How To Build A Boat

A Father, his Daughter, and the Unsailed Sea

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About The Book

 ‘The passages he addresses directly to Phoebe are as tender as the father-daughter letters in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Seasons Quartet’ - Times Literary Supplement

‘This book tells the inspiring story of how even the least skilled of us can make something wonderful if we invest enough time and love’ The Daily Mail.

'Both the book, and place, are magical' The Sunday Telegraph

'When Jonathan Gornall decided to build a boat for his daughter, he had no experience and no practical skills. What followed was a very real labour of love.' The Scotsman


One man learns the ancient skills of boat-building to connect with fatherhood.


How to Build a Boat is the story of a thoroughly unskilled modern man who, inspired by his love of the sea and what it has taught him about life, sets out to build a traditional wooden boat as a gift for his newborn daughter. It is, he recognises, a ridiculously quixotic challenge for a man who, with a family and mortgage to support, knows little about woodworking and even less about boat-building. He isn’t even sure what type of boat he should build, what type of wood he should use, the tools he will need or, come to that, where on earth he will build it. He has much to consider, and even more to learn.

But, undaunted by his ignorance, he embarks on a voyage of rediscovery, determined to navigate his way back to a time when a man could fashion his future and leave his mark on history using only time-honoured skills and the ancient tools and materials at hand. The journey begins with a search for clues in the once bustling, but now still, creeks and backwaters of his beloved Suffolk, where men once fashioned the might of Nelson’s navy from the great oaks that shadowed the water’s edge. If all goes to plan, it will end with a great little adventure, as father and daughter cast off together for a voyage of discovery that neither will forget, and both will treasure until the end of their days.

A writer following in the bestselling footsteps of Adam Nicolson, Tim Moore and Charlie Connelly – discovering what make modern man tick through the discovery of a craft long forgotten.

About The Author

Jonathan Gornall is an award-winning freelance journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK. He has twice attempted to row across the Atlantic. On the first occasion he almost lost his mind, on the second his life, and now he’s done with all that. His next adventure will be a four-mile circumnavigation of Horsey Island in the Walton Backwaters, which he will attempt with his daughter, Phoebe, when she turns five.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (June 2018)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471164781

Raves and Reviews

'The passages he addresses directly to Phoebe are as tender as the father-daughter letters in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Seasons Quartet'

– Times Literary Supplement

'This book tells the inspiring story of how even the least skilled of us can make something wonderful if we invest enough time and love.'

– Daily Mail

'Both the book, and place, are magical.'

– Sunday Telegraph

'When Jonathan Gornall decided to build a boat for his daughter, he had no experience and no practical skills. What followed was a very real labour of love.'

– The Scotsman

'In an age of instant everything, this is a charming book about handcrafting something that does not arrive in a cardboard box and snap together. It is a story about taming impatience, facing fears, and softening skepticism. With love as a motivation, each of us may undertake things that seem impossible.'

– Tori Murden McClure, author of A Pearl in the Storm, President of Spalding University, and the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean

'There are few sailing books that a sailor could recommend to anyone, but How to Build a Boat is one of them, a first-person narrative about boatbuilding and fatherhood...moving, funny and perceptive...it is Gornall's biggest achievement to turn a detailed description of building a timber dinghy into a real page-turner.'

– Classic Boat

'The inspiring story of how even the least skilled of us can make something wonderful if we invest enough time and love.'

– Irish Daily Mail

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