Alba was first thought of in 1998, slowly developing from an idea to into a solid plan. A year later the plan crystallized. Coincidentally, the site chosen for building the Alba, was called Astilleros (shipyard or dockyard), a beach on which schooners and two-masted sailing ships which cruised these channels were built and repaired of old.
The traditional processes of wooden ship building are very different to the methods which are commercially used to build today's yachts. Historically, on deciding to build a boat, one did not turn to a naval engineer, but consulted a hull designer or model-maker. This craftsman would carve a half hull model of the projected vessel which reflected those features required for a craft to undergo river or ocean voyages.
Why does the process begin with a half hull, being this only half of the needed shape? This is done to insure the symmetry of the vessel, since the measurements for the craft are directly derived from the half hull model.
The number of vessels the craftsman has successfully designed makes him sought out within his trade. His reputation derives precisely from the number of boats he has designed which for years have successfully resisted the onslaught of bad weather, without unnecessary risk to cargo or crew. No buoyancy or stability tests were carried out when carving the half hull. The craftsman's experience, suggested the appropriate beam for the planned length and height of the vessel, which in turn allowed the required speed and load capacity to be met.
Builder and owner discussed and considered the lines of the half hull in depth, examining and reviewing their elegance from all possible angles. They discussed how the bow would cut the waves, how the hull would resist a broadside surge, and other such matters before reaching a consensus on the final design. Making the hull sleeker was not difficult, applying the rasp or sandpaper would correct the design, however if they were used in excess, the whole process had to be started over.
The half hull was carved on a set of carefully sized overlapping boards, each of the same height, firmly joined by two or more wooden dowels, forming a rectangular block. The length, width and height of the block must allow the carving of a perfectly scaled down model of the projected ship, reflecting the desired length, beam and strut of the hull.
Once the carved model is completed, the design is transferred to paper; the boards that make up the model are separated, and their outline is traced on graph paper (in the past, they would have been drawn in a sand box). This procedure produces the basic blueprints.
The number of ribs (sometimes referred to as frames) needed to shape and give strength to the hull is defined taking into account the length of the ship and the later use of the ship, ensuring the necessary endurance to face the natural thrust of water and the onslaught of waves.
Parallel lines are then drawn perpendicularly to the centerline at the distance defined between ribs. This determines the "width" of the hull at each water line.
These measurements define the shape of each rib, and which can then be scaled to its real size. These shapes are then copied onto light and flexible planks, to be first used by the woodsmen when they look for "crooked logs" in the forest (trees or branches which grow naturally curved during their development), and later by the builders to ensure the correct final curvature of the finished rib.
Some timber must be specially chosen, as it defines the final form of the craft. The keel and the keelson (timber lying above and parallel to the keel of a boat) come from large old trees, and must be straight and strong. The stem comes from a "crooked tree", one which may have grown on the side of a shady ravine. These are the main pieces that define the final length of the vessel.
The logs are gathered, roughly shaped and stacked to allow them to dry. Once they are dry enough, the keel is set in place, and the physical construction of the vessel finally begins. The keel will not be moved from its position until the finished vessel is launched.
The next step is to attach the stem post at the prow and the stern post aft. The ribs are individually mounted, and set into the keel at predetermined distances, thus the hull acquires a defined ashape. Once the ribs are set, they are held fast by the keelson which in turn is bolted to the keel.
Next the beams, straight timbers connecting each set of ribs, are set in place. This completes an inverted arch and provides a sturdy base on which the deck will be built. The ribs are then tied into the structure by long wooden pieces that are set inside the structure, running lengthwise along the entire hull.
The hull is then lined on the outside with local cypress planks. Each plank must be individually edged to ensure maximum contact to make the structure watertight. Some of the planks may have to be steamed so as to be properly fitted to the hull shape.
While the craft is being built, another group of expert artisans prepare the caulking, made from various different plant materials. In some Nordic countries different mosses are used, and in the Caribbean and the South Seas, coconut fiber is utilized. In the south of Chile alerce bark has historically been employed, to the same purpose, its tough strands twisted into a fibrous coil, well suited to the caulking process.
Once the hull is properly lined, and the deck planking has been completed, the caulking process begins: two strands of caulking material are inserted in the seams between each pair of planks, thus creating an effective barrier which, once in a humid environment, swells and makes the hull and deck watertight.
Now the hull is ready to float. But the vessel is yet far from being finished.
The distribution of the interior areas, and of the superstructure still need to be defined.
The projected design is first presented using wooden slats. Since the construction is usually carried out in the open, it is easy to visualize what the finished product will look like. In this way the initial designs can be corrected and improved upon, and thus sustaining the vessel's harmonic design.
Once the shipowner and the ship carpenters are satisfied, the building of the housing structure is initiated.
From light slats, life-size models are built; simulating the various divisions and bulky items (motors, tanks, kitchen, beds, etc) that must be located in the interior testing there will be the necessary space and accessibility to accommodate them.
The construction is a long and slow process, which with the time and effort shapes both the vessel and the artisans who build the craft. As time goes by, there are fewer and fewer craftsmen that are still willing to shape and to be molded in this way.