Memory is a fleeting thing—and very selective. We tend to recall that which appeases the soul, while casting aside unpleasant recollections. Many a school teacher has learned this lesson the hard way. Give your students a two week holiday break and most will have forgotten how to add, subtract, multiply or divide…to say nothing of reading or writing. Now imagine you are tasked with teaching a motely lot to construct wooden boats.
I can safely claim my two week sojourn did not impinge upon an ability to distinguish stem from stern…or was that bow from transom? Nevermind recalling the tricks to laying out planking or driving rivets through a lapstrake so as to properly affix the rove. And there was all that class time committed to drafting and lofting. Maybe I should have taken better notes during our first quarter? Some of the Jedi masters apparently believe we should actually be learning this stuff for future applications, imagine that?
So off I go to do some remedial reading. Right now my rocking chair favorite is Bud McIntosh’s 1987 classic, How to Build a Wooden Boat. Bud, thoughtfully, for those of us who cannot absorb everything through reading, includes a lot of sketches and diagrams. About the time I despair at memorizing the latest nautical terms, he puts a reader at easy by illustrating the point in black and white drawings. A recommended book for those of you afflicted with the desire to build a wooden boat. (Hint, keep the text hidden from your significant other…or they will be on to your madness.)
Fortunately, we are not cast adrift. Chief Instructor Sean Koomen is back in front of the classroom each morning doing his best to impart the wisdom necessary for planking boats that should float (as opposed to acting as expensive seawater sieves). It seems we have a lot more to learn about selecting timber, discerning an aesthetic line, and then milling materials suitable for sailing the ocean blue.
Oh, for those of you still reading, I did use the word “aesthetic” in the paragraph above. Turns out we are not just learning to build practical crafts suitable for hauling Dungeness crab to shore. There is an expectation our wooden boats will be pleasing to a bi-standers eye. Talk about pressure. Framing houses was never this demanding.
Thinking of framing, a few housekeeping chores needed to be accomplished before plunging back into a quarter of sawdust and endless measuring. Swing by the Hammond Building and you’ll spy the Jedi master Ben Kahn who’s been tasked with keeping us large craft knuckle-draggers in line. Needing some temporary additional work space, a handful of us guilty of working in the construction trade had an opportunity to build a new shelter measuring 32′ x 15′ before plunging back into the 36′ Chamberlin a.k.a. SEA BEAST. More space to plane planking!
How go things elsewhere? The epoxy artists—I should say the contemporary students—are now chasing completion of a Handy Billy and have been set loose on a submarine.
Yes, you read that correctly, a submarine.
The University of Washington actually participates in a manually-powered submarine race that occurs just outside Washington DC every year. (I am not kidding. This is no ploy to get your date to join you on a romantic bluff for sub races just after sunset. These students really climb in and steer these things in a giant swimming pool the US Navy uses for testing hull designs.) I can see the new motto now…..
The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding: Constructing things that float and occasionally intended to sink.
Meanwhile, in the small craft group, we have a collection of classic hulls coming to fruition. The Whitehall construction process is in full-court press (see the blog post from Week 9). Templates are being made, timber milled, and molds are taking form. Brave lot these small craft people—half of them work in the unheated Rubb Shelter. Makes even me, someone who wears shorts year-around, consider long underwear and bib-overalls. Their counterparts in the Westrem building have heat, but you should see the list of tasks awaiting attention in that relative comfort. My bet is that Olivier Huin, our French Jedi master, has his hands full.
One final concern to address before heading off to my shop is the fate of our five skiffs and a drift. One of the skiffs splashed at the end of our first quarter—hats off to Sean Koomen’s team. The remainder are projects underway. So tucked aside a submarine mold, classic Whitehalls, and the lumber beasts of large craft are the boats we have yet to complete. Maybe I should have passed on that holiday break.
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.