Hacking the Free Seas

Hacking the Free Seas

In late July, I took a quick trip to Clayton, NY and visited the Antique Boat Museum where a group of Brooklyn and Queens makers were planning to launch a paper skiff onto the St. Lawrence River with the intention of going 168 miles down river to Montreal. Yes, a paper boat! The group, Mare Liberum, describes itself as “a collaborative exploration of what it takes to make viable aquatic craft as an alternative to life on land.” That’s a practical undertaking given that nearly 1/3 of New York City’s territory is water, but so few of the five boroughs nearly nine million inhabitants engage that territory. One way to increase access is to make boats and encourage others to do so, which is exactly what Mare Liberum has been doing for several years now, teaching classes and open-sourcing many of their boat designs [PDF].

In NYC, the collective typically use reclaimed plywood, canvas, and even bamboo. In Clayton, the plan was to use a century-old Lake Ontario skiff, and produce a paper mold — a la papier-mâché — of the skiff and then affix a wooden skeleton to the body. The result is a beautiful two-person craft that not only floats (and survived the journey), but weighs much less than a completely wooden boat of similar design.

The paper molded clone of a Lake Ontario skiff, to be transformed into the boat below.
Jean Barberis (in water, with paddle), captain of Le Massicot (Paper Cutter in French), would successfully row 168 miles to Montreal in this papercraft.

At NYC’s upcoming third annual World Maker Faire, Mare Liberum compatriots Marie Lorenz, A’yen Tran, and Stephan von Muehlen give a presentation on making boats and their water-based projects, while Mare Liberum will also be building a paper canoe using little more than craft paper and wood glue! In just two days they plan to go from material to finished project using “the presumably lost art of building a boat by layering paper and glue over a form to create a sea-worthy vessel.”

Mare Liberum crew working on their paper skiff, with the original century-old skiff in the foreground that was used to make the paper mold.
Putting finishing touches on the skiff, minutes before launching on the French Creek Bay in Clayton, NY.

On the Gowanus, We Are Swimming Cities
Afloat on the Boggsville Boatel

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

I'm an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!

View more articles by Nick Normal


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.