Andrew Simpson knows a cranky old boatbuilder in Australia, where he lives. The guy grew so tired of answering questions from curious passersby that he hung a sign: “Don’t talk to me.”
Simpson knows from experience: If you’re building a boat, they will come. “I’ve had neighbors we’ve never said a word to sidle up and say, ‘Did I ever tell you my uncle built a boat?'” he reports in his thick Aussie accent. “It’s a real thing.”
He’s only half-joking when he says he should put a conversation-starter warning on the classic rowboats and sailboats he designed for the Balmain Boat Company, his three-year-old venture in partnership with brand creator Nicole Still. The company promises to make the daunting task of building your own boat a reality. Named for the traditional boatbuilding waterfront just west of Sydney’s central business district, Balmain Boat has made good on their promise with customers as far flung as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Simpson is an industrial designer who has created cameras for Sony and dog products for Purina, among many other things. After working on glass packaging for a vitamin product they conceived, the two entrepreneurs vowed to work together again at some point.
On a whim, Simpson went out to Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, where he spent 10 days teaching himself to build a boat. “I got obsessed,” he says. “It wasn’t amazing, but all the principles were there.” He showed it to Still, who was instantly smitten. She saw countless family stories in the making, and the pair launched the Balmain Boat Company around the idea that building a DIY boat will make parents and grandparents look like legends.
“I build hundreds of things a year, and nothing is as rewarding,” says Simpson.
The company wouldn’t exist without Still’s marketing ideas, he says. It’s how they’ve overcome reservations about the fact that the boat is a kit. “A lot of men think they should do the whole thing themselves – cut the tree, shape the timber,” he says. “It’s clearly never going to happen. It takes a woman to say, look, this is building a boat.”
Unfortunately for Simpson, his young children have not known a day when they didn’t have boats he made. “My girls just think that dads build boats,” he says with a laugh. “They’re horribly disappointed I haven’t built them a treehouse yet.”
More information: Australia’s Balmain Boat Company wants to prove that anybody can build a boat, and as we can attest after building the Classic Rowboat: If you can hammer a nail and ice a cake, as they like to say, then you can build the company’s classic rowboat. The parts are shipped flat-packed, precut, and ready for assembly. Click on “View More Photos” to see a step-by-step gallery of our experience building the rowboat. [Classic Rowboat kit, $1,799. Classic Sailboat kit, $2,899; thebalmainboatcompany.com]