Fraser man finds hobby, history in boats
Hal Jaeke talks about abandoned boats the way you might talk about a lost love.
He’s cordial for civility’s sake, but as he describes the good intentions, unfulfilled promises and ultimate desertion of an old canoe to the elements, there’s a subtle but unmistakably plaintive tinge in his voice.
“People have them, and they think they’re going to refinish them, and they sit out in the yard, and the canvas gets torn, and they get full of water, and they just rot away,” he says. “They end up being a flowerpot somewhere.”
When Jaeke recounts a boat that he rescued from such a fate, however, it’s with the composed enthusiasm of a watercraft aficionado.
Though he calls it “more of a hobby than a job,” Jaeke is a shipwright and, in some ways, amateur historian.
He builds wooden sea kayaks and repairs old wooden boats in his Fraser workshop. The kayaks and repairs are marketed through his business, Honeydew Boatworks.
Starting with kayaks
A Colorado native, Jaeke has had a long-standing interest in woodworking and carpentry.
“I think I built my first wooden boat in 1997, but before that I was always doing picture frames and a lot of repair,” he said. “My wife and I built a log house when we got married in 1991. I’ve always had the carpentry skills.”
Jaeke said he found normal kayaks a little too confining, so his first build was a sit-a-top kayak, a design that allows the boater to sit freely on top of the kayak.
He “just fell in love with the wooden boats after that.”
From there, Jaeke started building them for friends and relatives. He built a 21-foot double kayak for a friend’s wedding anniversary. When his son got married two years ago, he built a kayak for his wife as a wedding present.
“The sea kayaks kind of gradually went into dories and canoes and mostly refurbishing,” Jaeke said.
The craftsmanship in Jaeke’s kayaks is remarkable. Made from exotic woods like sapele and sitka spruce, they resemble wooden gems more than functional boats, though their looks match their performance in the water.
Stories in wood
The kayaks make up the lion’s share of Jaeke’s business, but it’s the older boats, and the stories behind them, that really seem to spark his interest.
Jaeke found the 1929 Old Town canoe languishing in the rafters of a garage after posting an ad seeking old canoes and dories on Craigslist.
Eventually, Jaeke was able to learn the full history of the boat, including its role as a getaway for the owner’s family during the Great Depression and World War II.
“The one thing they could look forward to was going on vacation, and this boat was part of that family history,” he said. “This boat that’s 89 years old is going to hopefully have some more stories, you know, family get-togethers and canoeing trips.”
Another boat he found, this one a dory, was a rare guide boat from Grant’s Pass, Ore. He was able to track down the boat’s builder, renowned shipwright Jerry Briggs, and even chatted with him over the phone.
When refurbishing boats, the work itself can be a challenge, but to Jaeke, it’s something sacred.
“It’s kind of a lost art in a lot of ways, because everybody wants a low maintenance aluminum canoe or carbon fiber,” Jaeke said. “The advent of modern materials in the ’60s and ’70s caused people just to go away from the traditional wood and canvas, but taken care of, I told you I’ve got the Old Town that was built in 1929. It’s as good as the day it came off the factory line.”
Through a bit of a partnership with a boat builder in Maine, Jaeke said he’s been getting an increasing number of business referrals around Colorado and the Midwest, though most clients are still local.
“Right now I just plan on being a one-man operation,” Jaeke said. “It’s not enough for a livelihood at this point.”
Still, he said that with the current influx in referrals, he could see himself expanding in the future.
“If nothing else, it’s a hobby for me to go into retirement with,” he said, “if I can make some people happy with some new boats and pay for my materials and a little bit of my time.”
For more information about Honeydew Boatworks, visit http://honeydewboatworks.com.
For those who want to talk boats, Jaeke can be reached at 970-531-2326.
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