Anchored in history: Wooden boat building still thrives


Friday, 1/18/2013 11:56am

Since the earliest days of waterfront civilization, boat building has been at the “fore.” Historians believe that even before Noah famously set out to construct a triple-deck ark, the early Egyptians knew how to assemble planks of wood into a ship hull as early as 3000 BC.

Like many trades of centuries past, wooden boat building is riding a wave of retro chic DIY enthusiasm. Fleets of classes and apprenticeships are surfacing across the country, and numerous organizations — including Rocking the Boat and Community Boat Works of the Hudson Valley — offer hands-on programs for disadvantaged kids and aspiring shipwrights alike.

Here in the Hudson Valley, our local history is intertwined with the craft of building and repairing boats, from the native Lenape canoes to 19th-century sloops to modern-day fishing and recreational boats. At Philipsburg Manor in 1750 — the time period that’s the focus of Historic Hudson Valley’s site interpretation — the flat-bottomed bateau was the common vessel of choice  to transport goods and people along the Pocantico and Hudson rivers.

A 21-foot replica of this colonial-era bateau can be viewed at From Shore to Shore, which opens today at ArtsWestchester’s Peckham and Shenkman galleries and continues through March 9. Like many other items in this two-part exhibition, HHV’s vessel carries its own distinctive history. A group of teenagers from Rocking the Boat — who traveled each day from the Bronx to Sleepy Hollow — hand-crafted the bateau from scratch using planes, adzes, and other traditional hand tools. On permanent display at the Philipsburg Manor wharf and used for tours and educational programs, this bateau has traveled as far north as Croton-on-Hudson.

From January 18 to March 9, you can see this skiff firsthand and dive deep into our region’s maritime history, from the Hudson River to Long Island Sound. Learn the ropes of boat building, discover the tools of the trade, participate in oar-carving demonstrations, and meet local craftsmen, historians, and preservationists. This is a boat you definitely don’t want to miss! 

(photo by Joaquin Cotten)

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