The Building of Aqua Lisa
by Michael Hunt

My son Jason and I regularly canoe with friends on our annual summer vacation to the central Idaho mountain lakes. We also sail our small sailboat, an Escape Expedition, every summer. Jason had become more interested in canoeing than sailing, so I suggested that he build his own canoe with me as his helper. He was very excited about the project, so we began the search for a good design that would meet his needs. Although he is a big 12 yr. old and the size of many adults,when we finally finished, he was only a 5th grader when we began. He settled on Jim Michalak's Toto because it was better sized for a smaller paddler than many full size designs, and in Jason's words “it looks cool”. He was very intrigued by all of the builder modifications that he found on the internet and began planning his own.

The plans were ordered in the fall of 2001, and we began work during Christmas break. We picked up some exterior grade luan plywood at a local supplier, and I began teaching Jason how to transfer the lines from the plans to the plywood. After he had cut out the panels, I decided on a lark to boil a piece of scrap luan. After 5 min. of boiling the edges began to curl up from the core. It didn't completely delaminate, but we decided not to chance it and returned the extra sheet and purchased some A/B grade marine fir. We remarked the sheets and then set them aside to work on another project.

Exploring the backwaters of Lake Lowell, Nampa, ID.

Camping, soccer and motorcycle trips kept us distracted for a year. We did some paddling on a local lake with some recreational kayaks borrowed from a friend. Finally in April 2003, we dragged the sheets back out of storage with the intent of getting on the water by early summer.

All of the panels, transom and bulkheads cut out.

The sheets were joined by butt blocks and quickly cut out. Jason decided early on that he wanted to deck the canoe front and back. In the back he would use the top hatch shown in the plans, but for the front he wanted to put an access hatch through the bulkhead at the front of the cockpit.

The hatch on bulkhead B4 after creating the opening with a flush trim bit on the router. At 6” x 9” it is just big enough to pass a gallon milk jug through.

The dry fit of the forms, bulkheads and side panels went very quickly. One of the butt blocks pulled the lamination away when a panel slipped to the floor, but a little epoxy and a clamp fixed that. Jason unscrewed each joint of the dry fit, swabbed on some epoxy, refastened the screws and very quickly the panels began to look like a boat.

All of the bulkheads, forms and side panels dry assembled with 1" Sheetrock screws.

The excitement level was running high at this point, but other projects and commitments would delay our work until early July. We were leaving on our annual camping trip on July 12th, so on July 5th we returned to work with a vengeance. We worked on the boat every morning before I left for work and before and after supper every evening. Most of the work was either gluing or painting, so we entered the “hurry up and wait for something to dry” mode.

The bilge panels stitched in, the ash gunwales glued on and the duct tape on the outside chines. Ready to flip and putty the inside seams.

The temperatures were in the high eighties in the morning and pushing 100 at night, so everything dried quickly, and the medium hardener epoxy was setting way too fast. We battled the temperature until the day we left on vacation. The epoxy was kicking in the mixing cup and was curing as we smoothed it on the boat. We both grew frustrated at the rough finish but were determined to finish the boat and knew that the problem was only cosmetic. I was careful to make sure that we were meeting Jason's expectations. He was very pleased with the way the boat was finishing up and was only worried that we wouldn't have time to paint it
before we left.

The duct tape left a very nice surface where the inner putty worked clear through. It only required a little scuffing. Jason used 80 grit paper on the belt sander to dress all of the chines and transom.

The decks were cut from a sheet of 1/4” okume and dry fit with a few screws. A flush trim bit was used on the router to match the deck to the edge of the gunwales. Jason scavanged a piece of 1/4" Lexan out of the scrap box and cut it the width of the rubber seal larger than the front hatch opening. A bungee cord and some eye bolts became the fastening system.

The hatch is held fast and did not leak despite several intentional dunkings on launch day.

The interior of the boat was painted with exterior latex primer the day before we left on vacation. A scrap of 3/4” cherry became the skeg. It was rough shaped and set in epoxy putty the night before we left. We would paint the boat and fasten the decks in camp. Time to load up. I hoped we wouldn't forget anything.

Jason priming the exterior.

The day after we reached camp the painting vigil began. The weather was cool, and we tried to get two coats on a day. While waiting for the paint to dry we used a friend's boats to run a Class 1 section of the Salmon River. Jason has really taken to paddling, and it is probably time to get
a canoe for me and sell the sailboat. Finally Jason announced that we had fussed enough, and it was time to launch the boat.

Light gray for the cockpit.

Redfish Lake was to be the launch site. The water is clear and cold and the view of the Sawtooths is breathtaking. She was named 'Aqua Lisa', a name that had come up several weeks ago during a break from smearing epoxy in the 90 deg. heat when we were worried about the outcome of the finish. Jason had declared that she was a work of art for the water.

Christened with some orange crème soda.

Jason paddled Aqua Lisa for about an hour and finally let the rest of us have a try. She paddles beautifully. She is fast and tracks straight, but when making a slow turn the skeg does not hinder the turn.

First paddle away from shore. All smiles.

The second outing was a 3 hr. moonlight paddle down a quiet portion of the Payette river with glow sticks tied to the boats and the full moon lighting our way. We were the guests of an eating group that has a paddling disorder. Halfway down the river they haul out on an island and
break out food and drink. Jason received many compliments on his boat. Many were surprised that it was possible to build your own.

This winter over Christmas break we will shape the skeg, varnish the decks and gunwales, fit the rear hatch and touch up the paint. The plans for a Larsboat have arrived. It will be my boat and I hope to start on it soon.

The builder and his helper can be reached at

visit the Aqua Lisa Construction Site