History of Juanita:
- a replica 18th Century Spanish longboat

            Juanita was built as a reproduction of the longboat from Galiano’s Ship Sutil, by a group of about 70 volunteers from the Vancouver Wooden Boat Society in 1990/91.  To commemorate the bicentenary of European charting of the West Coasts of North America in the late 1700’s.  Greg Foster of Galiano Island, B.C. researched & designed a number of small boats from the various Spanish & British Ships, including Sutil.  Juanita was launched in March, 1991 from the deck of the four-masted Spanish sail training vessel Juan Sebastian de Elcano.  In June 1992, Juanita participated in a re-enactment of the meeting of the Spanish & British longboats off Point Grey where charts & information were exchanged in an uncharacteristic display of co-operation between countries competing for the riches of the resources of the New World.  (We traded brownies instead of charts)

            Juanita is a six-oared, lapstrake. Sprit-rigged ketch.  She is framed with yellow cedar. Has red cedar planking. Mahogany transom and sheer strake, gumwood keel shoe and thole pins, Douglas fir keel and masts & oars of Sitka spruce.  She would have been crewed by 7-11 men: 6 Rowers, a Leadsman in the bow, Chartographer & Artist on the side thwarts, with the Captain (if he were present) and the Navigator at the helm. 

            The original longboat from Sutil was built in San Blas, Mexico to take advantage of readily available wood and labour, although the design and many tools would have been brought from Europe.  It is likely that the original Spanish longboats would have been constructed with gumwood frames & mahogany planking.  The quality of construction and finish would have been much rougher that this reproduction.  (In Galiano’s Log there are numerous references to leaking caused by bad construction.)  Many of the tools used in the 18th Century were also used in building Juanita: adze, planes, chisels, brace & bit.  In a concession to modern materials, sandpaper was used instead of sharkskin.


            The carving on the sheer strake is an ongoing project of the Vancouver Woodworkers Guild.  To date over 100 people have included their names in the Carver’s Log.  The tiller has been carved to resemble a Turk’s Head knot. 

Length:           17’ 4”       Beam 5’ 6”              Draft 2’ 3”
Main mast:      14’           Spar: 12’                Main sail area: 69 sq’        Jib: 24 sq’
Mizzen Mast:   13’           Spar 9’ 6”               Mizzen sail area: 37 sq’         
Timber dimensions:         Keel: 3” x 6”           Stem: 3” x 12”
Transom:                        2’ x 12”                  Planking: ½” x 12”
Approximate weight:       800 pounds

            The building of Juanita was, for all involved, a fascination learning experience.  Working from a set of detailed plans, a full-sized lofting was laid down.  Construction began with the ceremonial “Keel Laying” in the Maritime Museum gallery as part of the “Messing About in Boats” exhibit.  Juanita was designed for sawn frame construction; each frame is fashioned from 2 or 3 futtocks that were cut to maximize the directional strength of the wood grain.  Plywood patterns were made for each shaped piece, starting with the futtocks, stem & stem knee, sternpost & knee and lower transom.  Vast quantities of fragrant yellow cedar shavings were produced in the building of this backbone as each piece was shaped using hand planes.  (One volunteer spent all his time sharpening blades.)  The futtocks were joined with half-lap joints using locust treenails that swell in place, making for tighter joints at the same time as giving more flexibility than metal fastenings.  (Note the third frame where the treenails stand proud, having swollen more that the yellow cedar futtocks.) 

            The assembled frames, stem & sternpost were then centered, plumbed, leveled and bolted to the keel.  Ribbands and cross spalls were installed to provide support and to keep everything fair.  These were removed as planking proceeded. 

            This was the stage reached when the time arrived to leave the Museum Gallery.  A temporary structure was built in the backyard of a Society member’s home a few blocks from the museum (once the foot of snow had been cleared away) and Juanita moved to her new home.  Rabbets were then cut into the keel to accept the garboards and into the stem and sternpost for the plank hood ends.  Fairing battens were employed to determine the frame bevels. 

            The red cedar planking had been custom sawn in Sooke, as unusually long, wide edge-sawn timbers were needed,  The planks were spilled, rabbeted, beveled and then steamed (one end at time due to the size of the steambox available).  Planking began at the garboard and proceeded upwards.  Each plank was attached at the stem, frames and sternpost, then riveted to the plank beneath.  (Over 1,000 copper rivets were used.)  Mahogany was used for the sheer plank, both for the structural strength required of this top strake and for the beauty of this wood when carved. 

            Once the planking was completed, the strengthening timbers were installed: seatrisers, gunwalls, breasthook & quarterknees.  Thwarts and their knees were next (notice the split in the port sidebench knee that was not cut with the grain).  The contrast in woods used for the floorboards (unfinished yellow cedar) & stern grating (varnished mahogany) was an aesthetic choice.  In keeping with the traditional techniques, the planking & thwarts were first finished with a witches’ brew of pinetar, beeswax & linseed oil.  Subsequently, cetol has been used on the brightwork. 

            The rudder was assembled, then hung with gudgeons & pintles.  Masts and spars were shaped of sitka spruce (one of the worlds’ strongest wood per pound) using planes and spoke shaves.  As there was only enough spruce for one pair of oars. The other four were fashioned from blanks laminated of yellow cedar, resulting in noticeably heavier oars.  The leatherwork on the masts and oars protects the wood-on-wood contact points.  Finally, the gumwood shoe and yellow cedar rubrail were added to reduce the damaging effects of abrasion. 

            And then there is the story of Juanita being stolen from our harbour:  One Summer’s night someone snuck into the harbour and made off with Juanita, with sails and oars but no ballast.  Sitting high the water as she does without ballast would have made for a very rough ride!  We can follow her track to Oak Bay because of a grocery receipt.  She was next seen anchored off a U.S. Fisheries research station in Puget Sound.  She washed ashore in a storm, landing on the one available sandy stretch of a rocky coast.  Juanita was known to have come from Canada because the labels on the food cans were in French and English.  The only other identifying mark they found find was the North Sails insignia, so they contacted North Sails Canada who in turn contacted the Vancouver Wooden Boat Society.  The only damage suffered by Juanita came from the staples driven into the decorative sheer strake to secure a tarp.


Vancouver Wooden Boat Society

©2015 Vancouver Wooden Boat Society


At the January 10th, 2015 AGM, a complete refurbishment of Juanita was approved. After nearly 25 years of being the Society's flagship, she will undergo a complete refit using traditional methods to insure another 25+ years of flying the Vancouver Wooden Boat Society's flag.

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