Windsor

Hudson Boat Works of London, Ont., helps propel Olympic rowers to the podium

All but one of the boats Canada’s rowing team will use at The Olympic Games this month have been built by a London, Ont., company that started making them in a garage more than 30 years ago.

'We’ve come a long way from the days of making wood boats'

Hudson Boat Works rowboats have won 83 medals at the Olympic Games and World Rowing Championships since 194. (Hudson Boat Works/Facebook)

All but one of the boats Canada's rowing team will use at The Olympic Games this month have been built by a London, Ont., company that started making them in a garage more than 30 years ago.

Hudson Boat Works is a family-owned business banking on once again put Team Canada on the podium.

Jack Coughlan, his wife Dallas (nee Hudson), and Hugh Hudson founded the company in 1981 and Coughlan remains a majority owner today.

While Hudson humbly started in a garage, it now uses lasers, iPads and titanium to build state-of-the-art boats.

On the floor, a Hudson boat builder uses a high-tech saw to cut through a piece of carbon fibre, the same material used to build space shuttles.

A Hudson Boat Works employee works on a scull at the London, Ont., factory. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

"It's human propulsion that makes it go fast but we try to design it so that is the potential to go as fast as the athletes can propel it," Hudson spokesman Craig McAllister said. "We've come a long way from the days of making wood boats."

That journey spans from a southwestern Ontario garage to the Olympic podium.

The first Hudson boat to glide to a medal finish did so in L.A. in 1984, just a few years after the company built its first boat, also known as a scull, in the family garage.

The first wooden boat the company ever produced hangs on a wall in the office.

A look at the original boat made by Hudson Boat Works. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

Hudson boats have won 83 medals at the Olympics and World Rowing Championships since 1984. In the Men's 8 competition, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the world record of 5:19 for the Olympic distance of 2,000 metres, was set by the United States team rowing a Hudson.

Two minutes down the road from the Hudson factory is one of Canada's national training centres for rowers. It's where Hudson mines for ideas to improve their product.

The company says it's changed the design of boats, in part by working with Canadian athletes

"They're always the first one to see the new technology before it goes into a commercial release," McAllister said.

McAllister remained tight-lipped about specific changes and improvements the company has make — and is constantly making — to its boats.

Olympic lightweight men's rower Nicholas Pratt uses a Hudson and has made suggestions about the hull shape and riggings in the past.

"I've had a fair bit of interaction with the engineers at Hudson, which is really exciting as an athlete, to have input into the designs as they're working on it," he said. "You're not just accepting a finished product, you're actually helping them evolve their products."

Hudson Boat Works asks Canada's best rowers for input when designing and upgrading boats. (Amanda Margison/CBC)