Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Trouble with old Boats

Adrian's Viking skiff
There's a great new blog on the go, courtesy of Adrian Morgan, under the name "The Trouble with old Boats." I strongly recommend it for the mixture of Adrian's delightful prose and excellent images, one of which I've pinched and posted above.

Adrian's passion is "real" wood and he has just done a thought-provoking post on the subject under the heading "What is wood and what not?" here. The argument is basically that those who build boats with materials such as plywood, cedar strip, epoxy and no doubt other more esoteric materials shouldn't describe the result as a wooden boat. He acknowledges that others will build using non-traditional methods, indeed he has done so himself on occasion. He also acknowledges that the subject leads to heated debate when wooden boat enthusiasts meet. So I am inclined to ask what is the point of this debate.

Actually there's almost nothing in the detail of Adrian's post that I disagree with. There's no contest between the quality of the experience of working a fine piece of hardwood  with good hand tools and on the other hand pressing epoxy resin through a layer of glass-cloth with a heat gun and squeegee (although each technique presents its own hazards to health and safety). I just don't think it's helpful to argue about how to classify the result, with the implication that the traditional product is superior in some objective way.

In my Scottish Islands Class blog there are some further thoughts on the use of modern methods and materials here. The restoration of Stroma took eight years and during that time I endured a fair amount of abuse from self-appointed "purists" who told me that I was vandalising the boat by my use of epoxy. I also had the benefit during that time of a discussion with one of Sweden's finest yacht restorers who told me in confidence that he often used it.
 
Stroma in 2004

I only know that after eight seasons since she was relaunched Stroma has taken us through some horrific conditions of waves and weather and the hull has not required to be refinished. By contrast I have seen a lovely classic hull, professionally restored at enormous expense, showing most of her planking after a couple of weeks in the water.

In many ways this debate echoes the discussion that erupts every few years in the pages of yachting magazines about what is a "true classic." We all know the answer, of course, and the classic invariably includes our own ship.

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water