Of Wooden Boats and Worms


Over the six months I spent looking for boats, 98% of what I looked at were fiberglass pocket cruisers... a lot of 25 to 31 foot sloops, 25 to 40 years old, $5,000 to $20,000, seemingly impervious to time... at least their hulls.  Sort of.  I was attracted to, but afraid of, wooden boats, and heaven knows there's reason.  Joe Kerchen prodded and poked me on this, and shamed me into a broader perspective.  Randy, my elder brother and professional boat maintainer, snarled something to the effect that a boat unsullied with character is scarcely worth owning (let alone, sailing).

A sail plan that inspires is more important than cabin headroom (let alone, a head room).  Lines trump lounging space.  And to lay out on a berth within the planked carcass of a well-built wooden boat is to understand that most everything surrounding you had another life, and has been assembled into a complex and dynamic construct that feels living, even if good sense says otherwise.

What I've learned in the weeks that I've had Ripple to look after:
  • The aggregate systems that comprise an auxiliary sailboat are complicated, and largely (not wholly) independent of hull material. 
  • Having a boat that engages you and requires more attention is far better than one that is less demanding.
  • Wood is wonderful.  The trade-offs are worthy of consideration, but nothing to fear.
  • Wood is a technology, just as is fiberglass.  Today I encountered a wonderful object lesson in the blog of John Alm, the Unlikely Boatbuilder, who speaks about ship worms, and why not to panic.  Nice job, John.
Image: Sailplan of the William Atkin Gary Thomas gaff-rigged tops'l cutter, lifted without permission from the Atkin boat plan site (go buy some plans for these graceful, beautiful boats.

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