The Boat Always Wins!

In February, 2007, one of the first projects started at the newly-opened Auckland Traditional Boatbuilding School in Hobsonville was a clinker Kauri Frostbite sailing dinghy.

Ron Churton, 61, a building manager from Epsom and his brother John, 55, a purchasing agent from Takanini, are finally nearing completion on their project and they are justifiably proud of the first boat they’ve built. The warm glow of varnished kauri is accented by contrasting, laminated inserts of Sapele Mahogany in key areas.

The brothers originally figured they could have their dream boat sailing in less than a year but, as they note now with cheery smiles, they underestimated the warm social atmosphere that quickly developed at the school as they were joined on Tuesday nights by other new students. A cup of tea, a bit of a talk and a nightly tour of everyone’s projects eats into carpentry time but provides valuable tips and insights as well as a strong sense of camaraderie.

Partners 1

As newcomers, the Churtons were asked by Robert Brooke, the school’s founder and chief instructor, what kind of boat they’d like to build. It wasn’t a hard choice. As kids messing about in boats at the family summer house in Stanmore Bay, the boat every youngster on the beach lusted after was a Kauri clinker Frosty. Besides, they had derived a lot of enjoyment from a restored 12-foot clinker rowing dinghy they bought together eight years earlier.

After that, things came together quickly. Brooke’s father, John “Jack” Brooke, designed the Frostbite in 1938 and Robert had built 11 of the popular little 11 foot 6 inch dinghies. They bought the rough-sawn kauri lumber from stock donated to the school by a supporter from Lyttleton.

“We learned some lofting but luckily we didn’t have to loft our boat because Robert still has the patterns for his Dad’s original boat,” said John. “It meant a lot to us but it meant a hang of a lot to Robert that we were building a wooden Frostbite in an era when most are now fiberglass.

Dressing the 12x1 planks, marking out the shapes to match the sheer of the boat, cutting them out and then splitting them vertically to produce the matching port and starboard strakes before thicknessing them, proved to be a major introduction to boat building for the Churtons.

Partners 2

“It was quite difficult but that was what we came for and we got a lot of enjoyment watching the boat take shape,” said Ron. “There are 11 planks to each side but by the time we got to the 11th plank we were getting real good at it.”

Next spring the new Frosty will join the rest of the brothers’ growing flotilla. There’s the clinker rowing dinghy, plus Mirage, the M-Class 18-foot sloop built in 1955 that they bought three years ago, and the Pelin Aquarius 18-foot outboard-powered cabin runabout that is partially restored but needs a new cabin. But then, they are also thinking about starting a moulded plywood dinghy. At least not for a few months.

“We just enjoy working together,” said John. Ron added: “I suppose you could say that if it comes to painting the house or the boat, I know what I’d rather do. The boat always wins!”