The Art of Boat Building

The TotalBoat team met boatbuilder, Bob Emser, last year at the Wooden Boat Show and was enamored with his gentle, artistic style of boat building and of video creation, too. It was a pleasure to meet and talk to Emser whose calm, educational videos talk through his build of a Joel White designed Haven 12 1/2 – a close sistership to Herreshoff’s famed little sailing dinghy. Given the time and shop space to build such a craft, wouldn’t we all cherish the slow, intentioned pace of something as satisfying as building your own sailboat? Step into Bob’s sculpture studio turned boat shop and see how he’s taking the time to build and document this sweet little wooden boat.

Bob Emser is an internationally lauded sculptor who is inspired by the construction and aesthetics of boats and their close cousin aircraft. He leads us through the process of boat building through the eye of an artist and craftsman and his videos are a calming look at the intricacies and artistry of his craft. Enjoy!


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15 responses to “The Art of Boat Building

  1. Good morning, Bob~

    Two thoughts: re your selection of the design – what waters will you be sailing. I grew up sailing on Great South Bay – Gil smith’s waters – and sailed a locally designed/built gaff sloop (20’9″ LOA). Shoal draft is a critical need on these waters – the water is too skinny for Joel White’s lovely design.

    re Marconi v. Gaff – I cannot help but wonder whether the sheer beauty of the Gaff helped you make your decision. Good choice!

    Thanks for putting this together – I will follow your progress with great interest.

    All the best,
    Steve Sanford

  2. As a young man I lived on my sailboat anchored out off of Shelter Island in San Diego. I often made the rounds of the work going on at the Kettenburg yard there. One large wooden sailboat was getting a major refit and was named “Wizard of Bristol”. I thought, Wow the owners must really spend a lot to keep that boat in “Bristol” condition all the time to name her that…..

    Enjoying your video.

  3. Thanks for your complete presentation and thoughts. Looking forward to viewing the remainder of the series! I have rebuilt the wooden parts of an Enterprise sailboat from cherry wood and am ready to attach to fiberglass hull.

  4. Mr. Sanford,
    I am really enjoyed your videos.
    Can you tell me where to get your left handed saw?

  5. Great choice, Bob. Excellent compromise with the further advantage that it is a lot easier to haul than an H 12 1/2.

  6. Glad to find your site, Bob. I’m building a Catspaw dinghy with plans drawn by Joel White. I saw your talk on building the steam box and was hoping you’d show us more.
    I’m putting the ribbands on this weekend.
    Is there a site and a table of contents?

  7. Excellent choice. The combination of two of the world’s great designers is hard to beat. The track record of the design should give you confidence that the result will be worth the investment. The community of folks that have built your boat will be a valuable resource.
    Though you seem to love doing it yourself, Nat Wilson Sailmakers in Boothbay would be a good source for sails. No doubt you have already found readily available sources of hardware, though your plan to cast bronze fittings is understandable given your skill and the fact that it is so rewarding to do that job.
    Check out the Teaching With Small Boats Alliance website and find the member organization nearest you. Your boat is a popular build and you might find synergy from talking to TWSBA organizations.
    Good luck.

  8. Your a life saver!!!! I am building the “Bluegill”, Steve Redmond plans…
    had no idea how to add the 10 pounds of lead to the centerboard…just in time Jamestown sent me your video series which is fantastic.

  9. Hello Bob,
    I owned a Beatle for 8 years loved it…but because it’s a terrible row I built a Catspaw dingy. An elegant design for the eye and build. It took me 5 years no winters in a no heat garage. Have loved it for 13 years now. Oh, I built it lapstrake. Peter

  10. the walnut transom is beautiful, but seems awful heavy. didnt capt Nat say that weight is for steam rollers not sailboats. great video.

  11. Bob~

    Thanks once again for your fine telling, showing and teaching. This centerboard episode (# 3) brought back many memories from when I went through the same process on my gaff sloop WILLET – in 1979 I believe. Poured lead into the board in much the same way et cetera.

    Question: How will the board be lifted? I bedded an eyebolt – with square nut attached – within the board before I joined the 2 halves. I did not want the hardware to pull out over time.

    All the best,

    Steve Sanford

  12. Would like to ask community a question – I am building a mahogany boat tail speedster auto, on a 1936 Packard chassis. Ash ribs, 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ mahogany siding. Do wooden boats glue sides to ribs or just screw?

    1. In traditional carvel construction the planks are fastened to the frames with screws or rivets or other mechanical fasteners, never glued to the frames. Your situation is different, however, as the auto will hopefully never be submerged in water, so shrinking and swelling of the planking is not a consideration. I would be thinking more in terms of cold molding, unless you plan to reproduce the original construction, in which case some research might be called for.

  13. I do look forward to your videos of building the 12 1/2. In the year 2000, I started building a Haven, launching it in 2001 in Newport, RI. in 2009, I started building a 1895 Gil Smith 21′ cat named Clementine that I launched in 2010 in Key Largo, FL. Both experiences were wonderful.

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