Grant House Folk Art Center, Vancouver, Washington

25' English Royal Navy Cutter

In 1992 I built a replica of an English ship's boat, or cutter, that was used by an expedition led by Lieutenant William Broughton in the first European exploration of the Columbia River. The original expedition was in 1792 and I built the cutter in a city that owes its name to those first British explorers. The cutter was built over a period of six months and over 20,000 people visited the site. The plans for the boat were provided by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. The original boat would have been built of white oak and wych elm. The replica was built of native woods including Douglas fir backbone, Oregon white oak frames and Port Orford cedar planking.

After launching I led a reenactment of the original ten-day, 120-mile upriver journey, 200 years to the day of the original. With the Lady Washington, a replica ship from Aberdeen, Washington, flying the British flag and portraying Broughton's flagship HMS Chatham, we began our journey at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. On our way upriver to a spot where Broughton planted the British flag, we stopped at his historic campsites and left markers, where we were hosted and provided community lectures about Broughton's voyage. For two days of the journey we had favorable winds and sailed. Under oars, the cutter could easily average three miles per hour.

Cutters were the fastest type of ships boats then in use in the Royal Navy. Other boat types carried aboard ship were launches, galleys, gigs, barges and jolly boats. Cutters originated as smuggler's boats in the town of Deal, England and their hull shape is reminiscent of the later American whitehall.

The sketch is by John Sykes, a crew member of Captain George Vancouver's 1792 voyage of exploration to the Northwest coast (Washington State Historical Society collection). It shows ship's boat being used to survey the coastline of present day Port Townsend, Washington. The poles on shore were used by natives to string nets for catching birds.


As part of the project, I planned and developed the project budget, and helped with fundraising and public relations. Please see my Research and Publications page for several of my articles on this project.

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