Why Choose A Traditionally Built Boat?

All Guide Posts » The Right Boat » Choose Your Boat

March 3, 2012

Doug Hylan Doug Hylan

The easy answer: So that when you wake up in the morning, sun streaming through a port light, you can admire the beautiful structure – the deck beams, sheer clamp, frames and ceiling – each with a purpose, perfectly sized to it's requirements, made from the same woods that served the pharaohs, the same metals that the Greeks used for statues of the gods.

traditional wooden boat

LIGHT BREEZE - The L.F. Herreshoff Rozinante design modified by Hylan

Some would have you believe that a plank-on-frame boat is an anachronism in today's world – if you want a new wooden boat, better get yourself one made of tiny slivers stuck together with petrochemicals. Why have a traditionally built boat? For the same reason that you might prefer to eat at a beautiful mahogany dining table instead of one covered with Formica. Or hand-write a note at a heirloom cherry desk instead of a mass-produced particleboard affair. Anachronisms perhaps, but in this world of accelerating change, traditional objects can help ground us, help us remember that there is more to humanity than the latest thing.

traditional wooden boat

The galley of the 43' custom Hylan design DELIVERANCE

Everything about a traditional boat says “time”. Firstly, the best built wooden boats have stood the test of time. I have worked on several that were getting their first major rebuild after 60, 80 or even 100 years. There are no other boats (with the possible exception of a few wrought iron hulls) that have been in service this long. Wood of the size and quality required for these boats takes time to grow, and the skills needed to put it together take time and mindful hard work to acquire.

traditional wooden boat

Planking up the 34

I have no trouble imagining a traditional wooden boat as a living creature. Knowing the quality and character of her materials, and the extraordinary care that went into assembling them, I can almost hear her breath, feel her heart pounding after a hard thrash to windward. Like a faithful horse, she will unquestioningly take me where I want to go, and shy away in terror if I let her get too near to danger. When I am below, I feel like Jonah in the belly, and marvel at the intricate and organic structure.

traditional wooden boat

In the snug cabin of POST HASTE

Owning such a creature is a responsibility. After all, this is not a commodity, but a repository of ancient natural materials and skills. You are not merely “owner”, but custodian, preserving for those who will come next. Those next in line will gratefully acquire not just your vessel, but your contribution to her history. When she finally needs to be fully restored, it will be as the phoenix rising from the ashes.

Don't get a traditional wooden boat if you will resent such responsibility. If you can accept it humbly and happily, you will become a member of tiny but ancient club made up of those who don't just simply use and discard, but who also leave behind something of value.

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