People who have a love for classic wooden boats are different from other types of boat owners. They have an appreciation for the timeless craft of boatbuilding that reminds one of a different era, when skill and craftsmanship were prized over things like mass production and high-tech solutions. When restoring a wooden boat or purchasing a new wooden boat made in the traditional way, such as the Beetle Cat or Beetle 14, it would be almost criminal to install a metal or carbon fiber spar upon that vessel. In keeping with tradition, custom handcrafted spars are preferred for use as this type of New England sailboat mast.
Quality wooden spars can be difficult to find these days. Used in the rigging of a sailing vessel as the means to carry or support the sail, other related pieces are known as booms as masts, and are used to deploy the sail and provide force resistance. Custom handcrafted spars are a rarity, representing another example of things not being the way that they used to be. Mass produced parts for sailboats are the use of metals like aluminum and carbon fiber are the norm. However, for owners of classic wooden boats, it just doesn’t seem right to put an aluminum spar on a handmade wooden vessel.
What is a Spar?
In the most basic of terms, a spar is a pole that is traditionally made out of wood, however today it can be made out of other materials. It is a very tall and is used on sailing vessels for many different purposes. It can be used to carry sails, other spars, derricks, provide height for navigation lights, be a look-out position – you have likely seen them, without knowing what they were called, installed on a sailboat. Larger ships have several masts that are based in size and arrangement, depending on the style and size of the ship itself.
A History of Custom Handcrafted Spars
The wooden spars that you see today in the form of a traditional New England sailboat mast, are not all that different from the custom handcrafted spars that were used centuries ago. Beginning in the 16th century, larger vessels were being built, requiring taller and thicker masts to be built than could be made from a single tree trunk. Boatbuilders began making wooden spars from several pieces of timber that came from the trunk of a tree in order to achieve the thickness and height required. Known in the day as a “made” mast instead of a “pole” mast, which was made from a single piece of wood, these spars were sometimes made in four sections, which were also called masts.
This was the normal way of making wooden spars – either from a single tree trunk or from several pieces of wood – up until the middle of the 19th century, when other materials and techniques began to be used. For example, the first hollow mast was used in 1845 on an American vessel known as “Maria,” which was 92 feet in length and was built from wood that was bound together with iron hoops, similar to barrel making. Experiments began with other methods for creating hollow wooden spars, such as two tapered timbers that were hollowed out and glued together and finally, the simple box form of creating hollow wooden spars was invented.
The Return of Traditional Wooden Spars
One company has come forward to bring the art of custom handcrafted spars back into popularity. The Beetle Boat Shop, maker of the Beetle Cat, Beetle 14, skiffs and custom boats, has returned to its long history of spar building, which dates back to the whaling days. Once upon a time, these spars were built for Beetle whaleboats, whaling ships and other larger vessels. After purchasing spar making equipment from the liquidation of Pleasant Bay Boat and Spar Shop, Beetle has combined their use of quality materials and over 95 years of skilled craftsmanship, to produce custom handcrafted spars of the highest quality, using spar making in the traditional manner.
Recently, some impressive custom wooden spars have been created at the Beetle Boat Shop, including solid spars for a Beetle Whaleboat, hollow spars for the Bay Lady II commercial Schooner out of Provincetown, hollow spars for the 36-foot gaff rigged Raceabout Sloop Eleanor, a Sanford Alerion box section mast, and all of the spars, hardware and rigging for the marconi-rigged 16-foot Catboat Duck.
To learn more about the classic wooden boats and custom handcrafted spars made at the Beetle Boat Shop, give us a call at 508-295-8585. Our team can help you with a wide variety of New England sailboat mast and wooden spars, as well as other custom elements and accessories. We offer new boats, used boats, restorations, transportation, storage and more. Call today or visit the Beetle Boat Shop for yourself, which is located on Thatcher Lane in Wareham, Massachusetts.