September / October 2019

Building a Dark Harbor 17½

Part 1: Adopting alternative ways for the hull and deck structure

KOTIMANA, a Dark Harbor 171⁄2, was built at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Washington, for New Zealand sailor Kere Kemp, who studied boatbuilding at the school.

Her lines sang to me,” Kere Kemp says of his dream to one day own a Dark Harbor 171⁄2, the iconic daysailer designed by American naval architect B.B. Crowninshield in 1908. “I loved the classic, old-school lines, the full keel, the hard turn of the bilge, the gaff rig.... She’s a relatively small boat but a true classic.”

Kemp is not alone in admiring those lines. Members of the current fleet can be found stretching their sails and turning heads not only on both coasts of the United States but also from Europe to the South Pacific. This article describes how we built Kemp’s Dark Harbor 171⁄2, KOTIMANA, with a crew of 16 students at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Washington, where I am the lead instructor. Kemp knew the school well, having studied traditional wooden boat building with us and graduating with the class of 2016. “I knew the quality of the build would be superb,” Kemp says, “and that the design, lofting, and build would be a genuine challenge and a genuine hit with the students during the two years it would take to build.”

Starting with lofting in January 2017, I led the first phase of construction with a crew of 10 students (six others joined later). Each had absorbed the lessons of an intense three-month introductory course called Beginning Projects. This included a month of joinery and hand-tool practice, a month of drafting and lofting, and three weeks building a flat-bottomed skiff. Their transition from the “flattie” to the complex shapes of the Dark Harbor was a challenge—and my challenge was to keep all the students busy on a 25' boatbuilding project.

In the first week alone, we lofted the hull lines, built the strongback, laminated deckbeams, and shaped the transom. In other words, from Day 1 the project launched off in every direction.

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