Looking for advice on wooden boats

Ahoy Mates!

I've been shopping for a used sailboat in the 30 to 40 foot range for a couple of months now.

I have looked at a couple of old woodies and the rest have all been glass.

I've read a number of articles that help to allay my "fears" of wooden boats but then I end up with some glass boat owner telling me to stay away from wood.

I think it's about time I got some experienced opinions from some experience wood boat owners.

I'm going to look at a 1969 "Pipedream" a home-build from Skenes Elements.

She has apparently been on the hard for a few months because the owner has already bought a new boat and does not have a second slip.

So what should I watch for that might be specific to this design or wood boats in general? #

And is caring for and maintaining a wooden boat really as expensive and time consuming as glass boat owners say it is?

How would they know, right?

They don't own wood.

Thanks a bunch, I'll hang up and listen to your answers.


Comments for Looking for advice on wooden boats

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Jul 07, 2015
Need advice
by: Sam

I am also in need of some experienced and valuable advice regarding the selection of wooden boats as I am planning to buy one for leisure purpose. I don’t actually like this fiber based boats, which are so artificial.

Jun 14, 2012
Is it truly in the material?
by: George

I wouldn't agree 100% with John's comments.

While everything he says about the need for upkeep is true, the majority of work on a wooden boat comes not from the material itself, but from the type of finish.

In a nutshell, brightwork (varnish) means work, as the sunlight remorselessly eats away on it.

Paint your wood white, with a good 1-component polyurethane, and you're set for a few years before you have to sand and repaint.

The one really big drawback I see with wooden boats (at least with classically built boats, planks on frames) is the need to put them in the water every year, lest they dry out. (Major nono!)

I sometimes wish I could leave her alone for a year....

Wood also has many advantages:

- Repairs are (IMHO) easier and neater to fashion.
I hate working with glass & resins...
- with wood, there is no guessing.
Either it cracks, or it does not. Not so with glass...
- I'll prefer some rotted wooden part anytime to osmosis or delamination (in plastic sandwich constructions)
- wood has fatigue characteristics that are far, far superior to any fibre reinforced plastic.
Quite important if you're looking at a boat that has seen many decades of (hard) service.

I've been on many plastic boats that had clearly softened - if not as a whole then in the details.
Telltale radial cracks around fasteners...I'll take a good wooden construction anytime.

I'd say, if you want to buy an old boat, and you want to keep her (rather than 'using her up'), wood might be the better choice.

But make sure you don't buy a lemon.

If you find out later that the keel (or the stem or the stern...)is completely rotted, you're in the disaster zone.

Dec 08, 2011
Excellent Response
by: Mike

Excellent response below from John,

I think we should all learn it by heart so we can quote from it every time someone with a ‘plastic’ boat offers us his ‘expert opinion’.

Thank you John

Dec 08, 2011
Best ever!
by: John R.

John's response is without doubt the best piece I've ever read about the differences between fiberglass and wood boats.

Dec 08, 2011
by: John

Beautiful design!

Well, owned several plastic boats before buying my first wood boat, a 23' Tom Gilmer "Blue Moon".

There's no doubt that a wooden boat is more work than a plastic boat.

Plastic boats can be neglected for years without incurring any damage, but wooden boats need to be kept up.

In particular, the paint and varnish need to be maintained, otherwise the wood can be damaged by the work of sun and rain from above the waterline, and boring worms from below.

You have to be alert to rot, which can spring up anywhere that water can get into the wood.

Screw a bit of hardware to the rail or boom and forget to bed it, and pretty soon water has crept into the screw hole and started it's dirty work.

That said, I think it's safe to say that most wooden boat owners like working on their boat as much as they like sailing it.

No wind?

Middle of winter?

No big deal, there's always something to fix on the boat, or build down in the shop.

It's not work, it's fun.

It turns boating into a year round hobby, which is why I like it.

In my humble opinion, a 37' boat is too big for a first wooden boat, even if a survey shows her to be in perfect condition.

The thing is, you need to maintain a wooden boat at least as fast (preferably faster) than she degrades.

If you can't keep up with it, you'll fall further and further behind and the boat will suffer.

How big a boat you can maintain depends on your skill level, the amount of time you can devote to her, and your budget.

With my 23', I have enough skill/time/money to maintain and improve her every year.

That's a lot more fun than watching a boat gradually decay.

Particularly since wooden boats are one of the few inanimate objects that human beings can fall in love with.

You want to choose a boat you can take proper care of.

Hope that helps!

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