The Wonders Of A Wooden Boat Built At First Light Boatworks

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: History , Boating , Chatham

Brendan Ahearn, master builder at First Light Boatworks, surveys the hull of a 34-foot double-ended ketch being built at the Chatham shop as they prepare for planking. Kat Szmit Photo

CHATHAM Utter the word “planking” to a millennial and they'll immediately conjure up images of a silly internet photo fad. Utter the word to wooden boat enthusiasts such as Woody Metzger at First Light Boatworks and he knows you're talking about the latest addition to a new vessel being built at the shop, a 34-foot double-ended ketch.

For the landlubber, planking is the careful process of affixing long planks to the length of the vessel under construction. This particular boat was commissioned by a client from Nantucket with an affinity for hand-crafted wooden boats, something First Light specializes in.

“A lot of the design is unique,” said Metzger. “In [the client's] words, it's a return to really personalized custom boat building. It's not an RV with air-conditioning and coolers and massage chairs. This is going to be very much a system-free boat that's all about sailing.”

Though the vessel will likely be used for sailing on local waters, it will have the capability to do more, with Metzger and his crew taking pride in its “old-school” creation.

“We don't do anything in fiberglass here,” he said. “We try to stay as far away from those toxic methods as we can. It will have a mainsail and a jib, some nice hard winches, and it will go sailing.”

When asked why wooden boats versus those with modern materials, Metzger is straightforward.

“The definition of modern and hip, actually, is organic,” he said. “What is organic food? It's what we used to call food 50 years ago. What did we used to call wooden boats 50 years ago? Boats. We had most of this stuff figured out 50 years ago. Then we decided to over-complicate perfection by adding a lot of chemicals and things.”

Metzger said much like eating well, nothing compares to setting sail in a wooden boat.

“There's nothing sweeter than being in a wooden boat,” he said. “There's a connection to the sea. It smells good, and it's not giving you cancer, just like good food.”

At work on the boat on a recent weekday were master builder Brendan Ahearn, and Drew Dunn, also the project manager for the builds of First Light's most popular boat, the Monomoy, which recently won an international award for Best Powerboats Under 40 Feet in Classic Boat Magazine.

Joining the duo on the project will also be Jim Donovan, Metzger's First Light partner, with whom he took over the business that was formerly Pease Boat Works.

“Jim and I, we weren't going to get put in an office. I think if we were we would have imploded by noon,” Metzger said. “We both love boats and neither one of us has really strayed from that. [We know] there's a business to run. Loving wooden boats and knowing how to build them is one thing, but making this kind of a business viable and giving it the proper exposure it needs is another skill.”

Thanks to quality craftsmanship, First Light is gaining acclaim with each boat it builds, a testament to what Metzger feels is a growing trend toward wooden boats.

“There's a movement,” he said. “It's the iconic idea to scrap the quick and easy, which is really lengthy and arduous, and just go back to awesome.

Metzger anticipates that the boat will be launched next year. For now, planking continues.

“When that gets done, the whiskey plank goes on,” said Metzger, explaining that the piece is functional and celebratory. “We all celebrate with a shot of whiskey. After that there's some work on the exterior that takes place, and then we start thinking about the deck. And the interior will be like nothing you've ever seen.”

Follow along with the Cape Cod Chronicle for progress on the vessel and its eventual launch.