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The story of Eden Canoes – Part 2

Dave Giddings is passionate about the boating industry, working with wood and helping others.  This is his story of how he helped a group of disadvantaged, disabled and disengaged youth building canoes in a week.

By Dave Giddens – Part 2

How time flies when you are having fun. Since last November, when I spent a week taking charge of Eden High School Students building canoes, life has been hectic. We have produced a Video which is on You Tube at the Epoxy Guru titled “Building Modern Canoes with Indigenous Australians”. Plus Anglicare have produced a very good video on the build based around the Eden community titled “Eden Canoe Project”.

Early this year I was talking to Stuart Montague at Illawarra Woodworking School about what we had been up to at Eden. I think Stuart thought I was having him on being able to build a canoe in a week. To satisfy himself of the ability to build a Stitch N Glue canoe he came and had a sticky beak at our Prototype canoe. He was surprised how light it is as shown in Figure 1 and committed to doing a workshop at his wood school during the April school holidays. The promotion went out and before long Stuart had seven (7) groups signed up to build the Muck-A-Bout canoe during the week commencing 19 April.

Figure 1 – Stuart showing Ease of Handling Muck-A-Bout

That meant I had to get my act together and come up with the modifications to the Muck-A-Bout to create more freeboard and to resolve issues with locking the gunwales on at each end. We have found 42 x 19mm Radiata Pine is too stiff to bend around the wide beam which makes the Muck-A-Bout very stable. To resolve the freeboard I made up new top panels making them an extra 25mm wide. This made a massive difference to the freeboard. Plus deciding to use thinner timber strips for the gunwales has bought the design to perfection.

In amongst this Michael Palmer had applied for a Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund (BCRRF) grant for Eden Canoes. This was approved by the NSW Government in April. This created a great boost to the Eden Canoes program with sufficient funds to run two Train-the-Trainer workshops with the aim of building up a group of mentors to support the eight student workshops planned from September 2021 to November 2022. As a result, I scored a telecon from Michael to see if I could take charge of the 1st Train the Trainer Workshop at Eden. The aim being, to hone his and Stacy’s skills to take charge of the Eden canoes program into the future. As I love empowering people with new skills, I jumped at the opportunity.

In the last article, I mentioned MICA Studios team were forever present during the two weeks with the camera rolling during the trial build in November 2020. They finished the “Eden Canoe’s – The Documentary” in early March ready for a private viewing in Eden and Sydney. We had the honour of attending a Private screening of the Documentary at Watsons Bay Anglican Church Hall in late March 2021.

The MICA Team have done a great job of presenting the project and its aim of gaining recognition for Eden Canoes and what youth can achieve if given the opportunity. MICA submitted the documentary to the Sydney & Melbourne 2021 Film Festivals, with fingers
crossed. David informed me it was accepted into Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, an amazing accolade. Due to the time it has taken me to finish this article it is online at MICA’s website at .

The documentary is inspirational as it demonstrated the change in the students over two weeks. Michael planned the two week scenario to include the canoe painting and three days of paddling to motivate and incentivise the boat building. The aim was to multiply both enjoyment and emotionally link the students to the project. Watch the video as it demonstrates how successful the initial build proved itself.

Figure2 – Proud Illawarra boatbuilders

Next on the agenda was the workshop at the Illawarra School of Wood on the week commencing 19 April with a mixed group of people and we had a great time. The canoe builders included a Grandfather and 15 year old grandson, a Town planner with his dad part time (who had no wood work experience), a cabinetmaker, a retired industrial arts teacher, an industrial chemist and mate, a step father and son and last but not least Illawarra Woodwork School staff with the team showing off some of the canoes on day four at Figure 2.

The school is an ideal venue to build canoes as it is at the back of an industrial complex with heaps of room. Stuart has an excellent set up for woodwork classes for beginners to experienced woodworkers who lack the space at home to enjoy their past time with part of the workshop shown in Figure 2 and Stuart & Ed proudly standing outside the workshop at Figure 3. Plus the morning teas and lunches were scrumptious with a small taste shown in our You-tube video “Illawarra Woodwork School Canoes”.

Figure3 – Stuart & Ed at Illawarra Woodwork School

Those with experience helped the less experienced participants, if they fell behind. It was great to see the camaraderie developed during interactions. A big thanks to those who pitched in when they had finished to the next stage. I felt for the cabinet maker as his mobile phone was continually ringing, but the quality of his workmanship showed through as he chased perfection.

I spent most of my time demonstrating & checking on skills development by making sure

teams had their skill and technique weighed off. I picked up some good Tips and Tricks to introduce in future community boat builds. It was a great week of fun with participants keen to learn new skills and step outside their comfort zone. Brett stepped way out of the square as he did pyrography on his canoe before coating with Bote Cote and it looks magic as shown Figures 4 & 5.

Figure 4 – Brett Proudly showing Off His Muck-A-Bout

Figure5 – Brett’s magnificent Pyrography Artwork

Stuart is planning to hold the Muck-A-Bout build workshop again during school holidays when COVID gives up and lets us get on with life. It will be run with a modified program to reduce the hours required each day to meet the daily goal. Get in early, if you want a spot, as they will be limited to about eight canoe teams at each workshop.

Dates were set for Eden Canoes Train the Trainer for the week commencing 10 May. Shortly after they were carved in stone, I received a call from Chris, the Lead teacher, at the Bathurst Skillset Senior College who explained he read an article in the Marine Teachers Newsletter about our effort at Eden Canoes. He wanted me to head out west to do a Train the Trainer session with their teachers.

This amazing college runs a hands on program for their students. Their flock have struggled in main stream schooling, but revel when not focused on a theory program. The Bathurst & Dubbo campuses have started the Marine Studies subject with heaps of practical areas to engage the students and prepare them for employment opportunities in allied industries. The Muck-A-Bout Canoe build falls into the Marine studies curriculum that Chris saw as an ideal project for the students. I was able to schedule their Train the Trainer session in the week after my trip to Eden.

Figure 6 – Trailer with Completed Canoes & New Floor

I headed off to Eden on the 9th May with a car full of goodies to build canoes for the two Train the Trainer Workshops. I was in for a surprise on the Monday morning as the rest of the shed floor had been concreted with good lighting and power outlets fitted. The transformation to the work area was amazing and great with plenty of space to spread out to build up to six canoes at each session. The other great sight was the canoe trailer with the three completed canoes from November looking very smart as shown in Figure 6.

It was a rewarding week with six Muck-A-Bout canoes cut out on day one and glued up ready for the Tuesday session as shown at Figure 7. Those involved were there to improve the lives of local aboriginal youth not only for Eden but the entire Bega Valley Shire. The majority of trainees were Indigenous from a range of local organisations, including several Eden Marine High school teachers.

Michael had set a real challenge as the aim was for each participant to build their own canoe in five days. There were some disruptions with the Social Workers having to disappear at the end of Day two due to an urgent work requirement. Plus the Bote Cote curing was slowed down due to heavy rain creating havoc on the local community. We ended the week with three canoes finished with another two partly completed as shown in Figure 8 with the proud Trained Trainers.

They are a great group of people with a plan to have the canoe building set up as a self-sustaining program by 2023. I then challenged myself to a seven-hour trip back to Sydney on Friday evening, to start planning and packing ready to head out to Bathurst late the next Tuesday arvo.

Figure 7 – Muck-A-Bout Panels Glued Ready for Assembly

I met the team at Skillset Senior College on Wednesday morning, and I was immediately impressed when Chris gave me a guided tour of their facility. Anyway, no mucking around as we had to fit five days training into four days with the aim of the five teachers building three canoes. The challenge was set, and the team were keen. Most teachers were new to woodworking, so I was also training some basic woodwork skills and we had good fun. I had purchased a bench mounted combination belt and disc sander that made it easy to tidy up some creative cutting along the panel traced

lines. We did well on day one meeting the goal of cutting out all panels, sanding the inside and gluing together the same as the Eden team at Figure 7.

Day two we met our goal of stitching the panels together and fitting the gunwales, with great excitement from the team as they now had the nuts N bolts of a canoe. On the Friday we had another big day getting all of the fillets done and looking good as shown in Figure 9. The room proved to be a great workshop as it was fitted with a great gas heater. This kept the resin warm during the day and room temperature of about 220C overnight. We needed it as the temperatures were below freezing every night and it was great coming into a nice warm room first thing in the morning knowing the Fillets and glued joints were going to be cured ready for another day of fun. Note the Fibreglass tape and Peelply being applied over the fillet while still wet. This technique makes a massive difference to finishing the canoe. It saves heaps of sanding and neat smooth fillets.

Figure 8 – Eden Team with The Epoxy Guru

Figure 9 – Skillset Teachers Having Fun Filleting Joints

On the last day (Saturday) we got stuck into finishing off the canoes. They started out by pulling the peel ply off the finished fillets, which is exciting to see the smooth finish achieved. Then they put in the centre and end braces along with a couple of coats of Bote Cote Epoxy Resin on all internal surfaces to seal the plywood before filling the ends with pouring foam. The plan was to be finished by mid – afternoon but we finally packed up well after 6.00pm. It was a mammoth four days with all teachers on a steep learning curve. All were appreciative and very proud of their new toys as depicted in Figure 10.

Figure 10 – Proud Teachers at SkillSet College

Within a week of making it back to the office, I scored an email from the Boating Industry Association (BIA) CEO asking if we could bring the canoe building to the Sydney Festival of Boating in late July. I touched based with Michael at Eden canoes who said “Yes” and the seed was sown. We were well under way with planning to build a canoe and to paint a completed canoe in aboriginal artwork. The painted canoe was to be raffled off to raise funds for Eden Canoes.

The plan included bringing the students from Eden High School who undertook the canoe build in November 2020 and accommodating the team on the James Craig. A little birdie told me all the student’s outlook on life has become very positive since they did the canoe build last November. They were all excited about

coming to Sydney and building another canoe and painting the other one.

A grant application was made through the Marine Industry Foundation (MIF) to support bringing the team from Eden for the festival. It was supported by the BIA and approved by the MIF. Then the wheels fell off as Sydney was crippled by another COVID lockdown in early July. This left the BIA with no choice but to cancel the Festival. Bugger!!!! As it would have been a good opportunity for Eden Canoes to show off their achievement. We will keep our fingers crossed that Covid is a dim memory by June 2022.

It was a disappointment that the festival did not go ahead, but it is pleasing to me that the BIA and Nik (BIA CEO) in particular, has appreciated what we are doing to engage youth at the grass roots of boating. The aim is to give these young people a dose of accomplishment, and a life-long connection with water sports and recreation of playing with boats. Whether it be building canoes, sailing dinghies or being on the water having a good time, boating is a great activity to engage with youth who love getting their hands dirty. It is critical to the maintenance and growth of water sports, marine industry and our society to inspire these young people and give them something they can be proud of.

MIF approved the funding for use by Eden Canoes to assist high school students from Eden Marine High school to participate in regional festivals. They plan to undertake a canoe building demonstration and encourage community participation at the Eden Whale Festival and the Aboriginal Arts & Crafts Festival – Giiyong in 2022. Check out the festival websites for dates.

The funding has provided new Hand tools and Random Orbital Sanders with vacuum cleaners for the students to use in the nine Canoe Building workshops from now and into late 2022. The students will also be provided the opportunity to attain the Marine Industry induction accreditation Marine Card. This will increase the students Workplace awareness and preparation for employment in the marine industry. As the Marine Card is mandatory for people working at marina’s & Boatyards.

As it has taken me so long to finish this article, Michael has reported that Eden Canoes finished the first student workshop and the following report received – “There are a lot of parts to the building and decorating process which not only ‘holds attention’ by variety but also offers little ’side preparation tasks’ to draw in the quieter students or to re-ignite any who may be feeling distracted.

Figure 11 – Test Paddle Friday Arvo on Nullica River

In order to ‘launch’ by the end of the first week it was important to finish the tasks set for each day of the first week. This caused me some level of anxiety as this is the first Student workshop that our local team has ‘solo’ led and only the second Student Workshop that Eden Canoes has ever held! Hence, I am very pleased that both the daily tasks were met and for the unity that the program has gifted us with. The ‘test’ launch day at Nullica River was fantastic with the students extremely joyful (As well as being useful for discovering a few leaks!!)” as shown in Figure 11. Where Michael is in the canoe in the top left corner.

Eden Canoes has proven the concept. It is a great initiative for disengaged, disabled and students who struggle with sitting at a desk all day. My aim is to push the Eden canoes program across the education system as it provides a great learning experience for disengaged, disabled & disadvantaged students / youth. I am looking forward to touching base with teachers / schools and community groups who want to get onboard with the canoe building project. There are very few projects where you can build a substantial doo-icky and use it in a week.

Some of us who are now fairly mature, may have built a canoe from an old sheet of galvanised iron with a piece of 3 by 2 nailed into the bows to hold the beast together. If we were lucky there was a bitumen road nearby that we could borrow some bitumen from on a hot summer’s day to seal the gal iron to the timber making our creation waterproof.

From my time racing and cruising plus sailing administration, I know that if boating is to grow we need to foster these grassroots programs. So that youth gain a love of being on a boat whether it be building a canoe or sailing dinghy and getting out on the water. The success is based on students being able to achieve something substantial come together before their eyes which they have created. It is great seeing the pride in the students, by the time they finish building canoes. All created in a week, with Michael’s undying enthusiasm to paint and paddle in the 2nd week.

DRIVE Marine Services is Morphing into BoatCraftNSW to better reflect our diverse product range especially in the wood work area. Promoting the canoe building for youth who love getting their hands dirty is a passion of mine. As a young pup I liked building things and playing around with repurposing Austin A40 vehicles. Fortunately I joined the RAN as a 16 year old and revelled in fitting and loved the machine shop tasks. Then went to sea on steam ships and loved the life on a warrie.

I saw a niche for the BoatCraft Pacific products which are based on Modern Technology chemicals that are much safer and easier for woodworkers to use. As a result of seeing people struggle with using old technology Epoxies, Dr Bruce has developed the Luci Clear Epox-E-Glue which is clear when set. It is head & shoulders over the competitors. Recently, they have released Fairing Compound that was a sought-after product. We can send our product range out by POST or general courier to anywhere in Australia as there are
no Dangerous Goods.

We love people calling or email us for your requirements. Plus, our business motto is “Males do not read instructions until they stuff up & There is no such thing as a silly question”. We look forward to supporting your projects. P.S – I should have the Instructions completed for the Muck-A-Bout canoe for those sweating off on purchasing plans by the time this is published.

Dave Giddings is the Business Manager at DRIVE Marine Services and BoatCraftNSW.  He is passionate about boating having joined the Royal Australian Navy as a 16-year-old and working his way through the ranks to be a Warrant Officer.  The experience & skills gained provided a great love of steam & a healthy respect for the sea.

Based on his marine engineering background Dave has developed in-depth knowledge in Safer Ways to Work with modern products.  

Dave says, ‘Males do not read instructions until they stuff up’ and ‘There is no such thing as a silly question’.  With this he welcomes calls from those needing help.  He can be contacted on Ph: 02 9533 5470, Mob: 0412 366 998, you can see him on his YouTube Channel – The Epoxy Guru, or you can visit the website,