“Big Jack,” the canoe custom built for veterans with mobility issues, will get a bath before Jon Balzarini (left) and Nate Faulkingham of Dirigo Custom Boatworks in Steuben make a mold so they can create more. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS

Customized canoe brings hope for healing

STEUBEN — In just 90 days, two local men turned a concept drawing into a 24-foot canoe suitable for use by disabled veterans.

Nate Faulkingham and Jon Balzarini of Dirigo Custom Boatworks in Steuben built the custom boat for Col. Jack Mosher of Gold Star Outfitters and took it to the State of Maine Sportsman Show in Augusta March 29-31.

Mosher, who has been working with disabled veterans since 2015, said he believes in the healing power of the waters in Maine.

“I believe very strongly in the value of outdoor therapy,” he said. “There’s something about the water rushing around the boat.”

Visitors to the State of Maine Sportsman Show get a chance to check out “Big Jack,” a canoe custom made for veterans with mobility issues that was built by a new boatbuilding business in Steuben.

The trouble was no suitable boat could be found for veterans with mobility issues. So, Mosher decided to design one himself.

He contacted three well-known boat builders who told him they were unable to help. Then, he called Faulkingham, who invited him to bring his plans to the shop on Unionville Road.

Mosher made the more-than-two-hour trip from China Lake to Steuben, where he laid out his drawings and explained their purpose.

A large canoe is also necessary to accommodate nurses and caregivers who accompany the veterans.

“It has to be big. It has to be really big for stability,” Mosher said. “Sometimes [the veterans] don’t have arms or legs.”

Mosher, who retired after 30 years in the Army, said these veterans can use adaptive devices to fish and enjoy the outdoors but the canoe has to be able to accommodate those devices.

“There was no good fishing boat for them and I tried everything,” he said.

He told Faulkingham and Balzarini he wanted a boat that would meet standards required to go into any water where boats are permitted.

“I expected to get shut down,” he said. “Then, [Balzarini] said, ‘Yeah, I think we can build this.’”

Mosher was ecstatic. Over the next 90 days, he visited the Dirigo shop several times to watch the canoe materialize. He described Faulkingham and Balzarini as “innovative” and able to solve problems they encountered as they worked.

“You go from an idea written on a piece of paper to seeing it in front of you, exactly as you imagined it,” he said. “If I could have any fishing boat ever, it would look like this.”

For Faulkingham and Balzarini, the project was exactly what they envisioned for the new business.

“We love building things that are outside of the box,” Balzarini said. “We want to make something different, something cool.”

Creating the appropriate canoe, which they dubbed “Big Jack,” meant taking an existing model and lengthening and widening it to create the 24-foot vessel in the Grand Laker style. The added length and width make the boat sturdier, something that is especially important to those with mobility issues.

Describing the project as “awesome,” Balzarini said, “It was really a cool thing to be a part of.”

“I was honored to be a part of it,” said Faulkingham, who owns the business.

Mosher said the canoe was a “sensation” at the sportsman show. With a large group of veterans representing more than 60 years of service, Faulkingham, Balzarini and Mosher christened the boat in the service members’ honor March 30.

A group of veterans gather by “Big Jack,” a 24-foot custom canoe designed for disabled veterans, at a christening ceremony March 30 at the State of Maine Sportsman Show in Augusta.

“We christened it with a Vietnamese rice beer,” said Balzarini, noting their desire to honor the 50th anniversary of those who served in Vietnam in 1969, a time that Mosher considers to represent the worst of the fighting.

Now that the sportsman show is over, the next step is for the builders to wash off the dust Big Jack accumulated on the road trip and then prepare to make two more for Mosher.

“We will be making a mold off this and then we will put it into full production for anyone who wants to buy one,” Balzarini said.

Prices start at $6,000 for the base model. From there, buyers can customize features such as the seating and add a trailer if they wish.

Mosher plans to launch the new canoe on Long Pond in the Belgrade region and put it to use while waiting for the next two to be built.

“I am so grateful to this small company in a little tiny town in Downeast Maine,” Mosher said.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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