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Sky’s The Limit for Shodai

Sky’s The Limit for Shodai

In many ways, Hinata, a ten-foot classic boat built by Shodai Shintani, symbolises how far the second- year boatbuilding apprentice has come. Five years ago, Shodai – or Sho, as he likes to be called – lived in Japan and had not yet learned English. Now, he has almost finished a craft that has impressed seasoned professionals in Gold Coast boatbuilding and turned heads in the boating fraternity.

Shodai migrated to Australia with a dream to work with timber. When carpentry failed to inspire, he stumbled into the world of classic boatbuilding after meeting an apprentice from Regatta Marine.

“Sho turned up here at around four o’clock in the afternoon, fairly interested in what we do,” recalls Doug Fielding, director of Regatta Marine. “He said he wanted to work with timber – that was his key goal. I invited him to hang around and have a look. I couldn’t get rid of him! He was here until eight o’clock.”

Sho started working for Regatta Marine the next day. His three-day-a-week program with Regatta Marine was fertile ground for Sho to learn: the business specialises in classic boat restoration and all aspects of boat building, including restorations, modifications, extensions, fit-outs, maintenance, painting and anti-foul work. Sho is an international student at TAFE, enrolled in Certificate III Marine Craft Construction, but he is not officially recognised as an apprentice.

“Sho was with us for a couple of months when he said he might be interested in building a clinker boat,” says Doug. “We encouraged him as much as we could. He bought a set of plans for himself and lofted it out in feet and inches – which is the difficult way to do it – but he did a cracking job. He never gave up.”

A qualified shipwright with more than 25 years experience, Doug has never seen anyone build a clinker boat, like Hinata, with only 12 months’ experience.

It was a labour of love for Sho. He spent hours after work every day at Regatta Marine’s workshop and came in on the weekends. When he was on annual leave, he also came, day after day, and put in entire day’s worth of work on his pride and joy.

Hinata stems from Sho’s own research. Inspired by the idea of being the very best he could be, Sho bought the plans online and asked one of his Gold Coast TAFE teachers how to loft the boat, a process which he worked on before and after TAFE.

He also poured his own finances into the project, purchasing Kalatis timber Doug sourced for him. It gives the boat a rich look, but costs far more than standard timber. In fact, the boat is worth about $7,000 in timber, aside from Sho’s hours of manpower shaping it.

Building the Hinata became a deeply personal journey. “Some days, when I messed up, I was left a bit blue,” Sho recalls. “I had to leave it a couple of days, and then I would come back and figure out how I could fix what I had done wrong. Now, I am very happy with it and people are telling me I should be proud of myself. I am sure it could be better though!”

After 10 months of painstaking work, Sho debuted the Hinata at the 21st Bribie Classic Boat Regatta this year. Some of those attending already knew about the boat before it arrived and were excited to meet Sho. “I made a lot of friends who are also boat lovers through building this boat,” said Sho. “I am enjoying boating life and talking with other people about their boats. Sometimes, people give you tips and advice – and I am keeping those in mind for the next boats I’m going to build. It pumps me up and makes me want to continue boat building.”

Even though most boats at the classic are timber, it is easy to see why the Hinata drew so much attention. Her proportions are regal, her rich cedar gives her an elegant appearance, and she is clearly a result of a build focused on quality rather than speed. To the average observer, it also has a Japanese look about it, even if the plans come from the US.

“Itried to give it a Japanese touch,” Sho says. “I painted below the waterline with red and white, which are Japan’s colours. Doug encouraged me to give it a Japanese name, so I named it Hinata, which means ‘go into the sun’ in Japanese.”

The elegance of the Hinata hides the truth: that the journey has not been entirely smooth sailing for the apprentice. Before the Bribie Classic, he was moving the boat one day and dropped it, leaving a crack more than a metre long in one of the planks. He was devastated. “I felt like I had broken up with a girlfriend,” he laughs. “I went home to research how to fix a timber boat. Some people just put glue into the cracks, but that’s not very strong – it can crack again. So I replaced it. I cut behind the ribs to take the cracked piece out and slide the new one in. It was a great challenge!”

What is next for Sho? Sho finishes his two-year course at TAFE at the end of this year and he will continue to work at Regatta Marine to obtain his full qualification. He intends to use his vessel to sail around Fraser and Bribie Islands and go camping. The Classic proved to be a great opportunity for him to meet fellow enthusiasts among the friendly South East Queensland boating community. He intends to give his current vessel a sail, before starting a new project.

“I’d like to build a bigger boat,” Sho admits. “It would be an 18-foot sailing dinghy and it will have an onboard engine too. I’m trying to make my boats bigger and bigger – but I also want to build something I like. I can do my best that way.”

Doug Fielding is still supervising Sho at Regatta Marine and there is no question he is impressed with what he is seeing. “The sky’s the limit for Sho,” Doug says. “He has a skill where he can just see what the finished product is supposed to look like. When you can do that, you get there eventually.

“At Regatta Marine, we are passionate about classic boats. They are unique and the process of building each one has its own unique story. When someone of Sho’s youth comes along with such enthusiasm and creativity, it’s an inspiration for those of us who have been in the business some time and love it.”

By Chris Logan


(Published in the October – December 2019 edition)