Should we be getting the wood out?

It seems as if most boat companies these days are touting their "wood free" boats. Well, everyone but the custom sportfish builders whose boats are primarily wood. I find it somewhat mystifying how everyone is so afraid of the least amount of wood in their production boat, but at the same time lust over a new Rybovich!

I am one of the few who has no problem with wood in boats. For some things, there is no better material to use. For instance, treated plywood makes wonderful stringers and bulkheads. Wood holds fastenings very well and doesn't crush when you bolt something to it. It is very stiff and also extremely cost effective. Is there anyone who really thinks a piece of white polyethylene is more attractive than a piece of oiled teak or varnished mahogany?

That being said, I do admit wood has some problems. It must be installed carefully, using proper techniques to avoid rot (fiberglass stringers must be installed carefully as well). It is a little heavier than a 'glass stringer grid, but it is also less expensive. Good wood is getting harder to find. If it is used as an exterior trim, it will require more maintenance than a piece of plastic.

Cost is a subject you don't hear about too much when this subject comes up. The fact is that many of these new fiberglass grids are more expensive to build, especially if they are made by glassing over a foam core. Some of these cores cost over $4.00 a square foot. The foam cored transoms are even worse due to their thickness. I remember when I worked for a boat company years ago and we took the wood out of our boats. At that time, just the core material for the transom on our 29 cost $600! Don't forget, the boat builder and dealer both mark that price up, so you may be paying over $1,000 dollars for that transom core.

Everyone seems to think their boat should last forever, with no maintenance. Is there any other thing we buy that is held to the same standard? We don't expect our cars to last forever, our houses need painting and upkeep, our appliances wear out. Why does a fuel tank have to last more than 25 years sitting in the salty bilge of a boat? The fuel tank on my truck rotted out and had to be replaced in less than 15 years.

While I have no problem designing fiberglass stringers for boats, I do wonder if it isn't one more thing driving the price of small boats out of the reach of the average family. As an industry, I think we need to examine whether getting the wood out is one more factor in pricing the boater out . . . out of the sport.

Timm Smith
January 10, 2007