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Wooden Boat Addiction

Wooden Boat Addiction

There is something about wood that makes people want to touch it. It is a tactile material. IAN PRIMROSE validates that wood is still a material of choice for many amateur boat builders.

At one time, all boats were built from timber. It was a skilled craft as all of these boats were made largely with hand tools and by ‘eye’. It followed the old adage, “If it looked right, it probably is right”.

Boat designs were localised to suit the local conditions. It was all about function. Most early boats were designed to work, to bring in the catch, to provide transport, shoot ducks, or to move materials. The waterways were the highways.

The Whitehall skiff of the 1850s is a prime example of a purely functional design that originated in New York Harbour. Things started to change with the introduction of small motors. The owners no longer had to rely on muscle and wind power to move their boats. Boats were modified to take the motors, either inboard or outboard. Many of the older rowboat designs were too narrow at the stern to support the weight of a motor, so the canoe stern of some were cut off and the stern of others were broadened out to take the added weight.

However, these changes were comparatively minor to the revolution in boat-building that was to come in the 1960s and 70s. Someone realised that with the use of fibreglass, boats could be mass-produced faster with unskilled or differently skilled labour. The 1970s saw an explosion of fibreglass boats from huge yachts through to trailer-sailers to small dinghies.

In the background of the fibreglass revolution, the Gougeon Brothers in the US developed the West Epoxy System, which was marketed in 1982. Over the years, the company published manuals for its use that quickly became a reference for both professionals and amateurs. This opened greater possibilities for designers and for amateur builders to work with timber.

Wooden-boat building then had a resurgence, albeit mostly on an amateur level. Wooden boat associations sprang up in most Australian states and continued to prosper due to the renewed interest in timber boats. Designers, such as Ross Lillistone of Bayside Wooden Boats, and David Payne in Sydney have responded with new designs.

Wooden boats from good plans are manageable projects for most amateur builders with a few tools. Wood adds beauty to the boat. Construction methods include: lapstrake or clinker planking in ply or timber; strip-plank construction; and, the popular and easy stitch-and-glue method.

Each wooden boat is unique, even if they are built from the same plans. Each builder puts in his or her own personal touches to the project. Some paint their boats while others leave a lot of timber “bright” or varnished. Different sail rigs are tried. Even after the boat is finished, there are always adjustments and a lot of fiddling to do to make it “better”.

Some people say that there is too much maintenance to do with a wooden boat. This is not the case if the boat is constructed correctly and is kept under cover. All the timber is encapsulated in epoxy that seals out moisture and prevents rot. As long as the integrity of the paint or varnish is maintained and the boat is well-stored, then it will last forever with just on-going maintenance tasks required.

Another advantage of building your own boat, apart from the pleasure, is that you pay for it as you go. You are not shelling out the big bucks in a lump sum, but you buy materials as you need them and can afford them. It’s the ultimate pay-as-you-go scheme. An average build of 400 hours, for example, can be spread over two years or so. The cost and the weight of the boat will always be less than a mass-produced boat of the same size.

There is no greater pleasure than one gets from building a boat. It is said that it is the closest a bloke can get to childbirth. There is a bit of pain and after a while, out pops a wonderful creation. The satisfaction and sense of achievement lives on forever. In fact, it is addictive. Many find that they cannot stop at one, but go on building until the shed-space runs out. There are so many good plans, so many good boats, and so many challenges that keep both body and mind active.

Ratty in “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame really summed it up. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing about in boats…” That’s wooden boats of course!

The Wooden Boat Association of Queensland, Inc. (WBAQ) has more than 170 members, spread throughout Queensland and Northern NSW. There is a huge store of experience within the Association and this knowledge is willingly shared to those who are building or are hoping to. The WBAQ conduct “messabouts” that present members with opportunities to use their boats in creeks, rivers and on Moreton Bay. There is a wide range of messabouts to cater for the different types of craft that members own, ranging from canoes, rowing dinghies, motor boats, sailing dinghies, through to bay cruisers. The WBAQ members have exhibited their boats at the recent Brisbane Boat Show and at the Maleny Wood Expo in May. The boats attracted a lot of attention from all types of people, even those with no interest in boats. The WBAQ meet at the Queensland Maritime Museum in Southbank, Brisbane on the second Tuesday of each month where, after a communal barbeque, a guest speaker entertains and informs. 



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