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Challenge for Wooden-boat builder

A New Hampshire man has started producing a 24-foot double-ended boat native to Norway

A New Hampshire man has started producing a 24-foot double-ended boat native to Norway

For eight years Andrew Wallace, owner and founder of Traditional Boatworks in New Canaan, N.H., has been building small wooden boats: skiffs, prams and dories.

Wallace’s specialty is a 16-foot, 8-inch Rangeley Lake Guide Boat; a sleek, sturdy boat he says was originally designed in the 19th century for guided fishing trips on lakes in Maine. Wallace builds the guide boats like he builds all of his boats, using traditional boatbuilding techniques and handmade tools.

“Traditional wooden boatbuilding is a passion for me — things come together easier when I’m building boats,” Wallace, who is 37, says. “It’s fascinating. I figure if I can build a good boat that can last a lifetime or longer, I can build just about anything.”

Last fall Wallace took on a new challenge by building a 24-foot double-ended Norwegian-style wooden launch called a “snekke,” the largest boat he’s ever made. He first saw this style of boat at a festival in Norway in summer 2003. He liked the boats so much that he decided to build his own and sell it. Now, Wallace is looking to make these larger boats the backbone of his boatbuilding business.

“People who have the right sense of good, stable boats will appreciate this design,” he says. “It’s unique to this country — very Scandinavian. It’s really an incredible boat.

“I hope to be able to market a stunning boat like this and sell one a year,” he adds. “If all goes well, I’m planning on building about seven of them in the next 10 years.”

Wallace began building the wooden launch in October 2004 with the help of his then-apprentice, 23-year-old Nikolai Mikkelsen of Wisconsin. “It was a challenging project,” Wallace admits. “I had Nikolai’s help for about eight months. One of the most difficult parts was bending the planks around the bilge and stern. We definitely broke a few. With the 90-degree angles in the double-ended design, it was like trying to bend planks around a basketball and a wineglass at the same time.”

“I arrived pretty green but left very confident with my skills, and with a much broader knowledge of wooden boatbuilding,” Mikkelsen says. “The construction of the launch was definitely a learning process.”

In all, it took Wallace nearly a year to complete the boat. It has an 8-1/2-foot beam, draws 30 inches, has running benches and is powered by a 27-hp Westerbeke diesel inboard. It’s made of oak frames and cedar planking, and is finished with ash, mahogany and spruce. Wallace says he can build three different launch models: an open version, a traditional version (with a windshield, foredeck and afterdeck) and an enclosed version. The boats would sell for about $150,000.

“These make great picnic/day boats,” Wallace says. “There’s also an option for a forward berth, for overnighting. The open version is particularly good for fishing. These boats also have a shallow draft so you don’t have to worry so much about going in shallow water. I’m excited about building them.”

Wallace, a New England native, founded Traditional Boatworks in 1998 in Annapolis, Md., where he had worked at the John Gardner School of Boatbuilding. Before that, Wallace went to school at the Maine Maritime Museum’s Apprentice Shop in Bath, Maine.

In 2001 Wallace moved Traditional Boatworks to New Hampshire and is now located about 10 miles from the Connecticut River. Although he used to build more small wooden boats each year, Wallace says he builds about two boats a year now and focuses on restorations. In recent years Wallace has restored a 34-foot 1946 Hinckley Sou’wester and two runabouts: a 1960 Chris-Craft and a 1949 Century.

“I’ve been swamped lately with all the restoration work,” Wallace says. “There are a lot of boats out there that need a lot of work.”

In addition to building and restoring boats, Wallace offers a “maintenance plan” for the boats he builds. “Once a year I’ll paint the hull, put on a fresh coat of varnish, whatever the boat needs,” he says. “I’ll go to the boat owner, any place in New England and the mid-Atlantic.”

Wallace recently splashed the Norwegian launch and has found a buyer. He hopes to find a second buyer and begin building another launch in the coming weeks.

“I’m constantly pushing to find that special person,” Wallace says.

For information about Traditional Boatworks, call (603) 523-8350.