Camden: International Marine/McGraw Hill, 2007
Hardcover, $39.95

“Logical Associations, Interesting Digressions”

Greg Rossel is an engaging, talented and funny man who builds boats in Troy, Maine, and teaches at the WoodenBoat School. He also writes regularly about boatbuilding. This book’s origins lie in articles he wrote for WoodenBoat magazine and other publications, including at least one piece about a boat I’ve been associated with all my life: the original “Saturday Cove skiff.”

The Boatbuilder’s Apprentice is about building little boats — vessels less than 20 feet long, powered by oars, paddles, outboard motors or sails. The focus is traditional for the most part, although Rossel pays due attention to newer methods such as stitch-and-glue and cold-molding, and materials like plywood that have been standards in the builder’s repertoire for decades.

In his preface Rossel admits to his own preferences in marshalling his thoughts. His book, he writes, “is organized somewhat as I teach: not with a rigid formal structure, but by logical associations, interesting digressions, spontaneous application of the facts at hand, and (I hope) a bit of humor. As such, it need not be read in order….” And that’s what makes it fun to get to know this book.

He delves into just about anything you’d need to know about — picking a design, lofting, planking methods, materials, fastenings, “historic and traditional elixirs” ranging from old-fashioned bedding compounds to polysulfides, polyethers and silicones. There are chapters on finishes, tools, setting up the shop and the boat within it, steam-bending, dust and safety. Some of the best things here are the various builders’ tricks: converting a jack plane to a jointer plane, “easy strip plugging,” ways of clamping those steamed planks in place.

He gets around to the Saturday Cove skiff in Chapter 33: “Pulling Boats,” beginning with a nice essay on how these sleek designs evolved. “When getting around by oars, it’s hard to surpass the traditional round-bottomed pulling boat,” he writes. “Much like the stone worn smooth by running water, these boats have had years of practical use that has removed any inefficiencies of the design, and their kindly waterlines enable them to excel in most conditions…” And it was through one particular pulling boat, an old 13-footer my family had owned since very early in the 20th century, that Rossel and I became acquainted. Eighty or more seasons of indifferent maintenance, storage under the porch and normal wear-and-tear had made our old rowboat a candidate for the dump. My son and I loaded her into a pickup truck and drove down to Rossel’s shop in Troy just to see if there was any hope for this boat that we all loved to row so much. She was literally about to break in half, but we thought if we could make it to Troy there might be a chance of rebirth.

I’ll always remember the way Rossel’s eyes lit up when he saw the boat. “Cute,” he said, using the word in some unusual sense I’ll always associate with him. He marveled at how lightly built she was; her long, straight keel; her knees made from the crooks of apple trees. And he agreed to take her on…a few months later she was back with us, cracked frames replaced, new planks on her bottom, ready for more decades on Penobscot Bay. We launched her with a bottle of spring water: what a treat to go rowing again! At some point Rossel took her lines (they’re reproduced in this book) and made a half-model for me. At WoodenBoat, students built and launched a full-scale replica. The Saturday Cove skiff (Rossel’s name for the boat) made an appearance in National Fisherman complete with a photo of my son rowing her, and continues to be admired.

So thank you, Greg, for sharing your knowledge in this useful book, not to mention saving our boat!

David D. Platt is editor of Working Waterfront.