A different kind of craft
by Staff Writer
Creativity can take many forms, and in the case of advertising designer Gordon Smith of Cornelius, his urge to make something unique resulted in one of the most interesting water crafts plying Lake Norman.
Smith’s vessel is a slender, 27-foot long, 12-inch wide rowing shell that he built from scratch in his garage using everything from high-tech carbon fiber to a chunk of dock flotation foam.
“I had always seen pictures and films where people were rowing and something about it struck a chord in me,” Smith said. “I fell in love with rowing the first time I dipped an oar in the water about nine years ago.”
According to Smith, he owned a recreational rowing shell for several years, but hankered for something faster and more streamlined.
“The new shells I looked at cost as much as $10,000,” Smith said. “I couldn’t afford that price, so I decided to build my own.”
After an online search for plans came up empty, Smith took matters into his own hands.
“I bought a hull design computer program and then researched different types of shells,” he said. “Then I plugged those into the computer program and came up with my own design.”
Once the drawings were done, Smith got down to the actual business of building his dream boat. He used a process similar to that employed by high performance composite construction aircraft builders.
“I carved the hull shape from a huge piece of dock flotation foam I found washed up on the lake shore,” Smith said.
Once Smith had his shape roughed out, he used thin slices of wood cut in the profile of each section of the hull. From there, he trimmed the foam to match the wooden cross-sections. He also made a scale model of the shell in balsa wood as a guide.
After the rowing shell’s shape was finished, Smith covered the foam form with carbon fiber and used his ingenuity to heat cure the high-tech material.
“I made a tunnel out of cardboard boxes and installed light bulbs in it to act as an oven,” Smith said. “The carbon fiber is tough and light. I’ve hit several rocks in the water and it isn’t damaged at all by them.”
After the shell was cured, Smith gave the whole thing a shiny coat of white paint, added a carbon fiber seat, some lightweight oar holders and his creation was complete.
“It took me three months to learn the computer hull design program,” he said. “Then add to that another nine months for the build and finishing touches. It was the first time I had ever done anything like this.”
After all was said and done, Smith invested about $3,500 in his state of the art rowing shell and was ready to hit the water.
“I decided to name it ‘Honu’ after the Hawaiian turtle god,” he said.
Smith says rowing the shell is like a dream come true.
“It’s not only a great workout,” he said. “But when I’m on the water in it I achieve a state of serenity and tranquility. It centers me and I am totally relaxed.”
Smith is not only an avid rower; he also shares his skills with others by giving lessons. For more information on lessons, visit his website at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-661-3393.