Paul Mann 68 — By Capt. Bill Pike —
Second To None
Boatbuilding by Eye
The way Paul Mann builds boats has been written about extensively. Why not—we’re talkin’ plank-on-frame construction, one of the oldest forms of boatbuilding, albeit in Mann’s case, with state-of-the-art epoxies and other materials. Certainly Mann’s boats are light and gutsy. For example, his epoxy-laminated bottoms typically consist of epoxy-edge-glued three-quarter-inch juniper planks, a covering of eight-ounce mat, a layer of three-eighths-inch Okume plywood, another covering of eight-ounce mat, and finally, one more layer of three-eighths-inch Okume.
There’s a subtler, more critical aspect to Mann’s methods, though—he calls them “batons,” or in more serious moments, “my treasures.” They resemble giant, slightly curved dinosaur ribs, without the meat. Made of strip-laminated lengths of wood, they stretch to well over 60 feet individually and are used to support and configure the laying up of frames prior to planking, two at the chine port and starboard, and two more at the sheer, port and starboard. Where they’re placed determines the shape of the hull.
Mann’s mysterious about his batons, but not overly so. He creates them “by eye,” he says, an accomplishment learned from early Carolina builder Omie Tillett and Tillett’s mentor, Warren O’Neal. Moreover, he suggests that trying to create such tools in a modern technological way, and then trying to use them to build boats, would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa with a computer.
Mann’s also mysterious about his running surfaces. Ever mindful of the advice of an old fisherman named Billy Baum, who once opined, “Boys, we gotta build the bottoms of our boats curved so the water’ll run straight over ‘em,” Mann designs his running surfaces by eye as well. The upshot? As Mann shows below, a limited amount of athwartships convexity amidships translates into a straight path for water to travel on the diagonal, as it sweeps aft from the keel at speed.
Not magic, says Mann. Just old-school, Carolina boatbuilding that makes for a soft, spongy rough-seas ride instead of a hard one, and a hull that rises farther out of the water the faster it goes. —B.P.
This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.