Story last updated at 8/5/2009 - 12:30 pm
WRANGELL - What does an out-of-work shipwright do over winter? He builds a wooden skiff designed by Pete Culler.
Tim Pinette and Karen Pavlicek are building the skiff on the foredeck of the 84-foot packer "Westward." They moved up from Port Townsend a couple of years ago to work on the wooden boats at the boat shop and the new boat yard.
Why use wood in an age of the welded aluminum skiff ubiquitous to Wrangell? Although aluminum boats are low maintenance, they are also cold, noisy, and heavy, and they vibrate and slam. Whereas wood skiff are more to maintain, they are more aesthetically pleasing, warm, quiet, light, and can be designed easily with a hollow entry for easier riding in heavy seas. The materials can be found and processed locally. That's value added to a natural renewable resource. No shipping in of expensive aluminum sheets.
The red cedar used for planking and the bull pine for the stern, keel, and transom were cut by Tim and Karen with a chainsaw mill. After drying they were planed to a useable thickness.
This is boatbuilding, not boat repair. There is a lot of difference between scratch building a skiff and putting in a plank.
The building starts with a plan called offsets, which describe the lines the skiff will have. Molds are set up on stations to which the stern, keel, transom, and planking are held in place. The skiff is built upside down, as it is easier to do the bottom planking. It is then rolled over for the sheer planks and finishing touches.
The planks are copper riveted by hand like the original, then seams are caulked with cotton rolled in with a wheel, then filled with a mixture of cement and roofing tar. The hull is then oiled with many coats of a mixture of one-third boiled linseed oil, one-third turpentine, and one-third pine tar. For the bottom, copper paint is used.
In the end you have a work of art that is also useful. What makes a wooden skiff beautiful? When your eyes don't get tired of looking at the lines, there is something going on here.
Tim Pinette would be interested in building more wooden boats if the demand is there. Pinette can be reached at P.O. Box 1708, Wrangell, Alaska, 99929.
Chris Cawthorne has lived in the Wrangell area for over 30 years and is always on the look out for real Alaskan stories.