Projects: Starting a canoe business – by surfing the web
When Igor Marukha wanted to fulfil his ambition of building his own canoe, he didn’t take to the water – but to the internet. Today, he runs his own successful boat building company, NeoBoat, and WEST SYSTEM® epoxy products are never far from hand.
Boat building, like most things, has been transformed by the internet. Where once it was necessary to either learn from experienced craftsmen, decipher technical guidebooks or simply to endure the frustrations of trial and error, now aspiring boat builders can access most of the information they need on a mobile phone.
For Igor Marukha, who uses epoxy products to create and market traditional canoes from his hometown of Kiev in Ukraine, the wealth of information online was enough to inspire him to build his first boat, back in 2010.
“NeoBoat started from a dream to build a canoe for myself,” Igor says. “I studied the technology through the internet, using all of the resources I could find. I purchased the materials I needed, and finally I built my first canoe.”
Though that first boat – an open canoe – wasn’t stable enough to be entirely reliable, it gave Igor the boat building bug. “I enjoyed the process a lot,” he says. “I like to work with wood and create something beautiful out of it, and decided to start a small boat building business.
“For the Ukraine, this was something completely new and it was an unknown product.”
For centuries, in places including the US, Canada and New Zealand, canoes were a vital means of transport for trade and for discovering new areas. The flat-bottomed hull design made navigation straightforward, even in shallow waters, and the wide beam ensured stability even when carrying heavy cargo.
Early versions were typically ‘dugouts’ – carved out of hollowed tree trunks – or built by attaching bark to a wooden frame. As the boats and technology evolved, canvas was stretched first over wooden frames and then aluminium. Today, most canoes are made from moulded plastic or composites.
To develop the canoe that would become NeoBoat, Igor bought a strip-planked canoe from Canada and, after testing it and feeling impressed by its strength and steadiness, ordered technical blueprints online so he could build his own version of the craft.
Aiming to create a boat that looked beautiful as well as handling beautifully, Igor began hand building NeoBoats with his son. The pair use highest-grade tropical wood, including sapele, merbau and meranti, as well as oak and ash.
Following the Canadian blueprint, the boats are built using carvel construction, with thin strips of wood selected to reduce the need for manual shaping commonly referred to as strip plank construction. The strips are edge glued using a mix of WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin®, 206 Slow Hardener® and 406 Colloidal Silica.
Once the epoxy has cured and the wood has been faired, the hull is sheathed with lightweight woven glass fibre cloth and WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin and 207 Special Coating Hardener®, creating a wood composite hull. In total, building the boats usually takes between 200 and 250 hours.
“The epoxy penetrates the wood fibres whilst impregnating the glass cloth and improves structural strength, durability and moisture resistance,” Igor says. “It gives the boat natural beauty and lightness, so all you need is a roof rack and you can put the boat on top of your car.
“I’ve used WEST SYSTEM epoxy products for several years and I’m happy with them. They are consistent and predictable and give me everything I need for coating and bonding: no other material could do this job for me. I also get good technical support in Russian from my local supplier, which is important to me.”
A high-quality polyurethane lacquer is used for the NeoBoats’ final finish, creating a striking, natural look. It’s so striking, in fact, that the first canoe Igor sold is used not for weekend paddling, but as decoration. “In most cases people buy the boats as a gift, to make short trips, for hunting, fishing and sports,” he says. “But they are also sold for interior use, as décor.”
For Igor, however, the NeoBoat is fundamentally a route to the great outdoors. “There are many places along the Dnieper River that are just perfect for the canoe,” he says. “It’s easy to just put it on top of the car and take it anywhere you want.
“I mostly use the canoe on the Desna River, where there are many bays and tributaries. I also use it on forest lakes with calm water.”
It’s an idyllic description, a world away from WiFi networks and 3G mobile reception. Yet without the internet, NeoBoat may never have happened – and the many people who now spend their weekends on one of Igor’s canoes would have missed out on the luxury of relaxing in these timeless crafts.