From The Boatshop

  • Are you a ‘Boatbuilding Snob’?
I’m sure most of us have gotten the ‘full spectrum’ of plan catalogs from the usual sources. And maybe collected some from not so usual places.

A lot of the literature has a real ‘eclectic’ mix of boat designs; some with today’s technology & materials - even drawn by a computer. Others could be from Chris C’s ‘specs’ ! [I was going to use the words, ‘relatively ancient’, but some people think that means anything older than last year!]

Anyway, I was looking at the latest ‘issue’ of Duckworks and the advert for Weston Farmer plans got my attention. Chuck’s introduction struck a cord. Let me paraphrase - " . . . not sure about selling plans that are half a century old {1958, etc.}". "No designer to ‘bail you out’ and modern designs & NA’s use today’s materials & techniques”. BUT . . ." Everyone knows that these Traditional designs are much more difficult to execute, but they are Classics. Besides, what about the challenge of building a boat where craftsmanship counts for something. No ‘liquid joinery’ allowed. Build one of these boats any you are a REAL BOAT BUILDER."

This same ‘theme’ has been used in at least two places on TV lately, a bank commercial and the opening scenes on two of the recent ‘Navy NCIS’ episodes. [YES - I know it’s redundant].

A while ago I was involved with a small company to ‘finish out’ a bare canoe shell. They had an arrangement with a outfit down South to supply the bare shells. The local outfit would then add the inwales, outwales, seats, ‘thwart’{‘spreader’}, and fore & aft ‘decks’. While the photograph I saw showed very simple above-the-gunnels attachment of the decks, the owner wanted the more finished look of inset decks with the inwales inset as well. With the owner supplying the parts & materials, he approximated the time/job cost to be 10 hours at $150. I simply told him - one day would get him what was in the picture . . . a very basic job that looked like it. Hand fitting the decks to the ends of the shell {which wasn’t symmetrical, nor had an indicated/engraved sheer line}, re-cutting for the inwales, and producing a smooth inserted transition would probably take at least that many hours. To make a long story short, I did what he wanted, photographing and note taking as I went. It took 32.75 hours. Afterwards, he asked me if the time could be reduced. I made a list of ‘operations’, in declining order. The end result was to simply remove all of the craftsmanship, and correct building techniques. Just like in his photograph.

A couple of months ago I encountered just the opposite. One Sunday, we were returning from visiting a friend who lives ‘out in the country’. Returning home, we decided to stop by Lake Nockamixon - to walk the dogs and to get a definitive mileage/time for the distance from our house. This lake is good sized and a very popular boating venue not far from Doylestown and Philadelphia. It has a very nice Marina with well over 100 slips and ‘dry sailing’ storage, and a concession area that also rents boats.. Two very wide launch ramps and a huge parking area complete this one ‘access point’ . . . there are about 5 others.

It was late in the afternoon, and the year, but there were still a few boats about. The ramps weren’t very busy, a few boats were being ‘retrieved’. As we drove over to park, I noticed what looked like a Herreshoff dinghy coming in to the ramp. By the time we had parked and had the ‘pups’ hooked up, the boat was on the trailer and off the ramp. Of course I went over for a look-see and a chat. It wasn’t a Herreshoff, but a ‘home-built’ sailing dinghy from a well-known designer’s’s plans. White on the outside, Varnish on the inside, Marine grade wood, lapstrake, ‘rivet & rove’ construction. The owner/builder was pumping her out prior to attaching the hold-down straps. We started talking, she was a bit of a ‘wet ride’ and had to be pumped out but no big deal. Nicely built; obviously for use rather than a ‘museum piece’. All was going along nicely until I mentioned that the boats I had built were epoxy ‘stitch-n-glue’. A sudden ‘chill in the air’, a voiced, ‘Oh’, and an immediate change in tone/attitude. About that time Joanne called me, and I said, “Thanks” and left.

We just returned from a short trip to Massachusetts, for the Alaskan Malamute National Speciality Show [Trooper had been invited to the Parade of Rescued Dogs and Zoe’s breeder wanted her for the Champion / Veterans events - thank you very much !]. Of course we had to stop at Mystic Seaport on the way home. Not only was it ‘off-season’, but it was a raw, wet, and windy day as well. Very few visitors, so while many of the ‘Shops’ were open the workers were few. When I went into the Gardner Small Boat Workshop there was nobody there. However, there were several sheets of ply, butted together on some shop-built sawhorses {hey, sounds like my shop !!}, with some lofting in process. On a board, by the door, was a faded copy of plan for the boat that was ‘in process’. I was very interested to note that a detail section indicated the bottom was to be PLYWOOD, covered with EPOXY and FIBERGLASS, and the sides were to be GLUED {Epoxy} LAPSTRAKE. I found this interesting on a couple of levels. One being that a few years ago, when I was allowed access to the non-display storage areas and the ‘builders office’, I saw a wall of photos of boats that had been built by different individuals. The one criteria {other than the obvious one - they had to be a GOOD JOB} was that they HAD to be from Mystic’s plans. This boat WAS from a ‘Mystic Plan’ !!

The point? I guess it depends on your view. I don’t think it’s even a question of ‘which is best’. I agree, traditions and traditional methods should be ‘kept alive’, however that doesn’t mean to the exclusion of ‘modern’ methods. The traditional of today was ‘new-fangled’ to somebody of yesterday. To some people, just getting out on the water is a challenge. To others it may be building a ‘ship in a bottle’.

The answer? Acknowledging history doesn’t necessarily mean to keep repeating it.

[PS: Yes - I bought the book & list of Mystic’s ‘Small Boat Plans’ !! ]

Ron Magen