Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pete Culler

This bit of sustainability is from "Pete Culler on Wooden Boats"

[11' sampan] "Pine would be used for the bow, stern, risers, and seats; white oak for the frames, chines, and stern and bow seat supports;and cedar for side and bottom planking. This was based largely on what is available in the northeast U.S. Your locale may have different species traditionally used for boatbuilding stock, but if you keep in mind lightness with strength and durability, plus good holding for fastenings, you should do fine with what is available locally."

[10'6" wherry yawlboat under sail] "This little boat incorporated many different woods in its construction."
"The idea is with these classic little boats, the amount of material is relatively small, and the different woods can be used to their best advantage in the various parts and pieces."

Emphasis mine. Finding alternatives to get the job done, looking for the best properties, and searching out local sources seem like good ideas. These came from "Skiffs and Schooners" the chapter on Materials, first published in 1974.
Pete Culler has a diverse collection of boat designs. You can't pin him down on just one type or style. He has done ships, but seems to be most cordial in relating to small craft.

I have built about sixty boats, all under twenty feet, over fifty of them with kids using the same general pattern. Most of them were built outdoors by the way. The first one I built to my own design about 25 years ago. It was a small dinghy, punt design. I learned a lot from the first one. We used it as a car top carrier, since we drove a diesel rabbit at the time had two kids and a ton of camping stuff to fit in the car. We went to the cape every year because that is where I grew up and is one of the "special" places for me. I had to have a boat. The kids learned to row on Red River on Nantucket Sound, and at night we tented in Nickerson State forest. I have a very funny photo of my Uncle Foggy and my dad in this pipsqueek boat with abot 3" of freeboard.
I learned a lot about group boat building running 4-H events and homeschool classes. I made a few modifications to the canoes each time we built another batch. I don't even use plans anymore.
The other boats I've built commemorate anniversaries, investigate building techniques, or were just because. I also have restored several boats including a compass sloop, and kept the Delaware River Sailing School boats floating for eleven years. I was the official "Boat Nurse", it is amazing how big a hole a sunfish can punch in another sunfish. The kids would also sail hard enough to rip the mast steps out of lasers and sunfish. That wa a trickier repair.
To answer your question, yes. After the first boat - cdx plywood because it was cheap. I don't recall even painting that boat. It didn't last long. The first group of canoes were made of acx plywood or doorskins. Later we built some out of oukume marine ply. Nice stuff, but imported. Everything at the beginning was cost based, so I used a lot of sheet material. Semi-traditional building skills. Flat bottoms are glued, nailed onto frame bent sides with gunwales and chines. I still have the plywood one of these, it is the green one, Fiddlehead, in previous pictures, I also have "Three sisters", "Punkin" and "St. Jimi's Tide" Punkin was built in two and a half hours as part of a race with the WoodenBoat Factory in Philly. Because Punkin, Fiddlehead, and Three sisters were constructed from cheap material, they require almost yearly maintenance. They are painted with cheap paint, usually "rustoleum". I find I have to re-laminate failing plywood and make other repairs. St. Jimi was made of better stuff and has lasted better than the others. She has marine paint and was made of doorskin, only one delamination. Three sisters, by the way, won a ribbon at St. Mike's in the boat judging.
As I worked with older boats I began to see how solid wood vs veneer products have lasted better. I am currently sailing a composite boat, Urchin. She is constructed in a traditional manner of mostly solid woods, but has a plywood bottom coated with fiberglass and resin. She will have a rehab this summer to get ready for publication in "Small Boats" as part of the Small Reach Regatta.
Since beginning to work at the Workshop on the Water three years ago I have had exposure to many different ideas about building boats and materials. Throw this in with a twenty or so year link with the Traditional small craft guys, most of whom build and own small boats or wish they did, and I have had a long look at what is out there with the combined resource of a committed group of friends.
You can't just go to your local Home Depot and get boatbuilding lumber anyway, so seeking out sources for the stuff has become part of the process. Even 20 years ago, BHD, it was a specialty item, you had to find a local sawmill, find alternate choices, or pay $ for freight. I never had resource for freight so I chose the middle road. I found local resources and made choices based on what was around. I re-sawed fir doorstop, yellow pine window moulding, and cedar 4 bys. I sorted through probably tons of two by fours looking for the right grain pattern for a part.

1 comment:

Rob Fleming said...

Interesting...before all of this green thing, did you think about where your wood came from?