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Boat Designer and Teacher Graham Byrnes Honored
A Quarter Century Before The Class
January 26, 2010
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A
quarter century ago, Graham Byrnes and his wife Carla “swallowed the anchor” as a friend put it, and settled in Pamlico County after a circumnavigation.

A short time later, the boat designer was asked to teach a boat-building class at Pamlico Community College. His first class was on January 9, 1985. Hundreds of students (and boats) later, Graham’s still teaching the course, the longest-running in the school’s history.

Graham Byrnes – naval architect, engineer, designer, boat surveyor – and instructor.     (Ben Casey photo)
On January 9th of this year – twenty-five years to the day after students gathered for that very first class – the Pamlico Community College Foundation held a dinner in Graham’s honor. It brought together 100 people: current and former students, friends, fellow circumnavigators and long-distance cruisers.

Among them was Stanley Feigenbaum, who told the crowd that he’d met Graham in Becquia in the early 1980’s while cruising. In that Caribbean anchorage he noticed that the dinghy Graham got to shore in “did everything that mine didn’t: It rowed well and sailed well.” It was one of Graham’s early designs. To Stanley an additional attribute was that “it kept the water out.” Right in that anchorage Stanley bought plans that Graham was selling for the dinghy. As he began building it, he was stunned by how “ridiculously simple they were … even for me.”

His endorsement, “They work. And don’t have a lot of fluff. “

Among the students in Graham’s current class at Pamlico Community College is Bill Creswell, a retired information technology manager, whose class project is the 17-foot Core Sound design.     (Ben Casey photo)
Over the years, Graham’s students at PCC have come to similar conclusions.

The class attracts an array of students. There are retirees, just as there are people very much involved in careers, who find relaxation in “simply messing around with boats.”

Brian Dodds sands the interior of the boat he’s building. It’s an antidote, he says, to working in front of a computer.     (Ben Casey photo)
In Graham’s current class, Becky Fitzgerald installs the mast step on an 11-foot Spindrift. As with many students in Graham’s class, it’s the first boat she has ever built.     (Ben Casey photo)

The recognition goes beyond Pamlico County. Last year, two magazines, Professional Boat Builder and Wooden Boat Magazine held an international wooden boat design competition. There were 73 entries from 16 different countries. Graham Byrnes won with his design for a lightweight fuel-efficient 18’ center-console plywood skiff.

Honored as “An Appostle Of Speed”, Byrnes was featured in an 8-page article in the October 2009 Woodenboat magazine.

When not teaching his course at the community college, and when not surveying boats, Graham works out of a workshop in Vandemere. Over the years, he has drawn designs for not only dinghies and skiffs but for kayaks, and catamarans. The business he and his wife Carla run – B&B Yachts — sell them to boat-builders all over the world. Earlier this month designs were mailed to Spain, Germany, Scotland, New Zealand and the Phillipines.

The 11-foot Spindrift is the most popular boat to build in the Pamlico Community College class. Graham says over 800 have been built around the world, used both in class racing and often as a yacht tender.

A sign in Graham’s Vandemere workspace reads, “If God had intended man to have fiberglass boats, he would have created fiberglass trees.”

It makes visitors smile, but Graham does not insist on only building boats with wood. While he say wood is the best material for first-time boat builders and students, Graham’s many boat designs have been built of various materials: wood, steel, ferro-cement as well as, yes, fiberglass. At the moment he’s working on building a 40-foot luxury power catamaran – in fiberglass.

A fast design for racing – the 22’ Cat Ketch “Southern Skimmer”

In addition to designing, building and surveying boats, Graham Byrnes also sails the ones he makes in races. One of his most memorable wins came in 1993 in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a race sponsored by Wooden Boat Magazine with 103 entries, and Graham came in both first in his class and first in the fleet. In 2006 he sailed his 22-foot “Southern Skimmer” to first place in the 300-mile Everglades Challenge. In 2007, that same boat won the Whortonsville Cup Summer Solstice Regatta.

A native of Brisbane, Australia, Graham Byrnes studied boat building and design at Brisbane Technical School, now part of Queensland University.

Friends and circumnavigators, Ed Boden, Graham Byrnes and Jim Brown. (Ed and Graham first met while sailing in Penang, on the west coast of Malaysia, in 1976.)

In the 25 years since he started teaching the course at Pamlico Community College, Graham Byrnes notes that there have been some changes in boat building. Computers are now used for boat design, and sometimes even teamed with a saw to cut out components. Still, there remain some constants, says Byrnes. “The laws of the sea have not changed. We still have to compete with nature and nature does not cut us any slack.”

More photos from the Pamlico Community College Foundation dinner for Graham Byrnes, on the next page.

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Posted Tuesday January 26, 2010 by Keith N. Smith


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