September / October 2019
Abernethy & Gaudin
A looks-as-if-it-grew-there building on the waterfront of Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, has a marine railway that hauls boats into the boatshed that has been the home of Abernethy & Gaudin Boatbuilders Ltd. for 17 years. The beam measurement, about 13’ maximum, is the railway’s primary limitation.
Arriving by local ferry into the small town of Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, it’s hard to miss one particular red-painted structure off to the left, built mostly on pilings and shoehorned in among a cluster of buildings alongshore. On a fine day, the double doors over its marine railway are flung open as a matter of course, and, if so, then the transom of a large wooden boat will be plainly visible inside. More boats—interesting ones—are moored outside along the float, as if waiting patiently. This cheerful place, a boatbuilding shed since the 1940s, has been the home of Abernethy & Gaudin Boatbuilders Ltd. for 17 years.
Rob Abernethy and Jean Gaudin started serious work together in an almost casual way 20 years ago when both were still new in their careers. Gaudin grew up on the Saanich Peninsula and still lives in its largest town, Sidney, which is about a half hour’s drive north of Victoria, the island’s largest city and the provincial capital. He took to boats and boatbuilding early, apprenticing with the legendary Jespersen Boat Builders in Sidney (see WB No. 136). Abernethy followed a more circuitous route: he was born in England but as a child he moved with his family to Toronto, Ontario. At age 18, after encountering boatbuilding while studying furniture design at Sheridan College, he went west to enroll at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Townsend, Washington. After graduating, he stayed around the school to work on boat projects for a while, then finally moved to Sidney. Before striking out on his own, he worked for a couple of years for the boat designer and builder Paul Gartside, who lived there at the time. Abernethy now lives in Victoria. In 1999, Abernethy and Gaudin were both in their mid-20s when they started working together on their first project, refitting a burdensome 60' Danish double-ended fish boat named LIL KRISTIN.
“One of the reasons why Jean and I got together was that I got this big project that there was no way I could handle by myself,” Abernethy said. “So I asked Jean if he would be interested in jumping in on it, and thankfully he did. We ended up doing a big interior refit, new decks, caprails, and sort of prettied everything up,” since the boat was being converted for use as a motoryacht. The interior was done in pine and oak, and Gaudin also built a new mahogany skylight and companionway. “Before that,” Abernethy said, “it was packing fish.”
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