Former South Albany High School wood shop teacher Chava Neuhaus has spent the year and change since she retired working on a single project: building a rowboat.
The boat, a lapstrake rowing pram built using a traditional Norwegian style of hand tool joinery, is held together only using copper rivets and roves. Its deck planks all had to be hand-tooled to fit together tightly enough that the boat holds water without glue or sealers between planks. Neuhaus even built a custom steamer out of a lobster cooker, muffler parts and an old gas tank to shape the wood used in the frame.
The final product, with a white oak frame and Alaskan yellow cedar deck planks, is 10 feet long and can seat four comfortably.
Neuhaus, a Corvallis resident, said altogether the project took 1,500 to 1,600 hours. While she started the project more than five years ago, much of the intensive work on it has come since her retirement. She finished the boat this month and first tested it on Fern Ridge last week. On Monday, she returned to Fern Ridge for another voyage.
She said she took on the project because she has a lifelong love for boats.
“I’ve always been fascinated by and enamored with boats. I love to look at them and admire their beautiful shapes,” said Neuhaus, who owned a commercial fishing boat in the 1980s before beginning her three-decade teaching career.
Neuhaus, who taught in Alsea before starting at South Albany, said while the boat was a big time commitment, it didn't hit her too hard in the pocketbook: She traded for some of the lumber used and only spent about $300 on deck planking, around $36 on the rivets and roves and about $120 on paint for the hull.
She said for her the process of building the boat, which is built using methods dating back to the fourth century B.C., was meditative. She added that she enjoyed learning to use traditional hand tools and doing all the geometry involved in making the boat fit together.
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“The process of building it has really captivated me, all the problem-solving you do.”
She added that after years of helping kids figure out how to build — or rein in — their wild ideas, it was freeing to be able to devote her mind to a project of her own.
Neuhaus, who earlier built a wooden canoe using glue and more modern building methods in about 400 hours, said the rowboat project was way bigger than she expected. However, now that she’s finished it, she’s ready to start another boat.
“After all I’ve learned, to never do another one would be a waste,” she said.
She said her new boat, which she built based on plans drawn by Warren Jordan of South Beach, Oregon, has a flat front, which is a bit simpler to build than pointed nose boats. Her plan is to next build a boat with a pointed nose.
Neuhaus also has plans for her canoe and her new boat now that it’s complete: In August she’s planning to marry her partner of 12 years, Jack Istok, at Waldo Lake.
“Both my boats will be used on the water in the wedding with a big group of swimmers (mermen and mermaids of honor) as the wedding party,” she said.