Winter 2020 Boatbuilding

By Lorne Swarthout and Sally Curtis

All winter, volunteer boatbuilders have been gathering three days a week to build and repair the VCB fleet. Sessions had been held twice a week until recently when an enthusiastic group of VCB’s highschool rowers requested an additional session for them on Fridays. VCB members, high school students, and assorted volunteers and friends are working together on four projects.

Norwegian Pram:

Volunteers, working on Wednesdays and Sundays from noon until 4 PM, have almost completed work on a traditional Norwegian pram built from a Simon Watts design. Special care has gone into the fitting of frames and thwarts and gunwales because parts of the boat will be finished clear. Since it will be equipped for both rowing and sailing, we have fabricated a dagger board from mahogany and a tidy dagger board case. Mast construction is under way as is painting and varnishing.

Pete Seeger:

The Pete Seeger is a big favorite of our rowers. It is a 27 ft Whitehall gig named after the celebrated folk singer and clean-water activist that we built three years ago. Pete came into the “boat hospital” for some work this winter. Volunteers, under Dave’s direction, repaired some dings and added a new layer of fiberglass to the stem and keel. The whole gig is now getting fresh paint and varnish from stem to stern, inside and out. 

Cedar Strip Canoe:

The planking the new canoe is now almost complete. The “planks” are in fact thin strips of white cedar (1/4″ x 3/4″) with a nose on one edge and a cove on the other. When pushed close together with a bit of glue and a staple to hold them in place (until the glue dries) they will make a sinuous, wafer-thin hull. Since a wrist accident put Lorne on the sidelines for a while, this work has been carried on by a determined, and increasingly talented, team of volunteers. The final strips are going in clean and tight. Once this stage is complete, we will pull the staples, sand the outside smooth and apply a strong fiberglass covering. 

High School Boatbuilding:

The winter weather is keeping our gigs under cover and most of our rowers at their work or studies.  But a gang of young people from VCB’s high school rowing club are trekking to the boathouse every Friday afternoon to build a little Optimist sailboat. This is a very popular design in the U.S. and Europe often used for teaching kids to sail. It is also a great starter project for young boatbuilders, with a square stern and stem and a single plank on each side. Six students showed up for the first session and they have been back, bringing assorted classmates with them, every week. We started by building a stout strong-back and have moved on to the frame parts. In the process the students have mastered the mysteries of drills, screws (with different kinds of heads!), saws (jig, pull and band), files, planes (smooth and block) and sanders (pad and stationary). It has been a very social, chatty, couple of hours as some very serious young scholars unwind after a tough week of study by building their own wooden sail boat.

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