Student-built boat wins race on first outing

Chris Tucker ctucker@ptleader.com
Posted 3/6/18

A few days after the Nordic Folkboat was completed by students at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB), it made its public debut in the Port Townsend Shipwrights’ Regatta, which …

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Student-built boat wins race on first outing

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A few days after the Nordic Folkboat was completed by students at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding (NWSWB), it made its public debut in the Port Townsend Shipwrights’ Regatta, which opened the local sailing season on Feb. 24.

The 25-foot lapstrake sailboat came through with flying colors – winning in the regatta’s Cruising Class with a time of 1 hour, 28 minutes. Nine other boats competed in that class.

The racing crew included Jody Boyle, lead instructor on the Folkboat build; Sean Koomen, boat school chief instructor; Steve Stanton, boat school facilities manager; and Sean Rankins, owner of Northwest Sails and Canvas, who was still tuning the rigging 30 minutes before the start of the race.

It was the first time crew members had sailed together, but the Nordic Folkboat exceeded their expectations – holding her line through the alternating hail, gusting winds and sunny skies on race day.

“We won by over six minutes,” Boyle said, referring to the lead they had over the second-place finisher, Ariel of Victoria.

DESIGNED FOR HEAVY WEATHER

Conceived in the 1940s as a sailboat for the masses, the Nordic Folkboat was designed for the rough water and heavy weather of the Baltic Sea. An unusually heavy keel and other design elements keep it stable when other boats are reefing. That – along with elegant lines and a colorful history of solo ocean crossings and circumnavigations – explains the lasting appeal of the Nordic Folkboat as a racing yacht and weekend cruiser in Scandinavia. The design is also popular in areas like San Francisco, where strong winds and rough water challenge lighter, faster boats.

According to the Nordic Folkboat International Association, there are 4,000 Nordic Folkboats on the water today. Approximately 3,000 of them are direct descendants of the wooden Nordic Folkboats first built in 1942. New Nordic Folkboats are built almost exclusively of fiberglass, using a design introduced in 1977 that mimics the performance of wooden Nordic Folkboats, so they can race in the same class.

Those wood origins are the reason that building a new wooden Nordic Folkboat was a good fit for the NWSWB, whose mission is to teach and preserve traditional wooden boatbuilding skills and traditional wooden boat designs.

“It’s pretty rare to see a new wooden Nordic Folkboat,” Koomen said.

“You see a lot of wooden Nordic Folkboats on the water, which is a testament to their construction and the people who are maintaining them, but most of those boats were built in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not cost effective to build wooden boats under 40 feet in a production environment. So, yes, this boat is super rare,” Koomen said.

“The boat was built over two school years,” said Betsy Davis, executive director of the NWSWB. “A couple dozen students worked on the boat over those two years,” she said.

Students learned about building hulls, docks, spars and interiors, Boyle said of the various skills taught at the school.

BOAT IS FOR SALE

The NWSWB has put the boat up for sale for $45,000 and said purchase of the boat would support traditional wooden boatbuilding.

Ray Speck, who has built more than 100 boats during his career as a traditional wooden boatbuilder and is regarded as a master of lapstrake construction, came out of “semi-retirement” to serve as part-time instructor on the construction of the Nordic Folkboat with Boyle.

“Folkboats have always been a favorite of mine,” Speck said.

“The great thing about this boat is the quality of craftsmanship. With student-built boats, there’s more attention to detail. And the Douglas fir vertical grain planking stock on this boat is the best I’ve ever worked with,” Speck said.

The hull construction includes a purpleheart wood backbone, oak framing and Douglas fir lapstrake planking, all copper riveted. The cabin house is made of sapele wood. The boat is also outfitted with sails and a basic systems package.

Student builder David Klco, now a boatbuilder at Van Dam Custom Boats in Michigan, said he liked the Folkboat’s no-nonsense, seaworthy design and her reputation for solo ocean crossings and circumnavigations.

“The self-reliance of that really appeals to me,” Klco said.

Known for easy handling and extreme seaworthiness, the Nordic Folkboat has an unusually heavy keel that comprises 54 percent of the boat’s overall weight. That allows the boat to carry full sail in 30-knot winds.

Boyle recalled sailing a traditional Nordic Folkboat when he was a boatbuilder in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“You see a lot of them in San Francisco, because they can handle the stiff breezes and tricky conditions of the bay, but they’re also capable of being on the open sea. People have taken many Folkboats across oceans. That’s comforting to sail in a boat with a time-tested design,” Boyle said.

Carol Hasse, owner of Hasse & Company – Port Townsend Sails, said she appreciates everything about her 1959 Nordic Folkboat, Lorraine.

In a video interview with OffCenterHarbor.com, Hasse said, “You won’t be moving fast like a T-Bird or a J24, but you’ll be moving in the direction you want to go, and when the winds kick up and the sea kicks up, you’ll be leaving everyone else in the dust.”

Hasse said she also appreciates the marine tradespeople who have helped with retrofits on her own boat over the years.

“It’s a gift to carry that human energy, whether they were sailors or boatbuilders or people who just loved the adventure of sailing,” Hasse said.

Speck echoed that sentiment: “Whoever gets this boat is going to be joining a community. Nordic Folkboat owners are a big family. Not just in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest.

“Folkboats are all over the world.”

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