Boat Building: Riverside to Restoration
Could you share some insights into your background and the inspiration behind entering the boat industry?
A few years ago, at the age of 28, I found myself residing along the Thames in Buckinghamshire. This is when my journey into the boat industry commenced, with a newfound passion for sailing, particularly in wooden boats. This enthusiasm led me to enrol at the International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft in 2021. Currently, I contribute my skills to a reputable boatyard in Windsor.
What notable projects have you undertaken or are currently engaged in?
I’ve dived into quite a variety of projects, juggling my college escapades with professional projects. One standout has to be pitching in for the restoration of the Dunkirk Little Ships.
In my college years, I immersed myself in practical work, getting involved in the application of epoxy sheathing to the deck of a Broads cruiser that had once been used by none other than Arthur Ransome. During those rare moments when I’m not swamped with tasks, you’ll find me fully absorbed in crafting a 9 foot clinker-planked rowing/sailing dinghy.
Could you delve into the materials and tools you’ve employed for your builds and the rationale behind your choices?
My training was emphasised by traditional tools, but the boatyard mandates the use of power tools. Therefore, I adopt a hybrid approach, incorporating both electric and hand tools. Across various projects, including my current dinghy mission with a mahogany backbone and larch planking. I have found that WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy products have been instrumental, particularly in laminating the stem and apron.
Are there any specific boat designs or styles that you’re particularly passionate about building?
Clinker-planked boats hold a special place in my heart, and perhaps unusually, my experience leans more towards clinker planks than carvel. As an avid sailor, there’s a unique joy in working on sailing boats, although opportunities to do so don’t come around as often as I’d like.
Were there any unexpected challenges or setbacks during the project? If so, how did you overcome them?
Securing substantial amounts of mahogany veneer and larch planks posed a bit of a challenge for my dinghy project. However, with diligent research and conversations with experienced boatbuilders, I eventually managed to source the materials. It underscores the value of having connections in the timber industry!
How do you stay updated and connected within the boat-building community, and do you have any industry colleagues or mentors who have influenced your work?
The instructors at IBTC were absolutely fantastic. We’ve stayed in touch, and they continue to generously answer my questions. Learning is an ongoing process, and their support has been invaluable in my progress.
Do you have any other projects you plan on working on in the future?
Absolutely! The dinghy serves as a preliminary project, paving the way for a substantially larger, wooden workboat I am going to start building next year. In line with the dinghy project, I intend to create a YouTube series chronicling the construction of the workboat.
Can you talk about the most rewarding aspects of your boat-building experience/ what satisfaction it brings to you personally?
Wooden boatbuilding is an endangered skill, making it a privilege to contribute to the preservation of our maritime heritage. Engaging in the hands-on craft of constructing a wooden boat is exceptionally gratifying. Each stage of the process brings me a profound sense of satisfaction, yet there’s a distinct and fulfilling moment when applying a coat of varnish to the completed work.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with boat building or a similar DIY project?
Be patient with yourself, inquire when in doubt, consider enrolling in a brief woodworking course if you lack prior experience, and, above all – though it may sound clichéd – ensure you enjoy the process.
Watch below: ‘How to Laminate the Stem of a Wooden Boat’
To follow Don McDermott’s boat building process, find his social handles below: