The secret is out. In a former life, I raced sailboats…reluctantly of course. It was a rite of passage that came with marriage. Racing a Snipe-class boat (13 ft.) in the Atlantic Ocean seemed the least I could do for a future husband who loved to sail. Weaker hearts might have remained single. As it turned out, racing was only the tip of the iceberg. This union called for preparing the vessel for racing including such details as barnacle removal, sanding and painting the boat’s bottom, fixing sails and installing race-light fittings. We tried anything that would make the boat lighter and faster.
Sadly, our wooden boat – The Love Child – slowly became obsolete being out-classed by fiberglass models that were lighter and faster. While fiberglass boats were first produced sometime in the thirties, they became cheaper to fabricate in the sixties and thus more affordable and popular with our peers. We resisted buying a “synthetic” boat, believing instead that the hand-crafted version was superior, and that boat building was an art. We tried hard to compete, throwing our weight further and further out of the boat when racing, but in the end, we succumbed to a fiberglass boat along with the birth of our first child.
The story of what happened to the boating industry when hand-built wooden vessels were replaced by sleek, silicon ones will be told this month at an exhibition at ArtsWestchester. Here in Westchester and Long Island many of the old traditions of boat building continue, albeit with the use of modern technologies. From Shore to Shore, an exhibition curated by Nancy Solomon and Tom Van Buren explores the culture of maritime trade, taking us into the worlds of the boat builders and the historic locations where boats and ships are built and/or maintained today. It opens at ArtsWestchester on January 17, with an opening reception that evening from 6-8:30pm. If you have a boat story, share it in the comments below, or at our boat building conversation events – one with boat craftsmen on February 2, and another with maritime historians and waterfront preservation specialists on February 9.