by Learning Lead – Paul Whipp

Photo 1. A photo of me doing what I do. This photo was taken by Kendall on a summer kayak trip in the Rossport Islands. I am working on a bowl of backcountry cheesecake while simultaneously trying to delay my imminent demise in a game of two person solitaire.

“Owooooo! I startle awake and my eyes search the endless darkness around me. The wolves sound like they are right next to me as they howl into the night. It’s eerie, but oddly comforting. Cold winter nights like this can be so quiet. The only other sound is the odd pop and crackle of my small wood stove as it eats up the last of the dry spruce I piled into it before bed. I pull the five layers of toques and sleeping bags from around my ears to hear the wolves a little better. Apparently they don’t have much to say because silence fills the air again. Since I’m awake, I reach over to load the stove. As I open the stove door, the glowing embers light up the inside of my tent. I load the stove, close the door, lay back and shut my eyes. The fire roars back to life, the heat washes over me and I fall back to sleep.” 

Now, you might be asking yourself: “Wasn’t this supposed to be about a sailing canoe or something?”.  Well, yes, it is supposed to be about that. So how does this relate? Great question. Read on to find out. 

My name is Paul and I am a 2021 Waterlution Cautious Optimist learning lead. Welcome to my blog! If you are new to Waterlution and The Cautious Optimist Project, click HERE to learn more. To sum it up, the Project is about Learning and Sharing new skills. Specifically skills that could help you to survive the climate apocalypse. The Project was created by Danielle Moore and is now being continued in her honour. Reading her original blog, I was inspired by her passion for the environment and dedication to learning. Over the next few months, I will be sharing my learning journey with you. 

Photo 2. A photo of the pyramid tent I made this winter. This photo was taken by me on a weekend camping trip near Thunder Bay, ON. The tent is made of a heavy duty white tarp. Seams are sewed and then taped with tuck tape. The stove jack (hole for the stove) is made of a silicon baking sheet. 

I’m not sure how you got here but to understand how I got here you need a bit of backstory. I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario in the Kawartha Lakes region. My parents both enjoy the outdoors and love to paddle. They shared their passions with me and my siblings. Many a weekend were spent squeezing into our gear laden ford wagon, canoe on the roof and heading out to explore nearby provincial parks. Along with the outdoors and paddling, I also spent lots of time creating, building and tinkering. In my teens, my mom taught me how to sew on our old Singer sewing machine. I started with small projects and have since designed and created a ton of gear and clothes. I love researching and designing and making equipment that works for me. This brings us back to the intro of this blog post. This winter I sewed (and taped and stitch ripped and resewed) a hot tent and built a small wood stove to go along with it. Check out the photos below of the tent and stove in action. 

A photo of me inside the tent stoking the wood stove. This photo was taken by Kendall. The wood stove is made of galvanized duct end caps, threaded rods and wingnuts (I made sure to burn off all the galvanized coating before running the stove in the tent). It’s only 14”x 8”x 8” but gets the tent hot enough to be uncomfortably hot at -20C.

My interest in design and creation is not restricted to seamstressery (possibly a made up word). In 2013/2014 I decided to build a skin on frame Greenland style kayak or Qajak. Here is a link to the instructable I followed to build it: Build a Greenland Kayak. It was an ambitious project for me. My woodworking skills were and still are lacking. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that they need improvement. Building the kayak was definitely a learning experience. I learned basic woodworking skills, how to lash, steam bend wood, sew on the skin and coat it. I encountered lots of difficulties but persisted and eventually had a beautiful kayak to show for all my hard work. 17’ long and only about 40 lbs. It paddles like a dream to this day.

Photo 4. A photo from the cockpit of my skin on frame kayak. This photo was taken by me while paddling on a small lake in Eastern Ontario. 

Fast forward and I’ve decided to go to school. I chose Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to study Outdoor Recreation and Biology. Throughout my studies, I strengthened my passions for the outdoors and creating. I got to explore and connect to the region through research, field trips and expeditions. In my summers off I continued to explore the area. I worked as a kayak guide on the Lake out of Wawa, ON, and as a sailboat captain out of Thunder Bay. 

Well, that about brings you up to speed. All that’s left is to share my project with you. This spring I decided I wanted to take on another boat build and go on an adventure. I wanted a boat that could do everything. Paddle pretty well, sail really well (because paddling is hard), have capacity for a multi day solo trip or day trips for two and still be light enough to car top. This all brought me back to skin on frame construction. For her maiden voyage, where better to take my boat than in my own backyard (technically front yard), Lake Superior. Then, I found out about Waterlution and the Cautious Optimist Project. What a great opportunity to share what I will be learning in the hopes of inspiring others to try something new! Building skills and backcountry living skills are great to have and could be a big help in a climate apocalypse. 

Over the next few months, I will be sharing my learning journey with you. Follow along as I build my sailing canoe, plan my trip and then put it all to the test.

Here’s a sneak peak of the build. 

Photo 5. A photo of my sailing canoe (don’t worry, it’ll be covered and look more floaty soon). This photo was taken by me after a fresh shiny coat of varnish was slathered onto the western red cedar and marine plywood frame.  

Find out how I chose what boat to build and laid out my plans in my next blog!