Tony Grove • Artwork - Boatbuilding - Furniture

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Contemporary versus Traditional Boatbuilding, when Art Became a Science

In 1997 a customer walked into my wood shop, a business I had been operating for 6 years.

He was one of those dream customers looking to have a boat built; he appreciated the romance of boats, knew what he wanted and could afford it. He was looking to having a 30 to 35 foot boat built; his preference was a boat with classic interior design and with a traditional looking hull. After much dialogue and some research I was still feeling him out to see if he was sincere in his intention to have such a boat built. He kept me informed of what he was doing and in fact he was getting a lot of information and was looking at buying plans. Eventually we started to talk about drawing up a contract, and then it hit me, this was really going to happen.

The stock plan he picked up was of a 33-ft Concordia sloop. The Concordia was developed in the mid 30's at the Concordia Company in Massachusetts. It was designed to be a medium size family cruiser, with a full keel and narrow beam typical of its day. The full keel of pre fifty’s designed sail boats were beautiful to look at out of the water and was also easier to build using the construction methods and materials available at that time, i.e. primarily wood.  I then took the hull plans to Ted Brewer, a navel architect living on Gabriola Island. He explained to me that experience has shown a full keel is not as efficient as today’s hulls designs. A typical sail boat hull today below the waterline is with a fin keel and a skag ruder. This contemporary hull shape with the cut away in the keel has less wetted surface reducing drag and allowed quicker response when maneuvering the boat in the water. The Concordia's narrow beam is also something not desired in today’s market. It is amazing how a foot or two off the beam can reduce the interior space. If you are going to own a boat, most people think it makes sense to have as much room as possible for comfortable use, while paying for length at the dock, and not beam. With Ted’s years of experience he redesigned the boat with a contemporary look and wider hull but managed to keep that timeless traditional look that the prospective owner wanted to have.

The process of choosing the construction method began. The owner originally came to me because he was interested in a wooden boat. The truth is that with today’s revolutionary methods and easy access, to all kinds of new products, he could have chosen any kind of construction method he desired. To name a few of these options: Fiberglass with polyester resin; Carbon fiber with epoxy resin; Steel; Aluminum; Cement; Traditional wood carvel; Cold molded; Strip planked; Strip plank and cold mold; Plywood.

With the look and feel he desired, it was obvious it was the boat was going to be constructed using wood. My background is mostly in traditional boatbuilding as a shipwright. I am not an unrealistic traditionalist promoting wooden boats - they do have their shortfalls, wood needs to be considered as a living thing constantly yearning to complete its natural cycle and then return to where it once began.  On the other hand, consider what happens to fiberglass when it reaches the end of its functionality?

The owner and I were lucky enough to acquire some unbelievable old growth fir, from a blow down that fell from high winds next to a clear cut. Most of the wood was cut thirty feet long, all quarter sawn, no knots, and has about 20 growth rings to the inch.  If you don’t know much about wood, this stuff is enough to make a shipwright cry with delight. It is perfect planking material, definitely furniture grade and of almost instrument grade. Because the wood was of such high quality it would be perfect to build a traditional boat. We were left with making a real tough decision concerning what building method to use, traditional or modern. We sat down and really weighed out the options. In the end we decided to build a strip plank hull, for what we think are very good reasons. As well as using the best wood possible it will also have two layers of 10 oz. multi directional fiberglass cloth and epoxy on the outside and one 10 oz. layer of the same material on the inside.

We made our decision by considering all the options.  Ted’s first option for a new hull design was to use a more modern design construction method, because of strength issues that would not be practical with traditional carvel construction. Secondly, strip planking can be considered faster, especially for one off boat building. Thirdly, even though I am a shipwright such construction does not entail the same high level of expertise to build and to maintain or repair in the future. Fourthly, the hull will still have longitudinal strength with the added strength of multi directional cloth held with epoxy. Fifthly, the hull will have a smooth look, and in the eyes of the insurers, this construction is seen more favorably when called a wood core fiberglass boat. The final reason and the most important one of all is resale. Unfortunately traditional wood construction does not have the same level of value as a more contemporary construction, or another why to look at it is, your market is severely restricted.

We ended up choosing a construction that will have all the beauty of a traditional look with the advantages of using today’s modern methods. I believe there will always be an irresistible true love by all people for wooden boats. When in the water they resonate a warm tone and a feel to the touch that only can be described as holistic medicine for the soul. This boat still uses wood and is not far removed from traditional construction methods. From experience anything designed and built well will last, I believe this boat will stand the test of time.
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