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Catamaran auctioned for lake project

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July 30, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

BRIDPORT — Members of the Lake Champlain Restoration Association (LCRA) are enlisting the help of a tiny Polynesian catamaran in their efforts to clear nuisance aquatic weeds from the lake.

No, the catamaran in question isn’t being outfitted with a weed chopper, nor will it even sail in Lake Champlain. Rather, it’s a 72-inch replica of the famous “Hokulea” catamaran that in 1976 sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti. The model boat, lovingly crafted by Bridport resident Frank Russell, is being raffled off by the LCRA to help raise money for a garage that will house the organization’s new milfoil harvesting equipment.

A retired surgeon and experienced sailor, Russell, 80, has spent much of his golden years at his carpenter’s bench, where he has expertly crafted hundreds of model boats and airplanes. Many of them adorn shelves and tables at his Lake Street home, which affords his family a panoramic view of Lake Champlain. It’s a lake that has become increasingly infested with Eurasian milfoil, a fast-spreading nuisance weed that is taking over some of the shallower sections of the great body of water that touches Vermont, New York and the Canadian province of Quebec.

Russell and other members of the LCRA were pleased to accept delivery in June of a 40-foot-long weed harvester, paid for with state funds. Now the LCRA needs a place to store the harvester, trailer and other related equipment. Russell believes a basic 60-foot-by-100-foot structure would do the trick, and he said the LCRA is committed to raising an estimated $60,000 to make the project a reality.

“We have some donation prospects for land,” to site the garage, Russell said last week. “We feel we can do it.”

To that end, Russell has lent some of his special skills in creating a stunningly realistic model of the Hokulea. Russell had considered building a model of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Lois McClure sailing canal boat, but turned his attention to its Polynesian cousin after seeing a picture of the Hokulea in a local newspaper.

“I thought, ‘That’s different,’” Russell recalled.

He quickly assembled the materials he would need to create a 72-inch-long version of the Hokulea, originally built and launched by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1975 to celebrate the United States bicentennial, as well as to challenge the notion that Polynesians had discovered and settled the Pacific islands only by accident.

The real-life Hokulea — which is still seaworthy — has two 62-foot hulls; eight crossbeams joining the two hulls; decking, lashing to the crossbeams between the two hulls; rails along the decking; and two masts bearing crab claw-shaped sails.

“They used whatever they could find,” Russell said of the Polynesian catamarans of yore. “The great logs that drifted out of the Middle East and drifted across the ocean. They didn’t have that kind of wood on the islands. They put them together with fish glue.

In 1976, a crew of 17 successfully sailed the Hokulea from Hawaii to Tahiti and back, using the stars as their guide during the 4,800-mile voyage.

“The Polynesians, of course, were great seamen,” Russell said, adding they did not use modern navigation equipment. “They were sailing all over the Pacific when the Vikings were afraid to get their feet wet. They navigated by the stars, the sky and the waves.”

One of Russell’s sons is making a list of the great voyages the Hokulea has taken during its 31 years. That information will also go to the winner of the raffle.

Russell spent around 25 hours fashioning his miniature version of the Hokulea. It is made with quarter-inch plywood; mahogany strips; nylon line; and sales fashioned from epoxy-impregnated fiberglass. Russell referred to the actual plans of the Hokulea in reproducing the famous vessel.

“I know the boat well,” Russell said.

The model is light, but very well assembled.

“Unless it is dropped, it should last for 100 years,” Russell said. “I make a reasonably decent model.”

The LCRA is contacting area stores to help sell Hokulea raffle tickets, which will go for $15 apiece; two for $25; or 10 for $100. All proceeds with go toward the weed harvester garage.

Russell said the LCRA will sell tickets at the upcoming Addison County Fair & Field Days, slated for Aug. 7 to 11 in New Haven. The LCRA also hopes to have the new harvester on display at Field Days fairgrounds.

Anyone seeking more information on the raffle should call Russell at 758-9276. ?

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