Some Words on Jim Steele Peapods
By Maynard Bray
Construction Photos By Robin Jettinghoff
These peapods are traditionally built without plastics or plywood, which seems fitting for a type of boat so steeped in history. Long-lasting northern white cedar from locally harvested trees is fashioned into the planking, floorboards and seats, while the backbone and ribs are of good grade oak–a dense wood that's known for its toughness and ability to hold fastenings securely. Oak's flexibility when softened by steam also makes it a natural for a peapod's bent frames and seat knees.
Although glue is used here and there, the primary fastenings are copper rivets. They attach the planking to the frames as well as hold the rails (called the inwales and guardrails) to each other along the sheer, with the hull sandwiched between. Copper has proven one of the most durable metals ever used in salt water, and a rivet, because it passes all the way through the wood and captures it between its head and its peened-over opposite end, will never lose its grip. A few bronze screws and a handful of bronze bolts are used where riveting isn't possible or practical. These, like the rivets, have proven to be long lived and will never rust away like steel even in the most severe service.
To keep the peapod watertight, the planking seams are caulked with cotton, then puttied flush. This has proven itself over many years in all kinds of boats and in many environments. As long as you use common sense in preventing the planks from excessively shrinking while out of the water, leaking will never become a problem that goes beyond the usual few hours of springtime swelling.
Rowing a peapod is a delightful experience no matter how many people are aboard. Like any rowboat, you just have to make sure the stern is a little lower than the bow so she'll track and not sheer off to one side. Peapods are symmetrical, so the choice of which end is the bow is yours; just consider the stern to be the end that's setting deepest in the water. These boats are slim enough to move gingerly, yet sufficiently stable to move around in without fear of a capsize. A naturally buoyant hull shape makes them exceptionally dry and seaworthy whether loaded with passengers or being towed in rough weather.
Either afloat or pulled up on a beach, Jim Steele peapods are among the most lovely creations you'll ever lay eyes on, a harmony of curves that taken together looks just right. It's really remarkable that something so beautiful can function so very well under so many conditions.