How do you get from a dream to a reality?
You build it.
One boat at a time.
For over forty years.
This is the story of Sam Devlin, a man who has been committed to his craft, year after year, building boats with a consistency and level of quality that only comes through time and steadfast effort.
His legacy has been hard earned.
And it’s still being written.
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THAT IS A LOT OF BOATS
Since 1977, Sam has designed and crafted it all…
You may have even seen one of his artistically shaped and elegant boats out on the water or in the marina and not even known it.
From New England, to the Pacific Northwest, to the waterways of Canada, Sam has personally crafted boats that have ended up in all the corners of North America.
And thanks to his mission to make many of his drawings, build plans, and designs available for other builders to purchase, follow, and craft from, his impact and his boat designs can be seen in over 85 countries around the world.
He has shipped design plans to countries like Egypt, Bosnia, Indonesia, India, Guam, and more.
All in all, we are talking about more than 430 boats… and counting.
That is a lot of boats.
And enjoyed by folks of all kinds.
From an early age, Sam was drawn to the art and essence of wooden boats, over other mediums like wholly fiberglass boats and metal boats.
While working on a tugboat in Alaska in the mid-1970s, the blaze for building was stoked within him, and it’s been burning since.
Starting with initial sketches, transitioning to CAD drawings at scale, and then shifting into the hands-on shaping of the wood and finishing with assembly, Sam is an end-to-end builder, with knowledge that runs incredibly deep, especially when it comes to problem solving and adapting to the specifics of each project.
Offering many of his boat designs with construction plans and buildable kits, Sam is genuinely interested in seeing others start their own journey in the world of wooden boat building, too.
He knows the value of creating something with your hands, and so in addition to doing his own hands-on building, he creates kits for the aspiring builder to assemble on their own time.
He has a visually impressive catalog of designs, with an eye for precision, fueled by his deep passion for chasing the horizon.
A pioneer in the “Stitch and Glue” method of building, Sam has designed and built boats ranging from 6 feet to over 60 feet, and has received recognition from the global community of wooden boat builders.
The Stitch and Glue method uses panels made of professional grade marine plywood as the puzzle pieces. Then using wire stitches, known as sutures, the various panels are held together until they can be permanently joined (or fused), through the use of epoxy resin and fiberglass tape.
With this process, all these separate panels create one, seamless shell. The entirety of the outside of the hull is coated with fiberglass or Dynel cloth sheathing.
All exposed wood is then coated with epoxy to protect the boat from the wear of sun and the sea and to retain the uniquely beautiful characteristics inherent to wooden boats.
Finally, if desired by the customer he is building for, each boat can be finished with the highest quality marine paint, to give a stunning mirror sheen finish to the whole project.
The boat design process is one of the most creative things I know. It’s what drives my spirit and my day to day endeavors. It’s a rare day that I’m not thinking of something new and different.
While there are many boat builders out there that are creating very technologically seaworthy vessels, Sam is creating those same vessels, but with an additional layer of craftsmanship he prioritizes above all: he seeks that perfect balance of those classic nautical lines joined with more modern, highly refined, and intuitively functional touches.
It might be one of the reasons he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement in Design Award by Wooden Boat Magazine, back in 2012.
BUILDING BOATS… AND A BUSINESS
These days, having a sense of home is a rare thing.
For many people, life is so decentralized, mobile, and nomadic.
But for Sam, home is the south end of the Puget Sound of Washington state, where his design studio, sheds, storage barns, and home have been for a long time.
Building his company from the ground up, into what it is today, is a testament to the formula of producing incredible work time after time, plus investing into valuable relationships, plus treating customers and collaborators with the dignity they deserve.
It doesn’t take more than a few moments of listening to Sam speak about his passion to come to the conclusion that the peace he feels on the water and the sense of fulfillment he gets from crafting these beautiful vessels is what fuels his confidence that he is in the right place, doing the right thing, in the right way.
But like any company that has left a wake of impact behind the size of Devlin’s, it takes a team, and Sam has brought in a talented, hard-working, and skilled team to adopt his vision in their own way, working together to keep the machine turning.
Joel, Lee, and Torsten make up the roster of minds and builders at Devlin.
They each bring their own set of personal expertise, their own unique eye, and their own organizational and critical thinking skill sets to the table.
But as a harmonious unit, they partner with Sam to continue the legacy of combining the old, timeless traditions of wooden boat building, while assisting in bringing it into the modern era.
WHAT THE WATER GIVES US
One of the things about open water, like a lake or ocean, is the draw that it has.
It magnetizes us to itself.
For Sam, it’s hard to go even a day without thinking about being in a boat out on the water, always learning, slowing down, and getting to tap into the beauty of the world’s most voluminous resource.
Being on the water also gives him time near some of the wildlife of his region. Many of his boat designs are named after species of birds, and alongside his passion for building, Sam has a deep appreciation for wildlife.
All these years later, after hundreds of completed projects, each giving a unique contribution to his skillset and pool of experience, he still has the drive to keep creating.
The possibilities are endless.
His art never stops.
It keeps stretching out ahead.
Like the open water, stretching out to the horizon line.
And he is still chasing it.
All photos: Andy Cochrane
Video: Adam Wells