Whatcom Magazine

Throwback craftsman takes his time building boats from scratch

Eric Friberg removes extra epoxy from a 18-foot double-ended rowboat in his workshop on Tuesday Dec. 6, 2011 in Bellingham.
Eric Friberg removes extra epoxy from a 18-foot double-ended rowboat in his workshop on Tuesday Dec. 6, 2011 in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Eric Friberg, 48, has turned his love of creating wooden kayaks and other small boats into a five-year-old home business, North Fjord Boats.

Hometown: Bellingham.

Family: Wife Kim; daughter Abrah, 16; and step-daughter Candice Lundy, 16. Friberg met Kim, his wife of five years, because their daughters from previous marriages were friends in school.

Career: Construction worker turned builder of wooden boats.

Nautical passion: "Bundinn er bitlaus madur" are the mysterious words on Friberg's business card. "It's an old Viking phrase that translates to 'Bound is the boatless man,'" he says, meaning 'you're stuck without a boat.'"

Friberg has built about 50 boats, all but one from scratch, over the years, from a 22-foot, two-person kayak to a 20-foot sail-and-oar boat.

"My father was a skilled shipwright in Ballard and a commercial fisherman, and I inherited my passion for boats from him," he says. "I really enjoy building boats that look really nice yet are functional."

Custom artistry: Friberg acknowledges that he's something of a throwback, creating custom boats from scratch out of oak, cedar, mahogany and other attractive woods. He also repairs boats.

"I love to study how the old masters did it, although I also use modern tools," he says. "I feel like I seem to learn something new with every boat I build."

Sets own pace: "When I was in high school I caught the flu and it just stayed with me," Friberg says. "I'm still coping with chronic fatigue syndrome. ... As long as I can pace myself and can rest, I can still function well. It's a big reason I decided I needed to be my own boss and work my own hours."

Therapeutic work: "When I started building kayaks it was very therapeutic," he says. "It would take my mind off health issues and give me a sense of accomplishment.

"I also love to go out on (Bellingham Bay) with a 15-foot, Norwegian-style, double-end sailboat and a 12-foot runabout skiff. I've built both. And when I'm out on the water and I see someone in one of the boats I've built, it's a special feeling."

Keeps cost in mind: Friberg says most of his boats are priced rather low.

"For example, I'm currently building an 18-foot rowboat with marine plywood from African okoume trees, which will be about $2,800."


To see Eric Friberg's wooden boats, go to northfjordboats.com. He can be reached at 360-510-8502 or boatfriberg@yahoo.com.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald