The Boatmaker

ONE-LINER: "The Boatmaker" is the story of architect, Ken Minor, who spent 25 years building a beautiful wooden sailboat, by hand, in a barn next to his house in a California canyon, inspired by the dream of sailing around the world.

Short Synopsis:
In the late eighties, architect Ken Minor bought the plans to build a 30' Bristol Channel Cutter wooden sailboat. His dream was to sail around the world. In 1991, he began construction on the boat in his backyard. He even built a barn by himself to house the operation. There isn’t one square inch of the boat that Ken hasn’t constructed by hand, helped design, or installed himself. Everything is custom. There are parts and materials on the boat from around the world.

After 25 years, Ken has finally completed the project and is ready to bring the boat down to the water. “The Boatmaker” is a story about a man, his boat, and what it takes to fulfill a life dream.

Meet Ken Minor, 78, retired architect turned boat builder. A family man, old-fashioned yet a forward thinker inspired by moral principle. Meet Loretta Minor, 76, Ken’s wife - faithful, hardheaded though likable, good with money, and maternal. She’s also been the #1 champion of the boat build since the beginning. These are the two characters at the center of our film.

In 1988, Ken Minor bought the plans to build a 30’ Lyle Hess-design Bristol Channel Cutter wooden sailboat. Although at the time, he ran a very busy and successful architectural design firm, he dreamt a simple dream of building a boat and sailing around the world.

On the surface, “The Boatmaker” is the story of a craftsman, who steadily spends 25 years of his life building a boat, yet there are many layers beneath this man’s story we wanted to tell.

Imagine a big, empty space in the bottom floor of an architectural firm. Ken, the assiduous and imaginative guy he is, began drafting the ribs for his boat in the un-leased basement space in his office building. A few years later, in 1991, he began construction on the boat in his backyard located in the mountains of Sycamore Canyon - Santa Barbara’s lush backdrop. The next step was to protect the boat from the elements so he built a barn by himself to house the operation. As time went on, Ken’s selection for the most optimal parts and materials that were going on the boat became nothing short of obsessive. The boat is furnished with rare types of wood and metal castings from around the globe. He even casted and threaded much of the hardware on his own. There isn’t one square inch of the vessel that Ken hasn’t constructed by hand, helped design, or installed himself. Everything is custom. It's a fine piece of work and perhaps one of the most beautiful wooden boats ever constructed.

Our film has your typical three-act structure. The first two acts of the film are structured around the events that took place during the time we call “the boat move.” Not unlike how the film “Man on Wire” is structured around the big event of walking across the Twin Towers on a metal wire, our film revolves around the process of moving a 16,000lb boat and its cradle out of a California canyon. Throughout the first two acts, we will intercut the nerve-wracking experience of extricating the boat out of the ravine with our main subjects’ personal stories. These vignettes will vary in theme and intent: one thread makes you fall in love with a character, providing essential background information, i.e., Ken’s formative years and how Ken met his wife Loretta. They are informational, well-crafted and endearing personal stories. The other story-types build tension and suspense, serving to break up the film’s peak dramatic event of “the boat move,” i.e., Ken’s house burns down in the Sycamore fire in 1977. Then years later, Ken’s house and boatshed almost burn down again during another fire but miraculously both structures were saved by local firefighters. We will explain the more interesting parts of the boat build animating the best stories from over the years. A lot happened with that boat in the 25+ years of building it. As the narrative unfolds, we reveal that what was at stake was a lot more than what we first suspected about this beautiful boat and its reserved builder.

In the final act of the film, after the audience experiences the excitement of the boat being moved out of the canyon (better known as the climax); the boat successfully gets towed down to the water. In March of 2016, with hundreds of adoring fans looking on, Ken alongside his family and friends launches the boat at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Ken’s boat, ”Morning Song” is probably the last wooden boat of its kind and built locally to ever to be launched there – maybe even the last wooden boat of any kind. Unfortunately, it’s a dying breed. An even bigger and second pay off in our concluding chapter comes when Ken and Loretta sail their boat, one of the most beautiful wooden boats ever built, off into the horizon at sunset. We leave the audience asking, what will their new life be? It’s your quintessential open-ended and thought-provoking ending. “The Boatmaker” is a story about a man and his boat, and what it takes to fulfill a lifelong dream.

  • Casey McGarry
  • Casey McGarry
  • Robert Allan
  • Casey McGarry
  • Ken Minor
    Key Cast
  • Loretta Minor
    Key Cast
  • Teresa Thornburgh
    Key Cast
  • Jacob Venzor
    Key Cast
  • Simon H. Jay
  • Rhyan D'Errico
  • Jesse Natale
  • Eric Foote
  • Topher Osborn
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    37 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    February 1, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    35,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival
    Santa Barbara, CA
    February 10, 2017
  • Impact Docs Awards
    La Jolla, CA
    Award of Merit
  • American Documentary Film Festival
    Palm Springs
    April 2, 2017
  • Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
    Santa Barbara, CA
    June 22, 2017
  • Lobero Theatre - The Boatmaker / The Smog of the Sea
    Santa Barbara, CA
    May 31, 2017
  • Catalina Film Festival
    Avalon, CA
    September 28, 2017
  • International Maritime Film Festival
    Bucksport, ME
    September 30, 2017
    Best Documentary Runner Up
  • Carmel International Film Festival
    Carmel, CA
    October 18, 2017
  • Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival
    Port Townsend, WA
    September 8, 2017
  • Santa Barbara Yacht Club
    Santa Barbara, CA
    October 26, 2017
  • Atlanta Docufest
    Atlanta, GA
  • Ojai Film Festival
    Ojai, CA
    United States
    November 6, 2017
    Gold Coast Series
  • Jacht Film Festival (Maritime Films)
    December 6, 2018
    Best Film - Audience Award
  • San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
    San Luis Obispo, CA
    United States
    March 14, 2018
    Best Documentary Short Film
  • Newport Beach Film Festival
    Newport Beach, CA
    United States
    May 3, 2018
  • Santa Barbara Surf Film Festival
    Santa Barbara
    United States
    November 9, 2019
  • Deep Focus Film Festival
    United States
    October 12, 2019
  • Film Score Film Festival
    United States
    July 26, 2018
  • Ramsgate International Film Festival
    Ramsgate, Kent
    United Kingdom
    March 15, 2018
Director Biography - Casey McGarry

Casey McGarry, Writer / Director / Producer - studied film and creative writing at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in New York City graduating in 2010. He got his start in the documentary world there while working for acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Jennifer Fox. He's worked in scripted TV on such shows as, "South of Nowhere" and "New Girl." He’s had 6 documentary films premiere at SBIFF, including GRASSHOPPER FOR GRANDPA (2015), THE BOATMAKER (2017), CASCARÓN (2018), FROM WATER TO WIND (2019), VUJA DE (2021), and ELECTRIC LADY (2021) . McGarry won best documentary film for “The Boatmaker” at San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Jacht Film Festival (Warsaw, Poland), and at the International Maritime Film Festival in Bucksport, ME. He continues to have his work shown at film festivals and various platforms around the country and is currently developing/ producing multiple documentary and scripted film/TV projects.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

My entrance into the story of “The Boatmaker” was an unexpected one. I only met Ken Minor in February 2016 when, after a quarter century of building a wooden sailboat in his backyard, he was finally ready to put the thing in the water. And boy, am I glad that I picked up a camera and began filming that day because the most important parts of the story were about to unfold, and the majority of the film centers around the events that occurred in the following week. Thank god my film crew and I were there to capture all that was about to take place, because otherwise, there wouldn’t be any film.

A friend of mine named Robert Allan was actually the one who told me about the story of Ken Minor and his boat project. He then insisted that I make a film about him. I was immediately intrigued because it isn’t every day that you stumble upon a story like this, and this just so happened to be the story I had been waiting for. I then asked Robert in return, if I were to direct if he would be a producer on the project. And so it went…

My entrance into the wooden boat world is both personal and completely unexpected as well. Boat building is one of the oldest brands of engineering in human history. Human beings have been building wooden boats for thousands of years. The tradition is a very unique trade to be a part of, and for me, the wooden boat and world cruising communities are without question, a couple of the most interesting and eclectic groups of people in the world.

There’s definitely a romanticism that surrounds the world of wood boats. For some, it comes from the breathtaking feeling of being out on the water sailing on the open ocean, and for other enthusiasts, it’s the actual process of building. Wood boat construction is a learned trade that goes unparalleled to any other form of woodworking. There’s no other higher form of woodworking.

Part of my compulsion in making this film comes from my own fascination with wooden boats. It’s a beautiful tradition that many people don't know anything about. And if there’s one selfish reason I am making this film, it’s because I wanted to learn more about them. I’m sure there are many people who assume that wood boat construction is obsolete, but it’s certainly not. You just have to go find those few pockets around the world where wooden boat communities are thriving. i.e. Port Townsend, Washington…Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts…Risor, Norway, and the list goes on. There is definitely a renaissance period going on with the revival of wood boat construction and a growing enthusiasm in sailing them.

Ken Minor’s uncompromising dedication and superb craftsmanship in finishing his boat, "Morning Song" is not only unbelievable, it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Ken just turned 79 years old and moves around like a guy in his early 50’s… it’s mental. I’m interested in exactly what it is that makes the guy tick. As local fisherman James Cotton puts it in a scene in my film when he’s speaking to Ken's work: "This is probably the last wooden boat that will ever be launched here (at the Santa Barbara Harbor). Nobody builds wood boats anymore. This is such a work of art…there’s bazillions of hours of absolutely perfect woodworking. You don't see anybody who can do this anymore…not since Sugar Lindwall."

Only Ken Minor could build this boat and only Ken Minor would make for a good subject in a documentary like this. I wanted to tell the personal story about a man fulfilling his life dream—the story of Ken Minor and his boat “Morning Song”—but I also want to create access for others into the world of wooden boats and the world cruising communities. The only way I knew how to do that was by making a comprehensive yet universally accessible documentary. I want everyone who watches this film to walk away not only feeling inspired to follow their own dreams, but also knowing a little more about the tradition of building and sailing wooden boats.