DAVID G. SELLARS ON THE WATERFRONT: Port Hadlock wooden-boat building school reaches back into history
By David G. Sellars
PDN Maritime Columnist
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The Boat School, as it is commonly referred to, was founded in 1981 by renowned Puget Sound master shipwright Bob Prothero, whose family produced several generations of ship captains and master boat builders in the Pacific Northwest.
Libby Palmer and Henry Yeaton, a husband-wife team from New Mexico with a fascination for wooden boats, encouraged Prothero to establish the school to teach and preserve the skills and crafts associated with fine wooden-boat building.
From these humble beginnings, the school has grown from 10 students in the first year to a fully accredited school where graduates can earn an Associate Degree of Occupational Studies, or AOS.
More than 1,300 students have graduated from the school's vocational programs, and thousands more have attended its many summer and community workshops.
The school's campus, in addition to administrative offices and a 1,200-volume maritime library, encompasses four boat shops, a large welding shop, a blacksmith's shop and a dedicated sawmill.
Also, Northwest Canvas maintains a large commercial sail loft over the administrative offices and teaches an accredited and comprehensive sail-making and rigging class each January through March.
Students, whose ages vary from their late teens to their mid-70s, come from all walks of life to enroll in the school's programs, which include 9- and 12-month courses in traditional small craft, traditional large craft and contemporary wooden boat-building as well as 3-month courses in repair and restoration, interior yacht construction and the course in sail-making and rigging.
Regardless of incoming students' skill level, they all learn the basic techniques of woodworking by constructing some of their own hand tools.
These may include a wood block plane, wood bevel gauges of various sizes and spar gauges.
They also build themselves wooden toolboxes in which to store their tools.
As their knowledge and skill levels increase, students become involved in building new boats and refurbishing older wooden craft.
During the school year, students in each of the major classes build two or three progressively more-complex boats.
In the 2012 academic year, students built 16 boats, including two Davis boats, an Irish Gandalow that is a traditional inshore fishing boat, and a Russell Brown-designed nesting dinghy.
In 2011, students built 17 boats, including an 8-foot Joel White nutshell pram and a 26-foot diesel tug designed by the naval architect H.C. Hanson.
Although most of the boats the students build are done as speculation and subsequently sold to help fund the school's curriculum, the school also builds boats on commission if the craft fits the learning objectives for the students.
Students in the Contemporary Wooden Boat-building Class of 2011 began working on a Robert Perry-designed, 62-foot double-ender day-sailer that the school was commissioned to build.
The boat, under the working name of Sliver, is a strip-planked wood-composite vessel that appears to me to be built more for speed than casual day sailing.
Sliver is the largest project the school and its students have ever undertaken, and she is scheduled for completion later this year.
Recently, the Boat School was tapped to build three traditional Whitehall pulling boats for the British Broadcasting Co.
Two of the boats will be 21 feet long, and the third will be 16 feet.
They will be used this summer in Arizona to film a re-creation of Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell's 1869 expedition down the Colorado River that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.
Whitehalls are the iconic American pulling boats that date to the early 1800s.
Legend has it that the boats derived their name from berthing at the foot of Whitehall Street in New York City.
Boston, too, had its own version of the Whitehall, and throughout the ensuing years, competition between builders in the two cities helped develop the craft's reputation as fast, easy-rowing vessels that could carry heavy loads in rough water.
By the mid-1800s, the Whitehall style of craft had migrated west to the Pacific after first passing through the Great Lakes region.
The original 1869 Powell Expedition boats were built by a Chicago boat builder to Powell's specifications.
Since renderings or plans of these boats no longer exist, it was up to Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding senior instructor Jeff Hammond to draw the plans for the 16-foot boat.
The task of drawing the plans for the two 21-footers fell to instructor Ben Kahn.
In doing so, they drew from the extensive experience they accumulated over the years building Whitehall-style boats in the classroom.
Hammond and Kahn also consulted historian John Gardner's descriptions and drawings, and author Michael Ghiglieri's 2003 book First Through Grand Canyon.
The school also is building the two 21-foot boats with white oak keels and planking using timbers provided by Newport, R.I.- based Newport Nautical Timbers.
The 16-foot Whitehall also will have a white oak keel, but it will be planked in larch obtained from Eastern Washington and Idaho.
This isn't the first time the Boat School was commissioned to build Whitehall boats that were used on the Colorado River.
Students and staff in the 1980s built three replicas of the Powell Expedition boats for a re-enactment of the voyage, which was also used for an IMAX movie.
Graduating students are in high demand wherever wooden boats are found.
I understand that on any given day, at least 50 percent of the craftspeople at the Port Townsend Boat Haven have attended one or more courses at the Port Hadlock school.
Some students go into business for themselves.
Most notable are New Zealander Jim Ferris, known on the Port Townsend waterfront as “Kiwi” who was in the first class at the school, and Charlie Moore, who was in the second class.
In 1983, they combined their talents, skills and knowledge to form Edensaw Woods in Port Townsend, the premiere supplier of fine woods and veneers throughout Puget Sound.
Pete became the executive director of the Boat School last March.
He has a Bachelor of Arts in history that serves him well in his current capacity.
Pete spent 27 years in the Navy, and during his career, he commanded two ships, the oceangoing (wooden) minesweeper, USS Pledge, operating from Seattle, and the guided-missile frigate USS Rodney M. Davis, operating out of Yokosuka, Japan.
In October 2005, Pete enrolled in the Boat School and didn't leave until he completed instruction in each of the three boat-building courses in June 2008.
He then served on the board of directors of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Historic Preservation, and was also director of special projects for the Boat School.
I was compelled to ask Pete if the reason he was appointed the executive director was because he wouldn't go away.
He conceded that there might have been a bit of that involved in the decision-making.
The Boat School has a great website that outlines the staff, curriculum, accreditation and more. Check it out at www.nwboatschool.org.
Meanwhile in Port Angeles Harbor
Back to the big ships of metal that visit and fuel up in Port Angeles Harbor.
On Tuesday, Tesoro Corp. bunkered Overseas Andromar, a 597-foot petroleum-products carrier with a 105-foot beam that is flagged in the Marshall Islands.
Then on Friday, Tesoro refueled Hedvig Bulker, a Panamanian-flagged bulk cargo ship that is 574 feet long.
On Friday, Tesoro also provided bunkers to the articulated tug and barge Pride.
A tip of the bosun's cap to Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, who passed along this note Friday:
“Early Tuesday morning, Idena Patterson, who is a volunteer at the chamber's visitor center, received a phone call from her granddaughter.
“This does not sound unusual except that her granddaughter, Seaman Mackenzie Slauzis, was calling from the Coast Guard buoy tender Sequoia that had arrived in Port Angeles Harbor late Monday night.
“Mackenzie unfortunately could not meet her grandmother for breakfast that day.
“She had to wait until the cutter reached Bellingham, when the crew will be able to take shore leave while the cutter is in for maintenance.”
David G. Sellars is a Port Angeles resident and former Navy boatswain's mate who enjoys boats and strolling the waterfront.
Items involving boating, port activities and the North Olympic Peninsula waterfronts are always welcome.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him at 360-808-3202.
His column, On the Waterfront, appears Sundays.
Last modified: February 16. 2013 6:16PM