BY KIM KAVIN APR 25, 2018
In the online postings, the dust jackets on the books are torn and faded, not from lack of care but from love of use. Many of the pictures show the cover of The Troller Yacht Book, which evolved from the 1999 first-edition subtitle “A Powerboater’s Guide to Crossing Oceans” into 2011’s second edition, with the arguably more everyman subtitle “How to Cross Oceans Without Getting Wet or Going Broke.”
It’s that authenticity that people loved about author and yacht designer George Buehler, who died Feb. 28, following an aortic aneurysm near his Pacific Northwest home. He was 69.
“He did trap and skeet shooting,” his wife of 32 years, Gail Buehler, told Soundings. “He had the truck down the hill and was going to go shooting. That’s when he keeled over in the front yard. It was totally out of the blue.”
Buehler’s work on the Troller books, as well as on 1990’s Buehler’s Backyard Boatbuilding, made him such a presence in the cruising community that, upon his death, boaters on numerous forums posted photos of copies from their personal libraries. They wrote about the inspiration he had been in their lives.
“I had his first book by my side when rebuilding my sailboat,” one fan wrote.
“George was an extremely kind, generous and patient man, particularly with annoying rookies like me,” another commented.
“His do-it-yourself methods and colorful writing were inspiring to me and a big part of what got me interested in wooden boats,” a third chimed in.
And yet another: “I was always impressed with his writing and his mission to inspire those who had a dream to be able to conceptualize and actualize it.”
Born in 1948 in Oregon, Buehler had an early love of boatbuilding, as well as boats. He spent time in Maine, working as a hand in boatyards, and began designing boats full time around 1978. He described himself as self-taught, including his embrace of computers in the late ’80s. He saw the computer as a way to edit his designs into exactly what he envisioned without having to redraw them again and again on paper.
His design philosophy was that boating should be fun and accessible to lots of people because different types of boats make different kinds of fun possible. His primary niche was cruising boats that were simple, reliable and affordable — boats that virtually anyone could build and run.
At first he drew sailboats, but the purchase of $3,000 in sails for a 50-foot schooner piqued Buehler’s interest in cruising powerboats. He realized that, at the time, the same amount of money would’ve fueled a boat for nearly 23,000 miles, making the powerboat less expensive to own and operate than a sailboat with an elaborate rig.
In 1990, inspired by salmon trawlers of the Pacific Northwest, he designed the 38-foot Diesel Duck, a raised pilothouse design. More models followed, ranging from 38 to 55 feet. By 2012, Seahorse Marine in China was working on Diesel Duck hulls that numbered into the mid-50s, a custom builder in Turkey had a few under construction, and individuals had built their own to cruise everywhere from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes.
Unlike a lot of designers who work exclusively with shipyards, Buehler saw individual boaters as his primary market, his wife says. “He was kind of a loner,” she says. “He mostly sold plans to people to build their own boats.”
One of the people who bought Buehler’s plans was Scott Smith, a police officer who lives near Rochester, New York, and has a cottage on the Finger Lakes. Smith had never owned or built a boat, but he’d been an amateur woodworker for 20 years. He found one of Buehler’s books online while trying to build a 14½-foot boat, and the book opened his mind to building a 41-foot Diesel Duck.
“He was very plain-spoken,” Smith says. “He removed a lot of the jargon. There are many people who want to believe that they’re really special and that building a boat or woodworking is beyond the reach of normal people, and George was completely the opposite. He was of the opinion that this was not some obscure art form that only the rich and talented can do. A DIY guy can figure it out.”
Smith reached out to what he assumed would be a staffer at Buehler’s office to ask some questions. The next day, Buehler responded personally. “He was very approachable,” Smith says. “He was very patient with my questions, quick to respond, attentive. I was impressed.”
Buehler had been wanting to update his plans for the 41-foot Diesel Duck, Smith says. Now he had a reason. During the course of a few months, Smith adds, “He sent me an electronic version of each slide. As he completed things, he sent them, and I could check them out. It really worked out well. I was able to digest one thing at a time, to understand how these components were going together.”
That was during the summer of 2016. Today, Smith has laid the keel and built the frames, all of locally harvested white oak.
“George was selling a book that was in a universal language,” Smith says. “The diagrams, the pictures, the plans — that’s all universal. He was able to speak to people all around the world. There’s a cult following with these Diesel Ducks. They’re not snobby, rich-guy yachts. This is boating for all the people.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue.