Thursday, February 05, 2009


On the Spring Trip, not only do we get to paddle the Chicago River, we'll also be visiting one of the most unique and historic outdoor sports venues in the world. A place on the north side of Chicago whose ivy covered walls draw fans from all over the world.

And we're not talking about Wrigley Field.

What makes the Chicagoland Canoe Base so special?

For one thing, it is...

Not just because they say so.

What if you broke the rubber mast grommet on your 1947 Grumman sailing canoe while sailing around Dale Hollow Lake? Where would you look for one?

Or let's say you needed a 12' spruce canoe pole with a brass setting shoe so you could float down the shallow Middle Tennessee rivers the traditional way (and pole upstream when you don't have a shuttle). Where would you get one of those if you don't live in Maine or New Hampshire?

(Notice they even correspond about canoe transactions the traditional way, just like this)

Or maybe you discovered that those simple foam block canoe carriers you got at Wal-Mart don't fit plastic gunwales and aluminum gunwales and wood gunwales all the same way . Who would carry all the specialty foam blocks you need to solve that problem? Who even knew that was a problem?

But C.C.B. is much more than a store. They have over 100 rare and unusual canoes in the "Not For Sale" collection including dugouts from Florida, pirogues from Louisiana, a Caribou Eskimo kayak, outriggers, folding kayaks, a knock-down sectional rowboat found stashed at the top of Chilkoot Pass during the gold rush, a Russian folding baidarka, and many, many many beautiful wood-and-canvas, lapstrake, cedar strip, and rib-and-batten canoes.


The only thing with more character than the Chicagoland Canoe Base is its owner, Ralph Frese.

Ralph is a blacksmith, a canoe designer, a paddle sport historian, and probably the most famous flatwater canoe personality in the world since Verlen Kruger died.

Even though we will be arriving after business hours on Friday, Ralph is going to meet the RRCC at the store Friday night, show us his famous workshop and the canoe collection, and then, as we always like to do with paddling celebrities, join us for a few (Polish) beers around the corner at The Jolly Inn.


It ought to be enough just to say that the section of the Chicago River we are floating has been designated the "Ralph C. Frese Canoe Trail" by Illinois Resolution #07-R-01-10-04.

But, since you are going to meet him, you should also read this: Urban Voyageur and watch this: The Canoe Guru. Just don't call him a farrier.

More great Ralph Frese facts:

He is the designer of the classic hull shape called the Canadienne, which is a model used by many canoe manufacturers like Bell and Old Town. The RRCC once came close to owning one.

He was the driving force behind the 3,000 mile reenactment of the LaSalle expedition from Montreal to New Orleans on its 300th anniversary.

He makes reproduction birchbark war canoes. Some of which are currently for sale in his shop:

That is Ralph in the bow on Lake Michigan (and we are going to need a bigger canoe trailer).

So all of you jessies who are thinking about going to some damn college reunion or something instead of Chicago, this is a rare opportunity to meet someone truly important in our hobby. Ralph is 80 and about to retire. Chicagoland is for sale. It is probably your last chance.

And if our Friday night with Ralph is even half as much fun as this one was it will be well worth it.


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