East Lyme - Twelve years of work was launched into Powers Lake Saturday afternoon with as much fanfare as the day's more famous rowing event, the Harvard-Yale Regatta, several miles to the east.
About 100 family members and friends gathered at the boat launch to the beat of an African drum as friends rolled out a red carpet to the water's edge.
Childhood friends Claire Fazzina of Tolland and Kristee Nichols of Old Lyme climbed into the canoe they had spent 12 years building - with the help of a "how to build a canoe" book and video, some advice from a local carpenter, and a couple of canoe workshops in New Hampshire.
Planned as a retirement gift to themselves after Fazzina casually mentioned back in 1999 that she wanted to learn fly-fishing, the canoe project sealed a friendship that had started in second grade at Bolton Elementary School.
Fazzina spends summers at Point O' Woods in Old Lyme. Both are 57 and still working - Fazzina as a media specialist at Bolton High School and Nichols as an ultrasound technologist - so time to work on the canoe was at a premium.
"We kept a journal," Fazzina said. "Sometimes it would say, 'Haven't worked on it in 18 months.'"
But on May 11, Fazzina and Nichols turned the screwdriver over to Fazzina's father, Wilton Thorp, on his 95th birthday so he could ceremoniously drive in the final screw.
And so the Compass Rose, with its decorative stripes of red and white cedar, its ash and mahogany trim and its handcrafted cherry wood oars, was ready for launch. The canoe sports the design of a compass rose both inside and on the bottom.
That proved prophetic.
"Taking bets over here on whether it floats or not," Dave Laflamme, longtime friend of both Fazzina and Nichols, shouted minutes before the launch.
Drummer Joyce Teed stepped up her rhythm as the two climbed into the canoe, a bit unsteady, and took seats facing each other. Someone quickly shouted from the shore: "You're in the wrong position!"
Nichols tried to turn around, and within seconds, the canoeists were in the drink, and the compass rose design on the bottom of the canoe was visible for all to see.
Someone theatrically threw a life preserver to the two as they sat in 2 feet of water.
"Take two!" came a shout from the shore.
This time, both facing forward and their paddling synchronized, Fazzina and Nichols made a couple of quick laps in the launch area, turning with precision and raising arms and paddles in triumph.
"I said we should practice first," Fazzina said as she climbed out of the canoe. "We haven't been canoeing in years. I actually thought of bringing some dry clothes, but I said, 'What are the chances of getting wet?'"
Success assured, everyone turned their attention to the feast set up under several shade tents. The highlight was a three-tiered cupcake tree featuring hundreds of mini-cupcakes made by Nichols' friend, Pat Mallett, who is launching her own new venture, Jipsy Girl Designs, a custom cupcake company.
The cupcakes featured tiny chocolate canoes and paddles, compass roses, the water lily on Fazzina's paddle and the barley and hops on Nichols' paddle.
Others admired the Compass Rose, carried back to its display rack.
"It's been in my house for 12 years," Nichols said. "So now it goes to her house for 12 years."