Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bonding through canoes: Memories of Peter Hornbeck

Since Peter Hornbeck died on December 26 social media has been flooded with remembrances, including the Hornbeck Boats Lovers Facebook page and the Almanack.

I want to share mine.

In 1991 I witnessed a middle-aged woman lift  a small canoe from the top of her car, carry it down an embankment to Lake Durant, slide onto the bottom of the canoe with ease, and paddle away. “I want that!” I said to my friends who were with me at the time. My first introduction to a Hornbeck Canoe.

Shortly thereafter I visited Peter Hornbeck in his house, where his office was located. The boats were manufactured in the near-by barn. I ordered the only model he was making commercially at the time – the 10.5-foot Lost Pond Boat weighing 15 pounds. I was ecstatic.

Peter said he just retired from his teaching job and was recovering from a heart attack. He seemed pleased to tell me that a woman was using one of his Lost Pond boats on a multi-week canoe excursion and was writing a book about her experiences. I found out later the woman was Christine Jerome who, in 1994, published the acclaimed book An Adirondack Passage: The Cruise of the Canoe Sairy Gamp.

Not living in the Adirondacks at the time, I explored the lakes and streams around my home in Central New York, occasionally venturing onto Adirondack Lakes. Peter said that once you are secure in your seat the boat is very stable. And I found that to be true. On Third Lake, however, I decided to test its limits by attempting to stand up. Of course I soon took a swim (see photo at top).

I found few others with Hornbecks during these early days of ownership, and thankfully I found many once I moved to the Adirondacks. I ended-up being canoe buddies with a number of Hornbeck lovers, all women. Six of us originally bonded after a horrifying experience canoeing on Little Tupper Lake during a Hurricane, called Isabel.

So we named ourselves the Isabel-6, or I-6. Peter took a liking to us, even using one of our photos in his ads. He gave us a present of a signed poster of a photo by Daniel Way.

Speaking of Daniel Way, he authored the article Visions of Paradise in the July-August 2013 issue of Adirondac magazine on an outing on Lows Lake of their ‘boys-club’, the League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen, where Peter was an active member. In this same issue, I published the article Birth of the Isabel Six on how our ‘girls-club’ came about.

The Isabel-Six had many canoe outings throughout the years.  Peter sponsored two, one to Vermont for excursions on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. We rented a trailer that held our six canoes with a “Hornbeck” banner draped on the side.  An article on the front page of the Newport Daily Express, September 13, 2007, told our story.

As we aged, it became harder on our bodies to load and unload our boats for camping trips, especially if there was a carry involved. Peter was kind enough to sponsor Adaptive Adventures to help us set up camp on Lows Lake.

Peter was well-known for donating his boats to raise money for raffles for non-profit organizations, including the Ausable River Association. I was involved in the planning for their second annual Ride for the River event. Peter delivered the canoe himself and trailered it as we biked Route 9N from Jay to Upper Jay.

As much as I loved my experiences on Adirondack waters in my 10.5 foot Lost Pond boat, I cherish the personal times with Peter, when I went to the shop and attended meetings of Protect the Adirondacks as fellow board members.

In this last photo, Peter is third from the right, in the rear listening attentively.

Peter was a generous and kind man, full of joy. After hearing of Peter’s death, Evelyn Greene emailed Board members of Protect the Adirondacks, “He was a unique and generous person whom many of my ‘nature nut’ friends and I will always thank for making our wild adventures possible, without needing the help of a man or other person younger and/or stronger than we.  He gave us Freedom!”

Photo credits:

  1. Photo by Linda Johnson – 3rd Lake Testing
  2. Photo by Lorraine Duvall – Poster signed
  3. Photo by Anne L. Squires – Newspaper Daily Express
  4. Photo by Jeri Wright – ASRA Peter & boat
  5. Photo by Lorraine Duvall – Protect meeting


Related Stories

Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She writes of her paddling adventures in the book "In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks." Some experiences from her memoir, "And I Know Too Much to Pretend," led her to research a woman's commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, "Finding A Woman's Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks." Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.

5 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Lovely remembrance. Thank you.

  2. David Gibson says:

    Thank you, Lorraine, for telling your story, sending ripples of widespread shared love and appreciation for P Hornbeck the person, and for his canoes and the freedom they give so many to explore and learn on the water.

  3. Chris says:

    That’s a wonderful tribute to really great addition to all our lives.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. phyllis j miyauchi says:

    Yes, Peter, you also gave me freedom as an elderly woman to enjoy boating whether I had a companion or not. I retired in 2005 and still have my Black Jack. You were so very helpful and always kind and generous. I’ll never forget the time my husband, our two friends and I brought the boat up for a wellness check-up. You invited us for lunch with your employees and ordered a good amount of pizza for us to eat. It was so nice sharing stories with all you guys. I lost Bob in November and hope the two of you will meet in the great beyond.

  5. Colleen aanensen says:

    Had the pleasure of paddling a 1991 this weekend in the adirondacks. It was such a present. A few years ago spent quite a bit if time lugging my 38 lb kayak through various portages of st regis canoe area and others. My thoughts of wow imagine the places i could go in such a light weight boat. Opens up a whole new world if exploration.

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