An artist is never finished with his or her masterpiece, but a work done on commission must come to completion. So, it is with the five skiffs and a drift boat that our class of 2016 has been racing to prepare for a first splash in the northern Pacific. We face a pair of daunting masters, the clock, and calendar. Neither is in our favor, in no small part because of the fact most of us have never built a boat. Nonetheless, we press ahead.
We have reached the point where upside down skeletons have become recognizable shapes and ready to flip upright. Almost.
You see, in every case, skiff or drift, the planks that were so carefully cut to fit and attach to bow, stem, or transom must now be adhered to one another via rivets. This finds us carefully applying a seal of Dolfinite at each lapstrake joint and then reattaching the planks in proper order at the bow (front) and stern (back) of the boat. This means we pull off the Alaskan Yellow Cedar, smear dead fish juice on soon-to-be final seams (I am joking about the dead fish, recall from last week, Dolfinite is a bedding compounding—not Flipper’s remains).
Then comes riveting.
These are not the rivets holding pockets in place on your blue jeans. A maritime rivet is a copper “nail” with a square shank that is ultimately coupled with a small rove. The rove is a round disk about ¼ inch in diameter bearing a hole in the center that facilitates sliding the “nail” driven through a lapstrake joint adjoining two abutting planks. With me so far?
Allow me a little more explanation.
What we have done is mark a spot about every six inches along the joint that will allow proper fastening of the planking and will look like an artisan, rather than butcher, was at work on the boat. At each of these points a hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail shank is drilled so as to avoid splitting the timber when driving through the primary element of a rivet. Once a nail is through the joint and the head flush to the exterior surface, the rove is slid into place with the excess nail on the interior of the boat sniped off. Then along comes someone who begins the process of using a ball-peen hammer to ensure the rove is solidly in place.
All this involves employment of two-person teams and a lot of pounding. My head still rings. Imagine what the poor student tasked with accomplishing this mission with a ball-peen hammer from beneath an overturned hull must be hearing at night. Probably a lot of tapping going on in their dreams.
With riveting done, it’s time to seal seams on surfaces that will spend significant time beneath the water. Ever see a bag of only slightly-spun cotton? Looks like a long piece of yarn that has become unwound. Now imagine being told you will be driving this in-between each of the seams previously mentioned. We’re going to need a sharp chisel and hammer or large pizza wheel for this job. With that said, the Jedi masters produce a pizza wheel worthy of any gourmet kitchen. A tool purpose-made for the job. Go figure. Who would have guessed they already knew they answer to our dilemma? (By now we should have known the answer was in their bag of tricks.)
Cotton in-place, we pull out a can of varnish and seal the joint using a brush that has been halved in width using kitchen scissors. (Do not let your significant other find out their prized kitchen shears have disappeared into your tool box.) Then we find a quart of maritime joint compound and begin squeezing this unruly concoction into the remaining space between the cotton and the surface of planking. Sound like work? Trust me, it is.
However, burgeoning artisans are not to be denied by a bit of hard work.
By the end of the week all boats were flipped upright. Interior frames were going into place and talk of floating all of this handiwork upon our return from Christmas break was rapidly passing through the shops.
And so transpired our first quarter at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding as the class of 2016. We return in January to new challenges and division into our program focuses in Small Craft, Large Craft or Contemporary construction. For myself, it has been a sharp learning curve, on occasion unlearning bad habits acquired through years of puttering in shops and on job sites. More frequently, however, it has been an experience in learning the art of wooden boat building—from the fundamentals of cutting joints to cotton seaming. It’s been a long voyage made short by virtue of knowing we’ll all be capable of creating art and meeting the commissioning date.
Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop
when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an
avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.