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  • Tristan Sess

Sea Duck

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

If you read my Launch post you might remember the Beetle Cat that two classmates and I

made. But the story of launching boats through IYRS (the wooden boatbuilding school I

attended), doesn’t end there. The program is two-years long and the launch of the Beetle Cats,

the boats built in the first year, barely mark the halfway point. I could go into all the details of

the 5-week externship sandwiched between the two years, but I’d rather focus on what we

built in that second 9 month stretch.

In the first year of school we were given a text book of how to build the Beetle Cats and had

instructors there for all of our questions, essentially before we even asked them. In the second year, we were broken up into two larger groups and assigned a boat per group. Unlike the first year, where everyone works on the same design, the second-year students restore unique boats that may or may not have been restored at IYRS before. The year I was at IYRs, one of the second year’s boat had been done befoe, and my group’s boat had not. The other group of 4 was assigned a Herreshoff 12 ½. A very iconic traditional wooden boat. My group of six was assigned a Fred Goeller designed 16ft Cat Boat. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s because it’s one of one as far as we know and someone most likely built it in their backyard from plans found in a Rudder Magazine article. By the time we got the boat it was allegedly around 100 years old and had a few restorations done on it. It had gone through all sorts of restorations over the years but we were planning on restoring the entire boat.

After a week of surveying the old boat and taking countless photos and measurements, we began the lofting process. This includes drawing the boat, full-scale, from three views, in order to start building. Believe it or not, this is one of the most time-consuming parts of the entire build process. After about three weeks we had Sea Duck laid out on the second floor of our Restoration Hall. Even the simplest of designs can take a long time to loft, but what we were doing was different. We made compromises every which way when lofting Sea Duck. You see, the boats plans were originally printed in a magazine to be built at home. The builder of our boat didn’t follow the plans exactly and so here we were, trying to walk the line of restoring the boat to its original build while following the plans of what the designer had intended. Sometimes this was easy, but sometimes it wasn’t possible. Once we had it all laid out, the deconstruction began.

The one caveat to this being a complete restoration was that the owner wanted to keep the original deck. At first glance, maybe this would be a nice time-saver for us, and looking at the boat it seems like we would save ourselves a lot of trouble. I won’t go too far into the details, but a complete restoration of a hull, while keeping an old deck is no walk in the park. The very first thing we had to do was completely cut the deck off the hull. So, we did.

We literally took a Sawzall, went around the entire boat, and lifted the deck clean off, and that was that. We placed it next to the hull, and thus began our two projects- to restore the hull, and to make the original deck look new again.

I could go into all of the details of the entire build but I imagine most readers, myself included, don’t care to read about how every component of the boat was milled, fit, finished and assembled. If you do care to read that in depth about a build, I recommend you either just attend IYRS yourself or buy me a beer and I’ll be more inclined to tell you.

To make a long, in-depth analysis of the build much more bearable, the six of us worked

tirelessly on that boat for 8 months and were able to put those two pieces together and have a beautiful looking boat at the end of it. Throughout the process I couldn’t tell you the number of times guests would come tour the boats and ask, “So, do you think it’s going to work?”. Every time I would give a similar response: “100%” or “Oh definitely”.

Generally, I was met with a laugh, and a look that I knew meant that they thought I was kidding. What people that haven’t built a boat before don’t know is that half of my job is building boats, and the other half is problem solving. The problem was never ‘Is this possible?’. The question was always, ‘How are we going to do this?’ and more importantly, ‘How are we going to do it in such a way that looks best and intentional?’. Whatever we did chose, no one would ever know it was difficult, because if it looked that way, it probably means we did a bad job.

If you remember me saying that lofting was one of the most time consuming parts of building a boat, it’s because we made sure we measured everything perfect. When we lifted the deck up into the air with chain falls and lowered it down over our empty hull, we had measured the deck three dimensionally and knew just where it would land. If you look at the photos, there is a bright (varnished) rub rail that wraps the entire boat just below the deck on the hull sides.

Behind that rub rail is where the deck sat on our sheer plank (the plank closest to the deck). I’d be lying if I said we plopped the deck on there, first try, but again, that’s part of the job and part of my whole point. We would place the deck on, see what was too tight, take the deck off, adjust accordingly, and repeat until everything fit together perfectly.

In that first year of school, we were given so much of what we needed. I don’t want to say that they spoon fed us, because that sounds bad. But frankly they did, and it works. You learn what you need, go out for your externship for a month and pick some things up, come back, and learn what it takes to really restore a boat from nothing.

I’ve re-written the ending of this blog post so many times now, not knowing how to close things out. I could write about the amazing instructors, Joel, Hans, Dave, and especially Warren Barker, who all taught all of us so much and helped me get where I am today. I could shout-out IYRS as an institution for landing me at a yard where we were just announced to have made the #1 Domestic Boat of the Year. Instead, I want to conclude all of this with a huge thank you to the five others that helped get Sea Duck in the water on launch day. We spent probably 4 or 5 weeks working 10-14 hour days, through the weekends and some nights, in order to pull it all together. And we certainly weren’t getting paid overtime. Putting Sea Duck in the water in June was so bittersweet. Sailing around the harbor with friends and family was the real ‘cherry on top’ of the whole experience. I knew this was going to be my goodbye to my fellow teammates, and if you’re reading this, I miss all of you. Fortunately, I’ve been able to stay in touch with most of the guys but I doubt I’ll ever have as much fun making something as I did building that silly looking catboat.


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1 Comment

Feb 04, 2023

Congratulations Tritan! We'll done! Proud of you!