New York Whitehall Boat

Viewer Project - By Jack Battersby from Wareham, MA
Added on January 24, 2013

I have to admit, I am a bit uneasy about sharing my project with this particular group of people. I absolutely love building boats and to that end, craftsmanship can often take a back seat to eagerness to get on the water. Living in the North East section of the US, there is a limited window of opportunity to actually see your project in action and absolutely nothing is more disappointing than watching your new boat sit in a cradle for 5 months waiting for the first thaw because you put one too many coats of finish on your boat last Fall. That said, I submit myself to your mercy and share this project which has been a goal of mine for many years.

Some of you may recognize this boat as being a Whitehall style boat. I read countless old boat building books and most references on classic American craft will all have a section on these beautiful boats once relegated to hauling cargo and passengers around the harbors of Boston and New York.

This particular boat is a 14’ New York style Whitehall which I thought would make for a great day out with my 9 year old daughter. The original lines for this boat were published 75 years ago based on a design originating in the mid 1800’s. These boats were originally designed to haul heavy loads in the harbors so I softened up on the lines a bit to accommodate more typical loads of 150 to 400 lbs figuring I wouldn’t be ferrying any cargo other than human. There were a number of other minor changes to better accommodate advances in techniques and materials in the last 150 years, however I did everything I could to maintain the spirit of the original craft.

The most amazing part of this journey was the revelation that even though I have been rowing boats since the day my dad handed over the oars of the 14′ aluminum boat some 40 years ago, I had no idea what a pleasure it could be to row a boat until I pulled the oars on this Whitehall. She rides stable, fast and pulls with almost no effort at all.

So I submit these pictures and a brief detail of how this boat (affectionately named “The Blue Berry” by my daughter) was built for your review and maybe to offer some inspiration to others to build that project that has been nagging you for some time now.

The wood on this boat for the most part is only two species, Western Red Cedar for the hull and Ash for the floor boards, decks gunwales and so forth. The boat is stripped with ¼” cedar strips which are bead and coved and covered with fiberglass cloth and epoxy both inside and out. The skeg and deadwood are laminated Ash and a keel is laid from skeg to stem.

The boat is trimmed out simply with care to keep to the original spirit of the boat. Interestingly enough the trim which required the most thought in this build was the design of the floorboards. Doing the math to make sure that they are wide enough to not flex, end at the right spots so that there is no points to stub your toes on and land so that there isn’t a big gap around the edges yet still be able to get your keys if they fall between the boats was a bit more thinking than I thought it would be.

Although some seem to think it heresy to put paint over a wooden boat, I am not one of those people. Traditionally these boats were painted white with a colored stripe at the gunwale to identify the boat shop they came from. However, this is where I broke with tradition. White boats drive me nuts. Every little ding is a new touch up project. So my daughter thought this Midnight Blue paint was simply perfect to offset the Cedar hull. I have to say, I liked it more and more as each coat went on.

Well there it is. That’s my project and I hope you enjoy the pictures.