Composite construction has its pluses. So do wooden boats.
We’ve all seen advertisements that tout the benefits of boats with no wood used in their construction, so let me offer this blog as a counterpoint that touts the benefits of boats with wood used in their construction.
I never really thought about wood construction much until I was talking with Boats.com editor Lenny Rudow several years ago at the Miami Boat Show. He probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, but he said there was nothing like wood for building boats. And I think he’s right.
It’s buoyant on its own, it’s pliable enough to flex a certain amount; to absorb shock and vibration, yet be rigid enough to be an excellent material for stringers, decks and transoms. It just doesn’t like sitting in water unprotected.
But that’s not as important now as it once was, particularly in the recreational boat market. Most boats with wood construction use marine-grade plywood encapsulated fully in fiberglass and resin, so the wood never actually gets wet, leaving only the benefits of wood construction in place.
You can almost tell when a boat has wood stringers by the way it rides. Ebbtide boats come to mind. They’re solid without being too stiff, substantial without being too heavy.
“The way I’ve always explained the difference between a wood boat and a glass boat,” said tunnel boat racer Greg Foster, “and it really can be any wood boat or any glass boat –when you first get in it, a wood boat is like having a car with shocks on it as opposed to having car with rigid suspension, because the wood does give and flex where the glass boat is much more rigid.”
A few years ago, I wrote a feature on Formula One tunnel boats built by the Seebold family in Osage Beach, Mo. They built their racing hulls out of wood, some real exotic stuff from obeche and okume trees from Africa. The Seebolds did use carbon fiber- and Kevlar-reinforced laminates in their boats, for features such as the driver safety capsule and the “tray” that serves as the bottom surface, but the rest of those are made of wood.
Before you roll your eyes and label me an old-school curmudgeon who dismisses contemporary lamination technology, consider this. A Formula One tunnel boat can pull 4 to 6 g’s in a turn. And they’re screwed and glued together just like the cabinets in your kitchen, then encapsulated with resin to make them watertight.
Obviously, runabout manufacturers don’t use such exotic materials as okume and obeche, but my point is a used boat built with wood need not be feared. True, you need check them out to be sure there has been no water intrusion, but my overarching theme here is that there are benefits to wood construction. It’s all in how they feel.
If you don’t believe me, search tunnel boat racing on YouTube and tell me if wooden boats can take what you dish out.