Jespersen Boatbuilders Ltd.

wooden sail and powerboats

Company Information

Jespersen Boatbuilders Company works on several wooden boat sail and powerboat projects include Zulu, ,Sprite V, Gallant, Reality, Octavia & Capriccio, Celeste, Pachena, Aeriel, Magic and other.


Bent Jespersen: Never Two Boats Alike

Boat designer from B.C. earns lifetime achievement award

While others worked to preserve the region's small-boat culture. Bent Jespersen was one of the Pacific Northwest boatbuildcrs who adapted to the changing technology. Working out of his boat shop in Sidney on Vancouver Island, B.C., Jespersen built beautiful, one-off designs - most of them coldmolded hulls that combine the advantages of wood and cpoxy. His son, Eric, continues that work today.

Jespersen's career is being recognized at the 34th Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival with a WoodenBoat magazine and Wooden Boat Foundation award for Lifetime Achievement in Design. The public ceremony is at 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 10 in the Main Tent. Jespersen retold his story in a recent interview:

B.C. boat shops

When I first came to British Columbia, every little town had a couple of small boat shops. Then, starting in the '60s and '70s, boatbuilding switched to fiberglass and mass production, and most of those small shops closed down.

Personally, I don't like working with fiberglass. Besides, there were plenty of people doing that. So we built mostly cold-molded hulls, using thin layers of red cedar and epoxy, often with an outer layer of mahogany. Cold molding has several advantages. It's light and strong and rot resistant, and it's easier to work with than fiberglass. And the epoxy makes it watertight, so you don't have to caulk. And these days, it doesn't cost much more than wood planking.

You get your cedar, cut it into quarter-inch thicknesses, and it seasons in just a few weeks. And, of course, you don't have any trouble finding the materials right here on the island. You buy your cedar, cut it and dry it - even if you aren't sure exactly what you're going to build next.

I left Denmark in 1955. I finished school at 15 and apprenticed as a boatbuilder for four years. Then I wanted to do some traveling. I thought about Australia, but that cost too much. So 1 went to Canada, arrived in Toronto with $50, and got a job as a janitor for $68 a month. When I had enough money, I bought a ticket to New Westminster and got a job at a shipyard. I was there a year and a half, building fish boats and timber scows. It was pretty hard work. A friend of mine was going over to Port Albcrni on the island, and I found out I could make 25 cents an hour more working as a carpenter at a big mill. That town was fiill of im- migrants from all over the world, speaking different languages, like the Tower of Babel. I built small boats, 10- and 12- and 14-footcrs, but there wasn't much money in that. So I went to work at a tugboat company for a few years, got married, had two kids. And then there was a strike, so everything closed down, including the shipyard. Later, I went to work for Eric Philbrook, who had a shipyard in Sidney. I worked there from 1962 to 1971, worked up to foreman. We built a lot of Bill Garden designs, and some Monks. In Port Alberni, I'd built cedar-strip boats. I'd go around to the mills, picking my materials and loading them into my truck. I'd get 2-inch lumber, cut off the edges, and it was perfect. Dry it out for a month or so and run it through the saw.

Designed for Ghana

In the early 1970s, I was invited to go to Ghana with the United Nations to teach people how to build small boats. It sounded crazy, because we had four kids at home. But my wife and I talked about it and we decided to do it, kids and all. Ghana has an enormous, manmade lake, Volta Lake, and the native fishermen needed a bigger boat, so I designed a seaworthy boat with a flat bottom and taught fishermen how to build them. When I came back to Sidney, a customer wanted a wooden boat, so I agreed to build it. After that, another one. And another. All word of mouth. Some people would come to us with a design and ask us to build it. Others told us what they wanted, and we would put them together with a designer. We built 35 boats in 20 years, about 70 percent cold-molded, mostly about 40 feet, which fits nicely in our shop and takes about a year.

Never two alike

I never built two boats alike. At first, we kept the molds, because we thought we'd use them again. But we never did. Maybe my favorite was an 8-meter that we built on top of an older, English boat. My friend talked me into it, brought it to the shop. We turned it upside down, laminated three layers of red cedar, pulled the old boat out, and it turned out to be a beautiful, 46-foot boat. We saved the ballast and the mast, but other than that, it was a new boat that is moored today at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. I retired 15 years ago, and my son runs the shop. I go down there every day for coffee. Sometimes they give me a project, but mostly I try to stay out of the way. But I love my trade. We built beautiful boats for people all over the North America. And the best part is that the people we built boats for became good friends and kept those boats for many, many years.

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2010 Wooden boat Festifal Magazine