SHIP OF DREAMS - If you build it, they will comeBy Sherryll Sobie
© 2002 The Muskoka Sun Limited (Reproduced with permission)
Photos by Paul Brackley

Several fortnights ago, across the ocean approximately 3,556 air miles from Muskoka, an English gentleman by the name of Ken Baynton was surfing the Internet in hopes of finding just the right person to build his ship of dreams.

In his mind's eye, Baynton's ship of dreams was an electric boat, 21 feet by five feet, capable of seating five people and equipped with an Italian engine strong enough to go six nautical miles per hour.

Then one day Baynton stumbled upon, a web site promoting custom boat building in Canada, specifically Muskoka - a name with which the Englishman was most certainly not familiar. Despite this and the incredible distance, there was something about the Canadian wooden boat building company that caught his eye - under the company logo Baynton read: "Bring us your dream."

TEST RIDE.Custom-built boat
That was in September 2001. Today, nine months and approximately 1,000 man-hours later, Paul Brackley of Brackley Boats has finished the last minute touches on Baynton's brand new, custom built electric boat, appropriately called - Muskoka. According to Brackley, electric boats are very popular in Britain because of the stringent environmental [laws] on the Thames River.

The modest shop, located in Gravenhurst's Industrial Mall, is currently housing two boats in various stages of completion.

A cat's paw dinghy made of western red cedar will be shipped to its excited owner in Minnesota, while an 18-foot pulling boat with mahogany trim, called Liz, is going to someone in Toronto. Two more customers, two more dreams in the making. Surely, Baynton and the others could find a boat builder closer to home. Brackley agrees, but explains that in addition to their over 10 years of boat building experience, international customers with strong dollars can save big bucks. Brackley estimates Baynton is saving approximately $25,000 CDN (or about 10,000 to 12,000 pounds), "even with the shipping."

Paul BrackleyInternet is far-reaching
At this stage, Brackley says about 95 per cent of his business is generated from the Internet. In fact, he even goes as far as speculating that Baynton would never have found Brackley Boats were it not for the World Wide Web. Brackley, along with two other helpers, built Baynton's western red cedar boat with solid mahogany trim on the stem and sheer strake, using the cold molded, strip diagonal hull method of construction. "Just imagine multiple veneer layers set at opposing angles to the shape of the hull," Brackley explains in layman's terms.

Brackley and his crew first drew Muskoka in full size using sheets of plywood as an artist would use canvas. "Then we shrunk it down to regular-sized blueprints for Mr. Baynton to see," he says. So far, Baynton has flown to Canada twice; the first time was in September 2001 before construction began, and again in May 2002 when he and Brackley took the unfinished boat out for a ride. "He loved it and said its better quality than in Britain," Brackley says smiling.

At the end of August, Muskoka will be carefully crated in a container for its week-long sea-faring voyage to England.

Like a true artist, Brackley places high demands upon himself to build each boat to perfection using only the best quality wood and accents, and he prefers not to do the same thing twice. "I like to build a new boat every time. I really enjoy the 'one-off' part of custom boat building," he says. "Years ago I did mostly restorations and canoe building. Now I'm primarily building new boats," he says, listing off a huge range of styles including (but not limited to) row boats, sailboats and of course, electric boats.

DWARFED BY WENONAH IIAccording to Brackley, the most common request has been for Whitehall style rowboats. "They are really pretty," Brackley says, explaining their popularity. Before setting sail in his own business, Brackley, who was born and raised in Muskoka, gained valuable experience working at wooden boat building companies in the area. His introduction into the world of boat building began at Muskoka Fine Watercraft in 1986.

Then he went on to Butson Boat Builders and Sundance Canoes for a few more years. By the early 1990s, Brackley was ready.

Now, over 10 years and many boats later, business is booming to the point where Brackley must turn away work. Although Muskoka houses a fair number of boat builders, he says finding experienced help is difficult.

So in the meantime, if you have your own ship of dreams,
stop dreaming and start your engines.

The Muskoka Sun Ltd.
P.O. Box 1600, 203-175 Manitoba St.
Bracebridge, ON P1L 1V6
Tel: (705) 645-4463
Fax: (705) 645-3928