Off she goes, Iain Oughtred's slightly foreshortened Penny Fee, at 15ft. Sails by Jeckells, spars by the wonderful Jeremy Freeland at Collars. The rest by Messrs Burke and Morgan (that's Jonny by the way...)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Sum of the Parts

There's a Shetland boat in the shed as I write, built in Fair Isle by Iain Best. She'd been left to fend for herself in the open, and the open up here is very open.

Miraculously after five or so years of almost total neglect she is in good nick, considering. Now I do go on about plywood, but if she'd been built with that material there'd be precious little left to fix.

There are many advocates of plywood, and they do advocate vociferously. Traditional boat builders seem to be, maybe by nature, a little less strident. It could be that all that epoxy goes to the brain, makes them angry. Mixing mayonnaise for days on end, rather than tap, tap, tapping lovely rose head copper nails onto rooves, would make anyone peevish. That's my theory, at least.

So I make no apologies for holding up the virtues of traditional building. Take a  look at those Jumbos being built down West, for instance. To my mind the most beautiful of working boats. And there's the lerret launched at Lyme recently, and Marcus Lewis's Fowey River class: perfection, sheer perfection. Have a look at Gavin Atkin's intheboatshed. Then there's the West Country pilot gigs.... I could go on.

And when it comes to mending them, they all come apart like a kit of parts. This Shetland boat, for example: rotten plank; grind off the rivets;  cut out the plank; use it as a template; scarph, bevel, mastic, fit, rivet - done!

Now with plywood and epoxy that is simply not possible, or at least it takes a damn sight longer. No, I will defend traditional clinker as long as I have breath. Someone has to stand up against the hordes of so-called wooden boat enthusiasts for whom wood means plywood. "I've got a wooden boat," they will tell you. No, you have a plywood boat. Not a bad boat, maybe an exceptionally good boat, but not a wooden boat. Plywood is simply a man-made wood-based laminate; it can make a good boat (ie it will float) and will get people afloat. That can't be a bad thing. There's got to be more to it than that, though. I tell you: there is...

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