Life

This Boat Builder Is Trying To Keep His Craft Afloat, One Masterpiece At A Time

Let’s be honest, perfection can be tiring. You have to be ready to work a 16-hour day, screw up, do it over, then screw up again. It’s exhausting.

But not to Ben Van Dam… or his father. Together, the hardworking, boat-building, father/son tandem create perfect “dream boats” that are worth the wait. These are not skiffs, mind you — but high-end, customized wood boats of just about every type, size, shape and speed. Everything from “powerboats and sailboats… to 55-foot sailboats to 100-mile-an-hour speedboats.”

To the novice, these innovative vessels look like Rolls Royces of the boating world; something James Bond would elude a criminal in. And that doesn’t come easy, especially because wood historically does not love water. So, doing this right is an obsession that fuels them, one the younger Van Dam inherited from his father and one which drives his pursuit everyday.

“Wood does have a romance to it,” says the younger Van Dam of his obsession, “It always looks warm, but it changes whichever way you look at it… It’s dynamic. It changes color. It changes sheen. It changes how the light reflects off of it. That’s something that took hundreds of years to be produced in nature and we can’t replicate it.”


The Van Dams don’t want to replicate wood, they just want to master working with it — as exhibited by their nature-defying, curvaceous water crafts that exude a polished wooden professionalism. It’s the kind refined only when a boatbuilding company is five decades old. This makes the Van Dams part of a dying breed — relics from a lost generation whose vision to build luxurious wooden boats has become a bit more clouded, much like our oceans themselves.

“If boatbuilding or custom wood boatbuilding goes away, I think it’s a loss of craft, of hands-on skill [and] the drive for excellence,” says the elder Van Dam.

And should that disappear? Well, that would be more than just a shame… it would be a disaster of oceanic proportions.

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