Building traditional Japanese boats
Though I graduated from Trinity College in 1982 with a degree in philosophy, two exchange programs have directly shaped my current work. As a sophomore I attended Williams-Mystic in the Spring of 1980, and as a junior I attended the University of Oregon. At Mystic I was one of three students chosen, solely because we possessed some rudimentary carpentry skills, to work with Willits Ansel in Mystic Seaport's duPont Preservation Shipyard. At the University of Oregon I was assigned to a dormitory of incoming transfer students and there met my roommate Nobu Hayashi, newly arrived from the University of Hawaii. It would take more than ten years, but my experiences at Williams-Mystic and a friendship forged in Oregon would intersect in profound ways.
Doulas Brooks and his first teacher, the late Koichi Fujii, the last builder of tub boats on Sado Island, 1995.
The author built this replica sail ferry on Lake Champlain for the State of New York in 2001-2002. Design by www.tricoastal.com
At Mystic I experienced a taste of traditional wooden boatbuilding. I say "taste" because, although we were to help Will Ansel build a replica boat for the Museum's collection, I think collectively we may have been more of a hindrance. I still remember with some residual shame having cut the stem wrong at least twice in building our little Noank lobster skiff. I had more success holding plank ends helping Ansel repair the Block Island cowhorn and I managed to shape a whaleboat steering oar by myself. A few years later I did my best to parlay what I knew to get a job in the Small Boat Shop at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where I worked from 1985-1990.
During those same years I kept in touch with my friend Nobu as he returned to work in Japan. We had become close friends, although Nobu retained an ability to say and do the unexpected. In Oregon his very first words had frozen me. "I am from Hiroshima." he said, and added, "Have you heard of it?" In 1990 he surprised me again. Having heard that I had left my job at the maritime museum, he sent me a plane ticket to Japan.
Douglas Brooks (www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com) is a boatbuilder, writer and researcher specializing in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont.
© Copyright 2005 by Douglas Brooks