“Every boat is copied from another boat….It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up on the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied….One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.”

- Émile Chartier

I thought of this quote while writing the latest Distance story on Van Dam Custom Boats, a Michigan-based maker of wooden boats that’s been in business for 38 years. Van Dam Custom Boats builds just two to four boats a year, and a single boat can take up to two years to complete because each one is made by hand—eight to 10 pairs of hands, to be more precise. It’s a small shop committed to craftsmanship the old-fashioned way, including thousands of hours of sanding the boats by hand.

Photo by Michael Berger

There are probably faster or cheaper ways to build boats. But the Van Dams have successfully put their boats up against unforgiving waters from Lake Michigan to the Mediterranean Sea for almost four decades. The sea, you could say, has validated the Van Dam way.