A wonderful article on building the Nordlund Skiff at the Boat School by Bryan Mann, lifted from the Port Townsend Maritime Trades Association Summer newsletter produced by Diana Talley. We’re fortunate to have so many local treasures from Dale Nordlund, to the Boat School, to the PTMTA. The entire newsletter is available here.
Building the Nordlund Skiff
Written By Bryan Mann
As Dale Nordlund walked into the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, all of the usual banging and banter came to an abrupt halt. Dale was immediately swarmed by a crowd of anxious aspiring boat builders (myself included), awestruck by the presence of a true Northwest man with such a rich history. We had just about finished setting up the backbone for our first lapstrake project, the 11′ 6″ “Nordlund Skiff,” when Dale decided to drop by. It was as if the spirit of some mystical seaman from the golden age of boatbuilding had floated up out of the loft floor to guide us. Perhaps for Dale it was more like peeking into the daycare playroom to watch us struggle with Lincoln logs. Either way, he was glad to inform us that his original design was in fact carvel planked, not lapstrake planked, and we were glad to listen.
I had come to NWSWB to pursue a passion, gain knowledge in a time honored tradition, and to partake in an art kept alive by dedicated craftspeople. There standing right before me was the man who embodies all the ideals, traditions, skills, knowledge and passion that lures and taunts the inner boatbuilder in all of us. Seeing Dale in the shop, and talking to him about a boat he designed over fifty years ago, was an eye opening experience. Up until that point I had focused my efforts toward honing my woodworking skills and understanding the fundamentals of construction. As Dale’s presence filled the room it became clear that this project involved more than just building a boat. I took offsets from the lofting and drafted a set of lines in attempt to begin preserving the boat’s history, but I needed to know more about the mind behind the masterpiece. I asked if I could informally interview Dale and wound up invited to dinner at his place with him and his equally as amazing lady, Carlyn.
I arrived around 5:30 for dinner. By 5:45, we were out the back door en route to a shelter housing “Aegean,” one of Dales larger (40 ft) accomplishments; a gorgeous Atkins designed “Ingrid”. I had been pouring over magazines and books excessively in the months leading up to my term at the boat school and now, to be touching the planks of such a beautiful vessel, felt natural. I put myself in Dale’s shoes and imagined how fulfilling it must be to look back and see your own legacy breathing inspiration into the lives of people just now discovering the craft. Dale put so much of himself into his boats. I could have stayed there marveling all night but we headed back to the house for dinner. As the evening wore on I was treated to many wonderful stories from Dale and Carlyn alike of boats and sailing adventures across the globe. I also got the opportunity to peruse some old photo albums and, suddenly, there it was! In my lap was a photo showing the original Nordlund Skiff tender lashed to the deck of his Ingrid! After seeing his original work, I was more excited than ever to get back in the shop and bring his old design back into three dimensions. I thanked Carlyn for a fantastic dinner and went home to dream the night away.
Fast forward a few weeks: now after plenty of hard work and a few coats of boat sauce, the Nordlund Skiff was ready for launching. We stayed as true as possible to the original design and built the boat entirely out of domestic woods (Western Red Cedar, White Oak, Spruce, Larch, and Locust) as a tribute to the Northwest man. Dale was even kind enough to make an appearance and grant his approval of our efforts, after which we all breathed a sigh of relief. Once she was in the water everyone took turns enjoying the delightful little boat for the remainder of the afternoon. I finally took my turn. The water on the laps grew louder with each pull and I found myself contemplating whether I was rowing toward a legacy of my own.