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A definitive look at Japanese boatbuilding

Jul 24, 2015

It was about seven years ago that Ocean Navigator publisher Alex Agnew and I drove up one night from Portland up to Brunswick, to Bowdoin College, to hear wooden boatbuilder Douglas Brooks speak. Alex and I share a fascination for boats of all kinds, wooden in particular, but I was doubly drawn by a distinct linguistic allure. I had been studying Japanese language for several years and Douglas Brooks was and is the leading sensei of Japanese wooden boatbuilding.

Mr. Brook’s talk not only opened its audience’s eyes to a boatbuilding art developed with hardly a whiff of influence from the world of Western craftsmanship and technique, but it also unveiled again that clichéd inscrutability that has long described Japanese ways.

For starters, the Japanese are dumbfounded that American and European boatbuilders caulk their boats from the outside. After all, they say, that’s the side the water is on. The Japanese caulk from the inside and then only after their boats become very old. In fact, they don’t need to caulk new wooden boats at all due to a technique Brooks explains in detail in his new book, straightforwardly entitled “Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding.”

This is the story of the author’s apprenticeships with Japanese masters, the last of their kind building unique traditional boats of endangered styles. It is part ethnography, part instruction, and part the personal story of a wooden boatbuilder fueled by a passion to preserve a centuries-old craft on the brink of extinction. Over the course of 17 trips to seek out these elderly masters, Mr. Brooks built boats with five of them, and for most he was their sole and last apprentice.

At 320 pages with 378 color photographs and 36 drawing, a launch into Japanese Wooden Boatbuidling is a leap into an exotic new world. Design, workshop and tools, wood and materials, joinery, fastenings, propulsion, ceremonies—this comprehensive volume will be of interest to boatbuilders, woodworkers, and anyone who has ever been impressed with the marvels of Japanese design and workmanship.

Hijouni ni omoshiroi. Extremely interesting.

Signed and inscribed copies are available directly from the author at www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com. Buying from this site directly supports Mr. Brook’s ongoing research. 

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