New Zealand Backyard Boatbuilder:
How to Build Your Own Wooden Boat

Author: John Welsford - - - Reviewer: Lew Clayman

Reed Books, 39 Rawene Rd., Birkenhead, Aukland, NZ, 1999. ISBN: 0 7900 0312 0
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John Welsford, he of John Welsford Small Craft Design, is a man with a passion for his family, his country, his freedom, his writing and his boats - and when he gets really lucky he gets to go with his whole family out in his boats freely all over his country. And then he writes about it.

This collection of magazine articles is nothing if not thorough, which is amazing for so thin a volume - just 205 pages. It includes 21 (!) designs in the form of photos, study plans, and discussions, and all are "backyardable." He covers the steps to select tools, materials, and designs - even paint scheme philosophies and stowage ideas; all without any of "my way or the highway" preaching some other authors have sometimes put out. John's approach (and you are immediately on first-name terms with this author) is to assume that you have valid ideas too, and you sense that given half a chance he'd spend way too much time swapping stories and techniques and really neat ideas with you. Besides all that hands-on and no-bull information, he includes a chapter on camping gear, which I think John sees as being essential to a well-found boat, which ought to be enough to tell you, dear reader, just what these boats are really about: getting to point B and back with style and grace, speed and safety, comfort and convenience, easy build and the option for hard use, but (almost) never any flash or nonsense. You get to supply the flash and nonsense yourself, of course.

Along the way we also get to meet John, his family, his favorite slices of New Zealand's various paradises, and some more of the people within his orbit. These are folks who sail, row, paddle, and motor, travel as individuals, couples, families with and without babies, camp, daytrip, and maybe one day "go foreign." So, the boats vary a tad from one to the next. See the cover photo above for a spoon-billed cat-rigged and (though my scan doesn't show the detail properly) clinker-build dinghy, sitting behind a garvey-bowed, multi-chined, lugger - you'll find a sea kayak and a motor-cruiser, and everything in between: the guy is no Johnny-One-Note. And the fams keep showing up in the photos, which is pretty cool too, if you can excuse John's habit of wearing multicolored baseball caps that would embarrass the Montreal Expos (must be a New Zealand thing).

For those of us who don't hail from the homeland of Xena, Warrior Princess, it's worth mentioning that neither the book nor the boats are very specific to New Zealand. Let me clarify... the designs would be wonderful in other places, like so many exports, without losing their local flavor. Oops, I mean flavour. Put aside the references to some brand-name sources and such that might be a tad local, and you won't notice the difference. It also helps to be able to move freely from metric to feet & inches several times in the same sentence, because you get the sense that Kiwiland hasn't really felt a particular need to commit strongly to one or the other. And they're ok with that. After a few pages, you will be also.

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