Stars fade, oth­ers as­cend

Boating NZ - - News - Lawrence Schäf­fler Editor

As John Mac­far­lane ex­plains in this is­sue’s Re­flec­tions col­umn, New Zealand’s tra­di­tional boat­build­ing in­dus­try finds it­self in a bit of a dilemma.

Our mar­itime her­itage is richly en­dowed with fine, func­tion­ing ex­am­ples of boats built in the early part of the 20th cen­tury – some in the clos­ing years of the 19th cen­tury – but restor­ing and main­tain­ing th­ese ves­sels is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.

Mainly be­cause the re­quired knowl­edge and skill is it­self dis­ap­pear­ing and is in dan­ger of be­ing lost for­ever. New re­cruits are, well, non-ex­is­tent. The world of scarf­ing, lap joints, steamed planks and caulk­ing has lim­ited ap­peal for a 21st cen­tury school-leaver.

Should we be wor­ried? Or do we sim­ply ac­cept that this is an in­evitable part of progress? We’ll leave the re­spon­si­bil­ity to a few se­nior en­thu­si­asts and spe­cial­ists un­til they’re no longer able to wield a chisel? I don’t like that op­tion, but equally, I’ve no clear al­ter­na­tives to of­fer.

Still, a lit­tle more op­ti­mism can be found at the other end of the boat­build­ing spec­trum. Also in this is­sue is Ben Glad­well’s story about the high-tech op­er­a­tion at Wark­worth’s Core Builders Composites. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary fa­cil­ity – filled largely by young ex­perts forg­ing ahead through a world of CAD, car­bon-fi­bre, 3D print­ing with ti­ta­nium and CNC ma­chin­ing.

Pretty in­spi­ra­tional stuff, even though I don’t en­tirely un­der­stand all of it…

So if it’s pos­si­ble to take any com­fort from the tra­di­tional boat­build­ing in­dus­try’s quandary, per­haps it’s this: sun­set in­dus­tries are part of a nat­u­ral cy­cle. Just as horse-drawn carts sur­ren­dered to steam and steam to oil, so tim­ber boats have evolved through fi­bre­glass into composites and other ma­te­ri­als I can’t spell or pro­nounce. Sadly, the skills fade dur­ing the pro­gres­sion.

There will prob­a­bly come a time – not too far in the fu­ture – when boat­builders will lament the lack of staff able to prop­erly ap­ply lay­ers of car­bon-fi­bre. The skills will have faded away.

And they’ll tell their grand­chil­dren of a time – long, long ago – when boats truly were things of beauty, all gleam­ing bright­work and shin­ing brass – and made of wood.

Happy boat­ing.

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