In 2015, Ronald M. Ely donated a custom-designed and handmade kayak to the Museum. Ronald Ramon Ely’s family moved to Wilmington in the 1940s, when he was a child. Ely started designing and building kayaks in 1987 when he needed a new one but couldn’t afford to purchase a manufactured model. He sold plans for his kayaks for 13 years, from 1987 to 2000.
Ely marketed his designs under the name the “Happy Wanderer,” and sold plans to boat builders from Maine to Texas. The kayaks were designed for flat water, such as blackwater creeks and estuaries and came in single and tandem styles.
The kayak Ely donated was actually built by Norman Horne. Horne built the kayak from Ely’s plans during the winter of 1988-89 at his home north of Shallotte, N.C. He used the kayak for 12 to 15 years touring the waters of our region, including the Black River, Cape Fear River, the Northeast Cape Fear River, the South River in Bladen County, and the Waccamaw River. He built it so the deck was fiberglass (to cut down on the weight) but during a storm a tree limb fell on it destroying the deck. Norman Horne eventually gave his kayak to Ron Ely who restored the deck in plywood, gave it a new coat of paint, and donated it to Cape Fear Museum.