Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the paper canoe

Had to drive to the upper part of the Outer Banks for work yesterday.  Yes, sometimes work is kind of fun.  And it is always a treat for me to visit the Outer Banks.  I was up in Corolla, the northernmost town with a paved road.  Also made it up to Carova, which is further north but has no paved roads.  You'll need a boat or a 4x4 to get there.

On the beach I saw some of the beautiful wild horses that roam the area.  These are descendants of Spanish mustangs that can be traced back to the early explores of the 1500's.  They can be found on barrier islands from the Shackleford Banks in the south to Assateague Island (Maryland) in the north.  Ocracoke Island has a herd that they keep in pens, they roam free on Carrot Island and the Shackleford Banks near Beaufort, NC.  In Corolla Beach and Carova they are kept from heavy traffic areas by cable fences.

Beautiful animals, but they are still wild mustangs.  It is safest to enjoy them from a distance.  On hot summer days like yesterday they come out of the dunes to stand at water's edge and enjoy the cool ocean breeze.  Can you blame them?

Driving through Duck I saw a restaurant that I had not noticed before.  Maybe it was new.  Called The Paper Canoe, I had to wonder if any patrons knew that the name paid homage to Nathaniel H. Bishop.  Bishop paddled just west of the restaurant's location, probably within sight of the land, on Currituck Sound in late December of 1874 in his paper canoe "Maria Theresa."

Though I knew the history behind the name I suspected the yawl shown on the restaurant sign was selected just because of the nautical look.  That, I knew, was not the paper canoe.  But on looking at Bishop's book  The Voyage of The Paper Canoe, A Geographical Journey of 2500 Miles From Quebec To The Gulf Of Mexico During The Years 1874-5  I saw that Bishop had used that exact drawing (below) to explain the heritage of his paper canoe.  That is a Nautilus Canoe, a type of canoe that was popular in England and was brought over to the U.S.  Bishop explains that his paper canoe evolved from the Nautilus canoe, and that all canoes are simply modern versions of kayaks used in the Arctic.

My hat is off to the restaurant owner for knowing his business, both restaurant and nautical.

Below is a drawing of Bishop's paper canoe.  He, along with a few other people he mentions in his book, were way ahead of their time when they used this wooden frames, paper and lacquer to create lightweight, strong and seaworthy boats.  He described the process in detail in the book - what kinds of paper are used, how to make the material conform to the frame and then make it waterproof with lacquer.  I can't help but think about the strong, lightweight (and expensive) kayaks I see out on the water today, made with very high tech materials.  And there is Nathaniel Bishop traveling 2500 miles in a 58 pound boat made at very modest expense over 130 years ago.  I find that fascinating.  And at the same time, I have to wonder why that technology seems to have disappeared.  (Why am I just now picturing a young Dustin Hoffman listening to a man saying "There is a great future in plastics!")

Bishop made two great journey on the water in the 1870's.  He describe the second journey in his book Four Months in a Sneak-Box, A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Down the Ohio And Mississippi Rivers, And Along The Gulf of Mexico.  The map below shows both of his voyages, The Paper Canoe down the east coast and the Sneak Box down the Mississippi to New Orleans and then west to Florida.

That last leg of Four Months in a Sneak-Box, from New Orleans to Cedar Key, is something I would like to do in Spartina some day.  I've read and reread that part of the book, I've even got some charts tucked away in a trunk upstairs.  Someday....

Anyone interested in small boat voyages ought to take a look at Bishop's books.  They are available free on the internet.  He was a true pioneer, a man who accomplished great journeys with very simple gear.  He chose his boats well, knew what he was doing and had the perfect attitude for long, sometimes difficult journeys.  And he took delight in everything that came his way.

Seeing the restaurant made me smile.  Next time I'll stop in and have a bite.



EyeInHand said...

Excellent post, Steve. Bishop is one of my favorites reads, as well.

Trying that restaurant seems like a suitable excuse to wander off into the northern corner of the Banks, too.

Shawn S. said...

Hi Steve, I check in on your blog from time to time and was originally pointed to it by Webb Chiles.

I will be in Corolla in a couple of weeks..I'll be sure to check out the Paper Canoe. Thanks for the post!

If you ever make it to Solomons, MD, Patuxent River, middle Chesapeake Bay, give me a shout.

Solomons, MD

Steve said...

Great. Have a good time in the outer banks. Maybe I'll see you up on the bay someday. Steve

Two If By Sea said...


I have just taken a few minutes to explore your blog, with the encouragment of my husband (Shawn S.), as he follows your journey from time to time.

While we were getting ready for work this morning he announced that we'll be paying a visit to The Paper Canoe next week while we're on vacation.

Thanks for sharing your stories and beautiful photographs. They allow us to have a little window into your exploration and sailing fun, not to mention an interesting dining recommendation!

Thanks and take care!


Steve said...

thanks for the nice note. I hope you have a great trip and I hope you enjoy the restaurant. I did not eat there so cannot vouch for the food, but the Duck/Corolla crowd seems to demand quality dining (and the view has to be excellent). Send me a review, and also please let me know if somewhere on the menu they explain the history behind the name.
Enjoy your trip. Maybe I'll see you and Shawn someday at Solomons - that place has been on my list for a while.

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