Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rushton Construction Details

On the WoodenBoat Forum someone asked for construction details for this dinghy and I thought that was a good idea, though its bitterly cold today and even colder in the barn where I store the boat, but I did find some decent shots from the day I brought the boat home.

Of all the things missing from the dingy the saddest might be the match to this rowlock.  I know there are sources for replicas but it would be fun to have the real thing.  I didn't get oars either.

A small thing but no doubt intentional: the curve of the grain matches the curve of the rabbet in the deadwood.  Some historic photos of the Rushton shop show dinghies and the entire deadwood is radiused parallel to the rabbet.  My understanding has always been that this allowed boats to be launched off ships with less risk of banging gunwales.

You can make out here how the rubrail transitions to almost a square edge at the location of the rowlocks.  Its beautifully done and of course easy and functional and with the hardware on it the transition seems to disappear. 

Note the thwart risers are about as minimal as you can get.  Obviously a weight savings, handy in a dinghy.  I regret that I built a strongback around the boat to preserve its shape (slightly hogged) and I didn't weight it beforehand, but its extremely light.

The frames are half-round stock, possibly red elm.

Rushton made no attempt to use natural crooks for the breasthook or quarter knees.  They might be mahogany.  The breasthook is two pieces for strength and I need to investigate how the two halves are fastened.  That particular detail is visible in the sketch in Rushton's 1903 catalog (reprinted by the Adirondack Museum) but note that the sketch of the dinghy in the catalog is not at all reflective of the overall shape of this boat.

I can see daylight through much of the stem at the rabbet so I think it is two-piece, with an inner stem and a cutwater applied.  All steam-bent stock, of course.  This is a faster and more fool-proof way to make a stem.  I did the same thing building the Rushton catboat, though I laminated material.

There is a link to my builder's log at the bottom of the page.

The lifting rings fore and aft are simply a piece of flat stock with a hole in it that passes down through a metal pad.  The flat stock is screwed into the inside face of the transom and stem.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rushton dinghy

This blog has been dominated by boats from just one half of the blog title "Boats East and West."  Its time I posted something about a Western-style boat, and this one is very special.  A few years ago I saw a boat sitting upside down in a front yard just a few miles from my home.  It was obviously a lovely boat, so I stopped and got reacquainted with the owner, someone I hadn't actually spoken to in several years.  He wanted to get rid of the boat and said that several people had stopped by offering to take it and restore it.

The boat was obviously special, and from my museum work I knew that this boat was NOT a candidate for restoration.  It was obviously very old, and so it was truly an artifact.  It was also clear that while the boat was basically intact, restoring it would involve a complete rebuilding, replacing most of the original material.  In short, the boat was more valuable left as is.

It took several conversations with the owner, but amazingly he remembered me and my museum work and so he sold me the boat.  After getting it home and turning it over I discovered the builder's tag.  The boat is from Henry Rushton's Canton, New York shop.  I have a reprint of Rushton's 1903 catalog and this boat is clearly identifiable as one of his five sizes of dinghies.  I've been told that this style of tag dates the boat to before 1890.

As I looked at the dinghy dimensions I realized that the Rushton catboat I built several years ago had to be the same hull as the largest dinghy listed: 15-feet long with a 5-foot beam.  Having rowed the catboat I can say its too big for a good rowing boat so Rushton must have repurposed that model for his catboat, giving it a deck and coaming in the process.  You can read more about this boat at the Rushton catboat page at my website, as well as the link at the bottom of that page for a series of articles I wrote detailing the boat's design and construction:


Since getting the boat I've done some more research on Rushton's dinghies.  There are some historic photos online of the Rushton shop and several show dinghies in the varnishing room and one photo showing one being rowed on the DeGrasse River just outside the shop.  I took the lines (measured) of my boat and plan to loft and fair the lines to give me a table of offsets.  Obviously I would like to build it.

The boat has a lovely whitehall shape and its incredibly light.  The thwarts and floorboards are missing, along with one of the oarlock sockets.  The boat has lifting rings fore and aft that seem like add-ons, so this boat must have hung in davits at one point.  The details of construction are too numerous to list, but suffice to say that the quality is exquisite, with many very interesting elements.  Its been a real pleasure and an education to study its construction.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stay Tuned.....

While I was in Japan this past summer I received a deposit for another Japanese boat.  Its for a formal Japanese garden in the Midwest (as in USA Midwest).  I will be building it this winter in my shop here in Vermont.  Please look back for detailed updates on its construction.

The boat will be a slightly scaled down version of one I built with my teacher in Tokyo.  My web page on this particular boat is: http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/tenmasen.html

These were cargo boats, but they feature (at least they did in Tokyo) lots of copper plating so they are pretty dramatic.  Again, keep in touch and it should start appearing here at the blog sometime in December.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sabani sailing!

Soon after I returned from my summer in Japan, I was sent a photograph showing the sabani that I helped build in Okinawa two years ago racing this summer.  It was great to see, as the boat was sent directly to a museum in Tokyo after my teacher and I finished building it (a process I chronicled on this blog back in 2009-2010) where it went on display.

The museum later agreed to donate the boat to a sabani racing team back in Okinawa.  Its great to see that its in the water and competing.  No word on how well it did.

It's my fervent hope to get back to Okinawa next July for the 15th Anniversary Sabani Races, an open water event in which boats race 35km from Zamami Island to Naha.

photo by Mr. Yoji Mori

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Follow up

I've been in Kyoto the last week, doing some legwork for a possible return to Japan in November to build another boat: this one a river boat in Kameoka, northwest of Kyoto.  I visited there today to look at one surviving wooden river boat and view the venue, an art gallery in the center of the city.

Tonight I thought to take a look at YouTube and see what might be there about the Festivale.  Lo and behold my friend Shinya Tominaga, who came down from Tokyo to attend the launching, uploaded video of our launch.  Its a very nice clip (I like the way he ends it) showing us rowing back to the crowd and throwing gifts to them, a traditional called mochimaki.  The soundtrack is provided by the Bengali musicians who attended.  Please check it out at this link:

And thanks for reading this blog!


Douglas Brooks

Saturday, August 31, 2013


There is absolutely no way this project could have happened without the help of three people here in Japan: Koji Matano and Yoshiko and Takumi Suzuki (www.hacarame.com).  Koji helped me with the original application to the Festivale and did all the pre-Festivale communications and negotations.  He also arranged to have our timbers logged, milled and transported.  We stacked and stickered the wood last January and earlier this summer Koji had the monumental task of planing it to thickness using a large portable power plane.  He also composed the name for our boat.

Then came the logistics of setting up a house for us here in Takamatsu.  Yoshiko found a rental through a friend and by the time I arrived the house was ready to go.  Throughout the project Yoshiko cooked delicious meals for us, delivering wonderful lunches every day to our shop.  She was also instrumental in making our launching successful.  It was her idea to create hundreds of gifts for every spectator, which added a wonderful ending to our ceremony.

Working with Takumi was a great pleasure.  He had previously studied with Koji building a wood/canvas canoe, and he also took canoe workshop at the Wooden Boat School in Maine.  I was impressed with his skills but mostly with how seriously he took this project.  It was very gratifying to me to see him recording in his notebook, frankly a reminder of my work with my teachers in Japan.  It would be my pleasure to somehow build a boat with him again.

Shinsuishiki - Launching


The typhoon veered away and we had a calm, overcast, but hot and sticky morning for our launch ceremony, called a shinsuishiki.  Takumi’s canoe guide teacher drove three hours up from the Shimanto River with his canoe trailer to carry our boat to the marina, where the students from Nihon University carried our boat into the water.  We had a large crowd of Bengalis and Japanese artists and people from the community.  Japanese musicians played as well as Bengali musicians.  

Fram Kitagawa, the force behind the Setouchi Festivale, gave opening remarks and Koji Matano, who was instrumental in making this project happen, created and announced the name of our boat, which is HOUYUU.  The name means “friendship,” and we were all thinking of our Bengali friends, who really inspired us with the skill and warmth.

In lieu of a Shinto priest I presided over the ceremony.  I cut a large mortise in the after beam of the boat for a funadama, essentially a boat shrine.  In it I placed, wrapped in white paper, 12 antique coins, paper figurines of a man and woman, a home-made dice, and a packet containing azuki beans, millet and oats.  I sealed these items up and then poured sake on the funadama.  As mentioned in an earlier posting, these traditions were those given to us by Tsuda san, the 84-year old boatbuilder from this area.

Often small gifts are thrown to the crowd at boat launchings, such as candy or rice cakes.  Yoshiko came up with the idea of taking leftover wood from our project and making small blocks painted with the flags of Bangladesh and Japan, and stamped with the boats name and the word for friendship in Bengali.  The first passengers included Koji, Yoshiko, Takumi, Fram Kitagawa and the site coordinator Cato san, and as we rowed along the waterfront we threw the gifts into the crowd.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Copper covering is not used universally on boats throughout Japan, but its often seen, particularly in more urban area.  I’ve been told this had mostly to do with how wealthy the fishermen were, and whether or not they could afford it.  The chokkibune I built in Tokyo had a lot of copper covering: the nail heads, any exposed endgrain, beam ends, and most seams above the waterline.

As far as authenticity, we may have gone a little overboard with our copper here, but what we did does represent what is done in Japan.  We cut shallow mortises around the nail heads for copper, and I covered the steam rabbet.  We covered exposed endgrain in the framing at the stern and also capped exposed beam ends.  Its a nice affect, and the next time you look at Japanese wood block prints you will immediately recognize what the rows of neat rectangles are.  In those days they were often painted black with ink.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tsuda san

Tuesday Koji, Takumi and I, along with our recent volunteer Shiten, drove over to mainland Japan to see Tsuda san, the 84-year old boatbuilder I first met in this region ten years ago.  In many ways he is responsible for my being here, because when I learned that the Setouchi Festivale was looking for foreign artists to collaborate with local craftspeople I wrote him requesting his help.  He had aged considerably since I first met him, but he finally agreed.  Our project was accepted but then his health deteriorated to the point where he had to move to assisted living.  Luckily the festival organizers decided to keep the project.

Our trip took us over the Seto Nai Kai Bridge, at the time it was built the longest bridge in the world.  I last crossed it twenty years ago, not long after it opened.  The views of the Inland Sea are gorgeous, and we had a beautiful day.

Almost from the moment we sat down with him Tsuda san was asking about our boat, how it was constructed, and making sketches explaining how he built boats.  It was an interesting conversation and we learned several things.  Tsuda san would have been great to have at the project for his expertise.  

I quizzed him on how he conducted his launching ceremonies.  The local museum curator has been advising us, but interestingly Tsuda san’s traditions varied from what the curator had been describing.  I have decided that in his honor, we will follow faithfully Tsuda san’s protocols.  I will describe that in a future blog posting.

We have a typhoon bearing down on us, so our Saturday launch is in jeopardy.  Nevertheless I am responsible for installing certain shrine objects in the boat, so that will happen regardless.