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Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Steve Bush was buying rope at a dockside kiosk in Gold River when something beautiful caught his eye. A long, low, narrow hull with a tall mast and a teak deck floated at the end of the fueling dock. “I said, ‘this thing is beautiful, wouldn’t it be nice to have one?’” he says.

Soon after, he went sailing on a friend’s similar boat in Chester (called Mighty Mo) and loved it. Steve Bush wanted one of his own.

Source: IOD World Class Association

The boat is an International One Design, or IOD. A popular racing boat, the IOD is 33 feet long with an open cockpit. In the 1930’s American yachtsman Cornelius Shields commissioned Norwegian designer-builder Bjarne Aas to build a boat for one-design sailing. Having one set of standards—every boat and set of sails the same size, shape and weight—would make racing more exciting. Design would be the same across boats and sailing skills would shine.

The first batch of Norwegian-built IODs sailed in 1936 in New York. Seven more hit the water in Bermuda the next year. Today there are 13 fleets of racing IODs across the world recognized by the IOD World Class Association. One of those fleets sails in Chester, Nova Scotia, where Steve lives with his wife Peggy.

After seeing the pretty boat in Gold River Steve was preoccupied with the IOD. Luckily for him, that winter Peggy decided to give him a Christmas gift that floats: an IOD of his own. They couldn’t find a second-hand hull they liked, so they began looking for a boat builder. They didn’t have to look far.

“We had seen the work that the Tern Boatworks people had done on the restoration of [classic Hereshoff P class wooden yacht] Seneca,” says Steve, “so it seemed worthwhile to talk to Bruce Thompson.”

They called Tern Boatworks and asked Bruce to build a brand new wood IOD.

Tern Boatworks is located in Gold River, Nova Scotia, near Chester. Bruce was happy to be given the task. “We were super excited,” he says, “it was a dream project.”

The project represented new steps in IOD building: “We had to get permission to build it,” says Bruce, “We had to actually apply to the association...we basically had to do a resume just to get permission to get the drawings.”

It wasn’t the last time they would rise to the high standards of the IOD World Class Association.

Next was the question of how to build it in wood. “We were as green as grass when it comes to the idea of building a new wooden boat,” says Steve.

They started with lofting, then the backbone structures. A shop in Newport, Rhode Island had a mould to make IOD class keels. Bruce commissioned the piece from there. “So, he got 4,000 pounds of lead delivered in the shape of an IOD keel to his shop there in Gold River,” says Steve, “then he started tracking down the materials.”

Plans called for Oregon Pine. Bruce got ahold of Douglas fir from B.C. for the hull as an alternative. The backbone structures—framing, floors, keel, stem, stern post—were made with White Oak from Vermont.

Wood timbers were cut into planks and soaked in Gold River to keep the moisture content high. When it was time for framing, the timbers would go into the steam box for about an hour per inch. A simple pine box with a lobster boiling pot provided intense wet heat.

When the planks had steamed enough, they’d be pulled from the steam box and bent onto the frame by hand.

“When you take it out of the steam box you have to move quickly. It’ll bend like a noodle if you’ve got everything right,” explains Bruce, “but once you get going it actually goes quite quickly. I think we framed [the hull] in two days.”

With the framing and planking done, the deck structures and cabin hardware was constructed.

Tern also created all the bronze hardware on the IOD. They built their own furnace for the job. “We were young and had lots of time,” chuckles Bruce, “and we were super excited about the project.”

Raw ingots were bought from Montreal. The furnace melted them down and the liquid brass was poured into sand moulds that Tern made.

The metal in the boat is also part of the traditional-style build. Instead of glue or other adhesives like a modern style of build, “with a traditional boat you’re just using fasteners and relying on good fits of planks so that they swell and keep the water out,” says Bruce. The metal on the boat is all bronze and fastened with copper rivets and bronze screws. “It’s old school stuff,” he continues, “but it’s pretty interesting when you actually do it.”

After less than a year, the project was done. “It took a little longer than we thought but we built it in 9 months,” reflects Bruce, “which was pretty fast, looking at it now.”

Launch day came. “It was in the cradle there at Gold River on the tracks and it just went on down in, and it was really exciting,” says Steve, “there it was. This beautiful boat sitting there, and it was nearby the dock where we’d seen the first IOD. And what’s not to like when you have something that’s undeniably a success?”

The new IOD sailed out Gold River and into the bay. Merry Christmas, Steve!

But, it wasn’t officially an IOD yet. The IOD Class Association had to give their blessing. They sent an official measurer and two other people to take a look. “They picked it up with a crane and a scale, and then they went around and measured all kinds of things on the boat” says Bruce, “we were a bit nervous about it because this was if it was officially going to be accepted as an IOD, because they could have said, ‘nope. We’re not accepting this, it’s not an IOD.’”

Tern’s boat passed inspection. “The biggest discrepancy they could find was 1/8 of an inch,” says Bruce, “which is pretty good for something hand-built.”

The boat was official, and could race in the fleet. But it needed a name.

“We were puzzling and puzzling and puzzling, and tried a million different things,” recalls Steve, “and finally realized that the whole naming project was an Enigma. So that’s the name we got.”

Enigma floats in Chester, races in Chester Race Week every year, and provides Steve and Peggy with plenty of enjoyment every season. They got just what they wanted.

“Wooden boats appeal because they’re a living creature, and they have a certain nature, a closer approximation to real and natural things than glass and a nice paint job,” explains Steve,” so we had in mind not just a boat that could race effectively, but a boat that was representative of the history of the IOD class [and] that was an example, we were hoping, of Nova Scotian craftsmanship.”

As for Bruce, he still likes to talk about the project more than ten years later.

“To build a boat from scratch in traditional material is a rare thing these days,” he says, “so when you get a customer that comes and wants you to do that, it’s pretty good.”

Enigma competing in Chester Race Week 2022


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