Posted by: wadahp | May 16, 2011

RECREATION: PLYWOOD WONDER (no. 18)

Plywood Wonder – Thunderbird

View of: Thunderbird Hull #1, designed by Ben Seaborn and built by Ed Hoppen, is currently on display at the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor. Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc., 2011

The boatbuilding industry, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, shifted again in the early 1950s with the introduction of new technology and materials, such as plywood. In the early 1950s, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (DFPA) decided to market their plywood to Northwest boatbuilders, approaching naval architects throughout the region to design boats utilizing plywood. Seattle-native naval architect Ben Seaborn accepted the challenge. Previously known for his fast racing boat designs and his engineer’s mind, Seaborn developed a v-shaped hull form which allowed for the stiffness of multilayered plywood.  While Seaborn designed the 26-foot plywood speedster Thunderbird, Ed Hoppen of the Eddon Boat Company in Gig Harbor developed the construction methods to bend the plywood in a way that would float, bringing the design to fruition.[1] The Thunderbird class sailboat soared in popularity with over 1,200 constructed world-wide.[2]

View of: The Thunderbird #2 has been returned to its point of origin and is under restoration at the Gig Harbor Boat Shop. Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc., 2011


[1] Grant Fjermedal, “T-Birds,” The Seattle Times, July 10, 1983, B6; Guy Hoppen, son of Ed Hoppen, email communications and interview, Spring 2011.

[2] “Thunderbird: Barbaree,” The Center for Wooden Boats, http://www.cwb.org/south-lake-union/online-museum/boat-catalog/thunderbird-barbaree.

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