GO YOUR OWN WAY
Classic Boat|February 2021
Seven years ago, carpenter Pieter van der Aa set out to build an S&S yawl by himself for himself. In September this year Scarabee set sail for the first time
RON VALENT

Although one could call Pieter van der Aa a master at many trades, everything he does has one thing in common: wood. He imports and sells exotic woods from South America while as an artisan carpenter he is responsible for a wide scope of projects ranging from beautifully designed staircases, furniture and delicately lathe-turned vases to complete house and shop interiors. In 2015 he built all the deckhouses for the 125ft (38m) replica schooner Ingomar as well as parts of the interior of a large, classic, motor yacht. Oh yes, and he also built his own house that many think is a historic 17th-century mansion and not a brand new one designed and built by Pieter. During all these activities which of course were needed to keep the fire burning, he also singlehandedly built Scarabee!

Pieter has accomplished that rare thing and that is combining his passion with his livelihood and achieving a perfect symbiosis in that. During that process he also became what can only be called a very modest celebrity. I am sure that the launching of Scarabee was delayed at least a year by the constant stream of visitors to his workshop in Heukelum, far from the sea in the centre of the Netherlands. A cup of tea, a tour of the boat, talks on the various qualities of the many types of wood this walking timber vade mecum works with, and advice on whatever project the visitor is busy with or plans to take on. The side effect of this subtle marketing has of course also been a constant stream of paid assignments.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Years ago Pieter started on the incredible journey that has brought him to where he is now, when he restored a wooden classic in his spare time. It was a 34ft (8.5m) Alan Buchanan-designed East Anglian from the 1960s. Quickly coming to the conclusion that an old boat always needs more maintenance than he wanted, he decided to build his own new classic; a 45ft (13.8m) New York 32, designed by Olin Stephens, which he christened Masquerade. The idea was to build a yacht that he could live on after his retirement and cruise areas as far as the Baltic or the Caribbean. He subtly called her Masquerade in reference to her build, in red cedar strip plank, unlike the original, that he had found in America too far gone to restore, which was plank on frame. Olin Stephens himself sanctioned Masquerade as an NY32, officially accepting her into the class, with saili number 21.

After completing Masquerade Pieter soon realised two things: the extreme satisfaction that building your own boat gives; and, that despite her impressive size, Masquarade did not offer enough accommodation for living as well as privacy on extended cruises with his wife, daughters and friends. Completely infected by the virus of the beauty and perfection of Olin and Rod’s designs and after studying a book of yachts drawn by Olin (The Best of the Best by Kinney & Bourne), he set out to build a replica of Avanti, a 56ft 8in (17m) S&S design that had been destroyed in a hurricane on the American East Coast in 1954. She had been originally built as a cruiser-racer for Walter Rothschild in 1935. Work started on this new yacht in 2013.

Although only 11ft (3.4m) longer than Masquerade, the new boat has twice the volume and offers three cabins and a spacious saloon and galley. The large table with its fold-out leaves can easily seat 8–10 people. It is amazing that one man working entirely alone between regular paid projects has built this yacht in just seven years. What is even more astounding is the quality of finish and the attention to detail.

Like Masquerade, she is built strip-planked, which means that long, thin strips of red cedar are glued and screwed to a backbone of frames and bulkheads. When planked up, the hull is then coated inside and out with epoxy sheathing for strength and ease of maintenance. Once this is completed, most of the frames are removed, leaving a clean, spacious interior. After fairing and painting and turned over onto her keel she immediately looked like an original classic yacht, an effect reinforced by the beautiful teak deckhouse and hatches, the carefully laid teak deck and custom stainless steel deck fittings.

BUILDING A TRUE CLASSIC

Pieter feels that modern, computer-based designs leave something missing from a yacht’s aesthetics. “Lines faired on a full-sized lofting floor and not decided by a program in a computer are more natural and in my eyes more faithful to the original pencil drawn design.” So both Masquerade as well as Scarabee were lofted by Pieter onto a full-size lofting floor and the frames and bulkheads copied accordingly. So besides yacht-building Pieter also mastered the art of lofting!

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