How not to assemble a Pouch RZ85 collapsible canoe

Recently we picked up the old family collapsible canoe that had been sitting in a barn for years. I think it was acquired in the late 1980s, in Germany, and used in one or two holidays after I had left home. I’d never actually seen it before, but lil bro Nick described it thus:

It's got a wooden frame, plus a **** load of thick canvas stuff which eventually (after a life-ending family row) can, hypothetically, be re-combobulated to make a mahoosive (I'm told this is the word) canoe for two.

Knowing no better, my preconception of what a collapsible canoe might be like was along these lines:

The Berthon Folding Canoe, from the mid 19th Century

Yesterday the sun came out, so we decided to see whether we could do the re-combobulation while avoiding the family row.

The two massive sacks disgorged about 40 bits of wood of various shapes and sizes, paddles, various nuts, straps and buckles, the aforementioned canvas, an old nappy, and some monstrous spiders.

No instructions.

I’d previously been led to believe the beast was a “Klepper” so it was surprising to find a “Pouch” logo emblazoned on the canvas and on a little pennant thing. A quick google revealed that Pouch were/are indeed a manufacturer of canoes (subsequent research suggests that this RZ-85 is the modern equivalent of our thing, ours being an RZ-85/3).

We found an incredibly basic set of instructions here though at that stage we had no idea whether it was for a model similar to ours. Reassuringly, the page began:

 We will provide at this point a link to the complete, fully detailed and illustrated assembly instructions in due course.

Not being boaty types, we hadn’t a clue what keelsons and sponsons and suchlike were, so we looked for clues amongst the materials provided. We found bits with numbers on, some too faded to read, bits with R, L, H and V on (right, left, back and front?), lots of bits that vaguely fitted together, and after an hour or so we thought we were on track:

Looks vaguely canoe-like

Oh, how wrong we were! At this stage we didn’t even have the ends of the frame correctly assembled, as can be seen from the carcass on the grass behind – missing the stern “blade” thing. Here we are some time later with that aspect sorted:

Starting again, with the stern section looking better

But things were still sadly amiss – here we are discovering that we have 8 inches of overlap in the middle of the boat, with no means of making the boat any longer to get rid of it – we found we could engage the gunwhale on one side or the other, but certainly not both.

The skin is too short for the frame, and pulling the ends is just ridiculous

The key, as all Pouch-owners will know, was that ladder thing lying on the grass behind, which corresponded to “the two central keelson sections” in those instructions we found. Once we had realised its significance, removed all the central U-sections, and done the necessary to engage it into position, the hull was now stretched to length and everything else fell into place easily:

 That ladder thing is a "keelson", obviously

Actually not quite – we had a little rotation of the frame within the skin, we didn’t finish off the edges of the cockpit, forgot to fit the seat backs, and we couldn’t work out what we should have used the little grey straps for – but this was proof of concept only: i.e. could it be assembled without causing wives and children to leave home? And were we going to keep this thing, or give it to the girl guides or perhaps our worst enemies? Well, assembly wouldn’t be too bad with instructions and the benefit of experience, but there were certainly moments when we nearly gave up. I’ve advised Lois to put on her CV “successfully assembled 30-year-old collapsible canoe, without arguments”.

Lois and I then tested whether it was readily portable, as we might lug it down to the Usk for real use next time.

The Pouch RZ85 is highly portable

And we proved it could keep out grass. I’m less certain whether it will keep out water, as it’s been in a bag for 30 years and also has some scuffs and scrapes on the rubbery bit.

The Pouch RZ85 keeps out grass

And here’s one of our photographer Hel’s arty shots of us engaged in battle, with a setting sun behind:

Brecon sunset over a boating scene

Then, as dusk drew in, I took it all to bits again, cajoled all the bits back into the two massive bags, and gave it back to the spiders in the shed.