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Lapstrake decked double-paddle canoe, built c. 1915 by J. Henry Rushton Inc. in Canton, N.Y. Length: 3.5m (11’ 6”); Beam 66cm (26”); Weight: 27.2 kg (60 lbs). Decks and planking white cedar; ribs red elm; stems and coaming white oak. (Gift of Paul Thomas)

Using simple tools like levels, rulers and a plumb bob, along with some basic geometry, it is possible to measure an existing canoe by “taking its lines.” Over the next few months, Museum staff and volunteers will be measuring and drawing this historic lapstrake canoe in the Preserving Skills gallery.

At the beginning of our project, we were fortunate to have the assistance of Dr. Kimberly Monk, a maritime archaeologist from the University of Bristol, who was on her way to the Caribbean to document sailing fishing craft. Here, she is recording details of the measuring set-up prior to beginning work.

The Rushton canoe set up for lines-taking. To the left is the drawing board on which the canoe’s lines will be re-created at full size.

Sometimes, the original plans from which the canoe was built have not survived, and all we have is the canoe itself. It is also possible that the canoe wasn’t originally built from plans. In either case, measuring and drawing, historic canoes, through a process known as “watercraft documentation,” is an important part of a museum’s stewardship of its artifact collection. By drawing plans, taking photographs and making notes and sketches of particular details, the museum can assemble the information necessary to build a copy of the canoe for use in on-water programming.

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