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Three Stories of Women Boat Builders

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Boating has traditionally had a male-dominated image. Women sailors haven’t always had the same opportunities as their male counterparts, and the same goes for boat building – stories about women who build boats remain thin on the ground even today.

With that in mind, we thought it was time to turn the spotlight on women who have built, improved, or restored a boat, either single-handedly or with a group. We’ve gathered information on some of them to give testimony that boat-building doesn’t have to be an exclusively male pastime.

Building A Boat By Eye: Gail McGarva’s

Source: Rook Photo

Gail McGarva was a qualified sign language interpreter when she had a change of career at age 39. After living on a houseboat, McGarva discovered her passion for boats through the experience of repairing and sailing it. She got into a training institute, the Lyme Regis’ Boat Building Academy, where she was recognized as the British Marine Federation Trainee of the Year. One of her major builds in that school was a replica of the oldest Shetland boat that is still around. She proceeded to have her internship in Ireland, which led her to a project leader and assistant instruction job.

Her more recent achievements as a boat builder came when she was granted membership to The British Wooden Boat Trade Association. McGarva’s main talent that isn’t that easily found in all boat builders is her ability to build “by eye”, meaning she can build a boat without any designer drawing. This special ability earned her the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust amounting to £13,500 in order to build a boat (by eye) that has a historical connection to Dorset.

Source: In the Boatshed

When asked about her change of career to boat building, McGarva said, “I had a very strong feeling about boat building being my direction, but I had no guarantee - it was a leap of faith. And then everything has just tumbled forward from there and it's just wonderful."

Boat Building and Circumnavigation: Julia Taylor

Julia Taylor dreamt of building her own boat and sailing it around the world back when she was a little girl. She got a steward job at the Conanicut Yacht Club in the 90s and stayed there for nine years. When she was ready to pursue her dream, Taylor went to Wellfleet, Massachusetts with Macy Webster, a boat builder who eventually became her mentor, to buy a 40-foot new hull designed by Bud McIntosh. Taylor had initially employed naval architects to design a boat, but did not like the modernistic design. She ended up building the full-scale model with Webster. The building of the boat wasn’t an easy task, even leading up to the point where Taylor almost decided she would quit her job at the yacht club. Fortunately she met Dave Goss, who helped out and made things easier for her and Webster.

Source: Wooden Boat

Webster died before the launch of the boat on May 1, 2004. Beforehand, it has already been settled that the boat would be named after him. An initial sail was made during that same year, but due to various complications it lasted just 3 months. Taylor and Goss went back to sailing in 2007 and took the West route through the Panama Canal, or what Taylor calls “the milk route”. The duo returned home in 2011, bringing with them all the memories of the long sail.

Source: Jamestown Press

The journey wasn’t all smooth sailing, but Taylor recalls the many beautiful places they visited, “The Galapagos, Tahiti and the Marquesas were special. New Zealand was my favorite place. Another place I really liked was Indonesia.” As a reflection of her journey into achieving her dream, Taylot says, “Somehow it happened. It just worked out. I’m the luckiest person on the planet.”

Boat Building By Three Women

The boat story of a man named Reuel Parker is also the story of three women boat builders. Parker had been building boats since he was 12, yet at age 39 when he searching for a place to build his Exuma 44, he came across three builders who helped him turn the boat model into a reality. Jill Coconaugher was one of those women, who had an exceptional talent for structure, form and proportion, and space-consciousness, according to Parker. The other boatbuilders were Sholeh and Teresa Rodriguez.

Source: Wooden Boat

Together with Parker, the three women worked on building the boat, naming it Teresa later on, after Parker’s sailing partner and long-time Cuban friend. In just under 6 months, the group was able to finish the boat in time to sail it in 1985 in the WoodenBoat Show in Newport, Rhode Island. Parker’s admiration for Coconaugher’s boatbuilding talent led to more boat building projects together.


These three separate stories are just the tip on the iceberg proving that boat building isn’t just a career and craft for men. There are many other, like sailing yacht restorer Jen Boyle, and Michaelle Peters, a self-taught restorer currently working on a 1975 Islander 32′ yacht. Through their journey and experiences, we know the love for boat building cannot be boxed in by gender.

And in the same way, women have conquered other pursuit that were formerly deemed as male-dominated, like sailing or woodworking. To read more inspiring stories of women in woodworking trades, read this interview by Sawinery. 


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