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Little Fish, big pond

Logger sails homemade dory from river to ocean

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 16/02) - An Indiana man sailed away from the Inuvik dock last week, chasing a dream he's had about wetting his hand-built boat into the icey salt chuck of the North.

Tim Roualet, a logger from Bloomington, Ind., built a modified river dory specifically to sail from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean and back again.

He chose the dory style because he felt it would be perfect for the voyage from the calm of the river to the swells of the sea. A dory is a flat-bottomed boat with a crescent-shaped rocker hull, first used for logging, he explained.

"The Maine river dories were used when they'd run logs down the river in the spring," Roualet said. "They'd get in log jams, so they needed a boat that could stand real white water to get men out onto the log jams."

The dories were also used to run food and supplies down river to follow the log run.

He took three years to build the boat from a wide variety of soft and hard woods.

The outer hull sheathing is southern yellow pine, the decking is Kentucky coffee bean, the frame members are honey locust are all from the same family.

"They are all very rot-resistant and strong," he said.

The bent wood from is hewn from red elm, cherry and walnut in the seats, the flooring is sassafras. He fashioned the tiller from ash to help chart a true course.

"The Druids always felt that ash was the wood of wisdom," Roualet said.

He named his boat after one his French grandfather had, but thinks he might rename her after his wife, Sharon Marie.

"She's like a boat -- she keeps me afloat and sailing in the right direction," he smiles.

The Little Fish was originally just a rowing boat, but Roualet needed to harness the wind for the trip against the current, so he modified his dory with an 18-foot aluminum mast he took from an old Hobie Cat.

"I went to the local library and started to learn everything I could about naval architecture," he said.

He learned that with proper placement of the sail and drop centreboard, the boat's centre of resistance will naturally stall the boat, should the sailor lose control of the tiller.

"If you fall out of the boat, that boat should point itself into the wind and die," he said. "That gives you a chance to swim back to it -- otherwise she will sail away from you."

He will navigate his course with maps a handheld GPS and has a small VHF radio should he need to call for help.

The trip down north will be easy -- getting back against the current is another task entirely. Roualet is hoping that cold North wind will blow him back to Inuvik.

"If I get a north, east or west wind, I'm going to be okay," he said. "There is 90 degrees a boat can't sail into; they can sail into 45 degrees on either side, but the other half is unsailable."

"You can tack, but this is so narrow, you'd be tacking every 20 seconds -- I hope I don't have to tack. I'll row before I have to tack."

Roualet's stoked the little dory with enough food to last him two months, but hopes to be only two weeks on the water.

He's dreamt of this trip for years and his original plan was to sail to Barter Island, Alaska, but the ice is still close to the coast from Herschel Island west.

He offers no reason for the voyage, it's just something he needs to do.

"What I've learned so far, is I've gotten older over the years and I don't know why I do anything anymore," he laughs.