Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sneak preview

The statue of Verlen Kruger which will stand by the Grand River in Portland has been bronzed and delivered to Mike Smith's house out in the country west of Portland. There was a viewing Tuesday night attended by his wife Jenny, son John, grandson John, and many of Verlen's fellow paddlers and friends (including me). There will be other chances to view it.
I think you will agree he looks good in his Tilley hat with his paddle as he will be looking up the Grand River at Thompson Park in Portland. His clothes and boots look very authentic.
Verlen Kruger Memorial Association leader Dan Smith has scheduled the dedication ceremony for Saturday June 26, 2010. Meanwhile there is considerable work to be done to get the plaza and glacial boulder mount ready for erection of the statue.
Obviously there will be expenses involved in getting this project finished so contributions to the memorial fund will be welcomed. Here's the link in case you want to buy a brick or donate:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Veterans Day Visit to Verlen Kruger

On Veterans Day I went across the river and visited Verlen's grave.

He and I are both veterans of World War II. Born the same year, we were both on occupation duty in Korea after the Japanese surrendered. I was Commanding Officer of the 69th Army Engineer Topographic Company in Seoul. He was flying his P51 (Named "Sweet Genevieve" in honor of Jennie) out of Kimpo Air Base a few miles toward China.

When we were kids it was called Armistice Day. Every November 11 at 11 AM the school kids would stand up and face to the east in honor of those who fought in World War I.

I put my hand on his gravestone and said a few words of gratitude on behalf of all of us.

I showed some visitors pictures of his funeral in Phil Peterson's book All Things Are Possible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 19th Century Verlen - 4

"My clothes for this tour consisted of a complete suit of grey flannel for use in the boat, and another suit of light but ordinary dress for shore and Sundays. The 'Norfolk jacket' is a loose frock-coat, like a blouse, with shoulder straps, and belted at the waist, and garnished with six pockets. With this excellent new-fashioned coat, a something in each of its pockets, and a Cambridge straw hat, canvas wading shoes, blue spectacles, a waterproof overcoat, and my spare jib for a sun shawl, there was sure to be a full day's enjoyment defiance of rain or sun, deeps or shallows, hunger or ennui."

Curious about the Cambridge straw hat I went looking on the Internet and sure enough I found a Cambridge Straw Boater Hat at a place called Urban Excess in England. It is a stiff, flat top straw hat with a wide brim (and a black band) specifically for boating on a river. They are priced at 12 pounds (whatever that is in $). I decided I had to have one but they were out of stock.

Verlen always wore a Tilley hat. Son Jim does, too. They are the very best.

Having been successful hunting for the Cambridge straw hat I decided to try the Internet for the Norfolk Jacket and sure enough there it was complete with illustrations. "The principal feature of the Norfolk is the shoulder construction that made it easier to raise a gun to bear on a bird." Two thoughts: MacGregor was a famous shooter and the same action back would have made the Norfolk suitable for paddling.

You can get a genuine English-tailored wool Norfolk jacket for about the price of a kayak.

As for canvas wading shoes, I wore L.L.Bean canvas canoe shoes on my 1948 trip in a wood and canvas canoe in Western Ontario. I still have them.

MacGregor's thousand miler put him and his Rob Roy on the following European rivers:Thames, Sambre, Meuse/Maas, Rhine, Main, Reuss, Aar, Ill, Moselle, Meurthe, Marne and Seine. Lakes: Titisee, Constance, Untersee, Zurich, Zug and Lucerne. Plus six canals in Belgium and France and two expeditions in the open sea of the English Channel.

On my big drafting table in my "Map Room" I have spread out old National Geographic maps and an old British Bartholemew Atlas and am trying to trace his travels. Although the rivers and lakes haven't moved during the last 144 years the international borders have. Since he wrote his book European borders have changed and changed again thanks to wars and their aftermaths. The Franco-Prussian War, World War I, World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union all resulted in border changes and new and different countries where he traveled. Trying to trace Velen's travels in detail can be difficult but at least the effort isn't complicated by such changes.

Historically, consider that while he was making his fun preparations in England the Civil War was raging here. Also consider that 5 years after he paddled in France and what is now Germany there was a war going on there, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

I am always amazed at the amount of map work Verlen must have done to lay out his trips. Like I am trying to follow MacGregor's route, I have been trying to follow Verlen's and Steve Landick's route on the Ultimate Canoe Challenge using "Google maps".

More on that later

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The 19th Century Verlen - 3

Son Jim put the new Bell Rob Roy 15 in the Grand behind my house Sunday and paddled to Grand Ledge. Maiden Voyage. Great weather. He experimented with wooden paddles; straight, bent and double bladed. Also double bladed composite. Tried raising the seat level with a boat cushion. He loves it. Pat Harrington went along in his genuine 1983 made-in-Oscoda Sawyer Sglass Summer Song, shown below with the Rob Roy.

Robin Barfoot shuttled. She argued that the Rob Roy should be called a kayak. I insisted that since MacGregor, Verlen, Bell and I call it a canoe she should too. I don't know whether I converted her.

I sat on the end of the dock at the JC Boat Launch in Grand Ledge with a beer in my hand (furnished by Robin) commenting and observing like I used to do for Verlen when he was paddling behind my house.

Back to Verlen and MacGregor. I emailed Phil Peterson Sr., author of All Things are Possible, asking him how familiar he thought Verlen was with John MacGregor and his Rob Roy canoes and his travels and books. Phil responded, referring me to page 63 of his book for the only words he wrote on my topic: "Verlen even ordered a Rob Roy out of Denmark, but it wasn't big enough for their needs. Though well designed and built, neither he nor Jerry (Cesar) felt felt it was big enough to carry what they needed." Phil goes on " I believe it was the Rob Roy episode that made him and Jerry elect to build their own boats. I am almost certain Verlen had read MacGregor's books. I don't believe there was anything available on canoeing at the time that Verlen didn't read. I do remember a conversation he and I had in his basement one time when he said he liked the looks of the Rob Roy, but it simply wasn't enough boat for how he planned to use it."

Mark P wrote: "Phil is right on, this is just about the same info I talked to Verlen about on the subject. I think the only major difference other than size of the canoe would be that Verlen added a rudder and used a single blade."

A later message from Phil said: "Mark's comment about 'Verlen added a rudder and used a single blade' is significant. These were enormous changes for an expedition canoe." Then he referred me to page 218 and all of Chapter 26 of All Things Are Possible for insights into Verlen's design strategies.

Next: Some of MacGregor's 1865 voyages on the rivers and canals of Europe.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The 19th Century Verlen - 2

The dimensions of the original Rob Roy used by John MacGregor for the trip described in his 1866 book A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe were: Length 15', Width 28", Depth 9", Weight 80#. It drew a scant 3" of water.

All Rob Roys (there were 7) were clinker built* of white cedar and oak. Some were built by the boat builder Searles of Lambeth, London. The canoe for the Middle Eastern trip was built by "Mr. Pembry" of London.  Apparently the hulls were oak and the decks cedar. At least one survives in a British watercraft museum.

* "Clinker built" is a method of boat building in which the lower edge of each side plank  overlaps the one below it. This is also known as "lapstrake." Properly done there is no need for glue or caulking.

Like MacGregor, Verlen was not satisfied with his first craft and kept modifying them. Unlike MacGregor, he didn't have someone else build them for him.

J. Henry Rushton, the world-famous builder of canoes in Northern New York in the latter part of the 19th Century built canoes patterned after the Rob Roys. From the "Louisville Commercial" August 2 1876: "The Rob Roy Model is a boat of oak or cedar fourteen feet long, twenty-six inches wide, about nine and one-half inches deep, and, as all canoes, pointed at both ends, with much sheer and very slight curvature. In a canoe of this sort, weighing about seventy pounds, MacGregor has been cruising hundreds and thousands of miles, on both continents, for years."

Substitute "Loon" for "Rob Roy", "Kevlar" for "oak or cedar" and "Kruger" for "MacGregor" and it could be an article from a 1976 newspaper.

In Rob Roy on the Jordan MacGregor goes into great detail about where everything was stored in the canoe including his pistol and holster on the right side of the cockpit and his brandy bottle on the left. I'll have to ask Valerie where she and Verlen kept theirs.

The name Rob Roy comes from Robert Roy MacGregor, an ancestor of John. He was a famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century, sometimes known as the Scottish Robin Hood. He was usually known simply as Rob Roy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The 19th Century Verlen

In memory of my late wife Elaine I have purchased a Dave Yost-designed Bell Rob Roy 15' KevLight decked solo canoe for my son Jim (also in memory of Elaine I bought daughter Karen a Pongo 140 kayak for the use of her large sons at her cottage on Black Lake and I'm going to buy her a Pongo 120 for herself).

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Bell Rob Roy, but it is kind of a lightweight, shorter version of the Kruger Sea Wind that weighs in at about 40# and has about 8 or 9 fewer layers of Kevlar. It is a beautiful watercraft. I bought it through Ron Sell of Unadilla Boatworks on the Huron River near Dexter. Ron is a Bell dealer. We will be displaying the Rob Roy at the Quiet Water Symposium next March 7 at Michigan State University. 

The point of this email is to alert you to the story of the Englishman John MacGregor who developed the original Rob Roy canoe and paddled versions of it for thousands of miles in Europe and the Middle East and wrote three books about these adventures. The parallels and contrasts between his story and Verlen Kruger's are very intriguing to me and I want to share them with you-all. If you are already familiar with MacGregor and the original Rob Roys, stop here.

John MacGregor lived from 1825 to1892. Verlen's life span was 1922 to 2004, thus they lived just a century apart. But while Verlen grew up a sharecropper's son, MacGregor's father was a General who fought against Napoleon. MacGregor had a degree in mathematics from Trinity College in Dublin and studied patent law at Cambridge. Verlen was a plumber's apprentice and plumbing contractor.

MacGregor toured Europe, the Middle East, Russia, North Africa, the United States, Canada and Siberia for pleasure. Verlen toured places like Texas, Japan and Korea thanks to being an Army tanker and a P-51 pilot in the Army Air Force during World War II.

MacGregor's fame as a canoeist came more than midway through life. Likewise Verlen didn't start canoeing until he was 41. Without question, they were the preeminent paddlers of their times.

MacGregor's books pertinent to this tale are A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, The Rob Roy on the Baltic and The Rob Roy on the Jordan, Red Sea and GenesarethThe illustrations in his books are his own.

Books about Verlen and his adventures are One Incredible Journey by Verlen and Clayton Klein, Valerie Fons' Keep It Moving, The Ultimate Canoe Challenge by Verlen and Brand Frentz and Phil Peterson Sr.'s All Things are Possible. 

MacGregor and Verlen both called their craft "canoes" though MacGregor used a double bladed paddle while Verlen used a single bladed paddle with a rudder. Both could be rigged for sailing. Both slept in their canoes when convenient or when circumstances demanded.

MacGregor was 6'6" tall.  The dimensions of the Baltic Rob Roy were: Length 14', Stem to beam 7'6", Width (6" abaft of midships) 26", Depth from top of deck (at fore end of well) to top of keel 11", Outside depth of keel 1", Depth at gunwale 8 1/2", Well (cockpit) 32"x20", Weight 60#.

Verlen was maybe a foot shorter than MacGregor. The dimensions of the Loon which he paddled on the 28,000 mile trip (from the Introduction to The Ultimate Canoe Challenge) are Length 17', Width 35", Cockpit about 5' long. Weight 60#.

Here are the dimensions for the Sea Wind which evolved as improvements from the Loon (and Monarch). Verlen used the Sea Wind on the two-continent trip with Valerie: Length 17'2", Over all width 28.5", Width at 4" waterline 25", Middle depth 13.5", Cockpit 20"x87", Weight 63#. These specs are from the Kruger Canoes website. I am surprised at the difference in width between the Loon and the Sea Wind. Perhaps Mark P. can enlighten us.

The dimensions of Jim's Bell Rob Roy are: Length 15', Gunwale width 20.5", Maximum width 28.5", 3" Waterline width 25.5", Cockpit 18"x63". Weight 35-40#. He is 6'3" tall.

To be continued.