Local Man’s Craftsmanship Fuels His Desire for Boat Building

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Chappaqua’s Jonathan Richer, on a lake at the St. Regis Wilderness in the Adirondacks, in the Adirondack guide boat he built at his home workshop this spring.

By Dael Ki

Over the course of this chaotic and unprecedented summer, many people have sought serenity through self-isolating.

For some, like Chappaqua resident Jonathan Richer, that can be on a tranquil body of water canoeing, kayaking or boating or finding calm hiking in the woods.

Richer, who was born and raised in Connecticut, has built various watercraft in his home workshop. His interest in boat-building was stimulated during childhood, growing up with parents who loved the outdoors. They regularly took the young Jonathan canoeing and camping, which, in turn, sparked his interest in the outdoors from a young age.

Richer also spent much time fixing and making various objects, fascinated with the art of building, which motivated him to construct his first boat in 2000.

“I always wanted to build a boat,” Richer said. “Once I saw wooden boats, I fell in love with them; I absolutely fell in love with Adirondack guide boats years ago in the Adirondacks. So I said, ‘I’ll build a boat’ and built a canoe with my father.”

Richer’s passion for boat building also comes from using his hands to create beautiful objects.

“Especially in an age where everyone’s faces are fixated on phone and computer screens all the time, I think a throwback to craftsmanship really speaks to my values,” he said.

That is a value he shares with his students at the Yonkers Paddle and Rowing Club, where he teaches classes on how to build traditional skin-on-frame kayaks that are designed to be used on the Hudson River. The classes typically start in September and the boats are built by May.

Jonathan Richer’s Adirondack guide boat while it was under construction earlier this year.

He also holds private classes at his Chappaqua home workshop and builds watercraft for private clients. Richer is also a sixth-grade math teacher at Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, a Bronx private school.

Isolated during the pandemic, Richer spent three months building his latest Adirondack guide boat, a 14-and-a-half-foot long, 40-inch-wide craft that weighs just 28 pounds, roughly half the average weight for a boat its size.

“The number one reason why people don’t use boats that they make or own is because the boats are too heavy,” he said.

Richer solved that problem using a method called skin-on-frame boat building, which helps him to maintain the light weight while still retaining beauty and function.

“We build the form and the shape out of wood, and instead of covering it with more wood, we sew on a skin and treat them to make it waterproof,” Richer explained. “This makes the boat very lightweight. It makes it easy to throw it up on the roof and go.”

The guide boat was made with Western red cedar as opposed to modern fiberglass mold construction.

“For me, this [boat] is a solution. It gives me an Adirondack guide boat that I don’t need to buy a trailer for; I can just put it on top of my car,” Richer said. “It’s light, beautiful and you actually get to see the wood.”

Richer enjoys using the boat on the lower Hudson River and hopes to sell plenty of other handcrafted boats for others to enjoy.

“I would love to build more Adirondack guide boats and sell them. That is my dream,” he said.

For anyone who may be interested in commissioning Richer to build a boat, he may be contacted at jonricher@gmail.com.

 

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