17 Wooden Watercraft: From Ships to Surfboards

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Whether travelling across oceans or ponds, over sea or snow, wooden watercraft have a timeless quality. They are, on one hand, highly functional apparatus, yet on the other, exquisite works of art. And if their wood is sourced from responsibly managed forests, they are excellent examples of eco-design. Photo: "Ribs of a skin on frame kayak" Nick Schade's Wooden Kayaks

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Viking Ship Norway's Museum of Cultural History has a satellite operation known as The Viking Ship Museum, where each year about 430, 000 visitors flock to view the type of wooden ships that carried Scandinavian seafaring warriors as far from home as Africa and Newfoundland. One of the most famous preserved viking ships is the Oseberg. With its intricate carvings, 22m (72ft) length, 5m (16ft) wide beam, this oaken vessel, could've transported over 30 crew. It is impressive today, but must've been much more so, back in about 800 AD. Photo: © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo / Eirik Irgens Johnsen

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Submarine Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel is credited with building the first functioning submarines. He apparently demonstrated the largest of his three designs to England's King James I in 1620 by travelling 5m (15 ft) underwater for three hours along the River Thames in a timber hulled submarine. Pig skin bladdersfilled with water as ballast, and were squeezed out by the crew for floatation. In 2001, the BBC TV programme, Building the Impossible, built a replica, which showed that 400 years on the concept was indeed sound. Photo: Gunner54

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Colonial Sloops Bern Cuthbertson took three years to build this replica of the colonial sloop, the 25 tonne Norfolk. Then, he and his crew, exactly 200 years on, re-enacted the 1798-99 circumnavigation of Tasmania by George Bass and Matthew Flinders. The original Norfolk was the first boat crafted in the Australian colony, built as it was by the prisoners on Norfolk Island. That first complete seaboard circuit of Tasmania proved it was an island, and cut days off the trip from England to Australia. Photo: ::The Bass & Flinders Centre

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Clipper Yachts The Aorere (Maori for 'Flying Cloud') is a 11.6 m (38 ft) long clipper yacht of Kauri pine, which was crafted in Melbourne in 1898. It is considered to be the oldest surviving keel yacht both designed and constructed in Australia. The yacht underwent an exhaustive two year long restoration, where approximately 40% of the planking was renewed, along with every fastening in the boat. She also received new rigging to match her original sail area of 900 square feet. The Aorere was relaunched just in time for her 100th birthday, having been launched on 21 March 1898. Photo: Aorere

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Steam Launches And, of course, not all wooden craft were powered by sail. Others developed a head of steam, via well, ... steam. The SL Huon (pictured here) is a modern rendering of a 1875 American steam powered river launch. Although it's wooden hull and deck make it looks the part, as a vintage timber boat, it was, in fact, designed with computerised 3D modelling. But it was not fabricated by a computer. Bruce Jessup of Launceston, Tasmania, poured 5,000 hours of labour in making this 23 ft 10 in craft out of rare Tasmanian timbers, like Huon Pine and Celery Top Pine. Photo: Cclassic Wooden Boat Plans

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Folding Boat The National Maritime Museum Cornwall in the UK, have on display a Hudson folding dinghy. Designed in the 1930s by RJ Hudson, it was possible to fold the dinghy in less than 30 seconds, so that it became no more than 254 mm (10 inches) thick. This allowed it to easily stowed on the running board or roof of car. Constructed with frames of Silver spruce, Wych elm and Honduras mahogany, the planking was marine plywood panels of Canadian birch, the almost 2.75 m (9 ft) version weighed 59 kg (130 lbs). Photo: In the Boatshed

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Wooden Boat Building Schools Fortunately many still harbour an interest in the traditional maritime skills employed in wooden boatbuilding, and courses are available to keep these crafts alive. The photos used here are from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding of Washington, USA. But there is also Maine's The Boat School, which lays claim to being the 'oldest boat building school in the United States.' Then there is the School of Wooden Boat Building, which is part of the Wooden Boat Centre, in Tasmania, Australia. And of course the many other schools around this watery planet. Photos: Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding

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Wooden Shipyards It's not only the aficionados and hobbyists that are keeping the craft alive. Some shipyards, like the ENP yard in Peniche, Portugal strive to retain the skills of Portuguese traditional wood carpenters, by engaging them on commercial timber boatbuilding projects. The last of which was this 18.5m long hull. ENP note that a 14th century Portuguese King ordered local forests be planted to provide the timber required for shipbuilding. Photo: ENP, Portugal

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Ice Yachts With New York's Hudson River freezing over during harsh winters, 60 or so spirited souls got together in 1896 to form the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club. Ice boating traces its heritage back to a form of winter transport to the 17th century on the canals of the Netherlands. Yet even today 100 year old antique ice yachts are still raced on frozen rivers and lakes. Weighing up to 1360 kg (3,000 lbs), with lengths of 15 m (50 ft) they attain speeds of about 130 kph (80 mph). Photo: International DN Ice Yacht Racing Association

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Rowing Shells The hull of the original Pocock Cedar Single Rowing Shell was unique. Crafted from a single steam bent plank of 3/32" thick Western Red Cedar (planks that were purchased back in the 1970's and sawn from trees 600 to 800 years old.) Sadly Pococks, wooden builders for three generations, no longer make wooden racing singles. But they did donate all the jigs, steam forms, patterns and some materials to the Wooden Boat Foundation of Washington, USA, where Steve Chapin continues on the tradition. Photos: Pocock Classic Cedar Singles

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Multipurpose Dinghies Chesapeake Light Craft in Maryland, USA are another who offer plans, materials and kits for wooden kayaks. But they also provide for wooden rowing and sailing craft enthusiasts. The Passagemaker Dinghy seen here can rowed, sailed, and powered with up to three large adults. A pram style dinghy, with snubnosed transoms at both bow and stern, the Passagemaker comes with more sail area than a Laser and is said to be great for recreational sailing for two. Photo: Chesapeake Light Craft

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Sea Kayaks Redfish Custom Wooden Kayak & Canoe Company can provide finished wooden kayaks. The stunning looking sea kayaks even sport wooden coamings, thigh braces and a paddle 'park' Or, if you would like to try your hand at building your own, they can supply all of the necessary plans, materials, and kits to create your own. Based in Washington state, USA, Redfish also run wood-strip kayak building workshops. Photo: Redfish Kayak

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Canoes Nick Schade studied as a US Navy engineer, but went on to found the company Guillemot Kayaks, crafting handmade sea kayaks with the "strip-planking" method (narrow, thin strips of wood edge-glued together). From kayaks he branched out into dinghies and canoes, all with the same attention to detail and gorgeous looks. Here we've shown his Nymph canoe, made from walnut and basswood and weighing just 7 kg (15 lbs) Photos: Nick Schade's Wooden Kayaks

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Surfboards Grain Surfboards believe their wood surfboards are a net gain environmentally in surfboard manufacture compared to petroleum based foam normally used. Their boards are fashioned from locally harvested (Maine, USA) northern white cedar, which they believe to be from sustainably managed forests. Grain surfboards are said not to ding like foam, nor crack easily. And if ever damaged beyond reasonable use, they figure the board will be retained for ornamental purposes instead of thrown in the garbage. Photo: Grain Surfboards

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Snowboards Since their inception, when their prototypes were from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, Venture Snowboards, of Durango, Colorado, have only used sustainably harvested hardwoods for all their snowboard cores, with topsheets of organic cotton or hemp. They've also run their operation on 100% wind power since 2004, and more recently joined 1% for the Planet. Photo: :: Venture Snowboards

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Telemark Skis Winners of an ISPO EcoDesign award, Grown Skis ensure that 70% of their telemark and backcountry skis comprises locally grown and sustainable harvested timbers. Take for example the off-piste Outgrown, with its top veneer of cherry, base of birch, sidewalls of ash, plus core of ash and fir. Timber is either certfified according FSC, PEFC or German forest protection legislation. Coatings are based on natural resins and oils, whilst the skis are pe-waxed with ski waxes based on natural bees wax. Photos: Grown Skis on Flickr

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Alpine Skis August Zweydinger Deutsche Skimanufaktur create individually handcrafted alpine skis from a wooden core of solid matured ash, with a top veneer of Makassar, Rosewood, Zebrano, tigerwood. Combined with the fibreglass layers and titanium inlays the company reckon their timber components help develop a ski which doesn't lose it's resilence like foam-core skis are prone to do. Photo: August Zweydinger

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Snowshoes In the past decade or so, snowshoes have undergone a bit of a resurgence, not least because they've been favoured by snowboarders heading into the backcountry. These days constructed of plastic and metal, they were originally crafted from wood. Ash apparently being the wood of choice, though birch, willow and spruce also got a look in. According the Anchorage 'History of the Snowshoe Fact Sheet' snowshoes developed in central Asia about 6,000 years ago, but that it was North American Indian tribes who are given credit for perfecting the design with their four styles: the Alaskan, Ojibwa, Michigan and Bear Paw. Photo: Found at Cottage Life