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Wooden Boats - In The Press


Nipper Wooden Boats

Buried somewhere in my corrugated iron garden shed, which is classified by the National Trust as a blot on the landscape is a set of grown t1-tree knees that is exactly my own age. I keep them because they are leftovers from the great family boatbuilding project, when Pater built an open wood launch intended, as so many boats are, to help him escape the tedious double duty of suburban living and parenthood.

If you grow up around such boats, you’re doomed to be a boat lover all your life. You have no choice – if we are to agree with the most basic of Mr Freud’s precepts. No matter how far you stray from the boats of your childhood, they are the ones that remain most evocative. No matter how satisfying the flutter of the telltales across a broad expanse of Kevlar, the vision of a bit of oiled teak or a bronze fitting is the image you take home with you at the end of the day. Two Sydney architects John Crawford and John Howard, commissioned the 9ft Nipper form builder Nigel Shannon for a number of reasons. Initially they wanted a picturesque tender for a picturesque 40ft wishbone yawl, but a secondary role became apparent.

Nipper now sits in the reception area of their converted warehouse office, hopefully as an inspiration to the designers, builders and tradesmen who cross their threshold.

Nigel Shannon, of Shannon Boats from the Sydney suburb of Balmain, built a half model, then the real thing. Balmain, until surprisingly recent years, was one of the great boat and shipbuilding areas of Australia. The premises from which Nigel works, one the last old slipways in the region, is about to succumb to the relentless onslaught of the upmarket townhouse epidemic in this area because of the large areas of industrial land occupied by the ship repair yards.

John Crawford says Nipper satisfied the nostalgia for a 9ft clinker dinghy in which he learned to sail as a child. The partners enjoyed the concept of patronage, commissioning from a craftsman what they see as their resident work of art.

Nipper is 9ft long and 5ft wide, and quite flat-floored in her aft sections. She is planked in Kalatis, which is a tropical wood almost the same as Australian Cedar – the wood is the same but the graining is more regular

as tropical trees grow at a more constant rate, not slowing down for the winter. Ribs and stringers are American White Oak, one of the world’s classic boat-building timbers. Floorboards are White Beech, knees and stem are grown Ti Tree, keel and mast step are Mahogany, spars a beautifully clear Oregon, and oars Sitka Spruce.

The fittings are Bronze; items like rowlocks or the bobstay-forestay fitting on the spirit, are beautiful castings. There’s plenty of fine detail; leather padding in the jaws of the boom and gaff, the jib sheet blocks sliding along a knotted rope strop, rigged athwart ships, the knots preventing the block’s passage and giving finely adjustable jib sheeting angles.

John Crawford says he enjoys his foyer’s centerpiece because of the skill involved in building it and a love of the materials used. For the same reason he commutes in a beautiful but well used Aston Martin. Unfortunately we aborted one of our planned meetings when the Aston’s ignition system gave trouble. Old old is fine; new old, as emplified by Nipper, has a lot going for it too.

Modern Boating, february 1988


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