Boatbuilding school launches sailboat for New Zealand

Lily Haight
Posted 9/5/18

Two years of hard work came to fruition Aug. 29, when the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding launched the newly finished Dark Harbor 17 ½ sailboat, “Kotimana.” The building of the wooden …

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Boatbuilding school launches sailboat for New Zealand


Two years of hard work came to fruition Aug. 29, when the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding launched the newly finished Dark Harbor 17 ½ sailboat, “Kotimana.” 

The building of the wooden sailboat took two years of traditional large craft boatbuilding classes at the school and the accumulated work of 16 students, 12 staff members, and more than a dozen local marine-trade workers from Port Townsend. 

Originally called the Manchester 17, the Dark Harbor 17 ½ design dates back to 1908, and is credited to American naval architect B.B. Crowninshield. The boat is a sleek daysailer yacht, with a classic look and fine details such as a teak deck and bronze hardware from the Port Townsend Foundry.

“Just the fact that it’s a 110-year-old design and still getting built is special,” said Sean Koomen, chief instructor at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. “It’s a timeless, classic design.”

According to Koomen, the boatbuilding school builds about 15 to 20 boats each year and about half of them are commissioned, like the Dark Harbor. 

“But to have a commissioned boat where the owner wants to go to this level of detail is more rare,” Koomen said. 

The boat was commissioned in 2017 by former boatbuilding student Kere Kemp and his wife, Susan, two New Zealand nationals who have lived in the Seattle area for the past 22 years. Kemp had always been interested in yacht designs dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s because of their classic look, so when he saw a Dark Harbor boat for the first time while at a boatbuilding workshop in Seattle, he knew it was the kind of boat he wanted.

“Somebody once said, ‘When you see the boat that’s meant for you the line sings for you,’” Kemp said. “I was hearing operas. She sang to me.”

A former student of the boatbuilding school, Kemp decided not only would it be cheaper to commission the boat to be built there, but it would also allow him and his wife to be involved in the process. He also hoped the design would lend itself to teaching important skills. 

“I knew when I had commissioned it that as a design, she was going to be not just a challenge, but a pleasure for the students to build,” Kemp said. 

According to Koomen, the school furthered the learning experience by having students build the hull and the deck of the boat simultaneously, side by side. That way, a larger number of students could work on it from the start.

“There was a big push to get it done in the end, so it’s a relief to see it done and working. But it’s also the culmination of our academic school year,” said Koomen, who has worked alongside the students every step of the way. “It’s a cool way to finish off the school year.”

The Kotimana will be shown at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend Sept. 7-9 before it is shipped to Tasmania to be on display at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in February, along with a group of other boats built by the boatbuilding students. A few alumni students will also be traveling with Koomen to Tasmania to participate in the Australian festival and build a boat while they are there.

After its display at the Australian festival, the Kotimana will live at its new home in New Zealand with Kere and Susan Kemp, hence its New Zealander name: Kotimana is a Maori word meaning “thistle,” which is the national flower of Scotland. Kemp, who is half Maori and half Scottish, chose the name as an homage to his heritage. 

The departure to New Zealand is bittersweet for Kere and Susan Kemp, who have lived in the states for many years, but decided to move back to New Zealand for the time being because of Susan Kemp’s job. But the new sailboat certainly sweetens the deal for Kere Kemp.

“I’m ecstatic with the results,” Kere Kemp said, who is excited to bring his boat home. “When you look at the build quality, it’s just absolutely fabulous. But then, when you look at all the beautifully prepared decking and fine finishing ... it all makes for one very happy camper.”