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Jim Taylor spread out drawings for a 1920s-style mahogany speedboat on the dining room table at his wife Jen’s family cottage at Sinclair’s Island on Nova Scotia’s Northumberland Shore.

“‘Oh, you’re building another model boat,’” Taylor recalls his wife saying. “I said, ‘No, I’m going to build this one full size.’ She looked at me and said, ‘No, you’re not.’”

Seven years and more than 2,000 hours of labour later, the fittingly named Knowyerknot made its maiden voyage last summer on New Glasgow, NS’s East River. It’s been turning heads ever since.

Taylor says it was like having a girlfriend in his garage for the years it took him to build the boat. He’d start around eight at night, work for five or six hours until he was exhausted, go to bed, then wake up and go to his day job as business development manager with New Glasgow-headquartered parking meter maker MacKay Meters.

“It was invigorating,” he says. “I’d be lost in time in the task at hand.”

The woodworking hobbyist had made model boats and furniture before, but nothing as complex as the “gentleman’s runabout.” The rich and famous, like John F. Kennedy back in the day, favoured the sleek and stylish speedboat design. The likes of former hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, who recently commissioned one for about $500,000, still favour the boats.

Taylor got to know the design when he was 12 years old and living in Northern Ontario.

“We used to go get groceries at a place on the river,” he recalls. “The river had boat stalls for parking. When mom would do her grocery shopping on Saturdays, the whole family would go. Dad would keep the boys outside throwing rocks in the river. This gentleman came up the river every Saturday in his beautiful boat and he befriended us boys. I fell in love with the boat.”

When Taylor hit 50, he was looking for a creative outlet to help take his mind off the stress of a job that sees him working with 200 clients in seven different time zones and travelling about a third of the time.

Over lunch with his mother, he mused about building a motorbike or a hot rod. Worried he’d either kill himself or lose his licence, she reminded him of the boat he always talked about as a kid, and suggested he build one himself.

Encouraged, Taylor ordered the plans from the WoodenBoat Store in Maine.

The drawings had a one-inch-equals-one-foot scale. He expanded them out to 22 feet and drew the full boat, with both a sectional and birds-eye view, along with each of its pieces on the backside of sheets of Tyvek house wrap.

His background as an architectural civil structural draftsman came in handy. YouTube, the usual go-to resource for many DIYers, was no help.

“When they were building these, it was the 1920s. With YouTube video footage, even stuff from the 1960s is rare,” Taylor says. “To find stuff from the ’20s, it’s the written word and deciphering what’s been said in books and understanding the terminology when no one’s there to tell you what that is, and these hidden ways to measure, and how did they do it without a computer. I did everything by reading, I guess.”

For the ribbing, he cut oak trees that were in danger of falling on the cottage and milled them with a couple of friends. He bought a skid of sustainably sourced mahogany.

“I got an unbelievable deal because an older fellow in Halifax was going to build a boat and he passed after he ordered the wood and paid for half of it,” he says. “I got the bonus of picking up the other half of the wood for the whole bundle. When it’s mahogany, that’s a lot of money.”

To maneuver around the 22-foot speedboat as he was building it in his 26-by-26-foot double garage, he put a bubble on one of the bay doors, which also served as a solar kiln to get the wood’s moisture down to nine per cent. He filled up the other bay with the 15-foot lengths of dry wood, his table saws, bandsaws, jigs, and other tools.

“Once you have your bones, the ribs, then you lay your bent wood overtop the ribbing,” Taylor says. “It all has to be precut and angled and the dimension for the cavity you’re filling has to be cut out of the wood before you bend it. It’s like a banana with angles on it and it has to fit within a sixteenth of an inch everywhere on it over 22 feet.”

Instead of chinking, the traditional method of jamming cotton between the boards, Taylor used epoxy resin and hardening fillers, to ensure watertightness.

Bronze cleats and chocks are hard to come by nowadays. Taylor didn’t want stainless, so he smelted and smithed his own in his backyard in Stellarton, NS. “When I was in Detroit working, I bought the bronze bars and I took them across the border in my suitcase,” he says. “They thought they were gold. I got interrogated and then they realized no one’s going to be carrying 35 pounds of gold.”

Taylor also plumbed the boat, lining up the motor and electrical gauges with a hand from friends. “I’m mechanically minded, but I needed help,” he says.

He still has some tinkering to do with the mechanics before he can hop aboard on, say, a sunny summer Tuesday and motor across the Northumberland Strait to Pictou Island.

Taylor says he owes “heartfelt gratitude” to his wife for putting up with his obsession, a seven-year battle marked with the script he chose to write Knowyerknot across the boat’s barrel-back transom. “The font is called lover’s quarrel,” he says. “It’s all tied together.”

While Jen prefers the beach to boats, the couple’s two sons Liam and John Luke — teenagers when he started the project — are impressed. “When I was with my boys this summer, shoulder to shoulder with the wind in our hair going 50 kilometres an hour down Pictou Harbour, John Luke looked at me and said, ‘Dad, this is like the coolest sportscar on water. I can’t believe you built it.’ They saw me bring it to life. It’s a sense of pride there.”

The launch felt a bit anticlimactic after such lengthy labour.

“I’ll bet I touched every piece of wood 100 or 200 times each,” Taylor says. “You cut it, you sand it, you shape it, you polish it, you brush it, you fit it. And that’s every piece … I put in a lot of time that would have been twiddling my thumbs or watching TV and I have something to show for it,” he says. “I’ve got my dream in front of me now. I turn heads wherever I go. Anytime I stop, it’s the talk of the town.”  


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