Hawkes Canoe StoryAs my dad said, "Now, this is a real canoe...it's what a canoe is suppose to feel like!" -Jeff Hawkes
My Heart Attack Canoe
I’ve been a canoe enthusiast ever since my dad introduced me to the sport 30 years ago. He had a fleet of six, aluminum, Smoker Craft canoes that he rented on a regular basis. Each year we would go on a three-day canoe trip to Shoshone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, first portaging up the Shoshone River for four miles. Unpredictable, pristine, and spiritual, the lake is backcountry to the hilt.
I’ve made the trip to Shoshone Lake many times in our Smoker Craft canoes, but I’ve always wanted to do it in a homemade cedar strip canoe. So, I found a book entitled Building a Strip Canoe by Gil Gilpatrick that tells you how to build one. It was a major undertaking and took me 13 months to build. Afterward, while elk hunting in Idaho, I suffered a heart attack. I walked nearly a mile and drove myself to safety. Part of my heart had been blocked 100 percent for more than six hours. Three weeks later I was diagnosed with hair celled leukemia. Another three weeks later I returned to the hospital for additional heart problems.
While recuperating and lying on my back at home, I heard a terrible noise from the garage- the paint shelves had collapsed onto my new canoe, creating a huge hole in it. My first chore after recovering was to rebuild it. I soon repaired the hull, finished seats and applied the final varnish.
I’m now waiting for summer to launch it onto Shoshone Lake rather than paddling the old aluminum Smoker Craft. I know my Hawkes heart attack canoe can carry this broken heart of mine to and from Shoshone Lake through those rough waters and four miles. Now both the canoe and I are repaired. My cedar strip is a cross between the 18.5-foot White Guide in Gil Gilpatrick’s book and Mad River’s Revelation with a touch of Old Town Discovery 169& 174 and the 1970 Smoker Craft. It measures 16 feet 8 inches and I call it the Hawkes 168. My maiden voyage came last August on Leigh Lake in Grand Teton National Park. The canoe was responsive, obedient, and predictable.
As my dad said, “Now, this is a real canoe…it’s what a canoe is suppose to feel like!”
–This story was published in the May/June 2001 issue of Paddler Magazine