Supporting Each Other
by Christine Burris
Bob Burnett and I took a drive north to drop off a boat at Sterling Kayaks. The trip provided a chance to hear a great story of the character of our community of paddlers. Sterling Donalson has been building kayaks since 1963. He started off with cedar strip boats, then plywood, eventually venturing into fiberglass and composites in the early 80’s. Since then he has developed a powerful line up of hull designs including the Ice Kap, Illusion, Grand Illusion and The Reflection, and was becoming a world presence endorsed by great athletes such as Rowan Gloag, Costain Leonard, Kate Hives, and Dubside.
Then on November 28th 2012 a catastrophic fire decimated the Sterling factory. It was a total loss. The buildings, materials, electronics, even the molds of his finely tuned hull designs were destroyed. Gratefully, no people were harmed in the fire, but a lifetime of work was gone in a heartbeat.
This is where the kayaking community stepped in. Thousands of dollars were raised from people from as far away as Spain. Groups of local kayakers volunteered to help clear the debris and rebuild. Orders from kayak shops continued to come in and payments for orders not yet received continued to arrive with the understanding that deliveries would be delayed- possibly for a long time. As we talked I could hear Sterling’s gratitude for the efforts of so many people on behalf of this small company. He described how powerful the support of this community was during a moment when he thought he had lost everything.
It has now been 6 months since the fire. They’re in a new shop and building boats. Sterling’s passion for high-tech materials and engineering great hull designs has put that sparkle back in his eyes. He’s been teaming with engineer John Curtiss to build hulls with Innegra™S, an olefin fiber product. My initial response was…”Beautiful”. Similar to some Kevlar boats, the layup uses a clear coating for full view of the fabric. But the kicker was the strength of the product.
Reg Lake was in the shop and pulled me aside. He handed me a 12” by 12” sheet of the product. It was the same luminous fabric in clear coat. He then proceeded to strike it with full force against a sharp corner of a steel table. He hit it like a Louisville slugger and it didn’t even scratch. I had him show Bob. Neither of us could believe it. We talked about the value of this product for rock gardening and rivers. Light weight and nearly indestructible, it may change the future of kayaking.
I love accounts like this where a community comes together to support something they believe in. It is this story and so many others that make me glad to be associated with all of you.