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 Interview with a Boat Builder

The Huletts Current

News & Opinion About Huletts Landing, N.Y.

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Interview with a Boat Builder

September 24th, 2009 · No Comments

During this past summer, I noticed this beautiful hand-crafted boat on the shoreline one day.

Click on both images to see full scale.

I stopped to look at it and the artistry and the workmanship was just exquisite. Well it took me a few days but I tracked down its owner, longtime Huletts guest, Mr. Robert Davidson. Mr. Davidson explained to me that he had built it himself over a period of 5 years.

So today, I’m pleased to present an interview Mr. Davidson did with me about his beautiful hand crafted boat.

Your hand made boat is very unique. Could you tell us a little bit about your boat?

“It is a design that was very popular back in the late 1800′s. They used to use them as water taxis in Boston and New York Harbors. The hull type was designed to be an extremely fast rowing boat while still able to carry several passengers. This boat hull style, called a “Whitehall” is also quite good at sailing. I am still working on the sailing rig for it, but I hope to have it ready for sailing by next spring.”

How did you decide you would build a hand-made boat and how long did it take you to build it?

“After owning numerous different boats over the years, I became interested in getting a small boat that I could row and also do a little sailing. In the book “The Wind In The Willows” by Kenneth Graham, there is a passage where the water rat says to the mole: “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” After researching the possibilities, I concluded that the most suitable for me was one of the older styles that were perfected before outboard motors were invented. The only way to get one of these is to either have someone build it for you, or build it yourself. The cost of having someone build it for me was out of the question, so I built it myself. It took me over 5 years to build it, because I was also working full time. It was a lot of work, but it was a labor of love.”

You must get people coming up to you all the time and asking about it. What are some of their comments?

“The comment I hear most often is: “That is a beautiful boat!” I hear that a lot. Quite a few people have asked me if it is a restored old boat. I tell them no, it is brand new. A couple of people have asked me if I could build them one. A number of people have asked me what materials it is made out of (mahogany keel, longitudinals, and ribs; cedar strip planking, fastened with epoxy glue and dowels; trimmed with teak).”

Boat making is a bit of a “lost art”. What would you tell someone who was interested in building a boat like yours?

“First, don’t do it to save money. Building a boat is a very serious, long term time commitment. One should only do it if they are convinced that they will really enjoy the process of building a boat. If you’re interested in instant gratification, boat building is probably not for you. If you think you might be interested in building a boat, but aren’t sure, I recommend subscribing to two magazines: “Wooden Boat” and “Messing About In Boats”. Some recommended books to read would be: “Building Classic Small Craft” by John Gardner, and “Boats With An Open Mind” by Philip C. Bolger. I would also recommend a trip to the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, CT. Ideally, it would be a good idea to attend the “John Gardner Small Craft Workshop” which is held one weekend a year in Mystic around the end of May or the beginning of June each year. There is also an excellent classic boat museum in Clayton, NY that is worth visiting.”

I hope you don’t mind me asking this, but when you’re in rough water, do you get nervous at all that it will hold together or are you just really confident having built it yourself?

“I don’t get the least bit nervous. The boat is solidly built, and the design is extremely seaworthy. Back in the 1800′s people representing Boston boarding houses and Inns used to row and sail boats like this out around the tip of Cape Cod to meet ships arriving from Europe. They would tie on to the incoming ship while it was still quite far from shore, give a bottle of whiskey to the first mate and ask him to refer prospective customers to them. An interesting article describing the history and seaworthiness of the whitehall hulls can be found at:

Mr. Davidson, thank you for spending some time with us. Maybe after this interview you’ll start your own boat building company.

“Thank you, but I don’t think I’ll be starting my own boatbuilding company anytime soon! Considering the length of time I put into building this boat, I won’t be building another one for quite a while!”

Tags: Our Neighbors · The Landing