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A Chappaqua Resident Builds Boats — and Will Teach You How

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Photo courtesy of Jon Richer

This teacher uses his spare time to build personal watercraft, like he did with his father.

Chappaqua resident Jon Richer engaged in DIY projects long before our time in the “Q”; in fact, it was 15 years ago that the educator at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx built his first canoe, with the help of his father.

But in his time at home during the pandemic, he tried building an entirely different kind of craft, known as an Adirondack guide boat, using skin-on-frame boatbuilding techniques.

Richer owes his passion for boatbuilding to his father. They spent time camping and canoeing on the Housatonic River in Connecticut and bonded over Jon’s time as a Boy Scout growing up in Trumbull. “He’s my biggest fan; you can blame pretty much everything amazing in my life on my father,” says Richer.

Although it’s a memory he cherishes, the lapstrake canoe Richer and his dad built was heavy and expensive. To address this, Richer turned to a skin-on-frame boat-making process, in which a wooden frame is wrapped with a nylon or polyester shell that then gets waterproofed. “Now you have a boat that’s easy to carry, easy to put on top of your car, less expensive, as well as fun to use,” he says.

Richer decided to adapt this form of boatbuilding to the Adirondack guide boat. He was able to maintain the stunning exterior he fell in love with 20 years earlier while also making a lighter and cheaper model. “I had the opportunity to purchase an old Adirondack guide boat, but it weighed a million pounds, so I always said that I would love to build one with a skin-on frame.”

It takes Richer approximately 150 hours to build one of these guide boats, using a steam bender to form the laminates into place. If it sounds like a painstaking process, that’s because it is. “The difference between this and building a kayak is everything has to be exactly right, or you don’t get a fair curve on the boat, and the pieces don’t come together,” he says.

Richer teaches private boatbuilding classes at Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, where students learn to build water-ready kayaks in only six and half days. He fully expects that his hobby — which he describes as a “labor of love” —  will continue long after the coronavirus dissipates. “I’m actually hoping one day that this avocation becomes my vocation.”

To enroll in one of Jon Richer’s boatbuilding classes, contact him at Jonricher@gmail.com.