Ben Barnhart Builds a Better Boat

Boat builder Ben Barnhart is achieving a new level of vessel craftsmanship in Central California.

I do a bit of woodworking myself and always appreciate good craftsmanship. So when I met Ben Barnhart through a mutual friend, it seemed like a good opportunity to photograph someone working at their craft and to, literally, talk shop.

Ben went to the wooden boatbuilding School in Port Townsend, Wash., which coincidentally I have visited too. My father-in-law lived up there, so I was familiar with the work they did. The types of boats Ben was working on at the time were called Skin on ribbed kayaks and canoes. He builds a wooden frame and them wraps the frame in canvas that is treated with a secret “boat sauce.” This gives the boats a lot of structure and makes them extremely lightweight.

His Goleta shop is located in the middle of an orchard that grew all sorts of citrus trees, and there were several bee boxes scattered around the property. One of the things that I discovered when watching him work is how crafted every aspect of the boat is. Nothing was a stock piece of wood or material. He used tools that were altered or customized to meet his specific needs.

The attention to detail and level of craftsmanship is truly amazing. The boats are not only beautiful, but well engineered and the craftsmanship is impeccable. I really enjoy the opportunity to photograph craftsmen in their own work space and get a little window into what their work is like. I admire people who can turn there passions into careers.

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