Tiger Moths, Sea Eagles and Passion - West Wind Hardwood

Over the years we’ve sold both Sitka Spruce and Douglas-fir to South Africa.  It’s a hotbed for tiger moth enthusiasts; both the climate and the leftovers of WWII have fueled this trend.

Noel and Val Otten were just such customers; nice folk that have kept in touch over the years.  In fact Noel is not in the best of health just now.  Our thoughts are with him and his family.  Get well Noel!!

Late last year I reached out to him wondering if he had any stories and/or photos that he’d mind sharing with our subscribers.  He kindly responded and volunteered his friend Gavin Michal also.

Firstly he gushes with such nice things about British Columbia.  Here’s what he said of his trip in 2008.

“I tell my friends that the trip to Vancouver and Vancouver Island was one of the most memorable I have ever undertaken. If it wasn’t for the weather there I could easily settle in that part of the world!

 After we left you we took a trip up to Whistler. I had previously arranged to meet a botanist from the University of BC and I spent a day with him in the forest north of Vancouver; simply one of the most interesting days of my life. I love trees! And what I learned, in just that one day, ‘made’ my whole trip for me. It was fantastic!”

Now Noel’s friend, Gavin apparently was a behind-the-scene supporter of Noel’s purchase of our wood.  Here are Noel’s thought on Gavin:

He restores vintage aircraft. He is a craftsman in every sense of the word! He built a Kayak for himself that is a work of art.  An all wood Kayak. He actually took it about 60 miles down one of the few rivers we have in these parts. I told him he was mad to risk it. He took my advice and the Kayak now hangs in his lounge.

 Take a look at the ceiling / roof. This was an ‘old house with a corrugated steel roof and ‘pressed steel’ ceiling. He was living in the house so he could not simply remove the roof. He constructed the thatch roof over the existing roof and then dismantled and removed the ‘old’ roof from the inside. Did the whole job alone! No helpers!!!”

Photos Compliments of Gavin Michal/Noel Otten

An introduction from Gavin himself:

My name is Gavin Michal and I live in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have always been fascinated with wood and the amazing things that can be created out of this ‘natural composite’. I’m a helicopter pilot but I love nothing better than building fixed wing wooden aeroplanes. The glue I use is the very advanced AW106 Araldite but my tools are very old school….I purchase rough hewn Spruce timbers which for aircraft have to be carefully selected for light weight, moisture content and straight grain. For example, the grain is not allowed to run out of parallel by more than by a ratio of 1:18. I learned from some old timers who passed down the tradition of wooden aircraft construction much like one hands down a sacred oral tradition. I read every book on wooden aircraft construction from the heydays of the 1930’s that I could lay my hands on. I love the smell, texture, grace and strength of a lattice wooden structure.

 I have also built 6m drones for anti-poaching that fly autonomously for 24 hours.

 If I lived by the coast I would love to build wooden boats, but being inland I make my own kayak and furniture instead. Here one can get a little creative and free because there are no restrictions in the types and grains of wood one can use. It’s almost like a kid being let loose in a candy store. I look for the most exotic and contrasting woods I can find to create ‘wooden paradoxes’ which do not require structural integrity.

Gavin’s dining room table …. A 20 seater! And it weighs a ton! Not kidding! Words submitted by Noel O.

Certainly a versatile fellow with a penchant for all-things wood. Photos by Gavin Michal…..with thanks!

We’ll let Noel have the last say with an in-flight experience.  And as an aside, he references ‘sea eagles’.  I’d never heard of this species of bird until our friend David from Oxford, UK came to Canada in 2002 – his first of many visits.  I had asked him to give him his top ‘must-see’ things for this first trip.  One of them was to see as much wild life as possible; including sea eagles.  It turns out his definition of sea eagles is our ‘bald eagle’.  Of course, they are a dime-a-dozen here and David went home well satisfied………..and back to Noel.

The closest one can get to flying…is to Paraglide or Hang glide.

 I did a bit of paragliding about 20 years ago. That was the time I really felt like a ‘bird’.

 I have two nephews in Australia who are Hang Gliding instructors. On one of our trips there I went up with Kurt at a place called Rainbow Beach, near Tin Can Bay in Queensland. We launched off a sand dune which is about 400 ft high and soared along the dune above the beach. We came up behind a Sea Eagle, which is quite a big bird. It didn’t hear or see us as we came up behind it. We were about a 100 ft behind it and about 30 ft off to its right side. For about a minute or so we had this grandstand seat watching this bird. It was searching the sea for fish. It made no sound and not once did it flap its wings. And then it lifted just one feather and slowly it started to turn. Then it raised another feather and lowered the first one and started to turn in the opposite direction. And then it turned its head sideways and saw us. It got such a fright! It almost came to a stop in the air. It then moved away from us all the while watching our every move. Then it must have decided that we were rank amateurs at his ‘flying business’ and it pulled up and away from us. What a sight it was! And for once in my life I never had a camera in my hands!


This essay is produced with sincere thanks through the efforts of Noel Otten and Gavin Michal.

Thank you boys!!


  1. I have always been enticed by how birds maneuver. How they veer suddenly by twisting their body’s and sticking out a leg. I’m referring to a Tern’s acrobatic turns when they swoop down on you when you disturb them. I have taken pictures of a Bald Eagle wing shapes as they approach to pick up a fish head. I’m a little old to fly like you did. One thing in common is that I recently built for our transportation museum , four wings for a biplane, a 1936 Waco that was destroyed in a fire in the early 40’s in Carcross, Yukon which is 50 km from Whitehorse.

  2. Hi Shelley,
    Thanks for posting the article on Gavin, (and myself). I’m still in the recovery stage of my fight with pneumonia, but feeling a lot better. Presently down in Ballito for a few days; (about 50 km north of Durban).

    I will put together some photos and a short article about the various aircraft I have built / restored for a future newsletter. I have been very lazy these past few years and have done very little in the way of building or restoring of aircraft. But I now have a grandson, Nate, 2-1/2 years old, who is absolutely besotted by ‘tools’ of all types. I am now looking at the plans for a ‘pedal plane’, (based on the Boeing Stearman’ trainer used during WW2). I’ll let him help me to build it and that way he will start learning the proper use of tools! I may have to come back to BC to source the timber ……. Ha! Ha!

    My best wishes to you and Jan and all the folk at West Wind.


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