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James Frecheville- A passion for building wooden boats

by Lee Mylchreest on 5 May 2013
Sharpie - painstakingly built SW
James Frecheville learnt to sail at the age of 8. I don't know when he developed his passion for wooden boats and the creation of a boat an owner will 'not own, but have stewardship over' but it must have developed during his long career of sailing everything from skiff to cruising keelboat.

Now, in his workshop in Paynesville, overlooking Gippsland Lakes, James is dedicated to the creation of classic wooden boats, individual creations which will last a lifetime. This is in total contrast to the way that modern boat building is heading - plastic designer name-brand yachts, getting bigger and flashier every year.

With over forty years experience on the water and an abiding passion for boats made of wood, he has established a reputation for high quality boat repair, restoration and boatbuilding in his business of 15 years.


And his experience isn't only confined to Australian waters. With his wife he built and sailed a small classic yacht to England, and has sailed extensively the waters of Australia and Europe.

His travels also inspired him and increased the finesse of his workmanship. In England he worked alongside mastercraftmen at Freebodys, a famous boatyard on the river Thames restoring and building fine classic launches.

Now the boats he builds might cost a packet and can take two years to build, but they are sourced from rare recycled timbers and feature vintage paintwork.


Even though his yachts might cost more than your average production yacht, James says he's so dedicated to the classic boat tradition he's prepared to do much of it for love, not money.

'We could do 40 hours of work and if we charge 30 hours that's good.

But he is not complaining. 'I'm a lucky man, he told the Weekly Times recently. 'I get to play with boats - that appeals to my creative side.

'And people who buy from us want something a bit different. They don't want to have a Holden Commodore like everyone else. They want a wooden boat that they don't own, but have stewardship over. It's maintaining history.

'I'm a purveyor of dreams. That's what people come to me for - they dream of a classic wooden boat.'


In all his boats he uses centuries-old traditions combined with modern electrical mechanics and engineering - although he doesn't cover such areas as upholstery or welding.

He says his customer base is small but zealous. 'It's a limited market for wooden boats. People have got to want one and wait maybe years,' he says. 'You can write a cheque and go boating tomorrow in a polyester thing.

'But those modern fibreglass boats have no soul. You have no affinity with them.'

However, he agrees that to be a traditional boat builder requires a degree of insanity. 'If you aren't mad about boats, you can't work in this industry, because it's hard, dirty and challenging, not an easy artisan trade to be in.'

If you, also, are passionate about wooden boats, you can find out more about James Frecheville at Heaney Boat builders. Their website is www.fhboats.com.au

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