The goal of the Antique&Classic Boatshow, sadly cancelled this year, is to ignite a passion for wooden boatbuilding. By encouraging the return, to the Knysna area, of examples of the early boatbuilders and the restoration of these vessels for others to admire, we hope to turn the tide in the demise of these beautiful boats. In over a century, Thesens built thousands of boats of all shapes and sizes, over 600 for the war effort alone. (reference the Thesens catalogue)

So it’s not surprising when one of these boats pops up on auction. It’s just that they hardly ever do. I had to see the boat for myself so set off with trailer just in case I was able to secure it. A first glance it was in reasonable shape although the floors made a close examination of the hull impossible. The overall impression is the amount of work that went into the construction; the steam bent ribs and hundreds of copper rivets, the weight of the yellowwood planking, if available today, would cost a small fortune and require an expert sawmill to produce planking of sufficient length and quality. The supports are single chunks of this wood taken from a branch intersection to match the shape required, age beautifully etched into each piece like a unique signature to time. And the badge, often missing, proving that this work was done by Thesens of Knysna.

Thesen & Co Knysna

The first question I’m asked after loading her onto the trailer is ‘what a boat like this is worth?’ The question is a difficult one to answer - the value of that much yellowwood today is relatively easy to answer. However it’s the cost of labour by a skilled carpenter that really starts to add up. And how do you put a price to the rarity of the boat, the passage of time it’s survived and the memories associated with it, the fun that has been had in it?

Thesen wooden rowboat

The question must be ‘what is a boat like this worth to you’.

It’s of little practical value, too heavy to row easily and surpassed in comfort by its modern, plastic counterpart. It is beautiful though, more beautiful than anything you’ve seen before, because it’s one of a kind really. The badge isn’t aluminum, but brass ( obviously ) and testament to her age and provenance.

Thesen & Co Knysna

The seating oregan pine, darkened by age and (once varnished) seemingly polished to a high gloss by the numerous passengers she’s carried.

Oregan seat Thesen rowboat

Overall the hull is in great condition. Some fresh water had been allowed inside the hull, probably at the auction house, causing the paint to lift with just vacuum suction. Once dried out she’s sound and probably water tight after a little swelling. There is caulking string between hull and skeg and various attempts at problem solving are visible that are best removed. So starts the enjoyable task of returning her to her best possible condition and to the water, the same water that fed the forest that made her.

Thesen co wooden rowboat