One of my first memories, around 3 years old, is stumbling along a small creek bed with my dad, as he searched for the right shape of yew tree which to cut and shape into the stem of a beautiful wooden rowboat he was building in our barn.
Growing up on a small farm at Wilson Creek on the south coast of British Columbia was fortunate. Dad could pretty much do whatever he put his hand to; build a house, barns, beautiful wooden rowboats or even radio receivers. Unfortunately, he passed on when I was still a teenager however he set an impressionable example.
Mother was familiar with all of the local plants and fauna. Together we spent a lot of time out hiking and fishing. Mom’s love of nature got instilled in me.
Back in the early 60s surrounded by mostly loggers and fishermen I took on their ‘old school’ ways and work ethics but I also related to the turn on, tune in and drop out meme that happened in the late 60s. At age 15 I discovered sailing as a possible lifestyle while reading ‘Ahoy There!’, a book by Will Dawson about cruising on a sailboat. I became fascinated with the idea of voyaging under sail and exploring the world. This lifestyle came with an impressive low-cost bonus, once you had a capable boat that is. So I read all the cruising books I could by cruising sailors such as Peter Tangvald, Eric Hiscock, Peter Pye, Joshua Slocum, Miles Smeaton, Tillman, Erling Tams, Villiers, Robinson, and many more. While wondering how to get an ocean cruiser together I built a hot 17′ fiberglass speedboat. Fast power boating rapidly lost its thrill though because I found ripping along at 40 knots is actually pretty boring. Then, just as the time came to make some serious life choices, I discovered multihull sailboats.
A couple of friends, Bill Kristofferson and Nick Shownawolf were both starting to build offshore cruising trimarans for themselves so I helped them build their boats. I quickly determined I had enough of the necessary skills and a few months later started building my own 37’ trimaran. I named her ”Freya” after my dog. She was built in cold mould laminated wood construction, marine grade fir plywood glued and fastened over yellow cedar framing. I built the hulls in our barn and joined them up in the front yard, in full view of the Sunshine Coast Highway. That turned into meeting a lot of people.
Hundreds of Vietnam War draft resistors were migrating onto the area and I met pretty much all of them, along with many more people. Building Freya was a learning process and took over two years. Before the tri was launched I had read a stack of books about three feet high about boat construction, boat design, and become a member of the Amateur Yacht Research Society in England. Freya was launched in the summer 69. I quit my job, moved aboard, and headed off sailing and exploring the BC coast.
I got into photography with a 35mm camera and a few lenses and learned to play guitar. Once I was finally living afloat there was time to read, philosophize, and simply relax and enjoy life. Living on a comfortable sailboat with virtually no expenses was a blast. Cruising costs were minimal and the wind, as always, was free.
Freya was a great coastal cruiser but not really offshore capable. I really wanted to sail across oceans. So in 1972 at Myrtle Point, south of the town of Westview BC I built and launched “Windspeed” my second tri, the first Kismet 31, designed by Bill Kristofferson. After sailing the coast for a couple more years I found that a 31’ trimaran” was a bit small for me at 6’5” tall. So in ‘74 while working as a shipwright at Silva Bay Shipyards on Gabriola Island, I built another of Bill’s trimaran designs, a Kismet 37. I named it “Kyst”. I loved the name, the letters KYST were an acronym for… “Keep Your Ship Together”.
In 1975 I sailed Kyst south to San Diego then to Mexico, then west to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. I cruised the South Pacific for a few months then north to Hawaii and back to Victoria, BC. This was about 9,000 miles of voyaging and Kyst averaged about 145 miles per day. Pretty good time for a boat with only a small outboard motor useful to get in and out of harbours. This was before GPS so navigation was done using a sextant, accurate time, and a compass. The voyage was highly successful. I met lots of fellow cruisers, natives and expats in the various ports of call.
By now I had a skill level that was highly developed and finding employment was very easy with a reputation as a highly qualified shipwright. In the 70s, I worked in wood, steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. I lofted several new boats and set them up, installing engines, electrics, fuel, hydraulics, and other systems. Learning and expanding skill sets was fun and mentally rewarding.
In 1977 I built yet another trimaran, my fourth, a 38′ tri, also in cold-molded wood construction, at the old Victoria Shipyard on Kingston St. in Victoria harbour. After completion, I sold it to Henry and Linda Van Unen, who named it “Kyote”. They sailed it offshore a couple of times, once to the South Pacific and once to the Caribbean. It’s now back in BC, into its fourth owner and still going strong.
Aboard Kyst while anchored in Kawaihae Harbour on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1976 I tried out windsurfing and really liked it. As a result in 1978, after building a few prototypes, I founded “Airos” a windsurfer manufacturing company. Windsurfing was a lot of fun. As well as designing the boards and rigs I was got quite proficient at the sport. I worked at designing injection moulded plastic parts and the process of rotocasting the boards. We eventually produced a few thousand. Disagreements with my partners made me decide to sell my shares to them in 1981. A good move as the North American economy turned bad shortly thereafter.
I met Marie Hutchinson about this time. We shared many of the same views and values and stuck together. At this time I was designing a new trimaran and In 1981 I started building “Physis” a 47’ design that launched in 1982. I still have Physis and it’s still in great condition. Windspeed, Kyst, and Kyote are also still going strong and all still are actively sailing. Freya was broken up several years ago.
Right after finishing Physis the major recession of 1982 hit hard. As most boat yards were now sitting idle I looked for a means to generate some cash flow. So Marie and I founded our own boatbuilding company that we called “Coastal Seahomes”. We were very efficient and kept costs very low. Over the next 4 years we designed and built, over 36 custom vessels ranging from live aboard diesel powered houseboats, innovative barge homes, power yachts and sailboats. We had a great crew of about 15 tradesmen that were really great to work with and were key to making it through this period of hard times.
Coming out of the recession we got an interesting project building a full-sized replica of the 65’ twelve meter America’s Cup winner Australia II”, exhibited at Expo 86 in Vancouver BC. The project involved working with the original designer Ben Lexan and the client was the Government of Western Australia. With our hot crew we completed the entire project in 90 days finishing on time and on budget.
When I was a boy I had a great wooden cedar planked rowing boat built by my dad. I would row for miles often out to the White Islets where there was excellent cod fishing, and row troll for salmon, occasionally getting caught in some nasty wind and waves. So in 1984, when a friend, Fred Beadle, arrived at the boatyard with a beautiful old damaged Whitehall rowboat, I fell in love with the Whitehall design and appreciated what a great heritage it products had. We considered manufacturing them as it looked to be simpler and less complicated than the much larger craft we were building. Beautiful, clean, human-powered boats with no oily footprint. We reviewed several sets of lines obtained from the collection at Mystic Seaport Museum. We selected a size that looked perfect and lofted it out. Tim DePew, one of our great employees build a wooden lapstrake style planked model out of red cedar. We pulled a mold off it so it could be produced in fiberglass. This was the first Classic Whitehall Spirit® 14 rowboat. The first 100 or so that we built were simple traditional fixed seat models.
Then we realized we could incorporate slide seat sculling technology into these “All Water” boats turning a Whitehall rowing boat into an exercise and fitness machine. In a slide seat rowboat both legs working together provide the majority of the power with the back and arms supplying less than a third of the drive. These boats were equivalent to “Mountain Bikes of the Sea” and excellent exercise machines. Sales of these slide seat sculling boats grew rapidly as people discovered this new all water rowboat. In 1987 Marie and I founded a new company called Whitehall Reproductions Canada Ltd. better known by its trade name of ‘Whitehall Rowing & Sail’.
The Whitehall Spirit® line of rowing, sculling and sailing boats plus related gear grew substantially over the years. A Whitehall Spirit® 17 double position boat came next. Then other similar specialized models were added to the line including the Whitehall Spirit® Tyee 14 and the Westcoast 11.6. Since 1987 thousands of these rowboats have been produced, sold and shipped worldwide.
In 2007 in response to demand from our clients for less expensive slide seat sculling boats we designed and started producing the world’s first thermo-formed copolymer rowing boats, the Solo 14 and the Tango 17. Both models are built utilizing ultra tough thermal plastic. They are less expensive to produce than the hand-built fiberglass teak and bronze classic models and correspondingly cost much less. Made from tough lightweight copolymer they are virtually unsinkable and maintenance free. It was not all rosy going though as this was a tricky time. The market collapse of 2008 happened just as we took these boats to market but we were lucky and survived those lean mean 3 or 4 years.
In 2010 we founded the Whitehall Spirit® Rowing Club of Victoria, an “All Water” rowing club. Our has always been to make the sport of rowing more available to more people. The club has a manager and rowing instructors but to reduce ongoing operating overheads we designed a software program that handles booking boats, membership fees and tracks all club activity, without the need for steady employees while still providing affordable access to a top quality rowing experience.
A 2013 project, we developed an innovative new product called the Oar Board™ Fit-on-Top Rowing Unit. It converts a stand-up-paddle-board into a single scull rowing boat utilizing a sliding rigger setup instead of a sliding seat. This keeps the rower’s weight centered and makes rowing a paddle board very efficient. Because it is more affordable this revolutionary sculling unit makes rowing available to a huge market of recreational rowers. The Oar Board® Rower is built to our usual high standards to perform and last. I did most of the design work and the hands-on development was done by close friend and Whitehall’s production manager Colin Rolls along with Oar Board® sales manager Diana Lesieur. In 2016 we started producing the Fitness Row and Adventure Row inflatable paddle boards custom designed for rowing with the Oar Board® rower.
When Marie and I founded Whitehall Rowing & Sail, our goal was to provide our clients with pleasure and health-enhancing products designed and built to the highest standards. These high standards have been maintained throughout the years and are the main reason Whitehall Rowing survived through the various economic downturns and slow periods.
Currently, my design work is mostly done with 3D CAD programs. Some products and parts are still produced by the skilled hands of professionals and some with skilled operators of CNC machines and thermoforming equipment.
Whitehall’s offices and manufacturing facilities are currently located at 85 Dallas Rd. in Victoria BC. Whitehall still markets and ships worldwide. There are happy owners in all corners of the planet. People can drop in for a visit and check out the many models on display in our showroom but over 90% are sold sight unseen of our extensive website backed up by our reputation as builders of the best recreational rowing boats and rowing equipment on the planet.
For the past 15 years Marie has developed her skills with Jin Shin Jyutsu also called JSJ. This is an ancient healing art that is very effective for improving health in many ways. She has a small practice here in Victoria. Marie was a midwife when I met her and her passion has always been about health, healing, nutrition, and mindfulness.
We still work together managing Whitehall and our other companies.
Personally, for many years an ongoing project has been the development of another trimaran design called the Aune 64 Expedition Model incorporating a massive amount of real-world experience. I’m looking forward to building this trimaran in the future. This boat is a state of the art ocean cruising motor-sailor that raises the bar in terms of design concept, functionality, and overall capability.
I enjoy many other aspects in life but nautical influences run deep along with a love of water, nature, and an understanding of all things. You are welcome to look over this website or visit my facebook page. If you try to connect with me I will do my best to get back to you.