The handmade craft was built with locally harvested burr oak and milled cedar, tamarack, black spruce, green ash, and pine. | MIKE CREGER
Small details tell a lot. The roves and rivets which fasten the boat together were made at the First Street shop with donated copper grounding wire and 95-percent copper pennies. | MIKE CREGER
Community Launch DULUTH—To call it a wooden boat doesn’t do it justice. To hear shipwright John Finkle describe it is much more fitting. The Norway-inspired boat he built with community help in his downtown Duluth shop is a “traditional lap-strake, clinker-built, Scandinavian færing approximately 19 feet long, using hand tools and locally sourced materials.” The craft that was dropped into Lake Superior in late May is a beauty. Its materials speak loudly to that notion: locally harvested burr oak and milled cedar, tamarack, black spruce, green ash and pine. There is another beauty in this traditional Scandinavian boat. Finkle wanted to build it for the community, teaching a swath of people with varying skill levels the fine points in creating a craft inspired by ancient traditions. “With so many different hands putting work into this boat it is indeed becoming its own unique work of art,” Finkle mused before the May 24 launch. “Sometimes the words ‘traditional’ and ‘craft’ … have been constricted to refer to independent, highly-skilled laborers in a highly-controlled environment.” That could describe Finkle, a master boat builder with numerous vessels under his belt, along with years of teaching hand-tool woodworking. 18
Shipwright John Finkle at the May boat launch. | MIKE CREGER
The Norway-inspired boat was built with community help, using hand tools and locally sourced materials. | MIKE CREGER
“We find that learning to build a watercraft is a perfect outlet for the creative expression of a community. This is part traditional woodworking, part public art sculpture. No, traditional woodwork is public art sculpture.”
dressed in a similar sailing blouse as his mentor, led a group that carried the boat to the fog-draped shore like gleeful pallbearers. They dropped it a few feet from the water. Praises were sung—figuratively from those involved in the project and literally from a youth choir.
The dozens of volunteers who worked on the boat crowded the shore at the corner of the lake just off Duluth’s Lakewalk. Passersby stopped as well, and those who are dedicated and self-proclaimed boat nerds. The 19-foot throwback with two sets of oars was hard to miss or ignore from the Lakewalk. Finkle’s apprentice, Justin Anderson,
Soon, Finkle and Anderson were rowing about the shore to hoots and cheers and the occasional “and that’s the last time they were seen” as they disappeared and reappeared through the thick mist. Finkle has started a movement; this isn’t a one-off. He formed Nóatún Community Wooden Boat Works with plans to cre-
ate a fleet of boats for public enjoyment. “Nóatún” is pronounced “noah-toon” and means “boat enclosure” or “boat home” in Old Norse. It was the name for the home of the Norse god Njord, overseer of “safe waters, sunny shores, plentifulness on the coast, and small watercraft and their crews,” Finkle says. The volunteers worked with the Duluth Workforce Center, a state program that employs young adults. Community monetary and supply support has been as valuable as the helping hands, Finkle said. The roves and rivets, which fasten the boat together, were made
On the North Shore, the summer boating season is short but oh so sweet.