Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Building a Rowing Shell

Two weeks so far.

Recently Adrian Morgan, writer and boat builder extraordinaire from Scotland has a new blog. Adrian is a traditionalist and the tradition he follows is of the old Vikings. His boats are pure art. He also has very strict opinions. It's hard to argue with someone who walks the walk.

Stitch and glue is not my favorite building method. Never have been able to get used to the quick build method, minus the building mold either. So I don't follow the directions. Make up some bulkheads from sections and wrap the planks, there is no other way. Don't like the idea of sewing boards together with wire, either. Dull. Boring.

Well, so how do you lay up your boat, Doryman? Can't tell you, it just happens. Perhaps Adrian and I would agree so far. But halfway into this project, I read and he writes that plywood is not wood. And we know well that epoxy impregnated fiberglass is not a fastener. So according to Adrain this boat is no different than a fiberglass canoe. Now he has me depressed. He even recommends I paint the plywood to hide my shame. You'll have to read his stuff for yourself. He's the greatest!

Perhaps calling this boat a rowing shell is not quite on the mark. This is not the first time I've attempted to design a fast lightweight car-top-able rowing vessel. I love to row. So many places to visit and explore by water! Lightweight with a long waterline is what we are looking for here, but as soon as I get started the conflict between durability, seaworthiness, and light weight takes effect. More freeboard, increased wetted surface says my inner mariner. I spent nearly two days trying to decide whether to cut down the shear......
But now the shape is done. Nothing left but the details.

The rowing shell emerges from the sewing room as from a chrysalis.


Adrian Morgan said...

Now I feel like a worm, foisting my prejudices on enthusiastic boat builders as if my opinion was the only one that mattered. There are some lovely plywood boats, and some bats can only be built in plywood - any other method would be madness.

Maybe I protest too much, in an effort to counteract the imbalance and negative press that traditional wooden boats attract. I probably go too far, in other words.

So I am going to post something on my blog about good plywood boats, one of which I built myself some years back.

Doryman's latest could not have been built in any other material, and will be entirely fit for purpose. A joy to use.

I suppose that, in essence, what I am saying is please, at some stage in your boat building career, have a go at the traditional way of building a boat designed for traditional building.

Take one of Iain Oughtred's designs (Tammie Norrie, Woodfish,Guillemot, Humble Bee) and have a crack building it the old way. It is no harder! And it will make Iain's day, I guarantee...

Oh, and to call me anything other than a jobbing boatbuilder who has a few skills learned over the years is giving me too much credit. I like to think my boats look nice, and are reasonably well made, but have a look at that Jumbo built in the West Country, Will Stirling's, Tim Loftus's, Mark Stockl's or some of Marcus Lewis's boats, or any number of superbly crafted boats, built so often these days by graduates of the colleges at Lyme and Lowestoft and elsewhere.

I have a huge amount to learn, and running out of time to learn it. It's easy writing diatribes against plywood. Too easy perhaps, so I reckon I'll go easy from now on.

Adrian Morgan said...

I meant boats, not bats by the way. A plywood bat wouldn't, in any case, fly...

Brandon Ford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon Ford said...

Adrian, I'm glad you feel like a worm. You should! I've owned and been around wooden boats for 35 years and it's this sort of prejudice that makes me want to walk away. If you want to preach, go to divinity school. These are just boats!
There are a lot of plywood boats I love. And, fiberglass boats I love as well. It's form and function that matter to me.

Bursledon Blogger said...

I read Adrian's new blog in two minds, I agree that a traditional wooden boat is a thing of beauty and skill, but at the same time I stuck together a 15 foot rowing skiff for less than £250 and went rowing, surprisingly I've had no end of compliments about her - is she wood? do I care?

One thing Adrian and I agree on is she's painted - much quicker than varnish plus it hides many a builders (mine) mistake!

The rowing shell looks great Michael, why not paint it black and tell everyone it's a carbon beast!!!

doryman said...

If this came across in any way as a criticism of Adrian's philosophy, then shame on me. When in fact I meant just the opposite. I'm excited to see your boats and hear your thoughts Adrian, because it's exactly what we need. There is little in life that matches the soulful creation of a boat in living wood and it's a shame that marketing has created such a strong prejudice against it. Though we can build pretty boats in many materials, my personal favorites will always be made of solid wood planks.
So, rail on my friend. Carry the banner! When I was a young man the story was much different and those who experimented with the new glues and built in plywood were much reviled by the fellows in the shops and boatyards.
You make some very thought provoking points, Adrian. I spent a day laying up glue and fiberglass with your essays running through my mind and realized how much I hate the sticky stuff!

This boat is exactly what it is intended to be and would not be better done any other way. I'll varnish it too. It's just that the two conflicting philosophies came into play at a sensitive moment. And Max, the two minds describe it perfectly.

So, Adrian you'll get no argument from me. In fact I'm quite jealous of your old cow shed. I'd like to come visit one day (Max have you been up to Ulla yet?).

Brandon, don't go so hard on the fella. He's an artist.

Adrian Morgan said...

Michael B, you are welcome to visit my humble cowshed any day. You'll find a Shetland yole built by Ian Best in the process of restoration (ten years in the open air and very little damage), an 8ft plywood tender, made by me and my father 15 years ago and very much the worse for wear but still seaworthy) and my favourite boat of all time (well, at the moment) a Bonwitco With 320, Dromedile hull, unsinkable runabout, with a Yamaha 8hp o/b, made of good, old, traditional, no nonsense glassfibre. Brilliant...

doryman said...

Last summer at our small local wood boat show, a guy showed up in a GRP Drascombe Lugger decked out in tanbark sails. He was demure about joining the party and said he'd only come to see what it was all about. With encouragement he berthed across from me so I had a chance to look the lugger over carefully. Very nice, seaworthy and bristol craft, as much for it's construction method as for it's impeccable design.

Brandon Ford said...

That's the spirit Doryman! It was a beautiful boat. One that I would be pleased and proud to own. Maybe a "traditional boat show" instead of limiting it to one medium or two ("real" wood and plywood).
The important thing is that people are out on the water enjoying boats that row and sail well and don't need those stinky outboards.

Maybe I was a little hard on Adrian. Sorry man. It's just that I read your post on your blog the night before and had been stewing about it for a few hours.

doryman said...

This is what gets the wood boat crowd all worked up at the shows. Also what others don't understand about the wood boat people. "How can they get all excited about such details?" they say.
But I'll tell you. When someone comes up to me on the dock and is admiring Mistral (plywood 36 foot sailing dory) and asks if she's constructed of aluminum (at a wood boat show!), I'm speechless.