Newport Harbor: Home to Wooden Boats

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GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAOur city has a more than 100 year history of boating and boat building. While some of the early boats were small and some were home built, we also had some notable yacht builders.

The most memorable wood boat builder, still in business when I was a youngster, was South Coast Shipyard. The almost sweet sort of smell of wood one could smell when inside their shop was a sign of being in a very special place.

The bay front site of this company is now under development to become a three story retail, condominium and marina project east of Woody’s Wharf and west of the Crab Cooker near the Newport Pier area.

South Coast Shipyard, and outside our area Century and Lyman boat builders, made hundreds and possibly thousands of bay cruising style boats.

Scores, if not hundreds, of those small bay cruisers were kept and used inside our harbor much like Duffy’s are now. Most were 18 feet in length (although Lyman made up to a 28-footer constructed from Mahogany) and were lap-straked, which is a slight over-lap of planks and screwed to the ribs.

The transom, deck, seats, trim and engine cover were normally varnished and a few had the inside hull varnished, which was dazzling and very yachty.

Century made a 22-foot Raven of this dazzling design including a gloss black hull, which our family owned for several years. It had two bunks and a toilet, which made a great Catalina weekender for us.

South Coast Shipyard made several 28-foot wooden lapstrake sport fishers, and the normal flush plank and larger sport fishers and cabin cruisers during the 1920s through the 50s. Small to medium size sailboats which were all considered yachts of fine craftsmanship were also constructed.

They halted their private yacht repair and building practice during World War II and built 100-foot (and larger) wooden minesweepers for our Navy in support of the war effort.

Since most mines during that time ignited magnetically, all mine sweepers were wooden instead of the standard steel construction which was the Navy common standard.

Fiberglass was in its infancy during that era, but one local company had a Navy contract for fiberglass spars, which the company later changed to small fiberglass trailer boats and produced more boats in Orange County than any place in the world at that time. I will write about that company in a future column.

Side Note: Since the recent economic downturn, boat selling has been a buyer’s market. Former neighbor and yacht broker, Art Brooks, has sold all his yacht listings and is seeking yachts to sell. This situation is rare. His three decades in Lido Village is an asset if you want to sell your yacht.

Sea Ya,

Skipper Steve

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