Heading Down The Connecticut In A Corker Of A Boat

Jul 24, 2015

When it comes to what floats your boat there are many possibilities.

For a retired North Country doctor it is literally corks.

About 65,000 wine corks are keeping his home-built catamaran afloat on the Connecticut River and on a recent morning at the Bedell State Park near Haverhill a group of teenagers was transfixed when they saw it in the water.

“Look at that guys, the boat is made out of wine corks!"

"No way."

"You drank all the wine yourself, right?"

"That is so sick."

"Awesome!”

Pancras van der Laan estimates 65,000 wine corks are located in the netting that keeps the ConnCorki afloat.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The catamaran isn’t made entirely of corks. But the corks do fill two hulls and keep it afloat, says the boat’s builder, Pancras van der Laan.  Over the winter he worked on it with friends in his barn in Lancaster.

“We invented it as we went along.”

“We started with a long board at the bottom and we built some triangular pieces of plywood which we glued together and then steam bent these ask ribs.

>The ribs are meant to contact the corks. And the corks in the quarter-inch fishnet tend to rise up so we had to put a platform on it so the corks would not escape.”

“Actually a lot of the corks came from Cheers in Boston.”

“Between today and tomorrow we are going about 30 miles, down to Wilder.”

“And so, that is a 30-mile stretch and then we are going further down, there is another 15 or 20 mile stretch to Bellows Falls. Then, are further stretches down the river, to the ocean.”

The boat is seven feet wide. Sixteen feet long.

Van der Laan, left, and Bob Fink, both of Lancaster.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

“The Lancaster police came and inspected it and he was duly impressed. But even more impressed were the ladies in the motor vehicle registry who had to register the boat. They whooped it up.”

The catamaran is named ConnCorki because of the river and the corks.

And, there a bit of an homage to Kon-Tiki the balsa wood raft a Norwegian adventurer used to cross the Pacific in 1947.

Van der Laan says he got the idea years ago.

“I picked up an article in Ocean Navigator magazine in the late 1990s that said something about a cork boat and I said ‘Ah ha. A cork boat down the Connecticut River from source to sea. Would be the perfect project.”

Some testing was done in the First Connecticut Lake in Pittsburg.

“I mean that was a little harrowing we got into some 20 knot winds and we damn near capsized.”

Most of the corks came from a wine tasting room at Cheers in Boston but Van der Laan said some patients contributed and he helped, too.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Nevertheless Van der Laan and fellow sailor Bob Fink, who helped build the catamaran, are heading off.

“Okay, why don’t you start your engine? That’s a good idea because yours starts so well. You know that we do have paddles. ..”

For that day the goal was Wilder on the Vermont side where there is an easy take out.