‘Ralph’ – twenty years on

Twenty years ago we decided to build an open canoe so that we could get on the water on the canals near our home in Leicestershire. We wanted a big boat which would carry two adults, two kids and a dog and opted for ‘Ralph’ an 18 foot boat from Paul Fisher’s collection that seemed, in our inexperienced eyes, to have the right characteristics.

Twenty years later, our boat is still going strong. This year she carried two big blokes, and all the gear we needed to complete the Great Glen Canoe Trail – sixty miles of solid paddling on the kind of water the Ralph was designed for.

In a world populated by plastic canoes of various kinds, our 18 foot plywood and ash craft still turns heads. There is nothing quite like a wooden canoe and it’s a wonderful feeling to have built her from scratch and done some wonderful trips in her.

We went on to make another Paul Fisher boat – the Esk 13 sea kayak – this is another beauty and still in use today. Shown below with its older sister (brother?) Ralph.

Paul Fisher’s canoe plans website is worth a look (http://www.selway-fisher.com/Opcan17.htm). his photo of a Ralph shows me and Jonny sitting on the gunwale trying to discover its tipping point. It is a very stable boat!

Beautiful boat! Do you stand by your choice of design after all these years? I have been looking at Paul’s design catalog for a canoe suitable for longer treks over open waters. Does Ralph handle waves and chop well? I’ve considered the Prospector in 15′ and 17′ lengths, and the Waterman 16. I want to add a removeable sail rig, and be able to use the boat on rivers and lakes as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

Did you use marine quality ply or WBP?Would you build another or a different design? Great photos and adventures. Inspiring stuff…

She is a very safe boat to paddle in choppy open water, and is good in small waves. Providing you know what you are doing she handles well in exposed situations but if the waves were more than 18″ to 24″ you are in for a boisterous paddle whatever your experience. Bigger waves ought to be avoided for a long-ish journey.

The design is great, and the length is brilliant. I would resist the temptation to go for a shorter boat – provided you have the storage space for it. Long boats are faster and have more storage space.-

I would build Ralph again, it is a good choice of design. But before you make a decision would look for a strip-planked design – they just look so beutiful on the water.

My Ralph is made from the cheapest domestic plywood I could find. Not a wise choice but twenty years ago I didn’t know any better. Making her today I would go for the best marine grade ply I could afford.

Happy hunting!


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