Log Canoes in the Chesapeake

The craftsmen of the Chesapeake Bay’s boatbuilding scene bring a diminutive dame into the Log Canoe fleet.

Log Canoe.
It takes four knowledgable crew to keep Bufflehead under sail.Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Mike Gorman walked into a clearing of loblolly pines in Centre­ville, Maryland, on a warm October morning in 2014. With his 18-month-old daughter, Hazel, perched on his shoulders, he gazed into the summer’s lingering humidity, admiring three 26-foot trees that would become the newest Log Canoe, the only one built in the past 35 years.

For the 33-year-old shipwright, Bufflehead wasn’t entirely a self-serving ploy to build a raceboat and have his employer foot the bill, although Tom Sawyer would have been proud. Part of Gorman’s intent was to add another racing Log Canoe to the Chesapeake Bay’s dwindling fleet, but the ultimate cause was to use the project as a training exercise for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s staff and volunteers, who would later restore Edna E. Lockwood, the world’s last remaining sailing Bugeye and a National Historic Landmark.

Log Canoe.
James DelAguila starts work on a Log Canoe.Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Bufflehead's build began in earnest in November 2014, after the logs sat strapped together and covered with tin to dry. The three logs became one and were shaped, cut and blended together, with chainsaws, axes, adzes and chisels doing the majority of the work. The build was a combination of trial and error for Gorman and fellow shipwright Joe Connor, since much of the historical knowledge and traditional techniques surrounding Log Canoes have been lost. For six months, the museum's volunteers worked alongside the shipwrights and apprentices, chipping, sawing, chopping and sanding, and as the sawdust pile grew and wood chips flew, the canoe took shape.

Gorman grew up in Oswego, New York, along the shores of Lake Ontario, and learned to sail aboard his family’s San Juan 23. From a sculpture program in college, he realized his passion was to be a craftsman more than an artist, and soon after he enrolled at the Landing School, in Arundel, Maine, where he honed his skills as a wooden-boat builder. After completing the program, he and two friends left the Great Lakes aboard his family’s boat bound for Mexico, and as he tells it, he landed at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, in St. Michaels, Maryland, because that’s where he ran out of money. First coming on as an apprentice, 12 years later, he now serves as the museum’s boatyard manager.

Though the crew of Bufflehead likely won't ever cross the finish line first — being the smallest boat in the Log Canoe fleet by far — what the boat lacks in length, it makes up for in spirit. Sailing the boat, says Gorman, is like riding a unicycle in a rowboat. The crew of four is intimate, and its members must work together to keep the boat upright and moving forward, just as they've done with the rich shipbuilding tradition of the Chesapeake. They've brought a stunning new lady into the aging Canoe fleet, and it is impossible not to stare and admire.