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Generations of Boat Builders

This site had the pleasure of conversing with Mr. Ryan Hunwicks of Port Credit, Ontario Canada about his family’s boat building history. In particular the construction of the 22 square metre boat Isabella which was launched on July 19, 2002.

Isabella, Port Credit Ontario Canada photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

What follows is Ryan’s narration of his family’s boat building history. Enjoy!

I can’t really begin to tell my story without first giving you some history of modeling in our family. As of right now it spans three generations with myself (Ryan Hunwicks) my uncle (Darrell Johnson) and my grandfather (Clare Johnson).

Clare Johnson, Ryan Hunwicks, and Darrell Johnson, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

The first model my grandfather received as a gift was an R Class 60” that was built in 1920 (the same year he was born). He raced it at the Royal Canadian exhibition in the 30’s and early 40’s along with many other models such as the 22 squares and Marblehead’s. We still have a number of plaques that were won over the years at the exhibition races.

Clare Johnson third from the right circa 1930’s, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

Back then they had to free sail the models from rowboats by way of vane gears for the rudder.

Clare Johnson, circa 19030’s, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

During this time he became good friends with a local boat builder and his designer son Jack Rutherford and Gus Rutherford respectively. Jack had heard of a 22 square meter (Malahini) being built at a yard called Sachau in the west end of Toronto so he went down and spoke to those folks and managed to get a set of plans. His son Gus then scaled the plans down to a 75” length with the thought of building a model yacht. They then set to work building the 22 Sq model. My grandfather actually witnessed Malahini being launched from his rowing skiff in the mid to late 1930’s. Once finished they surprised my grandfather with it in front of their little water front cottage on lake Ontario during the late 1930’s. It was the most beautiful yacht he had ever seen with long graceful lines that are present in most meter boats.

As the years past and he had a family of his own the modeling was put aside and the boats rested peacefully on top of the piano and out of reach from the little ones.

It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that my uncle Darrel took an interest in the models. At that time they had the original R boat that was first to be remote controlled and a Marblehead named Elaine that my grandfather had built. With the help of a fellow model yachting enthusiast Walter Tremell they repaired and remote controlled both boats. Over the early 1990’s two more of the old Marblehead’s were donated to our fleet and remote controlled as well as an AC Class boat and some smaller craft.

My grandfather received a phone call one day from an old friend Garry Gooder who actually sailed the 22 Sq Malahini in the 1950’s for the owner Murray Brooks. He had possession of the original 22 Sq model that Mr. Rutherford built and had remote controlled it himself. Garry generously gave that model back to my grandfather as well as another 22 that was built by Fred Woodall. The “Woodall” model was completely rebuilt by Walter Tremell who did a marvelous job and included a hooked spar on the rig. All the models sail at a pond in front of my house in Port Credit Ontario Canada.

Darrell Johnson and Walter sailing on the pond in Port Credit, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 

My story begins with a move from Swift Current Saskatchewan (about as far from yachting as you can get!) back home to Southern Ontario.  It was 1994 and I was 18 at the time.  I spent many weekends in Port Credit sailing the boats with my uncle and grandfather.  During the winter of 1995 I decided that I was going to build my own model yacht.  I had never really built anything before let alone a remote controlled model.  I turned to Garry Gooder (skipper of Malahini) for some much need help and direction.  I found some plans for a model of the 1930 America’s Cup winner Enterprise that I liked the lines of.  We got the plans scaled up from a book and I went to work.  All the original boats had been built using the bread and butter method.  When I refer to “bread and butter” method I mean they used to build models by roughly cutting out the hull lifts and then gluing 1” boards together and then carving the hull from that.  You had to be really careful to keep a consistent hull thickness.  I prefer to use plank on frame in my modeling which is basically the same way the real boats were built. I learned quite a lot over the few months building the Enterprise (53” long/ western red cedar) and she was launched in the spring of 1995.

Enterprise during a refit, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Enterprise during a refit, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

The following year was my last year of high school and we had moved yet again to Newmarket Ontario.  I was lucky enough to land in a high school with a very small woodshop but an excellent shop teacher named Jon Evans.  He was a fellow model boat builder.  I brought the Enterprise in to show him and he then agreed to let me do an independent study and build another model yacht.

This time around I wanted to go with something completely different, more modern.  I settled on a Star 45”.  Under the close supervision and the perfectionist eye of Jon Evans the boat took shape.  We used aircraft grade plywood for the frames and Sitka spruce for the stringers.  She was then double diagonally planked with 1/32” western red cedar.  We made a sand cast and poured the lead keel.  The fittings were made from brass stock and I had the sails made by a fellow in Victoria, British Columbia.  She was launched in the late spring of 1996 and sailed well.

Star 45, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Star 45, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 

After high school I went to college for Industrial Design.  In 2000 I got my first job at a custom fabrication shop in Toronto where I was lucky enough to have access to every tool imaginable.  We had a complete woodworking shop/ fiberglass studio/ paint department and metalwork shop.  Over the next few years I learned how to weld and use the milling machines and lathes.

In the winter of 2002 I once again came down with boat building fever!  I made a copy of the 22 Sq plans and got to work laying out the frames for what would be Isabella.  I decided to complete the whole project in secret and surprise my uncle and grandfather with the first 22 Sq model to be built in 60 plus years.  The shop I was working at was very gracious and gave me space to construct the model before and after work as well as every weekend.  I can get pretty obsessive about things like this so virtually every spare second I had was spent building.  It took me exactly 4 months from start to finish and cost about $3500.00 Cdn to build.  It sounds like a lot for a scratch built model but I spared no expense, only the best for a Square Meter!!  All said and done I estimate it took about 700 hours.

The first step was building the base for all the frames to sit in and make sure that everything is lined up and true.

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 

Once they were squared off I was ready to start planking.

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

The original boat was Red Wood with a solid top of spruce or pine.  I decided to go with what looked good and use redwood for my hull as well.  The planking went pretty smoothly, lots of clamps and 5 min epoxy.  I could only do one of each side at a time without the clamps being in the way so it took some time.  It sure was exciting to see the hull achieve its beautiful shape as each consecutive board went on!

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

Once I got her planked and the hull sanded I marked out the keel and cut her dead wood off to get the mold going.  I decided to go with a 2 part plaster mold that I let dry for a few weeks before the pour.  If memory serves she has about 20 lbs of lead and the overall boat weight is around 32 lbs.  After I had successfully poured the lead keel it was bolted to hull and ready for a little epoxy fairing and filling.

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

Before the decking began I coated the whole inside and outside of the hull with epoxy to make sure that she was good and sealed.

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 The next step was to flip her over and begin work on the deck.  At this point I made a plywood crate for her to sit in while decking and it eventually became her shipping crate for safe transport.  I had gone online to try and drum up some pictures of the real meter boats to try and reproduce the deck look and layout.   I really wanted to incorporate the decking lines and eventually decided to use mahogany veneer on its edge to achieve this look.  What I did was cut ¼” strips of mahogany and lay them flat on the workbench and then sandwich and glue the veneer on.  Once glued up I just flipped them over and started to deck piece by piece.  Next I ran a router down the king plank to give me a nice clean track and slipped in another length of Redwood.   You have got to have patience with a project like this.  At times it gets quite tedious with all the sanding.  Between prepping the wood for epoxy and then multiple coats of epoxy with sanding I can tell you my right arm got quite the workout!

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

The transom needed some attention which involved cutting it to shape and gluing on another piece of wood.  I did some refinement on the hatches and deck details.  While waiting for glue to dry I would often be working on other parts such as the mast and booms which were carved from Redwood as well.  The fittings also needed fabrication which is where the 2 years of metal working experience was a benefit.  I was able to make everything out of brass except for the turnbuckles.  We had a lamp maker next door and he agreed to polish them up for me.  When they were done I didn’t even want to touch them, they looked like mirrored brass.  Just a little Brasso every year and they shine right up again.

The time came to start varnishing the hull and hatches.  I used the Epifanes high gloss marine varnish with the UV protection.  It took about 8-10 coats but came out looking pretty good considering that I didn’t have access to a sprayer and had to brush it.  The sails were ordered from a company in the US called Carr Sail.  It took a few weeks to get all the remote controls figured out.  I have a servo for the rudder and a winch for both main and jib.

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

I was now ready for the big surprise reveal at my grandparent’s house.  I snuck down the night before and left the model in her shipping crate (screwed shut so grandpa couldn’t get nosey in the morning).  I had my parents distract them while I rigged the model the next morning.  I can only imagine what was going through his mind when he came out and saw a brand new 22 Sq sitting in his garage.

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

I thought it was fitting to surprise him seeing how the original boat built by the Rutherford’s had not been expected back in the late 1930’s.  Isabella was launched on July 19 2002 in Port Credit Ontario Canada and has been sailing ever since!

 Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

sabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

I often feel that boat building bug around January.  I have some 22 and 30Sq plans that I got from a visit to Mystic that would one day make another great model, until then.

Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks
Isabella, Photo courtesy Ryan Hunwicks

 

Ryan is a very dedicated boating enthusiasts if you have and questions or interest in the models please contact him at  ryanhunwicks@hotmail.com.

 

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