Exploring the craft of boat-building

Trained in this Norwegian art, Jay Smith shares his love of boats with Abel Lodge

Photo: Solveig Lee Inside his Anacortes shop, a majestic craft takes shape.

Photo: Solveig Lee
Inside his Anacortes shop, a majestic craft takes shape.

Solveig Lee
Mount Vernon, Wash.

Sons of Norway Abel Lodge #2-29, of Conway, Wash., featured F. Jay Smith, an Anacortes boat builder, on March 4, 2016. Assisted by his wife, Susan Wood, he spoke on the history of Viking ships from Western Norway from A.D. 800 to 1800.

Smith, being a ship-builder and having a maternal Norwegian heritage that extends back hundreds of years, had a bent to learn about Viking ships. During the presentation, he spoke of the Gokstad Viking ship built in A.D. 860.

To enable his audience to appreciate Norway, slides were shown to depict the countryside: the majestic mountains, the small farms that often had one cow, half a dozen sheep, and some goats and chickens. It was a land of mist, fog, and the glorious midnight sun. The Norwegians might own a boat or two—one for fishing and, perhaps, another 17-footer to go to town, to church, or to see the doctor. He told how they would pick up families on their way to church and sit on one designated thwart.

The Norwegians built hundreds of boats. They were all built of furu (Scots pine).

Photo: Solveig Lee Jay Smith’s love of boats took him to Norway to apprentice with ship-builders.

Photo: Solveig Lee
Jay Smith’s love of boats took him to Norway to apprentice with ship-builders.

Smith’s great interest in these boats, therefore, encouraged him to travel to Norway to serve as an apprentice with five Norwegian fellows who built these boats. Upon arrival, he noted that the men were quiet and soft-spoken. He immediately learned that, in this shop, no one spoke English.

Building boats with these men was a wonderful experience. All the work was with wood. Rivets were made by blacksmiths. In fact, blacksmiths made everything. Many of the tools used were on display.

Smith went on to say that all creations were made of this wood. Norwegians loved to carve and they would do so into a long winter’s night. They used no power tools.

Smith continues to carry on the tradition of making ships—with white oak and Alaska yellow cedar and the tools used in making our local boats in America.

This article originally appeared in the March 25, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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