from “Rovings,” Professional BoatBuilder No. 152
Compiled by Dan Spurr
Few boats are as notorious as Como Nova, formerly Jade, whose ignominious distinction was to nearly bankrupt her builder, Jim Betts. Described in some detail in the magazine pages (see “Survivor II,” Professional BoatBuilder No. 129), here’s the backstory. It’s somewhat complicated, so we’ll begin with an excerpt from that earlier profile of Betts:
All I Need to Know About Running
a Boatshop I Learned in a Band
Editor’s Note: While some people are lucky to have one great passion, John Harris has two: boatbuilding and music. The owner of Chesapeake Light Craft, the Maryland company featured in Professional BoatBuilder No. 152, studied music in college but before graduating in 1994 he lined up a job repairing old wooden boats. Today, his company is one of the most successful kit-boat suppliers in the world, selling more than 2,000 units annually. As Harris explains below, his success is thanks in part to lessons he learned in the music business.
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A few years into my boatbuilding career, I reached a fork in the road: I had an offer to become a full-time musician. I stuck with wooden boats because it paid more, which tells you a great deal about a musician’s prospects. After that, I persisted in music semi-professionally, gigging once or twice a week until my daughter was born and the trombone was exchanged for playgrounds and Legos.
In moments of artistic darkness I ponder the preposterous expense of my music education, and wonder if all the years of music were wasted. But those years of orchestras, church gigs, jazz quintets, wedding covers, and indie rock bands have left me with indelible lessons about making a living as a working artist. And all boatbuilders are artists, as far as I’m concerned.
A Lesson in Tolerance (and Other Tips for Joining Plywood)
In his Design Brief in Professional BoatBuilder No. 152, yacht designer Dudley Dix writes about the Didi 950 (9.5m/31′2″), the plywood raceboat he designed to meet Class 950 rules. It is the latest iteration of radius-chine-plywood racers designed to approximate the shape of a round-bilge fiberglass boat that began with his own Didi 38 (37′9″/11.5m), Black Cat. He writes, “The idea was to help amateur builders build boats that didn’t look amateur-built and so would be more attractive in the resale market.”
Dix was an amateur boatbuilder before beginning his professional yacht design career in 1979. Throughout, he has worked with plywood. His blog with tips for boatbuilders includes an explanation of the types of plywood, methods for joining them, and lessons learned along the way. Before the Didi 950, for example, Dix had been joining panels for kit-boat designs with stepped scarf joints. According to Dix, these joints—the mechanically produced equivalent of hand-planed sloping scarf joints—easily slide, making them tricky to align. In a post about stepped scarf joints, he shares some of the various methods that companies have adopted to overcome this problem.
Video: On the Show Floor at IBEX
At last week’s 2014 International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference (IBEX), in Tampa, Florida, ProBoat’s editorial staff was stretched thin hosting and moderating the series of 55 technical seminars, meeting the constant stream of subscribers and contributing writers at our booth on the show floor, and walking the show to see the wealth of new ideas and innovative solutions the 558 marine industry exhibitors had to offer.
For those of you who weren’t among the 6,900 in attendance, we asked technical editor Steve D’Antonio to share a couple of his favorites from the show floor. For D’Antonio, a marine consultant who spent many years managing a boatyard, IBEX is an opportunity not only to find new products and ideas but also to meet a variety of manufacturers and ask technical questions. “In the short course of two or three days I can gather a tremendous amount of information and get the answers that I need,” he says.
On the show floor he was drawn to products that promise to make life easier in the shop and on the boat—like the purpose-made fuse boxes from Blue Sea Systems in the video below:
Next, you might be surprised to hear a pair of scissors called an exciting new product. But new ones from Wolff Industries are designed to cut especially tough composite materials and stay sharp four times as long as your standard set. As D’Antonio explains, for anyone who has worked in a boatyard, that’s exciting.
Renn Tolman and His High-Endurance Skiff
The consumer marine press is overstocked with cruising and fishing yarns. I’ve never been a fan of such articles. But a story by Mary Griswold, published in the October/November 1989 issue of Small Boat Journal, caught my attention. Griswold described and photographed a 700-mile boat trip she and designer/builder Renn Tolman had taken two years earlier from Homer, Alaska, across Cook Inlet and down the Alaskan Peninsula and back. If you’re unfamiliar with the geography, this is remote and mostly uninhabited country west of the Kodiak archipelago, featuring spectacular mountain scenery, extreme tidal ranges, strong currents, great salmon fishing, the two largest freshwater lakes in the U.S.’s largest state, along with Alaska’s biggest brown bears. The trip itself, involving lengthy uncharted legs plus a portage (via ¾-ton pickup towing a flatbed trailer, hailed at a commercial dock), was completed in an open 18′ (5.5m) outboard skiff that Tolman designed and Griswold helped build.
Griswold’s article was my first exposure to what eventually made Tolman famous far beyond Alaska and even the Lower 48: lightweight, low-cost, “high endurance” semi-custom skiffs. When he died at age 80 of colon cancer in July 2014, Tolman had by then been so successful marketing three signature models he’d developed over a period of decades, that the name “Tolman” became, arguably, the only brand associated with an otherwise amorphous type referred to as Alaskan skiffs.