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The Soul of a Boat

I have been accused of not having enough respect for fiberglass boats. Am I sterotypical of wooden boat people?

October 22, 2012

David B and Catalyst

A gathering with my favorite boats: David B and Catalyst. Also in the picture are Kwietek, Viking Star and the Schooner Zodiac. Christine Smith

I have been accused of not having enough respect for fiberglass boats. The accusation came from a_ David B_ guest after a conversation regarding the lack of character of modern fiberglass boats. He felt that I was not giving fiberglass its due and that my comments about how much I enjoyed being on an old boat with character were so stereotypical of wooden boat people. It got me thinking about the character of boats.

The David B is an old boat — eighty-three years. I think of it as an “old soul”. You can see that it has had a long life. It is a beautiful wooden boat with nice lines. There are a thousand stories behind its planks. Looking at the David B is a lot like looking into the eyes of the elderly. It has seen more and done more than I will ever know. A boat’s history is an ingredient to a boat’s character.

Love enhances the character of a boat. Itʼs easy to find love in boats of all materials. I recently toured an older mass-produced boat. The couple who own it have loved and cared for it for years. They have rebuilt the cabins, worked on the decks, and put their energy into the boat. They love it and it shows – when you step on board, the boat has a warm and inviting feeling. Even though it is a production boat with hundreds of others like it, the love of the owners shines through.

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Craftsmanship is the foundation of character. With an old wood boat, people recognize that it came from a different era, when materials, construction process, and the skills needed to make a boat were different. When a person comments to me that the David B has more character than a new fiberglass boat, I think it is a compliment to the shipwrights in 1929 who constructed her and to the tradition of wooden boat building. The skills it takes to build a wooden boat are different from the skills it takes to make a fiberglass boat. Both materials have their merits. Without fiberglass, recreational boating would be very different.

I was driving to Seattle the other day thinking about the character of boats when I was passed by a procession of Ford Mustangs. There were ten or more. The car in front was old, well taken care of, and it looked to be from the mid 1960s. The rest were new models. They looked generic and somewhat uninteresting because each one was too much alike. As the cars passed, I kept straining to look at the old car in front. It was unique. I think the same goes for boats. When boats are first produced they tend to look alike, but as time passes and individual boats (whether wood, fiberglass, steel, aluminum or ferrocement) are loved and cared for, they develop unique character.

Boats built like the David B are almost impossible to build today. The old-growth forests from which wooden boats were once made are mostly gone. The cost of labor and man-hours required are much too high to warrant mass production. Fiberglass is affordable and gives people the opportunity to explore and experience the outdoors by boat. When I’m on the David B or in a marina, I check out other boats. Usually I gravitate towards wood workboats, but I’m occasionally awed by a beautiful fiberglass boat. The fiberglass boats that catch my eye often don’t have the same kind of character as my eighty-three year old wood boat. They have something different: youth and excitement.

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