Port Coquitlam

The Secrets to Shipbuilding

Port Coquitlam teen Josh Yeung’s fascination with BC Ferries has driven him to build a stellar ferry fleet of his own.

by Nathan Kunz

Josh Yeung, here with his parents Jackie and Bill Yeung, displays his model of the BC Ferries Salish Orca, one of several scale models in his collection. Photograph by Maria Japson, courtesy BC Ferries.

Whenever Josh Yeung builds a replica model of a BC Ferries vessel, attention to detail is always top of mind, from the shape of the ship right down to the placement of the decals. It’s a process that can take the 16-year-old model-maker up to a year of building and rebuilding to get just right. But, Josh notes, stressing those details can be what makes or breaks a project.

“Those are kind of finishing touches, but I like to make sure that they’re in the right place,” he says. “If they’re kind of off, it can throw the whole thing off.”

The Port Coquitlam teenager became fascinated with BC Ferries more than 10 years ago while making semi-frequent trips on the vessels to visit his grandparents on Denman Island. Now, Josh, who was diagnosed with autism at 15, spends around two hours daily after school constructing and perfecting his model fleet.

Josh Yeung’s interest in BC Ferries dates back more than 10 years, with his passion for the vessels being fostered and fueled by friendly staff onboard, according to his parents. Photograph courtesy of Bill Yeung.

According to Josh’s mother, Jackie Yeung, his curiosity in the ships was obvious by age five — and it just continued to grow.

“The more time he would spend on the ferries, the more interest he would show,” says Jackie, adding that he would often spend trips posing questions to crew members and gathering as much information as he could.

Josh says the enjoyment he gets out of his ferry trips has persisted since.

“Just being on the ship itself [has always given] me kind of a joy,” says Josh. “It’s only in British Columbia that we have this unique ferry system.”

The idea for building models of the ferries came out of something of a necessity for Josh. One year, noting his love of the ferries, Josh’s parents bought him a toy version of a vessel from the BC Ferries’ Passages Gift Shop. After playing with the toy until it began to break, Josh asked for the next step up, but the price tag for the more realistic models was out of the family’s budget.

“He realized that wasn’t going to work,” Jackie says, “so he started making his own.”

Since his first prototypes more than 10 years ago, Josh’s model-making method has developed to be more intricate and precise. Today the replicas start with scouting photographs taken onboard, and construction itself begins with measurements based on Hot Wheels cars lining a model’s vehicle-deck.

One of Josh Yeung’s latest models of the newly debuted Island Class ferries, fashioned entirely out of household materials. Photograph courtesy of Bill Yeung.

From there, Josh builds outward, recreating the shape of the boat and adding towers along with other features that give each vessel its unique look. Each component is made out of household materials like cardboard, chopsticks and repurposed Nerf gun darts. One of his latest and proudest achievements was figuring out how to make functioning doors, creating a hinge system out of toothpicks and dowels, which required backtracking on a model that had been well in progress.

“I took the walls apart, which I reluctantly did because I was already a couple of months into the project,” says Josh. “I didn’t want to take the walls apart if I didn’t have to, but I felt like if I do this, then I might be able to get something bigger out of the project.”

Josh’s current fleet consists of five vessels, though Jackie notes he’s built around 20 to date, some of which have been given as gifts and others of which have been deconstructed, either on purpose to gather materials for a new build or accidentally through a fall from their display place.

Recently, Josh’s creations have gained wider recognition, with interest growing through a local Global News T.V. spot showcasing his fleet.

“It’s wonderful because I’ve always been proud of him,” says Jackie. “For people to recognize that he’s got such capabilities, and they mean something, it’s really nice to see.”

Josh Yeung’s current fleet of models consists of five completed vessels, though he says he’ll often return to already completed projects to add further details. Photograph courtesy of Bill Yeung.

Art educator Dave Mutnjakovic, who teaches Josh at Whytecliff Agile Learning Centre, echoes Jackie’s sentiments, noting that Josh’s work has been inspiring both to him personally and to Josh’s classmates.

“It gives me hope for the future, to put it simply,” says Mutnjakovic. “The intensity and the productivity that he has shown to the rest of the students is inspiring them to reach their potential.”

Josh has ambitions to move his models up in scale, with Jackie noting that she’s long had no doubt he’ll pursue a career working with BC Ferries. As a shorter-term goal, Josh hopes to build the Salish Eagle and Salish Raven to accompany his model of the Salish Orca, completing the whole Salish Class in the process.

While acknowledging his projects can, at times, feel endless thanks to all the adjusting and adding, Josh encourages anyone similar to himself to not hesitate if considering a comparable hobby.

“I would say to other people with autism to just kind of believe in what you’re doing. Because, I mean, everybody has challenges, and everybody has strengths,” Josh says. “I think to somebody who wants to take on the task like this, I would say start taking pictures as soon as you can to kind of put it together. Then see if you can start with a base and build up from there.”