight line, and the pinned oars cross at the handles when rowing, something that’s a little tricky to get used to. They’re also very fast. The Vermont-made boats have been winning races and breaking records for the past four years.
    Based in Ferrisburgh, VT, the Adirondack Guideboat Company makes three models starting with a 44 pound 12 foot Kevlar pack boat that sells for $1900, up to a cedar guide boat that costs $12,000 to $14,000 depending on the boat’s length. A guideboat recently was added to the fleet of boats kept at the Basin Harbor Club.


Boats And Boating In The Adirondacks – 100 Years Ago
      by Hallie E. Bond   The Conservationist

          When the Blue Line was drawn around the Adirondack Park this region was the richest area in the country for a variety of inland small boats. As the guidebook writer, E.R. Wallace wrote at the time, “in this Venice of America” nearly all the traveling is done by means of boatsÖ” Boats were essential for business and pleasure. There were steamboats to take families to their summer vacations at a mountain hotel, simple skiffs to put fishermen over fish, freight boats to carry Saratoga trunks to great camps, and sailing canoes to give thrilling rides in gusty mountain winds. Most of these boats were imports; the most common boat in the new park was the indigenous Adirondack guideboat.
         The guideboat has evolved in response to the needs of the early settlers. It had been to the early farming settlers what the horse and cart was to residents of regions with better roads. By 1892, however, the guideboat had become the main piece of equipment necessary for cultivating a new and more lucrative cash crop than oats or potatoes, the sportsman. It was light for the many carries, but could handle a great load and was therefore admirably suited to toting the guns, cast-iron frying pans and other heavy camping gear, used in the days before lightweight aluminum and nylon. It was also fast – ideal for getting the ësportí his deer when hounding and jacking were still legal.
        In 1892, Adirondack guideboats were more numerous than ever, but they were used in new ways by new people. Instead of being rowed by native guide on long sporting excursions, most were used for short picnic trips or for transportation from one hotel to another. The rower was as likely to be a city man as a rustic.
        The guideboat had changed with the times, as well. The carrying yoke continued to be standard equipment, but it was not used as much as formerly. On some of the more popular carries local men could be hired to haul the guideboat and gear across on a wagon. Paint schemes changed too; instead of the blacks, dark greens and dark blues of the hunting and fishing boat, varnished yacht finishes and patriotic colors adorned the sportís boats. The Grants of Boonville painted a boat orange and blue for a sport from the University of Virginia and varnished boats from this era abound in the Adirondack Museum collection.
        Even thought the lightness and speed of the Adirondack guideboat were no longer essential to an Adirondack vacation or the Adirondack life, the boat had become a fixture of the Adirondack scene. The era of the creation of the Adirondack Park was also the era of the creation of many private parks, from the great preserves of the Adirondack League Club in the Southwest and the Adirondack Mountain Reserve in the Northeast, the smaller clubs scattered throughout the region. Many of these associations preserved not only land and the ideal of an untouched wilderness but the guides and their boats as well. In the late 1950ís, when the Adirondack Museum began studying guideboats, it was on these private preserves that many were found.
        In the summer the Adirondack Park was established, canoes, rowing craft and steamboats sported alongside the native guideboats. Canoes are the small craft most familiar in the region today; a century ago the very latest in canoe technology and fashion was on exhibit at the annual congress of the American Canoe Association, held at Willsboro Point on Lake Champlain. A woman who attended wrote delightedly of the “fairy fleet, flying about us in the wind with long swallow curves, or along the shore with stroke of paddle darting in and out – brilliant-hued, amber, crimson, pale and dark green and blueÖ”
        The most impressive boats were the decked sailing canoes. They were European versions of the Eskimo kayak in shape, with a sail or two added. Although they had started out as popular cruising boats for inland water, by 1892 they were, as one builder put it, like race horses: good for racing and little else. While they were never used much for cruising through the Adirondacks because of the many carries and unpredictable winds, adventurous owners of private camps kept them for exciting days sailing. An aptly-named Vesper model (now in the collections of the Adirondack Museum) was used by the Pruyns of Camp Santanoni on Newcomb Lake.
         The paddling canoes which showed up at Willsboro Point included native birchbarks, the latest from the great canoe shops of the Peterborough area of Canada and the newest models of the many American builders. Chief among these builders was J.H. Rushton of Canton, NY, who had learned canoeing and canoe-building in the northern foothills of the Adirondacks. Rushton was at the height of his fame in 1892, a position which owed much to his association with George Washington Sears, known to readers of the sporting periodical Forest and Stream, as Nessmuk.
        Rushton had built five canoes for Nessmuk, and they had become so famous through Nessmukís writing that Rushton offered two of them as stock models. They were small versions of the boats used in the northern Adirondacks in Rushtonís childhood, eight and one half feet long and ten and one half feet long, instead of the traditional fourteen feet, and paddled with a double bladed paddle instead of a single blade. These small canoes, which have become popular today as pack canoes, are probably as old as the guideboat in the Adirondacks. In the early years they were eclipsed by the guideboat, but by 1892, due in part to the writings of Nessmuk, solo cruising in little canoes was becoming quite popular. Nessmuk encouraged this trend by pointing out that with a knowledge of woodcraft (which one could gain from his book) one could dispense with a human guide. By Nessmukís time the novice camper was also aided by guidebooks and accurate maps.
        The little canoes which Nessmuk favored, and even the larger, more stable two-person open canoes which builders in Maine were beginning to produce in wood and canvas for the national market, were not for everyone. Children, fishermen or couples who wanted to rent a boat at their hotel for a little mandolin-playing in a secluded cove could choose from boats “less tottlish” than the canoe or guideboat. Stability was becoming more and more important to builders and livery operators faced with an unskilled public. J.H. Rushton was once asked if one of his ten and one half foot Bucktail models could “carry two good sized men and camp duffel and be steady enough to stand up in and shoot out of.”
       “I told him,” Rushton replied, “that I thought heíd shoot out of it mighty quick if he tried it.”
       The St. Lawrence River Skiff was only one of the many types of boats popular in the Adirondacks during this era which was originally designed for use elsewhere. Large, stable and comfortable, it was ideal for people who wanted to go fishing and picnicking and didnít need to carry their boat. Builders all over the Northeast had their versions of stable skiffs, many of which found their way into the Adirondacks. Mahlon Freeman of Fulton built a Fulton pleasure boat. The mainstay of the shop of his onetime boss J.H. Rushton was a pleasure rowboat which was built in sizes up to 21 feet and could be outfitted to sail.
       Adirondack boatbuilders met the need for stable rowboats with local variations of boat types from elsewhere which became beloved parts of the local scene. Chateaugay Lake has it Bellows boats (similar to the St. Lawrence skiff), and Brant Lake its flat-iron-skiff-style Brant Lake fishing boat.
       Builders on Lake George developed a boat for their waters which owes much to the Whitehall, a transom-sterned rowboat used originally in New York harbor. Hundreds of Lake George rowboats were built for use at the large hotels and became an important part of the summer social scene. Young people would row out onto the glassy lake on a calm evening and sing to the stars, or hire a small steamer to tow a string of rowboats decorated with Japanese lanterns and fairy lights past their elders gathered on the hotel veranda.
      Many of these Adirondack pleasure rowboats were built with guideboat construction features because that was what their builders were most familiar with. In the Northeast was the Westport guideboat, built with sawn frames and flat bottom board but less sheer than a guideboat and not meant to be carried. A similar boat was built for use on the Fulton Chain in the Southwest, and John Buyce turned out lapstrake boats with sawn frames and flat bottom boards which were used for livery boats and fishing craft in the Speculator area.
       There hadnít always been such a variety of boats in use in the region because there hadnít always been such a variety of boaters. As one observer put it, by 1892, “The Adirondack wilderness, formerly visited by a few adventurous sportsmanÖhas, within a few years, become one of the most popular resorts for touristsÖSporting (by which he meant blood sports,) must continue to afford less and less inducement to visit the wilderness and must be superseded by new objects of interest – the climate, peculiar local institutions, the boating, the rough and salutary exercises and exposureÖ” The great change in the numbers and types of people who visited the Adirondacks was due to an increase in general prosperity in the Northeast after the Civil War, a desire to get away from the industrializing cities , and to great improvements in transportation. People could now get right into the interior of the mountains by rail, and, once here, could travel through the woods by steamboat.
       In the early spring of 1878, William West Durant had launched the steamboat Utowana on the waters of Blue Mountain Lake and began a new era in the Adirondacks. The Adirondack guideboat, the traditional means of transportation through the region, was nearly eclipsed as a means of transportation; most people favored the cheaper and more comfortable steamer for long-distance travel. The guides predictably rebelled against the threat to their livelihood; at least two steamboats were scuttled in suspicious circumstances in the 1890ís. The sinking of the Buttercup on Long Lake and the Mattie on Lake Placid failed to stop the march of progress; by the year the park was created there were steamboats on all lakes of any size in the region.
       What really made the guideboat obsolete as a working boat and greatly reduced the importance of other pleasure craft was, of course, the automobile. Today a boat is no longer essential to an Adirondack vacation the way it was 100 years ago. Few people go hunting in guideboats, or singing in skiffs and there is no longer an operating steamboat in the region, but canoes do remain popular for camping and cruising. Although the average visitor can get an idea of the rich variety of wooden boats which once existed here only through historic sources and museum exhibits like the Adirondack Museumís new installation, people who tour the region in a boat are rewarded with a view of the Adirondacks more like that which was enshrined in a park 100 years ago.

About the Author

      Hallie Bond was for many years the curator of collections and boats at the Adirondack Museum. She is the author of the masterful coffee-table book Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks. For many yeas she ran the (now departed) No-Octane Regatta for Wooden Boats on Blue Mountain Lake. She is aso a long-time friend of the company. Her dad owns one of our Kevlar guideboats. Fire-engine red.