FEATURE: Traditional wood for traditional fishing grounds

Her green hull sitting solidly in the shallows near shore the fishing vessel Trường Sa slowly begins to right herself with the raising tide. As an offshore fishing vessel, and as her name attests, she is built for deeper waters than this.

The newly launched Trường Sa waiting for the tide

Trường Sa is the name of the group islands off the coast of Vietnam whose fishing grounds are claimed by other nations. Trường Sa’s owner fishes these and other waters on a regular basis.

As one of hundreds of mid-size vessels in the Vietnamese fleet, she has the grace and beam of a typical craft of her class. However a closer examination of her classic wooden hull reveals a popular trend in some Vietnamese wooden boat yards. Her hull, decks, and superstructure are entirely encased in fibreglass cloth and layers of composite.

Showing the small nails used on the first course of glass cloth

This is not done, as in some countries, as a desperate attempt to get a few more years out of a tired wood boat. The Trường Sa is a modern new boat with a brand new 600kW, Cummins KTA38-M0 main engine. A visit to nearby shipyards shows a number of similar vessels under construction. In most cases they will have the same layers of fibreglass cloth.

In the shipyard, a perfect boat of some 20-plus metres is built. Caulking of wood fibres is overlaid with some form of paste. When the hull is finished and faired and a layer of cloth and resin is laid on. This first layer of cloth is held in place by thousands of small nails (2.5 cm) with large heads 9.0mm). Next a second layer of glass cloth is laid and covered with resin. Finally the boat is painted and launched.

Frames being sawn for the hull in the background

The internal sawn frames are no longer fastened with wooden trunnels but with extensive use of iron nuts bolts and washers. A skill saw and a steady hand, following lines from patterns traced onto thick slabs, cut the frames. They are then painted and bolted in place. An on-site band-saw mill cuts the slabs from raw logs.

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