The Perfect Wooden Boat

20141116_142622cropresizeI spent most of yesterday building a hockey rink in my yard. It is 30′ x 65′ and took a great deal of time and effort. Today, my body aches from swinging a 10lb hammer and lugging sheets of 3/4″ preasure-treated plywood all day. Thankfully, making a giant square box doesn’t not require a ton of brain power so I was able to commit my brain to other items for much of the day. The one question that kept coming up was, “Why do you build boats?”

I know I have blogged about this before, but it is one of those questions that has an ever evolving answer. There is no right answer and it is difficult to put the emotions into words.  The obvious answer would be something like, “because I like to.”

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Even that simple answer can be infinitly elaborated on.

…because I like to sail.
…because I like to sail and work with my hands.
…because I like to sail and work with my hands and being on the water in your own boat is spiritual.
…because I like to sail and work with my hands and being on the water in your own boat is spiritual in a sense that you have created something from a pile of wood that is now a source of freedom.

And on, and on, and on. The question warrants both elementary simplicity and deep intellectual introspect. Today, while rough cutting beatup 3/4″ sheets of PT plywood and whacking them into place with a 10lb mini-sledge hammer, I came across another reason why I love to build boats. The pace.

I spend my day rushing through every aspect of my life. Even tasks that do not require speedy execution are shadowed by other tasks lurking around the corner that do. Life is just a series of tasks, most of which require some level of rapid pace, or at least efficiency.  Even while writing this blog, I have thought of 3 or 4 other things that I need to do and even stopped a couple of times to do some of them.

Building a boat flies in the face of all of this speed, rushing, and multitasking. If you lose focus on or rush a task in building a boat, there is a very good chance it will end up taking 2 – 3 times longer to complete. For example my blogs about fixing the hole in the Wood Duck and the bilge panels on the Bobcat.  Both of those blogs discuss how I fixed something on the boats.  How I fixed an error of mine that was caused either by me losing focus or rushing.  Both pieces were fixed with some creative ingenuity, but they nonetheless set me back a number of hours.

Building a boat requires the builder to force himself to slow down.  He must think through his next steps and think about how they will impact the steps following.  Sometimes, it is a good idea to actually test out the whole process on a piece of scrap wood first.  Practicing the same process 1 or 2 times is still usually less time than fixing a major mistake.  Some mistakes cannot be fixed perfectly and remain part of the boat forever.  A boat builder knows every mistake he’s made on every boat.  For example, I sanded one of the plywood scarfs a little too deep on my stand-up paddle board and it drives me nuts!  It is just a tiny little area about 1/2″ square where the wood is a slightly different color, but to me it is a reminder that I rushed that step.  It is a reminder that the boat could be just a little more perfect if I had taken the time.

Boat building is one of the few things in my life where I must take my time and make sure that I do it right the first time.  I am not a perfectionist, but I want my boats to be as perfect as I can make them.  A true perfectionist would not make a good boat builder because they would never finish a boat.  Wooden boats have flaws.  A friend once said to me, “You show me a perfect wooden boat, and I’ll show you a Leprechaun that wants to sail it.”  The odds are that the builder is the only person that notices those flaws, but they are there nonetheless.  The goal is to work efficiently in places that can tolerate efficiency, and carefully in places that require carefulness, and to complete a boat that safely and beautifully serves the purpose it is intended for.


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