Trail News

Lose Yourself For a Few Hours in Building, Restoring Boats on Gwynn’s Island

September 23, 2022

Bob Buhl grew up around boats and operated his own marina in Mathews County, but using his hands to help actually build a skiff was new to him.

Buhl was among a group of regulars who participated in the Family Boatbuilding Program at the Gwynn’s Island Boat Shop. The project that began in September 2021 encouraged anyone with the desire to build a boat to meet up on Saturday mornings for some hands-on learning and doing.

Mathews Maritime Foundation restores and repairs boats there regularly to raise funds. The foundation formerly held boat building days back in 2005 and for several years afterward when families would purchase kits to build a boat onsite to keep

But the most recent project required no investment other than time.

Foundation Treasurer Pete Hall selected a 15-foot flattie skiff from John Gardner’s book “More Building Classic Small Craft,” the traditional design with a cross-plank bottom had no drastic curves at the hull. After gathering materials that included a significant amount of pinewood and fir, volunteers started the process by building the strongback followed by constructing the frames. Bending the garboard and top flanks formed the sides of the boat followed by cross planking the bottom, attaching ribs to the port and starboard sides. Painting and oar construction followed.

“It was a simple build to start with teach people the elements of boat building,” Hall said.

Some participants came regularly to help out. Some came to observe. No one worked over the holidays. While the goal was to complete the project, the appeal of it was being part of a community working to build something together, Buhl said. Nobody was in a rush to finish. The focus was on building it precisely while engaging with others.

“I’m also a chef and I compare it to making a recipe,” said Buhl, who estimates he spent roughly 120 hours working on the skiff. “You can picture the outcome, but the trick is to get all the ingredients together and move through the steps. We had expertise to guide us right there, which was really cool.”

“You’ll find that people who enjoy a program like this are handy in some way and like putting things together,” Hall said.  “Their reward is in the building not so much the end product.”

It took a year, but the boat was completed in September 2022 and has already been sold. Now the foundation is eager to start a new project. Building another boat is possible, but Hall is seeking volunteers who want to work on boats that have been donated to the foundation that need refurbishing. Once they’re complete, they will be sold as a fundraiser.

The mission of the Mathews Maritime Foundation is to preserve, present and participate in the maritime and cultural heritage of Mathew County – from boats to kayaks to anything in between.

“I’d love to get some folks who were interested in coming out to the shop during the week to help out,” he said.

Buhl is hopeful many of the retirees who reside in Mathews County will consider working on the boats on weekdays. “It’s something that I think a lot of them would enjoy,” he said. “There’s such a sense of accomplishment.”

Anyone with an interest in building or refurbishing boats can reach out to