In Focus: Three firsts for boatbuilder Dan Lee
Dan Lee, a modern wooden boatbuilder based in Cirencester, UK, has won two first-place prizes at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival.
Miss Isle – a 15ft gentleman’s racer — won the Piston Trophy for installation and smooth running of a period internal combustion engine. First Watch – a Tideway, 1960s’ clinker construction sailing dinghy — won the Chaplin Trophy for restoration and presentation of unpowered craft.
And, to compete the trio of ‘firsts’, this is the first time Lee (now in his second year of trading) has entered any of his work for any kind of award or judging. He says to receive first place for both boats is “just brilliant.”
Miss Isle is a new build based on plans from the 1930s, primarily on the design Rocket by William Jackson and is a 15ft stepped hull racer. Lee built it before he started as a professional boatbuilder.
“Upon finishing it, I decided this was what I wanted to do, and it led me to set up Dan Lee Boatbuilding,” he says.
“I made some alterations to the styling and shape of the deck and cockpit to make the boat look what it is now. The cable-driven rudder system is an addition that I wanted to add to the boat and was designed for me by Michel Berryer, a marine designer in the US.
“I built the boat over approximately a five-year period, evenings and weekends with some gaps in between as time and finances allowed. This boat was always built for me as it was the only way I was ever going to own one.” Lee says Miss Isle is not for sale. However, he’ll build commissions with prices for similar starting at £75,000.
“The biggest challenge was probably within some of the more custom elements of the boat, such as the rudder system. There are a lot of custom, fabricated items on the boat, and these sorts of elements take a long time to work out and get right, sometimes involving making things several times in some instances.”
Lee fused the period design with modern materials and processes, like West System epoxy (recently credited with safely protecting a 1954-style cracker box powerboat, which was lost at the bottom of a lake for eight years).
“I am very much about producing classically styled, traditional wooden boats, but I like to combine them with modern processes and products underneath the surface. Delivering a boat that looks the part but with minimal maintenance within their everyday use,” he says.
“Once I finished building Miss Isle, I began modernising the plans for building utilising CAD and the CNC cutting process. I now sell plans on the website so that people can build their own boat using modern methods if they like.”
First Watch‘s extensive restoration was completed over a year.
“The boat was very tired when it came in and was painted green internally,” says Lee (pictured left).
“The customer wanted to return the boat to a varnished finish internally and this involved some significant work in order to reveal the wood finish beneath. The boat was re-timbered to aid in that paint-stripping process.”
“A new deck was put on, all fittings were returned to bronze, and all traces of the existing plastic ones were removed. I think this is part of what makes the boat look so special. The boat underwent a slight constructional change as well. Due to the fact she will only be used occasionally and mostly dry stored, we opted to glue the plank lands [areas of overlap between neighbouring planks] on this boat so that it would not need time in the water to take up before use.”
Lee says using the glue was a key process in this restoration as it suited how the customer wanted to be able to use the boat. He used West System G/flex 650 Toughened Epoxy Adhesive for this process and says that’s because “the increased flexibility offered by G/flex can accommodate movement within the planking while enabling the boat to remain sealed and watertight with occasional use.”
Lee says that after the modernisation of the boat plans for Miss Isle and working with Michel Berryer on her rudder system, they’re now working together to design modern wooden boat building plans utilising modern techniques and methods.
“I am currently building a ¼ scale model of our first boat design, a 24-foot runabout called Temptress. This build is being documented in a weekly YouTube video series and is aimed to teach the process of building the full-size boat to anyone that may be interested. It is my hope that the interest generated by this may lead to a commission for building a new, full-size boat.”
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