The Why and How of Wooden Boats with Cruising Icon Lin Pardey

Jessica Watson
Posted May 3 2016

Lin Pardey and her partner Larry are commonly described as America’s first couple of cruising, although after a lifetime of sailing, three circumnavigations, over 200,000 miles and a dozen books, I think it would be fair to call them global cruising icons. Having completed two of the circumnavigations on self-built wooden yachts and undertaken numerous wooden boat restorations, they are also an authority on wooden boats.

I caught up with Lin at the recent Classic and Wooden Boat Festival and asked her a few questions to get to the bottom of the why and how of wooden boats;

Jess: So why wooden boats?

Lin: Larry and I both enjoy working with timber because is beautiful in almost every stage of its life, from tree through boards, to shaped parts and finally as a floating object. Each time I varnish a piece of wood and watch it glow, I feel peaceful. But even more important is the people who we have met because of having a wooden boat - not just sailors but craftsmen of all types. Jess: And what about a practical perspective? What can wood offer that no other material can?

Lin: Though I think glass fibre is a fine material for a boat if used well, timber has several real advantages - it is a great insulator, and everyone who has sailed with us has commented on how quiet the hull is as it cuts through the seas. Our solid timber decks keep the inside of the boat cooler than other materials and deaden sounds from folks walking or grinding winches. And to me a major is no need to sand itchy glass or use such toxic compounds to care for the boat.

Jess: I come across a lot of people who worry that wooden boats will open up in a big sea. What are your thought’s on the seaworthiness of a well maintained wooden boat compared to a fiberglass one?

Lin: In over 50 years of involvement with all types of boats, I would say I have heard of a far larger percentage of glass boats suffering catastrophic failures or keels falling off than timber boats sinking. And when we have investigated the sinkings of timber boats (other than those involved in collisions), in every case they were old boats which had not been surveyed in many years, or, if surveyed, the suggested repairs were not carried out.

Jess: I’ve heard you talk about the importance of quality material on wooden boats, but for someone new to wooden boats it’s hard to know what’s quality. Are there any basic signposts people should look out for?

Lin: First and foremost, steer clear of any boat which has galvanised fastenings. Second, don't be impressed by a fancy interior, or shiny finish; check out the hull and see if it was well built in the first place. Third, get a well recommended surveyor to work for you, not a surveyor suggested by the salespeople or previous owner, not one who already knows the boat and not one who lives locally (and thus might have friendship reasons to avoid saying negative things about the boat).

Jess: Any general advice when it comes to the time and cost of refitting wooden boats?

Lin: No matter what kind of boat you wish to refit, first find a place where you can do the work and be sure you will not have to move the boat during the project. If at all possible, try to have the boat right at home so you can go out after dinner or in spare moments and spend some time on the project, also so you don't have to put your tools away after every job. And do everything possible to ensure you work under cover - i.e. inside a shop or under a tent you build. Keeping the boat and yourself out of the sun and rain will save time, money and materials. Don't be too optimistic about the cost - nor time the project will take.

Jess: Do you have an all time favorite wooden boat?

Lin: I have a really soft spot for Kelpie, the 30-foot Fife Cutter which was built in Balmain in 1887, not only because Larry and I enjoyed putting an appropriate interior in her but because she is truly beautiful and has brought a lot of pleasure to each of the families that have owned her.

You can read more of Lin’s wooden boat wisdom in her book Details of Classic Boat Construction: The Hull.

You can read more about Lin’s favourite boat Kelpie and the real stars of the Classic and Wooden Boat show here.

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