Trent Preszler remembers staring at a pile of his late father’s tools in the living room soon after his death in 2014.
Leon Preszler had been a South Dakota cattle rancher and professional rodeo athlete — the kind of man who made everything by hand, from the shoes his horses wore to the wooden fencing and barbed wire that rimmed the thousands of acres comprising the Preszler family ranch.
“You have to do things yourself, especially when you’re a rancher,” the younger Mr. Preszler explained. “Those were some of the values that were instilled in me at an early age.”
But Mr. Preszler, CEO of Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, hadn’t been part of the rancher’s life for some time.
Mr. Preszler had gone off to school to get his doctorate in viticulture from Cornell University. He worked on science and technology policy for the Clinton administration.
Now he lives in a bungalow on Peconic Bay in Mattituck.
That’s where his father’s tools spoke to him. They told him to build.
So Mr. Preszler, who admits to never having made anything outside his high school woodworking class, decided to build himself a canoe.
And not just any canoe. Mr. Preszler went all out, using books, websites, expert help and YouTube videos to customize his creation, which incorporates $30,000 worth of exotic woods, custom-made leather and hemp seats and enough solid bronze to cast roughly 30 Olympic medals.
“I don’t do anything halfway in my life,” he said. “Go big or go home.”
By the end of his 14-month project, Mr. Preszler had found a connection not just with his father, but with the waters of the North Fork.
“Back in the day, our waterways and our rivers and our bays were our highways,” he said. “There’s something to me very quieting and meditative about it … It’s just you and the water and the horizon. It’s very peaceful.”
Mr. Preszler started his project shortly after returning home from his father’s funeral. The idea to build a canoe was already percolating by late February, when the series finale of the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation” aired.
In the final episode, gruff town parks director Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, paddles into the sunset on a canoe he built himself. Mr. Preszler — who learned that the actor had actually constructed the boat himself and wrote a book based on the experience — was inspired.
“If Ron Swanson did it, then I can do it, too,” he joked.
Mr. Preszler based his 20-foot, 150-pound canoe on a traditional Maine design from the early 1800s. design Maine in the early 1800s. He sought advice from the same experts Mr. Offerman had consulted and began researching how to shape the wood.
The choice of wood was of the utmost importance, Mr. Preszler said. The canoe’s hull is aromatic red cedar, a type of juniper tree native to Orient Point. Unfortunately, the wood is not just rare, but hard to work with, due to the number of knots it contains. Mr. Preszler taught himself how to splice the planks together to retain the deep red color he wanted.
The canoe’s accent strips are black walnut, while the breasthook and deck are Mexican ziricote, a type of wood normally reserved for adding a veneer to guitars.
As Mr. Preszler worked on the canoe, he documented his progress on Instagram.
“There were times I didn’t know if I’d actually finish,” he said. “I got a lot of encouragement from my friends and from the Instagram community.”
Mr. Preszler engaged Greenport craftsman Kristian Iglesias of KAI Design to create the canoe’s bronze cutwater. A friend from Texas, Jason Thigpen, wove the two seats from hemp and saddle leather. The paddles were made from ash wood — the same as baseball bats — and then dipped in bronze.
Mr. Preszler even bought a yacht compass and installed it in the canoe’s bow.
“I wanted to pull out every trick in the arsenal,” he said. “Make it the Rolls-Royce of canoes.”
He built the canoe in his woodworking shed using the tools his father left him, which he said were “worn in the shape of his hands and dinged up.”
The result was worth it.
“The first time I took it on the water I was just speechless,” he said. “It’s kind of like your link to the horizon.”
The canoe comfortably seats four people and Mr. Preszler said he plans to take it out this weekend when friends come to visit.
He already has a notebook filled with design ideas for his next canoe, which he’s preparing to start work on already.
“A big part of the mystique of canoes is freedom,” he said. “There really is nothing like paddling your own canoe.”