On the rugged shores of the British Isles and the fjords of Norway, small, double-ended wooden boats have long plied the cold waters of the North Atlantic, rowed or sailed by their fishermen owners. Built of lapstrake hardwoods, they are reminiscent of old Viking boats. In the North Atlantic, the small rocky islands and reefs that line the coastlines are called “skerries,” after the Old Norse word “sker.” Often rowed and sailed in and around skerries, these plucky little work boats are rugged enough for the rocky shores.
This fall, the Hudson River Maritime Museum will offer a class to build the modern descendant of those historic British and Scandinavian working boats. Called a “Skerry” after those rocky islands, this version is tough and lightweight, easy to sail or row. Riverport Wooden Boat School Senior Instructor Michael Puryear notes, “This class is an opportunity to learn how to build boats using modern stitch-and-glue technology, which produces a lighter and stronger wooden boat.”
Stitch-and-glue uses lightweight marine grade okume plywood to stich the flexible planks together in an overlapping style called lapstrake. The stitching and glue give the boat shape and strength without the use of heavy wooden ribs, as in traditional boatbuilding. The bottom of the boat is also sheathed in fiberglass for tough resistance to rocky shorelines or hard landings.
The resulting boat is lightweight and easy to pull up on a beach at the end of the day and make camp. At 15 feet long with either a four-sided spritsail or a triangular gunter rig sail, the Skerry can be rowed while under sail, an uncommon feature for small boats. The mast can also be stepped down if you prefer to just row. At around 100 pounds, the Skerry can be car-topped with two adults, or is incredibly easy to pull in and out of the water on a small trailer.
Unlike previous boatbuilding classes at RWBS, this Skerry build is a group build – with a group of students working together to build a single boat. This boat will also be built from scratch using only plans, not kits, giving students the full range of woodworking skills as they build the boat from start to finish. Students can enter a lottery to “win” the final product.
“Students will gain confidence, manual skills, and build friendships through teamwork,” Puryear says of the group style of class. The “Group Boatbuild: Nordic Skerry” class takes place every Thursday and Friday, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, from Thursday, September 21 until Friday, November 3, with Saturday, November 4 as a final class for any finishing necessary, as well as to celebrate the completion of the boat and draw lots.
This class is also more affordable than the individual kit classes, at just $495 for HRMM members at the Household level and above, and $540 for non-members. “Many of our members and visitors were unable to commit to the week-long kit builds, both because of price and time commitment, so we wanted to offer an alternative and the Skerry is the perfect boat to start with,” says HRMM Director of Education Sarah Wassberg.
For many people, building a sailboat is a dream come true. “It was always my dream growing up,” says Puryear. To build a boat and then sail off into the sunset is now an affordable reality for Hudson Valley residents, provided you’ve got luck on your side.
The class is limited to 10 people, and spots are sure to fill up fast. Interested students can register online at www.hrmm.org/classes--workshops.html or by calling 845-338-0071 ext. 16.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.