The Film

Charlotte: A Wooden Boat Story

DVD Details:
Running Time:        1 Hour, 36 Minutes

Picture Format:       Widescreen, Color, NTSC
Aspect Ratio:           1.77:1

Sound:                      5.1 Surround Sound

In addition to the film, the DVD carries the following bonus materials:

  • Interviews with Nat Benjamin, Gannon & Benjamin boatwrights, and more.

  • Commentary by director Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte and cinematographer Brian Dowley.

  • Ten additional scenes

NEW! The DVD is now available through Amazon, and as a bonus, it qualifies for Free Super Saver Shipping. For all Amazon Prime members, two-day shipping is also free, and next day shipping is only $3.99. 

Essential Reading

Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard

This is the definitive book on contemporary wooden boat building. It is not a "how to" but rather a lyrical, profound and insightful examination of the "life" of a boatyard in all of its glorious detail.  The Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway is the focus of this book, and this is no mere coincidence as reading this book was one thing that gave me the confidence to make the film.  To my mind it is the perfect “expository” accompaniment for Charlotte and essential reading for anybody with the least bit of interest in wooden boats.

Schooner: Building a Wooden Boat on Martha's Vineyard

 I love this book. Through sharply written text and gorgeous photographs it conveys the majesty and importance of wooden boat building.  I aspired to make a film as beautiful, informative, and as well crafted as this book; Dunlop and Shaw set a mighty high bar which I hope others will agree that I have at least come close to meeting. This book is also about the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway — go figure.

On Boat Building

Building Small Boats

Greg Rössel is a master boat builder, writer and teacher, and in this book he conveys his profound knowledge of traditional boatbuilding with clarity and enthusiasm.  Simply the best introduction to practical aspects of wooden boat building available. I am not sure if the average person would be able to build a boat based on this book, but they would certainly feel that it was possible!

How to Build a Wooden Boat

Like Rössel’s book, this work provides a comprehensive introduction to traditional boat building, but is more idiosyncratic and employs an amusing, wry humor throughout.  I have never met David McIntosh, but from this book I imagine that he is a wonderful old salt, whose passion for traditional boat building is only outstripped by his knowledge and experience.

Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction

This dense volume is THE classic reference for traditional wooden boat building.  It is wide ranging in its coverage of types of building processes and vessels. The book is dense, erudite, and scholarly; to my mind it is not as practical as the Rössel’s or McIntosh’s books but as a supplement or an advanced text it is essential.  Chapelle is a naval architect and he really excels when he puts the breadth of historical knowledge on display, which is particularly evident in his other works such as The History of American Sailing Ships and American Small Sailing Craft.


Lofting is the process of drawing lines of a boat full-size, to get the shapes and patterns needed for building. One starts with a couple of simple two dimensional drawings, and ends up with a set of full size patterns from that defines the shape of the hull.  It is a miraculous process to behold, and appears to be almost mystical to the uninitiated, not to mention confusing and frustrating to those bold enough to try it the first time.  Ideally lofting is learned directly from a master boatwright who explains each aspect of the process and patiently leads the student through the process, but for those without access to a master boatwright, this book is the next best thing! 

The Gaff Rig Handbook: History, Design, Techniques, Developments

A Gaff Rig is often the sailing rig of choice of traditional wooden boats. For many it is untoward to dress a wooden boat in a modern (Marconi) rig, tantamount to wearing a mini-skirt to church.  This book provides a wealth of information about the design, construction and use the gaff rig. It covers history and practice and is richly illustrated.  Besides the specific information it imparts about the rig, this book is a moving expression of the deep knowledge and understanding that goes into every aspect of the design and construction of a sail boat.  Even a Marconi die-hard will appreciate and learn from this book.

How to Build the Haven Twelve & a Half Footer

Since the 1970’s, Maynard Bray has been a central figure in movement to preserve and disseminate the knowledge and traditions of wooden boat construction.  He has tremendous insight and a wonderful passion for wooden boats.  In this volume, he gives one of the most thorough and intelligible accounts of how to build a wooden boat: a practical day sailer designed by Joel White, based on Herreshoff’s 12 ½ foot timeless classic.

A Kid's Book on Boatbuilding

A perfect gift for a young person that is into boating, sailing, or building. This could also be a great book for a child fixated on social networking and computer games, as it will give them a view to a different universe of possibilities.  It is clear and entertaining, and perhaps most importantly, it does a good job of communicating the sense of wonder and adventure that comes from building boats and sailing.

On Craft

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

I can’t praise this book more highly. It gave me a newfound appreciation and perspective for everything that I was trying to convey in Charlotte.   I could go on (and on), but Jackson Lears, Editor-in-Chief of the Raritan, conveys my sentiment better, and more concisely, than I could myself.  He writes:  "Matt Crawford has written a brave and indispensable book. By making a powerful case for the enduring value of the manual trades, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a bracing alternative to the techno-babble that passes for conventional wisdom, and points the way to a profoundly necessary reconnection with the material world.  No one who cares about the future of human work can afford to ignore this book."  I would only add that I hope this book spawns a movement of serious inquiry into the value of manual work for the health of the body, soul, and society.

The Craft Reader

The Craft Reader is a comprehensive anthology of writings on every aspect of craft — from the seminal texts of the Arts and Crafts Movement to today's “DIY” movement, from soulful meditations to theoretical writings by influential practitioners, from feminist histories of textiles to descriptions of the innovation born of necessity —  this reader covers practitioners and thinkers from all over the globe.  The world of craft is considered in its full breadth: from pottery and how-to texts on weaving, to couture and chocolate-making, to contemporary art, architecture and curation.   This is a big, bulky book.  But don’t be intimidated by its girth, as it is contains 84 distinct articles and can be accessed and appreciated in bite-size portions.  Each section and article is expertly introduced by Adamson, and his Annotated Guide to Further Reading is an excellent guide to the current literature on the subject.

The Craftsman

This is a beautifully written, philosophically informed inquiry into craftsmanship, its history, importance, and how “craft-ing” is inextricably connected to what it is to be human.  This is a scholarly account and thus is not the easiest book to read, but the struggle to comprehend this work will be richly rewarded with a genuinely deep understanding.  Ultimately, what I find most satisfying about this work is how Sennett uses craft both to critique our current working roles and relationships, and as a guide to more satisfying and sustainable economic arrangements.

The Thinking Hand (Architectural Design Primer)

This book is a bit of an odd duck in the current context.  It tends to be theoretical and abstruse, and its focus is on embodied creativity and (terrestrial) architecture.  That said, I find it relevant to understanding both the “doing” of boat building and the physical relationship between people and boats.  This is from the publisher’s description: “The Thinking Hand is a metaphor for the characteristic independence and autonomous activity of all our senses as they constantly scan the physical world.  Even in the case of learning skills, the sequence of movements in a task is internalized and embodied rather than understood and remembered intellectually. Prevailing educational philosophies continue to emphasize conceptual, intellectual and verbal knowledge over this tacit and non-conceptual wisdom of our embodied processes, which is so essential to our experience and understanding of the physical and the built.”

Guides and Picture Books

Wood, Water, and Light: Classic Wooden Boats

This is the must have “coffee-table” book for anybody with an interest in wooden boats.  Joel White was one of the most important wooden boat designers of the later half of the 20th century, and his text is lucid and deeply informed. Mendlowitz is the preeminent photographer of wooden boats.  The combination of their efforts makes this book incomparable.

Fifty Wooden Boats: A Catalog of Building Plans, Vol.1

The title says it all, and it is the first of three albums.  Best of all, if a boat catches your fancy, large scale and buildable drawings are available from Wooden Boat Magazine.

The Guide to Wooden Boats: Schooners, Ketches, Cutters, Sloops, Yawls, Cats

With precise descriptions and analysis by Bray, and superb photographs by Mendlowitz, this book provides a set of examples of wooden boats in a variety of configurations and sizes. It serves as a wonderful introduction for those interested in becoming more knowledgeable about wooden boats.

Classic Wooden Yachts of the Northwest

“Charlotte” focuses on a boatyard in Martha’s Vineyard, and most of the works listed here are steeped in the maritime traditions of the Northeast.  McClure’s beautiful book reminds us that there is a vibrant center of wooden boating in the Northwest as well, one with its own distinct traditions of yacht design and construction.  Though they find themselves a continent apart, they are united by a deep appreciation of wooden boats and the steadfast desire to keep those traditions vibrant and alive. 

The Book of Wooden Boats (Vol. III)

 Another book from the unbeatable team of Bray and Mendlowitz, this is the most recent installment in a series that offers a “compendium of enchanting images of the worlds most interesting and photogenic boats.”

First Person Accounts

Bull Canyon: A Boatbuilder, a Writer and Other Wildlife

 In this book Pardy brings her spirit as a consummate sailor and writer to more terrestrial matters; though they are on dry land, there is many a storm to weather. Beth Leonard’s description is right on: “In Bull Canyon, Lin Pardey returns to the storytelling skills that … made her Seraffyn books perennial bestsellers. After finishing their first circumnavigation, Lin and Larry take a time out from cruising to build their second boat in a wild, isolated California canyon without water, electricity or phones. … Lin writes with humor, honesty, sensitivity and warmth, deftly portraying a fast-disappearing place, a moment in history and a turning point in her life journey. … The Pardey’s many fans will treasure this story of the birth of Taliesin in a desert canyon near the top of a mountain sixty miles from the sea.”

Rebuilding Rose: The Tale of an Atkins Packet Sloop

“One afternoon in 1997, an unsuspecting Jim Spaulding arrived home from work to learn that his wife Cheryl had "rescued" a dilapidated 25-foot, gaff-rigged sloop from a date with the incinerator. Over the next six years, the Spauldings, along with a colorful cast of family and friends, faithfully restored the Atkins-design Rose to its original beauty. This is their engaging story. The tale of Rose culminates with the maiden voyage of the restored vessel on the Chesapeake Bay, but not before readers are treated to an entertaining and illustrated journey through the entire restoration process. While most of the story takes a "how-they-did-it" approach, several sections explain unique tasks in the restoration.” (Publisher’s description)

Sloop: Restoring My Family's Wooden Sailboat--An Adventure in Old-Fashioned Values

Robb is as expert working wood as he is working with words, and thus he is able to craft a particularly engaging and informed account of his efforts to restore his families sadly neglected 15½-foot Herreshoff sloop.  In documenting the technical nature of boat’s restoration, he explores the history of the Cape and Islands, his family, and yachting, and along the way, introduces a colorful cast of local characters and craftsmen who dispense advice as well as lend a helping hand.  Robb effortlessly situates his account of the technical nature of boat restoration within the historical and social context of the New England maritime community, and illuminates the value of traditions that may be in danger of disappearing.

Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat

This book allows one to get deep into the mind of a sailor.  Nichols writes about his single handed journey across the Atlantic on his 27’ wooden sloop, and conveys the experience in all of his glorious and harrowing detail.  Such a journey is difficult and dangerous under any circumstance, but the author left without properly preparing his boat to confront the indifferent, powerful forces of the Atlantic, and we come to realize that perhaps the only thing more unpredictable and threatening to Nichols than the open ocean are his own thoughts.  An elegant, passionate, and deeply honest account, that goes far beyond the typical “I crossed the Atlantic” yarn.

Other Movies and TV

The Friendship Sloop: A Heritage Retained

There are few well-made films that foreground traditional boat building techniques (in this case, they also give time to a plastic boat builder, but we won’t talk about that) and this is one of them. The Friendship Sloop is a wonderful vessel and the filmmakers capture the enthusiasm and vitality of the builders, owners and sailors.  It is about a hour long, and for those people who think that “Charlotte” should have a narrator, you will love this film!