November 14th, 2005

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Stu Williams
By Benjamin A. Hart (benjo), Missoula, MT.

Behind a dilapidated house on the outskirts of Missoula, MT underneath a 1000 square foot gothic greenhouse heirloom driftboats are built one at a time. In an industry dominated by mass produced boats made of fiberglass and aluminum there are still a few people out there proving that the beauty of wood is more than skin deep, Stu Williams is one of them.

Stu builds boats, and since he lives right down the street I sometimes drop by for a beer and watch him work wood into all types of watercraft, mostly drift-boats. Stu started building musical instruments at 15 with a $30.00 jig saw and a "terminal case of determination." The son of a custom gun-maker he says he's got the smell of walnut in his blood. He built about a hundred mandolins, fiddles and guitars over the years. Eventually landing in Missoula Montana, which Stu refers to as the "center of the universe," he worked some different jobs, some building and other woodworking.

In 1989 Stu built his first boat because he wanted one. Before completing it he had orders for two more. He's been building them ever since, refining his designs with customer input and is approaching his 100th boat.

I watch Stu drill a drain hole and insert a brass fitting and offer him a beer. A lot more beers go into the building of a driftboat than you might think; "A dump truck full delivered by my support crew" says Stu. It generally takes about eight weeks for him to finish a boat, building solo. I look at some of the pieces used to build this particular boat; there's some black walnut, and a lot of oak with the most beautiful figuring on it. There's a lot more that goes into these things: coastal marine plywood, four gallons of epoxy, red oak, vermillion, local Douglas fir, walnut and some nice brass.

Stu loves to talk design. He builds a wide boat that doesn't need to be overpowered. He prefers to outfit them with nine foot ash oars from New Zeland. I used to think that was too short for a Stu boat until I rowed one and the response was great. The boats track and row is unbelievably easy. His boats have a wide transom, and as a guide I appreciate a feature like that because sometimes the guy in the back of the boat is pretty wide. More surface area means more buoyancy and a higher ride despite additional weight in the back. Over the years he's tweaked some things like oarlock placement and seat height. He's added creature comforts like drink holders, a very open cockpit, and just the right amount of storage space. A lot of care goes into bottoming a Stu boat and the result is a very slick buoyant bottom that will stand up to abuse.

As I sit around and shoot the breeze with Stu, he shows me a steelhead he just caught on the Clearwater and I tell him how my hunting season is going. Stu always says he's on "geologic time" though he moves along at a good pace pausing only for a drink of Bayern Troutslayer. Each boat is built with Stu's blood sweat and tears and to row one is to appreciate that.

You can check out Stu on the web at: montanaboat.com ~ Benjo


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