Ben Van Dam, Boat Builder | HUMAN


BEN: Wood does have a romance to it. So as it moves past you, it’s dynamic. It changes color. It changes sheen. It changes how the light reflects off of it. So it’s kind of like ever moving. That’s something that took hundreds of years
to be produced in nature and it’s one of those things that kind of tugs at my heart. While I love wooden boats, I think the part
that’s most interesting to me is trying to do something at a level better than anybody else. Our mission is that we design and build the
world’s finest wooden boats. My name is Ben Van Dam and we’re at
Van Dam Custom Boats. THOR: The level of quality that we produce here is… it’s a pursuit of an obsession. Perfect is a function of how closely you look
at something. BEN: We need the areas that you don’t see in the
boat to look just as good as the areas you do see. Everything we build is one of a kind and we
build them to be passed down generation to generation. JEAN: And then there’s these beautiful curves of wood. It’s breathtaking at every stage. It’s as close to perfect as we could get possibly get. I think the most exciting part of a boat is the start, all the anticipation, all the planning, all the thought. People walk through the door with a dream.
So we try to make that happen for them. In the process of that, we start with a clean
sheet of paper and after listening to what the client wants, then we start working. We’ll fully design the boat in 3-D in the computer. We’ll know every little bit before it ever
comes out here. Once we’ve got all that stuff kind of dialed
in, it’ll roll into the shop and then from there, you know, depending on complexity,
it could another seven, eight months or it could be a year and a half. He and I, we’re always looking for the defects. So when you’re right in the middle of it,
you’re always, “Oh, that’s not right. This isn’t right,” and it’s hard not to see
what’s wrong with it [LAUGHS] even though everybody else, they might think it’s perfect. BEN: And again, that’s the beauty of having the
design department here. You know, Michel can…if we’ve got something
that isn’t quite lining up on the boat, we can go in there and see, “Okay, this is what
it looks like down to four decimal points,” and then we can bring that back out in the shop. It’s probably a little bit of a layout error
with the shaft line. Right. So it’s gotta be a height thing here. We’ve got a paint and varnish crew in this back room and we’ve got a metal shop. JEAN: Jess has graduated into the metal, but he’s
an artist with the metal. Traditional built boats had a lot of issues
with water finding its way to the wood. So the process that we use, called cold molding,
basically taking thin layers of wood and gluing them together so there’s not voids. And in a simple sense, it’s just building
up layers of wood, with thinner layers, building it up into a thicker layer. That’s how we get the strength. That’s also how we get the durability, longevity. These handcrafted boats are just really beautiful pieces to look at. They’re like a piece of artwork. BEN: For me boatbuilding is a way of life. It was something I was born into. You know, the shop was a playground, and as I grew up
he obviously taught me more and more to the point where we’re doing this together now. STEVE: When I started the business
I was very headstrong. It was my way or the highway. And for Steve, he had to be like that to build
this business up. He had to put his head to the grindstone and
that was it. Steve is slowly transitioning some of his
roles to Ben and Steve is slowly stepping back. STEVE: Together we built it into a business and it’s
hard just to let go of that and pass that on. BEN: But just the nature of transitioning a business
from one person to the next, especially when your family is fraught with a million things
that can get in your way and can ruin a relationship and I feel really fortunate that we haven’t
allowed that to happen. But certainly we’ve had our battles over things
that we wanted to do differently. JEAN: Number one, you have a father and son who
are both very strong people with different ideas, but Steve has just gradually let go. Ben is patient, been patient with me. So we’ve been working it out. And for me I don’t think it would’ve mattered
if you were building houses or boats or cars or whatever, but that act of building something
was cool. The building stuff, yeah, and I think that’s
what morphed into me too. I started wanting to sail around the world,
you know [LAUGHS]. I think in my youth I had dreams of sailing
around the world and thought the way I could sail around the world would be to build a
boat to sail around the world. JEAN: We fell in love and he kind of learned to
love boatbuilding rather than doing the sailing trip. I think if I was going to leave my kids something,
it would be, I’d want to have a business that was stable and that could go through that
transition, which, quite honestly, is exactly what my dad has set up for me. I mean, we’ve got a business that’s stable,
that can handle it if I make some mistakes, which I’m inevitably going to. So I guess I’d like to leave what he left me. There’s a lot of things that are lost if people
stop building things the way we’re building things. If everything comes easy, you can have a lot
of things in a real short period of time and not appreciate them and throw ’em in the trash
when you’re done with them, but if takes, you know, a serious amount of time and effort,
you appreciate them more and you keep ’em and you pass ’em down to your kids. If this goes away, I think it’s the loss of
craft. JEAN: There’s a place for the quick and dirty and
cheap, but there’s also a place for these artistic creations. STEVE: We do live in a disposable society where people
want something right now and then throw it away when they’re done with it, but there’s
people out there that appreciate the effort that it takes to produce something of the
highest quality that’s crafted with your hands or your spirit. BEN: And again, that’s a testament to how we build. I mean, we build them for a lifetime, for
multiple lifetimes. STEVE: 2017 will be our 40th year. It’ll be 40 years ago I started the business. You know, maybe it’s time in my life to get
back on a boat a little bit more. In fact, in the last couple of months, Ben
and I acquired a boat that we built 25 years ago. It’ll be awesome to have my granddaughter
on there. What a heritage for them too, you know, as
they grew up and say, “Jeez, Grandpa built this back in whatever year it was.” BEN: I don’t think he’ll ever leave this place. He may not work as many hours as he has, but
I don’t see him going anywhere. I think he will forever be interested in what
we’re doing and want to help and I will certainly lean on him for it.

10 thoughts on “Ben Van Dam, Boat Builder | HUMAN

  1. i remmeber van dam being on documentary about 45min long or so. and this guy at 2:46, and hes still there. great. Respect. all the best.

  2. Respect where respect is due, guarantee most of the people that work there, suffer from some kind of OCD, i know the feeling

  3. I was gone a while, and now I'm back. Looking forward to getting back to my dream of building "my live boat". You'll have a great website about how to make a boat correctly without taking help of any others and enjoy it much [Check Details Here==>https://plus.google.com/u/0/110086446704524205338/posts/Tne32X7jLc5 ].Thanks for the never ending possibilities.

  4. Beautiful work, but If I were leavin a business to someone it wouldn't be just one that is strong enough to transition owners. I want to leave a business that is economy crash proof, rather than a luxury one but the good thing about your skill is you can always either lessen the quality to meet customers tight budgets or transition the company to a different manufacturing of wood products such as home building or furniture since you already have the tools and obvious knowledge of wood.

  5. I remember back in the early where I built with a friend a wooden boat with their courageous plan [ Check Details Here=>t.co/d051Koirzv ], and it was fantastic. I'd like to create another by taking help of this product, so I'll be sending for your catalogue. Regards!

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