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Week 22: Halfway There…

Life is one of those finicky calendar problems. I am never quite sure where I’m at on the schedule. Is this the halfway point or just another birthday to be recorded in a writer’s diary? Fortunately, all schools come with clearly denoted start and stop points. It seems someone figured out students reach a point upon which the brain is full and it’s time to go home—to mow lawns, repair leaking plumbing, or do taxes. And maybe go sailing!

Our return pLeigh 1ost windstorm and a Friday instruction break found endless projects awaiting completion. The small craft types have mastered epoxy such that steering wheels, stems, and submarines seem old hand. I remain amazed at what a little imagination and a lot of glue can accomplish. That is not to say we have abandoned traditional boatbuilding skills—Zen Master Leigh O’Connor and his crew splashed a Herreshoff Pram on Friday that has a finish worthy of anyone’s living room. In fact, it would be quite at home in a Victorian era boathouse.

But I leap ahead.

Just because we specialize in sawdust does not mean we have forgotten Mr. Edison and the evils of electrical corrosion. Zen Master Sean Koomen spent all of our mornings explaining electrical principles, metals that don’t like each other, and the pitfalls of placing anything within a body of water. Yes, I knew about rot and rust, but have you seen what just a little electrical current will do to bronze, copper and steel? Hence the requirement for corrosion specialists and more than a few scientists in our marine environment.

Thinking of specialists. We finally arrived at that magic moment in a boatbuilder’s life—when the molds go on a strongback and one’s ship begins to take on a three-dimensional life. That happened this week in the Hammond Shop, when Zen Master Jody Boyle stepped a few of us large boat knuckle draggers through the fine art of setting up the keel and molds for our Folkboat. Planking now only awaits our return from Spring break.


While I am on the subject of progress, you may recall my lament a few weeks earlier about two steps forward, one step back. Well, lament no more. On Friday we put the whiskey plank on the Sea Beast and finished planning a similar board for Felicity Ann. With any luck, third quarter will find Felicity Ann with a deck and much of her new interior. The Sea Beast should have a completed cabin and find many of my counterparts busily constructing a mast. Progress all around.

Which finds me wandering back down the hill. In the contemporary shop that Handy Billy now has a shiny white interior and deck beams. The Nutshell Pram is damn near complete and that submarine—well, let’s say it’s ready for a mating of the two halves. How they get two college students inside is beyond me. (Must be small kids or very close friends). And with Zen Master Olivier Huin we find the Philbrick taking form at a pace that will challenge their Sid Skiff shop mates.

In other words, despite the vicissitudes of wind and time, we continue to make remarkable progress on projects that defy modern ideals concerning software and carbon fiber materials. Not that I am complaining. We ended the quarter and reached a halfway point with spectacular weather and a chance to go blow about the bay on one of our predecessors’ success stories—a 24 foot gaff-rigged sloop. No requirement for the inboard, just trim sail and venture from Port Hadlock to Indian Island. Who needs a calendar or schedule when you have fair winds and following seas?

eri profile
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.


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Week 21: And Then the Wind Blew In…

Some of you will recall when school was cancelled for “snow days.” That white fluffy stuff that rendered driveways and streets treacherous until a shovel and plow were brought to bear. This is not a common problem here in the great Northwet. Oh, we get plenty of liquid green and lawns that come to life long before expected but snow days are not on school agendas. Wind, on the other hand, can wreck the same havoc.

So it was during week 21 at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding that it came to an abrupt halt. Only days away from putting whiskey planks on the Sea Beast and Felicity Ann, Mother Nature decided to be oh so cruel. (Funny, I never had similar sentiments when classes consisted of calculus, philosophy, and other mental challenges—not to say our current endeavor does not tax that gray matter between one’s ears. The end result just seems more rewarding.)

In any case, we made it to Wednesday, complete with Zen master Sean Koomen’s thoughts on caulking, decking and more epoxy before the wind blew through. There is now a steering wheel in render for the Philbrick and interior sanding is taking place on our submarine. (Still not a cramped space I would want to inhabit.)

Oh, and in between the small craft crew came up to spend time on a long-board sanding party on the Sea Beast led by the Zen master himself. It looked like a conga line cloaked in a layer of fine dust. Sean makes for a great MC and an object lesson for the why small craft folks want to stay away from large craft. We think this kind of labor is actually amusing.


Meanwhile, sunshine had managed to pierce clouds and final planks were being carved for Felicity Anne and Sea Beast, when, out of the blue, the wind came in.And not with a gentle nudge.

No small number of us woke to dark skies, alarm clocks that weren’t, and news of no school. (Damn cell phones never die, unless you forget to plug them in…then all bets are off.) Which begs the thought, what to do when class is cancelled and the power is off in one’s workshop?

Well, there is always driving out to Port Hadlock just to see what has come loose in the breeze. As you might expect, an errant sailboat or fishing craft is apt to pull off anchor in such conditions as it was blowing 60mph. But, who would have thought the Community Boat Project would lose its roof? Or at least part of its roof.

Back in the fall—some of you may recall—no small number of we wooden boatbuilders spent a Saturday putting new roofing over an expanded set of boat arches at the Community Boat Project. A great chance to assist with a worthy cause and grumble about our recent school challenges out of instructor “ear sight.” (Students always grump—just part of life a teacher has to accept, regardless of subject or their pedagogical talents.) Quiet mumbling aside, we had a good time installing about 1,500 square feet of plastic roofing.

All of which came off in the wind. A real object lesson for any future boatbuilder.

You can ward off Mom Nature but she always wins in the end. Be it rain, sun, water, or wind, she figures out a way to defeat the best-laid plans of mice or men. That’s what we found on Thursday morning. Fifteen-hundred square feet of roofing material peeled off like a skin from your favorite mandarin orange. Always easier to peel than reapply.

Like wooden boatbuilding, a little experience goes a long way.

Pull out phone (recall they still work despite the absence of electricity) and here comes the cavalry. It took a collection of we boat students and local volunteers about four hours, but the roof is back on and lunch was served as befitting a traditional barn building. All shipshape by Friday morning. Wind or no wind.

All of which left time to wander through Port Townsend’s boat haven and wonder about projects people bring ashore. Looking though the yard one finds a 50 foot mast being carved to form and a fleet of traditional motor or sail craft being readied for Spring launches. A future of work waiting to happen—wind storm or no wind storm.

eri profile
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.


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Week 20: Looking Out Over the Bow

Upon attaining what the adult world calls “maturity,” attending any school requires a bit of looking out over the bow. Put more simply, one begins to think about how expended hours in a classroom or shop are to be used in future endeavors. For some of us, the educational experience is a means to acquiring a paycheck. For others, lessons are intellectual enlightenment—how does this work, or how might I build something similar in the future?

In either case, schooling is a rewarding expenditure of time and spirit. But even more so when the result is tangible. That is to say, you can lay more than just an eye on your efforts. There is nothing like running your hands over a freshly carved rabbet. Back in my youth (well, a bit more than just “youth”), being an author was a little more tangible in that a day’s product came out in the form of typewritten pages,  printed through an IBM Selectric. Hard to do the same with digital discourse streaming across my laptop screen. (But I have to admit, both forms of “scribbling” communicate back to me in a similar manner…further sign I spend too much time talking to myself or the dog.)

Back to the matter at hand: Week 20 here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. I suspect my thoughts have drifted off the lessons that typically open each morning here in the great Northwet. (It’s official, we are in the midst of the wettest winter on record. Thank goodness the neighbors have not complained about the ark I am constructing next to my house. Perhaps they see a place for their goldfish and pet iguana?)

Plastics. Not just a noun used to tune a then-young Dustin Hoffman’s ear in The Graduate. Zen master Sean Koomen has spent this week plying his intellectual might in an effort to convince we nail-drivers that epoxy is our future. Imagine, no more nails, roves, or screws. Just mix up the right concoction of resin and hardener. Everything becomes a medium for putting people afloat.

Yes, this is looking over the bow. Despite my implied sarcasm, wood remains our primary construction material. Epoxy is just another means of fastening one plank to another. Yet, often in a manner that draws gasps and expressions of appreciation. Turns out that enough epoxy will retard rot (the ever-present demon in wood boats) and bring out a bright (think varnish) finish every boat owner holds dear. All we need to do is learn how to mix, apply and sand the end result in an appropriate manner. Sean has his hands full—even before getting to “bagging” and “infusion.”

Enough science, I’m sticking to nails, screws and Dolfinite. But I will say the contemporary crew is making amazing headway on the submarine and pram. The Handy Billy is not be far behind despite the fact its engine is now hanging five feet above the floor. Something about “fitting” I have not been able to discern.

Fleeing science, I wander over to the small craft world only to discover…more science. Zen master Olivier Huin has a stem molded and carved for the Philbrick that is a sight to be seen. This is without mentioning the other projects in his shop. The skill in traditional keel layout and lapstraking is equally amazing.


Heading up the hill, we find Zen master Leigh O’Connor in the midst of the Whitehall build. On Friday he had a master furniture-maker from San Francisco in to demonstrate carving rowing seats for these skiffs. (A tough job for someone who knows he must impress a crowd of fellow wood addicts.)

And with that I reach the top of our campus. The knuckle-dragging large craft types (myself included). Noisy and coated in a sealant of permanent sawdust, we also continue to make headway. Felicity Ann will likely get her whiskey plank in the coming week as will the Sea Beast. Over at the Folkboat, a keel is now permanently bolted together and is ready for a final rabbet carving. All that despite a thorough shop cleaning and no end of visitors wondering at the fact that one can make a living building wooden boats.

All of which leaves us at week 20 looking out over the bow. Sure, we understand science is firmly part of our future, but wooden boats still get constructed one chisel or plane stroke at a time.

eri profile
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.


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Week 19: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Wooden boat builders are a philosophical bunch, or at least they come to be so. Constructing watercraft from a medium that has its own mind makes you realize time is fungible and progress often incremental. These are frustrating conclusions for recent generations who are offered the expediency of internet searches and phones smarter than equipment employed to launch NASA’s first space shuttle. (Look that last one up, I’m not kidding.)

But, there is more to our philosophical bent than patience and splinter wisdom. A designer employing a computer or lofter with a keen eye and micrometer for measurements can blueprint a boat of supreme perfection. There is, however, a difference between vision and execution. Hence the endless arguments in general construction between architects and engineers. Architects see a perfect structure, engineers have to work with materials that do not always yield to those visionary specifications. The same is true in wooden boatbuilding—even if you apply all the epoxy to be found in your shop.

Wood twists, shrinks, and comes complete with checks and knots that will fail at the most inopportune moment. I have watched my classmates spend hours spieling, cutting and shaping a plank only to have the timber split upon that last twist onto a hull. It does not matter if you are in large or small craft, wood does not always cooperate. Back to the planer and hours of careful time.

And so we arrive at week 19 of our year here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Some of you may recall I predicted last week that we would be putting the “whiskey plank” on Felicity Ann. Turns out Zen master Jody Boyle needed to take one more walk around the hull before blessing this act of closure. No joy; he found three more planks in need of replacement.

Two steps forward and one step back.

Fortunately, the Felicity Ann planking crew are now relative experts and took on the mission with nary a grumble. Back to feeding Oliver planks and spieling for another set of timbers that come with a promise of more time fitting and hours of riveting. I told you this wooden boatbuilding was a philosophical business.IMG_1268

Meanwhile, down in small craft, more thinking and woodworking has been taking place. Zen master Leigh O’Connor has his Whitehall teams pressing forward with stem, transom and keel. They were also busy planing their planking to dimension—a final fit one of my counterparts compared to “paper” as opposed to the “cardboard” dimensions we use in large craft. (All I can say is they managed to fill the dust system in the Hammond Mill Shop with fifty pounds of shavings—a lot of cedar dust for someone’s garden.)

Thinking of gardens—now I am off tangent—Spring has arrived here in the great Northwet! I grew up in the Midwest, where the saying was “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, here in Port Townsend it seems January showers bring February flowers. My front yard is abloom with daffodils. The deer, for some reason, do not eat these morsels, so the neighborhood gets to enjoy a bit of yellow and contemplate even warmer weather.

IMG_1263All of which points to a coming sailing season! A sailing season that opened last Thursday, when Zen master Olivier Huin splashed a sailboat into the Pacific Ocean. After weeks of paint, sanding mast and spars, to say nothing of varnish, his team finished Catspaw and rolled her into the water. Nothing quite like watching a new boat with fresh sail be put to test. Now if he can just get similar progress to occur with the Philbrick Runabout—a philosophical discussion for another day.

Oh, I would be remiss in failing to note our sailing season did not just open at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. On 27 February, the Port Townsend Sailing Association sponsored its annual Shipwrights Regatta. With sun overhead and a 10 knot breeze coming from the south, 33 sailboats of all sizes took to the Port Townsend Bay. Thanks to the efforts of Tulip Morrow, a member of the boat school staff, no small number of us were aboard craft enjoying fair winds and following seas.

Back at the school, Zen master Bruce Blatchley and his contemporary crew have just about finished their Nutshell Pram and the submarine appears to be progressing into the super-secret phase—at least we outsiders think so. The last I looked, at least half the hull was draped in canvas, just like the US Navy hides its latest designs.


All of which brings us to the end of week 19. A bit wiser, perhaps more philosophical, and certainly coming to grips with the fact that wooden boatbuilding requires two steps forward and one step back—even if that one step back is just to admire your craft’s lines and the result of hours of painstaking skilled labor.

eri profile
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.


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Week 18: Sometimes setup seems like half the job

There is an old military saying that goes “Getting ready to be ready.” That kind of sums up where we seem to be with boatbuilding here in week 18 of our year at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Yes, we have learned to sharpen everything to a fine edge, figured out how to loft, and even cut more than a few planks, but, the real art to constructing wooden boats appears to be in the setup for a job to follow.

Just think, after all that time spent on hands and knees ensuring waterlines were properly denoted, the rabbet is set “just so” and the transom has been “rolled out,” the next instruction is to assemble “molds” and a “strongback.” Let’s start with the latter and then move to the former.

Strongbacks are the platforms upon which your future work of art will be assembled. For the small craft crew they strongly resemble ladder frames one used to find beneath a vehicle. Twin planks run in parallel joined by slats spaced about 24 inches long. Simple enough, until you’re told there must be a true centerline and spacing such that the “stations” on one’s lofting will be complimented by said strongback. Now things get complicated. Add to all this a need to be level—well, suffice it to say the ladder frame on my old pickup truck is nowhere near as precise as the strongbacks found in the various small craft shops. Then we come to us large craft knuckle-draggers.

IMG_1245Instead of working upside down, we are going to build the Folkboat so that the keel is sitting on the shop floor…or at least only a couple of feet above the shop floor. That meant the strongback initially consists of a 2 x 12 inch, 30 foot laminated plank being mounted 10 feet above the shop floor.

Yes, above.

Do you have any idea how heavy or unwieldly a plank of those dimensions can prove to be? Its no small project and certainly no indication of the fact we are planning to build a boat. Honestly, it looks more like a rafter for someone’s new home.

Then you realize it must be perfectly straight. There goes another four hours of labor—10 feet in the air. At this point a few of us have climbed up and down a ladder more times than we can count. (I, personally, have to stop at 10…that’s when I run out of digits on my two hands and refuse to remove my boots so as to arrive at 20.) We did achieve the impossible, just like the contemporary and small craft teams, and no hard hats were required.


Onto “molds.” Here we encounter the shapes for laying on planking and lining up stems with transoms. Precision is everything. Off by a 16th of an inch at the midpoint of your mold and it will grow to a ¾ inch problem at the bow and stern.

This wooden boatbuilding world is unforgiving with us  constantly reaching for measuring instruments and bevel gauges.

In any case, the small craft crews seem to be well on their way with the molds—to include placing them atop strongbacks. How about us in large craft? Well, the Folkboat molds are constructed and the strongback I-beam is in place. We just haven’t reached the point of pairing both. Something about having the ballast ready to mate with a keel. There’s nothing like moving 2200 pounds of iron keel about a shop floor to keep one humble.

And then, of course, is the 50-plus feet of rabbet that must be hand-chiseled out of purple heart. I can hear the sounds of mallets striking chisels in my dreams.



So where are we at week 18?

A walk through the shops finds the contemporary crew making amazing progress on submarine and pram. The Handy Billy is ready for an engine and more interior fit. The small craft teams have the bits and pieces in place to start assembly including planking that is suffering through multiple rounds on a planer. And here in large craft? I suspect the Felicity Ann will be fully planked by the end of week 19, the Sea Beast will have much of her initial interior, and the Folkboat will have a sea of us cutting a seemingly endless rabbet.

In other words, we are all well on the way to “getting ready to be ready.” Simply impossible to build a wooden boat without completing the invaluable first steps.


eri profile

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.


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Week 17: All work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull kids

I know a little about education, like you must keep lessons interesting, include recess and lunch or your students will revolt. They are not likely to get all French Revolution and burn the place to the ground before lynching faculty and staff, but they will agitate and do irritating things like hiding the chalk or scatter bags of sawdust in the back of an instructor’s truck.  It’s fun to watch drive down the road, not so fun to be the person seated in the cab drawing unwanted attention. Oh, the perils of teaching at a wooden boat school.

Fortunately, someone has this pedagogical trick already mastered. About the time we are getting restless, they suggest a field trip. And, surprise, surprise, no permission slips required!  Gee, we must have finally achieved that rare strata known as ‘maturity’. (To skip ahead, just a little, they only sent three “responsible adults” to supervise 60 of us on a ferry and in two workshops, so we must be considered mature despite our disheveled appearances and tendency to pick up every tool in sight.)

Ok, on the road.

Last Thursday the entire student body had an opportunity to load aboard a ferry to Whidbey Island and then meander through a Viking boat yard and the very modern antithesis of same: The Skagit Valley College Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology. Two disparate worlds, and yet all in our own backyard with both very much concerned with things that float.

IMG_1201Oh, before diving into our road trip adventure, a bit of news closer to home. On Monday afternoon, Jedi master Jodi Boyle pushed his team’s skiff into the Pacific. We managed to leather the oars and push the craft downhill from the Hammond building before Mother Nature dropped more liquid sunshine on our parade. I do have to say, the combination of red and yellow cedar makes for a very eye-catching craft, as well as the fact she rows well and showed no sign of taking on water. Only one more to go before the entire fleet is afloat.

On the road again…

On Thursday we had the unique opportunity to visit a true anachronist. That is, someone who looks back to the past with a longing and willingness to replicate that which went before us. This is not the same as a “Luddite,” people who would fight technology to preserve their employment (i.e., buggy whip manufacturers who sought to burn Henry Ford’s new business venture to the ground). No, anachronists are not fighting innovation, they are simply looking to revive elements of history lost in our race to seamless connectivity.

A case in point—Jay Smith—who lives a short ferry ride and drive away on Whidbey Island. Residing on a pastoral plot just south of Anacortes, Jay is in the midst of handcrafting two Viking craft taken from plans that emerged over 1,000—yes, one thousand—years ago in his native Norway. This takes a huge leap of imagination, or a very broad mind’s eye, particularly when you realize the boats he is working on measure 37 and 56 feet. Add to that beams that will span more than 10 feet! These are not something you see rolling down the highway on any given day of the week.


As this is a small world here in the great “Northwet,” we had a chance to visit Jay at his shop and walk through the two construction halls. A woodworkers dream! He is milling planks out of freshly hewn oak and carving beams longer than my two trucks parked back-to-back. In many cases using exactly the same techniques ancient Norwegians would have employed those many, many centuries ago.

Awe inspiring.

However, this is not a one-man operation. Jay has found an iron smith who pounds out authentic nails and roves, has recruited teams to help tote huge beams, and a property owner who allows him to harvest crooks from old oak trees appropriate for naturally strong heels, ribs, stem and stern. Just like raising a child, it takes a village to build a traditional Viking boat. And they are all here in our backyard!

IMG_1224I would be remiss if I said everything Jay has done was accomplished via a collection of axes and broadswords. His shop features a large array of antique hand tools from the 1800s and a bit of electronic contribution (band saws and joiners) that likely wandered out of the factory about one century ago. There’s a plethora of imagination happening there and a skilled craftsperson who realizes you may need that finger for tomorrow’s labor.

On next stop was visiting the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology. Located in the Port of Anacortes, this was an impressive setup featuring the very modern side of our chosen profession: composites, engines and systems. Want to know how the bowels of what we would-be shipwrights are crafting? This is the place for you. Makes me wonder if I can be a student for another year? It’s always good to know what makes that diesel run and the electricity flow through appropriate channels.

And so we come to the end of week 17 with a different perspective and a small break from classroom and shops here in our own corner of the country. Jay and his projects are a real inspiration for any craftsperson. I just wonder if the neighbors will complain when I set up a shelter to cover framing for a 50 foot Viking ship in my backyard.




eri profile


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.


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Week 16: Tourists in Our School

Imagine, instead of boarding a plane, ship or train, one could discover new worlds immediately outside the doorstep of your house. Yes, yes, I know the folks who specialize in infectious diseases understood this for a long time—every sneeze is a new adventure in their world. But, what about boat school? Hey, aren’t we all just working on things that are intended to float? Yes, then again, wander through your nearest harbor. All that stuff afloat sure does not look the same, nor is it made of the same materials.

Turns a similar story is unfolding here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding as we all discovered last Friday when we were given an opportunity to wander through the shops our other colleagues call home. (A shop does become home—I spend more time in the Hammond Building than in my house…perhaps that reveals mixed-up priorities…or a slow learning curve on my behalf…regardless, it’s a great place to reside. Particularly, if you like boats, learning, and sawdust.)

Oh, thinking of learning, Jedi master Jody Boyle caught me with a new challenge this week.

“Leather the oars.”
“What?” (A common term in a boat student’s lexicon. Often followed up with “How?”)

Turns out that oars you want to keep—like the ones your classmates sweated to craft—should have leather “sleeves” so as to avoid unnecessary wear and tear when being used for propulsion. People who like to row already knew this. Those of us prone to using Mother Nature for propulsion—also known as sailors—didn’t contemplate this complication. I know sails require sewing, but that’s why there are sail lofts and people who know how to cut and stich canvas or Dacron.

That level of specialized labor does not apply to wooden boat school. Not only do we get to construct the craft, we have to figure out how to finesse bronze, leather, stainless steel and the weather. Alas, the weather is another challenge we confront (wood has to dry before construction or one’s craft will shrink in a manner prone to letting in water). Bad karma. Drying occurs when humidity is less than the wood content—here in the great “Northwet” come January and February that’s no small challenge.

I digress. Back to leathering oars.

Jedi master Jody has made it clear the skiff we have been laboring to launch so as to open shop floor space must have leathered oars before we splash. To prove his point, he arrived at the shop with what appears half a cow hide, waxed twine and needles…the kind you mother used to sew on buttons, just heavy duty. Hmmmm…this was not in my vision of boat school, but no time to learn like the present.

Good thing the gentleman working with me knows leather skills and how to stitch. Now I am no longer in fear of shedding blood via chisels and saws, those damn needles are sharp! At least they won’t remove a digit, just perforate the surface…multiple times if you are me when it comes to stitching.

What does this mean? Well, with any luck we will put skiff four in the water during week 17! I look forward to a row and then back to building Felicity Ann.

Jedi Master Leigh O’Connor

So, back to my point about playing tourist. Jedi master Sean Kooman insisted on Friday we all walk through the shops. Great idea! Down in the Rubb Shelter, Jedi master Leigh O’Connor is leading charge on the Whitehalls and a pram. These small craft guys are sticklers—meaning the strongbacks and molds they build would meet a dentist’s idea of precise. In the Westrem, Jedi master Olivier Huin has four projects going at once…and is looking forward to launching at least one sailing skiff. His powerboat project, on the other hand, will put the kids at Chris Craft to shame. (If you ever get a chance to wander the lakes of our mid-west states—well, Chris Craft are the Cadillacs we wooden boat builders would like to claim our own.) Oh, and you should see the lofting and laminating work required to build this beauty. Meanwhile, Jedi master Bruce Blatchley has this submarine thing down…never thought of a wooden sub, but would keep that magnetic mine problem at bay. In addition, he is leading on a pram and the Handy Billy is starting to look like the best crab boat I could ever afford—too bad she is headed for somewhere other than the Port Townsend watershed.


All of which brings us back to the Hammond Building. Jedi Master Ben Kuhn continues to push forward on the Sea Beast…looking up through scaffold and planking I now see decking and a cabin. On the other side, we find Felicity Ann and the Folkboat in full pursuit. Now, if I can just get the oars leathered and that skiff launched.

No more time for tourism, back to learning. Where is that needle?

eri profile


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.





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Week 14: One Step at a Time

Maybe it was in second grade (I don’t remember kindergarten or first grade; a real shame), as at least one author has made a fortune by claiming to have learned everything necessary for life during that first year of exposure to a public education. (Think I’m kidding? Ask the local librarian for a copy of Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten first published in 1986.) Anyway, back in second grade I was told everything had to be done one step at a time. We’re  certainly at that stage here in week 14 of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.


One of the things that becomes apparent as the Class of 2016 moves along is the Jedi masters—aka instructors—provide much more space for completion of our own mistakes. In other words, that measurement you missed, the bevel not quite right, or lofting that made no sense, well, now you get to try it out and then spend time fixing an original error. Hence the temptation to make every cut more than a little wide of that precious pencil mark. It’s a lot easier to sand or work with a plane than trying to figure out how you will add wood back onto a beam that just does not make the mark. This is where some of us get to be jealous of the contemporary students. They really do know how to adhere materials back onto a miss-cut plank. (Epoxy, the magic elixir for boatbuilders). Alas, I am a knuckle-dragger (a large craft student) where we don’t get access to epoxy, just the band saw or a planer. Not that this is a bad thing. Thanks to Mr. Edison’s contribution of electricity, we are now attacking 30 foot planks. For those tasks we have a stable of band saws and “Oliver.”

Have I introduced “Oliver?



Welcome to an industrial planer. Oliver likely came to life sometime in the early 1950s. Located on the leeward side of the Rubb Shelter, Oliver lives in a lean-to shed that keeps him dry while allowing for extrusion of endless sawdust and shavings. I know this because large craft students don’t get dainty planks and indoor work spaces. We are condemned to a life of timber loads delivered aboard semi-trucks and only transported about the work space with a lot of manual labor. As a result, we spent all Friday afternoon keeping Oliver busy by taking $8,700 of Douglas Fir from 1 ¼ inch to 5/8 inch. This is no minor undertaking, particularly when many of the planks are over 30 feet long and 14 inches wide and need to go through Oliver five times. My gym trip is rendered moot with my workout coming from chasing a lot of timber through Oliver and then cleaning up the subsequent mess. Fifteen industrial-sized garbage bags filled with shavings to be exact. I, and my fellow culprits, will smell like Douglas Fir for more than a few days.

Why all this labor? Because we’re planking a Folkboat!


 Meanwhile, elsewhere in our Boat School world, the contemporary team has put its first round of epoxy into the Handy Billy and are starting to put planks on the submarine mold. Oh, and Jedi master Bruce Blatchley has a skiff that looks ready to launch, but more on that in a moment.

IMG_4210[1]Up in the Rubb Shelter, Jedi master Leigh O’Connor is leading a charge on the pair of Whitehalls and has a sailing skiff thinking about splashing into the Pacific. The cold and rain have not slowed his team. They persevere and are crafting elements of their boats at an amazing pace. Apparently working in unheated spaces really does cause an increase in productivity.

Thinking of heated spaces, the small-craft crew is “building in heated luxury” (just kidding, it gets damn cold in there too) in the Westrem building working hard on lofting an 18′ runabout. Only the contemporary students live in warmth, something about the epoxy needing to set that swirls into more science than I am going to understand. It’s going to be interesting to see what rolls out of that shop come Spring.

And with that we come to the end of week 14—one step at a time. You must have the right lofting to build, the right timber milled to appropriate dimensions to plank, and the right surface and temperature to epoxy. But! You also need to know when it’s time to sit back and appreciate a finished product. And so we did, on Friday when Jedi master Ben Kahn splashed his team’s drift boat into the Pacific. Looks nothing like the other skiffs but serves the same purpose: Water stays out and occupants get to wander the other 70% of our planet’s surface.

One step, one step at a time.

My second grade teacher was right but it only took me 48 years to realize the wisdom of her lesson.


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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.


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Week 13: What’s a little rain when you have boats to build?

Never underestimate the powers of human observation.  Just don’t expect immediate leaps to scientific discovery based upon this particular skill. Case in point,  Port Townsend seemingly loses half of its population come late October winter winds. Given the option of staying in place to sit out short days or soak up some guaranteed liquid sunshine, the “snowbirds” head south to, oh say, Tucson or San Diego. This makes for quick grocery shopping and short lines at the gas station for those “year-rounders”.


That said, there is a flip side to this annual exodus. About the time the “snowbirds” feel compelled to migrate, their boats come out of the water for maintenance. Boat Haven, Port Townsend’s expansive shipyard, fills up with interesting projects in various stages of completion. However, these fish out of water projects share a common completion date.  The stranded vessels must be back afloat by mid-April, when owners return to once again ply the waters of our great “Northwest.”


Port Townsend Boat Haven Copyright:Joel Rogers /

So here’s where the powers of observation kick in. Why does the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding graduate a class in September?

Because that is when the shipyards get busy.

In other words, the would-be boatbuilder needs a hearty soul or lots of warm clothes. There’s not too many heaters or sheltered work areas in Boat Haven, but I bet the crews in Maine would change places in a heartbeat. After all, 40 degrees and drizzle is still preferable to 15 degrees and 40 inches of snow. With that I leap ahead in our educational experiences.


Having settled into our new division of specialization, the Class of 2016 is learning the fine art of planking and butt blocks. Don’t scoff, there is an art to butt block manufacturing as Jedi master Sean Koomen took great pains to explain over the course of a two-hour lecture. I now know more about joining two planks on a hull than I ever thought necessary.


Tricky stuff this wooden boatbuilding.


Thinking of tricky, you may recall we endured a month of drafting and lofting. Here’s a place where copious note-taking would be useful. Alas, only hindsight is 20-20.

Students in both the small and large craft classes are now confronting the challenge of translating vague instructions or faded blueprints into full-sized sketches worthy of three-dimensional reconstruction. The micro-artists in small craft are trying to translate Jedi master Ray Speck’s layout for a sailing skiff, while we large-craft knuckle-draggers are working through the intricacies of a Nordic Folkboat…or at least a lofted version thereof.

In both cases, would-be lofters are confronting the quirky tendencies of their wooden boatbuilding predecessors. Having constructed 30 or 40 of his sailing skiff, Ray apparently felt too many instructions for future lofters was overkill. On the other hand, the Folkboat lofters have plenty of paper to work from, but its all in metric. Who works in metric measurements? All my measuring tools are marked in good old-fashioned inches. Now I understand why Jody Boyle, another Jedi master, spends a lot of the day quietly shaking his head and trying to impart some of the less arcane lessons of wooden boatbuilding—like, oh, say, replanking a 70 year-old sailboat—a.k.a, FELICITY ANN.


Collage 2


Meanwhile, back down the hill, Jedi master Bruce Blatchley and his collection of contemporary students are engaged in the Handy Billy and that damn submarine. As it turns out, the sub is not just going to be a collection of fiberglass and ballast tanks.Tthe mold, thoughtfully provided by students at the University of Washington, is to be planked and then glassed. A fancy way of saying some of the contemporary students spent a lot of time turning large planks into long strips about 1 inch in diameter. Their shop will be aromatic with fresh cut Alaskan Yellow Cedar until someone starts the epoxy process.

Finally, noting things that float (the submarine being neither 100% above or below) another skiff has now been splashed despite the rain and lack of sunshine. Jedi master Olivier Huin led his crew to the Pacific at the close of our 13th week. With my humble human observation, that drift boat sitting aside the 36′ Chamberlin SEA BEAST is looking like a mighty close next candidate. But that’s a story for next week.


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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.


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Week 12: We’re Back!

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. cartoon_crab_thumb
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!



week 12 2
The HANDY BILLY, a 21′ motor launch under construction in the Contemporary class


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.


week 12-3
Students discuss construction of the Whitehall they are building.

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.

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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.


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Week 11: The Close to Our First Quarter

11An 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.


copper_nailandRoveWhat 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.


eri profileEric 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.


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Week 10: Skiffs and a Drift

Imagination is a wonderful indulgence, particularly when a project starts to approach fruition. It would be no minor claim to declare imagination has been fully employed here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding over the last week. In addition to stretching lines and changing structural layouts, the Jedi masters have all opted to build crafts that are more than a little different. Five of the finished products will be classic rowing skiffs with the sixth being a true drift boat. Ready to run the Grand Canyon?

IMG_1071As you would suspect, tasking for the various components has passed from one small team to another. Milling planking seems to be a specialty for some, while shaping critical components falls to others. Teamwork is happening at its finest, particularly when running a 14’ x 14” plank of Alaskan Yellow Cedar through a band saw.

Not a bad job if you are “trailing” (holding up the end), or “catching” (holding up the front end of a plank that has just passed through the saw), but very stressful for the person tasked with “driving.” They have the nerve-wracking challenge of keeping the line, steering a 14 foot plank and owning up to the final product. I’m happy to report everyone seems to have mastered the task, even when working with planks that have been planned down to less than a half-inch of thickness.

With chines completed and molds ready for loading, it’s time to start putting together a boat one board at a time. It’s amazing how many clamps one can consume before achieving the proper fit. Did I mention that fit has to be leak-proof?

It is a boat after all.

I don’t know about you, but the sight of water seeping into your boat is less than reassuring on a delightful day afloat.

This means we spend a lot of time with planes in hand and run through several fittings before going in search of Dolfinite bedding compound. Before the environmentalists head for a phone, allow me to explain. Dolfinite—despite there being a picture of a dolphin on the can—does not contain any of our favorite marine mammal. It’s a compound intended to help ensure the water stays out of the places that would otherwise cause consternation.

Not only do we get to run chisels, planes and saws, there’s also a fair amount of putty knife time in this game. Dolfinite, that sticky stuff, did eventually come off of my hands and a few places where I decided to wipe a putty knife on my pants. Kind of leaves me wondering what will happen when I run this week’s laundry through the washing machine. If the bedding compound is supposed to protect from water, well, somehow I suspect laundry soap is not going to be up to the challenge. Alas, another pair of shorts destined to be painting clothes.

Now for the fun part where we begin attaching planking to chines, stem, and transom. You won’t find any common nails here; we’ll be using number ten brass wood screws. The home for each one is pre-drilled, counter sunk, and then tested.


Wooden boatbuilding—like the construction of Rome—is not done overnight.


With that observation firmly in hand, I have to admit we have all made remarkable progress over the course of one week. Long hours in the shop and remarkable dedication and direction from the Jedi masters means we are quickly headed to the stage where hulls can be flipped right-side up and interior work begins. In fact, by Friday, Chief Instructor Sean Koomen’s team had actually completed that feat. Pretty amazing for a group of people who have never built a boat before.


And so we head into the last week of this term. The list of tools for our next class has been distributed with another trip to Edensaw in the near future. We look forward to a completed hull and the pride of knowing our handiwork contributed to the construction of a boat that will harbor imagined adventures and smiling faces for years to come.


eri profile


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.


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Week 9: Let the Games Begin!

indexAn optimist’s cup is always half-full. A pessimist’s is always half-empty. Me? I haven’t been served yet. This is no expression of despair, just a simple recognition there is much more to come in our education as would-be wooden boat builders. To that end, the flood gates opened on the Monday following Thanksgiving indulgences.

Thoughts of turkey-induced naps and pumpkin pie lingering as fond memories, we returned to campus and a daily dose of wisdom from the Jedi masters. Have I mentioned Sean Koomen does his best to keep us all on the straight and level? Or at least on the same page?

Sean serves as the Chief Instructor and source of wisdom on everything from design to “boat sauce.” (“Boat sauce” is the secret recipe employed for providing a bright finish on projects completed here at the school. I would share the mixing—alchemy for boat builders—but have been sworn to secret under pain of keelhauling. Look it up, not a great way to pay for your indiscretion.) In any case, Sean has the challenging task of roll call each morning and then imparting wisdom to a coffee-deprived audience.

Some days the optimist in me gets half full and then there are mornings when the internal pessimist is half-empty. Then I come to a realization that my brain has not yet been served. It is, after all, only week 9. The trick is to take a lot of notes and walk back into the classroom to absorb all the blackboard drawings one more time.

week 9 1To make life even trickier, the Small Craft program students were offered a very real world challenge on Monday. Following lecture, we were introduced to a Dolphin Club Whitehall rowboat. The Dolphin Club, founded in 1877, is a San Francisco based non-profit providing public access to swimming and rowing of the local waters. Initially established as a means of indulging a rowing addicted audience, the Dolphin Club expanded to include those brave enough to swim through San Francisco Bay in 1917. As a result, the Club’s boats must not only be sea-worthy, but also capable of hauling chilled swimmers back to warm showers.

Confronted with a growth in membership and need for more boats, the Dolphin Club has come to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding with a unique opportunity—construct a skiff worthy of serving a new generation of rowers and swimmers. So, we are now in possession of Don Baggiani, a 14- foot Whitehall built in 1948 and a set of lofting diagrams. Weighing in at a mere 207 pounds and featuring somewhere in the vicinity of over 1000 fasteners, this lapstrake constructed vessel is going to cause more than a few challenges.

Back to being an optimist.

Down in the Westrem shop, we have started construction on the strongback and molds for our modified skiff, based off of William Atkins’ BABY LOU design. Wait, let me take a step back and fill you in. I forgot to mention smaller boats are constructed upside down. (Not to be confused with right-side up.) This means we need a frame to hold the “molds” up off the floor—or suffer more time on hands and knees. The trick is to get dimensions right and then sacrifice four 10 foot 2 x 6 framing timbers. More sawdust time!
week 9 4    week 9 2
Then comes the move to constructing “molds.” Recall we designed and lofted to “stations.” Now we are physically constructing stations that will serve as internal contact points at key points for the hull to come. Just looking down the resulting set up you can see the vessel to come.

Boatbuilding for the class of 2016 has truly begun.

More measuring, milling and mulling later, we have the lines and shape of what has become wistfully referred to as “Thin Lizzy.” At 12 feet long, she has a 3 foot 8 inch beam and only draws about 2 and-a-half inches. Should be a delight to row, once there is a bottom, sides, and frames, not to mention a stem, transom, seating and oars. Yes, one member of our group is building a custom set of oars. The rest of us pursue various elements as they come up.

Suffice it to say, I have now been served my cup. A day spent milling, pushing a number 4 plane and discussing potential lines for the planking leaves a sense of satisfaction that appeases the optimist and vanquishes everyone’s internal pessimist. Think I will go home and work on more dovetails.

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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.


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Week 8: We Get to Start All Over Again…

Einstein_tongueA wise man once told me: “All progress is incremental—until it isn’t.” I had to think about that observation for a few days. This was not one of those mumblings about “one step forward, two steps back.” No, there was more to the message. To place the philosophy in context, think of great battles or scientific discoveries. Everything inches forward, and then suddenly an amazing transition or breakthrough takes place. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo or Einstein and the theory of relativity would be good examples.

Week 8 of boat school (despite the fact it only lasted 2 days because of Thanksgiving) very much proceeded down that philosophical path. If you recall from the last posting, we are all engaged in the art of lofting a full-sized version of a Herreshoff classic. This seemingly endless process came to fruition for my group on Monday morning. We stood back and admired our handiwork…for about 30 seconds.

That’s when the Jedi masters pitched another challenge to the would-be wooden boatbuilders.

Imagine spending close to a week-and-a-half on your hands and knees very carefully measuring points, pounding finishing nails, stretching batons and then drawing lines; only to be told the canvas would need to be repainted. And sooner would be better than later. With heavy heart, I went in search of more white paint, a roller, and pan.


Some people argue this kind of rapid erasure of the past can be cathartic. In other words, painting over the just-completed lofting would release us of the tensions built up over days of drafting this craft. I’m not buying that psycho-babble. It was a little painful to make all our sweat and toil disappear beneath a new coat of exterior house paint.

IMG_3678Then we were informed the next challenge is to loft one of the six small skiffs our class of 2016 will be constructing in the coming weeks. A chance to draw a whole new set of lines! (I remind you we are only at Week 8). While the Herreshoff is a pretty boat, it is not a task befitting the many amateurs like myself. Oh, I am certain we would make a worthy attempt, but there are many more lessons to come.

Instead, we are now in the process of lofting a sailing/rowing dingy close to 12 feet long and four feet wide. Needless to say, the table of offsets and other lofting guides are not as detailed as those provided for the previous work. And surprise surprise, we have become much more adept at this whole process. Yes, the wise man was right


“All progress is incremental—until it isn’t.”

We’ve learned a great deal about lofting over the last couple of weeks. Gee, maybe that is why they call this place the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Learning is taking place before our eyes.

With the new layer of paint in place, and only a little on my hands and knees, we set about the process of laying out a grid sufficient for the task at hand. The trick here is that the boat is to be modified. Instead of stations every 24 inches, there are now stations every 28 inches. Furthermore, the bow design became an instructor’s option. We are back to that lesson Jeff Hammond tried to drive home.


Each wooden boat is slightly different—a reflection of designer, drafter, lofter, builder and materials.

By the time we departed for our turkey dinner destinations on Tuesday afternoon, there was something starting to resemble a new boat on the floor. The basic lines are in place and the interior stations are starting to take form. We did learn about lofting. But, my damn knees are now really sore. It will feel good to sit down and stuff myself with all the traditional fixings. Now, if I could only just quit dreaming about the Herreshoff laying beneath all that new paint.


eri profile
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.


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Week 7: Lofting, Lofting, Lofting…the perils of a 6′ x 18′ canvas


Painters, at least in the world of fine art, like to refer to their targeted surface as a “canvas.” Not surprising, in the old days canvas was stretched over a frame—normally square or rectangular—and became the surface upon which to design and paint a masterpiece. As you might recall from last week, we’re not working on canvas (its door veneer), but the artist’s terminology still is appropriate. When you have this much time into a project it’s “art”…or torture.


The latter set of sentiments depends on personal opinion. There are clearly students who find the lofting process a lot of fun. Wandering through the shops, I find boats drawn with multiple colors, carefully marking wood beams to reflect end grains. Then there’s the “survivalists.” This last group is ever so carefully marching through this exercise, but with much more expenditure of blood, sweat and toil.

I suspect some of this pain comes from our morning lecture. Jeff Hammond likes to stroll through his instruction as though lofting is just another trip to the grocery store (he’s been doing it for 34+ years). Some thought is involved in planning meals for a coming week, but the rest is automatic—purchase milk, eggs, butter and bread.

Ho hum.

Well, ho hum for Jeff, not so simple from my perspective.

At this point we have managed to plot out and draw in lines for a half-breadth, plane form, and even sketch a transom. Victory!

Not yet.

Turns out there are “developments.” Developments mean drawing in dimensions for half rabbets, beards and potential ribbing. What was an already confusing collection of lines is now becoming a very complicated set of construction plans. My head hurts just standing back and looking at the 6 x 18 foot canvas. Hard to imagine the old-timers used to follow similar procedures for building a 50 foot yacht.

Every morning in the shop starts with a routine intended to facilitate progress.



(1) Find a collection of pencils
(2) Locate the pencil sharpener
(3) Stuff same and large erasure in coat pocket
(4) Grab hammer and bucket of nails. (Hammer and nails? Yup. Need to pound in a finish nail at critical points to line up a baton—no one free-hands a 16 foot line, or a 5 foot line for that matter. I bet we have driven over a thousand nails at this point in the design.)
(5) Now pick up the much soiled set of instructions and begin plotting another dimension for a boat builder.

Did I mention knee pads and socks?



IMG_3579With all this detail work laid out on shop floors, the last thing one wants is muddy foot prints across a canvas. Shoes and boots get shed at the front door. Some students spend their days in socks, others opt for slippers, moccasins, and even boat shoes. All in the name of keeping the canvas relatively clean. As for the knee pads, try spending six hours a day on your knees. Nice to have something soft between the floor and aging bones, even if you just turned 20.

And so we proceed through laying out lines for a design that likely amused no small number of sailors over the last 100 years. In essence, we are making the old new again, burning through a lot of number two pencils and at least 3 pounds of erasure along the way.

With coffee cup in hand, a stroll through the shop at the endo the day shows progress. Head cleared, it’s time to assume the “God’s eye” view. That is to say, you walk to baseline at the center point of plane form and look down. Very slowly you gage your masterpiece.

Are the lines flowing to fair? Does the half-breadth communicate a perspective from bow and stern? Can you still find the aft and forward points? And what about that pesky sheer line—is it lost in the butt lines, half rabbet and beard? Does all that make sense?

Surprisingly, it does in my head, at least for the moment. I’m told we get to repeat the entire exercise when constructing skiffs by the middle of December. Think I will head over to the store for another collection of pencils, erasers and finish nails.

eri profile


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.


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Week 6: Your Boat Has Come In…well at least figuratively

Perception is everything. Trust me. I have an old friend who argues: “Reality is perception and perception is reality.” In other words, how you see the world is arguably how the world operates. This bit of philosophy works at the micro-level, but what happens when you scale up to whole societies? Then you are at the messy game of politics and policymaking—at lot of fudging and working on smoothing off edges. The art of compromise.

My long introduction to the fact we are now at lofting. Lofting, for those of us new to boatbuilding, is the art of taking a design (recall we accomplished the scale model a couple of weeks ago) and turning it into a full-sized craft on a shop floor, in pencil, and a lot of erasure marks.

Door skin is laid
…and painted

The first step was to take out all the work benches and tool kits. A lot of groans as students hauled the collection of saws, planes and chisels back to one’s vehicle. Then it was time to drag off the work benches (500lbs a piece) and prepare the shop floors for a skin of door sheeting.

Door sheeting is the veneer one finds on the surface of most modern interior closures within a house. It comes in 4×8 foot sheets and is approximately an 1/8th of an inch thick. Works well for providing visual barriers, an appearance of fine finish, or a smooth surface for pencils and an occasional crayon. (Your children will draw on doors—an inevitable consequence of turning three years-old. Or so my mother tells me.)

Now, back to the project at hand.

We laid out the sheets on the shop floor and proceeded to very carefully line up the edges and ends so as to provide a baseline (almost as precise as that found on the desk-sized drafting paper). A few pounds of staples and paint later, the appropriate palate for lofting a 16 foot sailboat was available to 30 teams of students.

12240017_992791627410583_3880902524942339757_nTime to draw stations, grids, diagonals and butts. (Yes, butts…another set of grid lines, not a bad joke.) At this stage we have a full-sized version of the drafting station that once measured 11-24 inches. As you can imagine, the batons and drafting tools have all had to scale up as well. Instead of plastic rulers and fancy French curves carefully stowed in a pocket, the lofting job requires 20 foot strips, tick marks spread along an 8 foot plank, and a lot of endlessly sharpened pencils. Oh, did I mention the nails?

Once the lines are read off a table of offsets or derived from previously crafted measurements, one must lay out batons to “connect the dots.” This requires a bucket of finish nails and more than a bit of hammer work. In other words, don’t try to loft at home, your significant other will not be impressed with the sea of holes left in a hardwood floor. Add to this the fact you are compelled to wander about in socks so as to avoid marring previous lines and, well, this is not a project for one’s living room.

And so we proceed in vanquishing the mystery of lofting. As best my unpracticed eye can tell, the class of 2016 is well on its way to crafting a full-sized 16 foot sailboat. The Jedi masters, however, want to be sure all tricks of the trade are passed on to a new generation, cueing Jeff Hammond and his thirty-plus years of experience.

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Now we are back to my observation on perception and reality. While the perfectionists among us would like to have the entire lofting process precisely match the offsets and lines indicted on the scale plans, Jeff is quick to remind us each wooden boat is a reflection of the lofter and builder. In other words, no 16 footer in the shops is going to be exactly the same. Somewhere in this process human interaction with pencils, paper, nails, door veneer and batons is going to result in slight deviations. To say nothing of then going into construction with a less than perfect medium—wood.

It’s more than a little humbling to keep this in mind after having precision driven into the brain via endless dovetail practice, but reassuring for those of us who can swing a mean paintbrush while struggling with straight hand-saw cuts. So on to the lofting we continue. A figurative exercise that could produce that elusive target—a floating object lovingly referred to as a wooden boat.

Eric, the author, can be seen on the right.


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.
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Week 5: Hands on a Boat! Blending Instruction and Instinct

About the time I was lamenting absence of contact with nautical craft, we get a reprieve. Escape one came with a trip to Port Townsend’s “Boat Haven.” A working shipyard with an interesting collection of commercial, military, and recreational craft. If it floats—regardless of hull material—a boat in the Northwest is likely to be found in the Boat Haven at some point or another. This is a field trip for adults absent the ubiquitous yellow school bus.

Snooping around Edensaw Woods

Adding further intellectual amusement to our days at Port Hadlock, we were subsequently offered the opportunity to wander through Edensaw Woods and the Port Townsend Foundry. Edensaw Woods is an “adult” store for woodworkers. Opened by a pair of Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding graduates, Edensaw claims to have approximately 1 million board feet of lumber on hand and provides access to a sea of tools. Throw in access to their millwork shop and…well…you have a collection of awestruck students.

The Port Townsend Foundry is a story in and of itself. Opened in 1983, the Foundry specializes in casting marine hardware. These are artisans of the metal world; keeping in mind many of their models are first developed in wood. In essence, becoming a Foundry specialist means you will have to master some of the same skills we are honing on a daily basis. An eye-opener for people who thought wood was just a quaint construction material employed in homes and floating objects.

Thinking of floating objects, escape from the drafting wizards meant we were dispatched to construct a half-plane model of the hull so laboriously sketched out on each desk in the classroom. Sounds simple. Take the plans you have just developed, select an appropriate 10 feet of 1 x 11 inch pine, and then draw each of the water line breaks on a stacking basis to arrive at a three-dimensional artifact of the drawing you have come to loath.

Sounds simple—execution is another story.

The lines for each of the eight pieces you are about to sketch and then cut from the pine planks are resident on those carefully drawn drafts. Just pick up a pair of calibers and start transferring the dimensions from paper to wood. Then casually wander over to a band saw and set about cutting out each of the pieces. (As you might suspect, I am using the term “casually” quite sarcastically here…the sawing process is mentally and physically challenging…no one wants to have to cut a second set of waterlines…even when they are only 16 inches long.)

Now for the fun part. Stack the resulting pieces together so they may be glued and carved into a model reflecting your drawing. No mean feat. Welcome to the common toothpick. What quickly becomes apparent is that stacking all that lumber and glue is a slippery affair unless you figure out a means of keeping the various levels attached while going through an assembly process. This is where the toothpicks come in.

As you are going to have to carve the hull shape into this collection of pine slicings, screws are out. So for each layer a couple of holes are drilled to insert the toothpicks and then glue is applied. Works like a charm, but I never thought I would be using my claw hammer to drive toothpicks into lumber. Back to that whole thing about being a boat school where one is in danger of learning new things here.

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Once the basic shape is glued and clamped it’s time to work on the next skill. Dovetails.


I am no “natural” at dovetails. The Jedi Masters (aka instructors) torture us with a film of the dovetail savants. There are people who seemingly cut perfect dovetails without employing measurement or marking. Not me. At this point I must have cut 50 dovetails and the glue is not yet dry on the half-plane model. Practice, practice. Homework for the evening. I just wonder what the neighbors think when I sit in the shop and turn perfectly good lumber into scrap.

Back to the boat. Once glue has set and the resultant product is clamped into place it’s time for the draw knife, spoke shave and hand plane. All that sharpening time is now going to pay off. I will get to spend the next eight hours carving the rough cut form into a hull form worthy of running hands over a baby’s bottom.

Yes, you read that correctly. A well-formed half-plane hull model should feel as smooth as a baby’s behind. It’s an instinctive thing, not easily explained. For some reason, many of us just come to the realization the hull shape is right because it feels right. Some things in life defy science and mathematical explanations.


Don’t laugh. More than one old master of this craft built a model and then backed the design off onto paper after sensing the dimensions were perfect for sliding through water.

And with that we come to the end of another week at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Oh, before I depart to work on more dovetails, a positive note to keep motivation in proper trajectory. The livery class has now provided all of us an opportunity to employ rowboats constructed by previous students. Suffice it to say there is nothing more satisfying than messing about in boats—off to row.

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.
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Week #4: Drafting Blues

12190032_985773431445736_1938638718682860227_nNo one ever said boat school would be all sawdust and hand tools. Oh, you would like to believe that was the case, but truth of the matter is new designs require drafting…and drafting means sitting at a desk while figuring out how to create a three-dimensional model on a two dimension surface. The computer guys have figured out how to accomplish this task with a relatively simple set of keystrokes. We are doing it with pencil, compass and a table of offsets.

Enough to keep even the most grizzled carpenter humble.

Think of it this way. Take the blue print for your home. Set it on plane form (what it looks like from the side), then add the front view. So far so good. Then add a perspective pulling in the rear shot (where the bar-b-que grill will go along with your hammock and lawnmower.

Not done yet.

To make life more challenging, tip the entire design onto its left front corner and then draw lines for the basement and roofline from a gopher’s perspective. Did I mention it all has to stay on one sheet of paper measuring 18 x 24 inches? Daunting was the first word that came to my mind. I think some of my fellow students had equally mind numbing terms passing through their cerebral cortex.

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Coffee and lunch become the mental health break. Coffee is an excuse to walk back to the pot and look over everyone’s shoulder. Ah, that’s how you derive the following measurements. It’s also an excuse to see just how good some of the classmates are at waging battle with paper and pencil. Suffice it to say, more than a few of my cohort should become architects. I would just be happy to pass civil engineering.

Alas, I forgot to mention what we were drafting. A classic hull for a 16 foot sailboat, drawn over a century ago be people most Americans will never come to know. The lines are remarkable, performance was likely capable of delivering endless smiles, and the entire process was accomplished without wind tunnels, water tanks, or computer models—those old guys were smart in a means that simply does not translate into today’s society.

Unless you are on the far edge of programming cellphone apps or still trying to create new furniture out of wood, absent a 3D printer.

This all begs the question, did we accomplish the mission? Yes! Some of the work will almost certainly land up behind glass in a picture frame for others to admire. Mine will become a sketch for a model that leaves a thousand compass pin pricks in the outlines. Regardless of ultimate disposition, the lesson came across loud and clear, here is how to envision a boat before turning to timber selection.

In my own humble observation, more “visionaries” would be well-suited to a lesson in working through this exercise in imagination and exacerbation. Who knows, it might have save the Ford Motor Company from the Edsel. A story for another day.

Completed draft in hand, we are back to the shop. Time to construct the classic half-plane form model one can find in endless antique stores. My bet is most of those “antiques” came off a basement bench and never resulted in a finished craft. Our task is less benign, but equally as dusty.

So we reach the end of week four and lean into the next set of skills. I, for one, am wondering when I will finally cut a set of dovetails that will allow for me to construct a box sufficient for hauling tools into a shipyard—less set my hands on an actual floating boat.

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.
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Week 3: Move Along…Nothing to be Seen Here

Welcome to week three of wooden boat school. By now you’ve been entertained with joints of all variety, made a few hand tools—including a mallet sufficient for whacking any chisel, and struggled through a variety of power tool lectures that leaves one wondering if any of these devices may be employed without risk to life or limb…or at least all the digits on either hand. (More than one instructor has threatened that graduation is dependent up leaving a year from now with the same number of fingers as when you started. If the number was 10 on day 1, it better be 10 on day 365. Same is true if you enrolled with nine digits.)

Mast_BoomWith that bit of wisdom firmly in hand—pun fully intended—we are encouraged to learn the fine art of making square timbers into spars. (For those of you not afflicted with a sailing addiction, the spar—boom or mast—is a stick upon which a sail is attached in a manner sufficient to create proper form for lift on a vertical plane. Aircraft depend upon a horizontal lift pattern—sailboats work on a vertical. In essence, you are “flying” sideways along the water. Ok, ok, enough of the nautical, back to woodworking.)

Just when you thought power tools are dangerous, welcome to the draw knife. Featuring a blade students have been encouraged to hone down to shaving quality, a draw knife will make short work of pine and fir in a manner of minutes. It also creates a pile of shavings that beg for a bonfire. Given Port Hadlock’s history, we are strongly discouraged from considering the option of burning—but a bag of the material did make it to my backyard. No need for gasoline when granted access to this kind of material.

So there we are, taking a perfectly good 4×4 and turning it into a rolling pin via the sharpest hand tools one can accumulate. Sounds simple. Take a sequence of measurements that turn the square into an octagon, then 16 sides and, finally, 32 that are shaved into a smooth feature perfect for rolling pie crust or pizza dough.

Ah…the draw knife

Right. Sounds simple. Execution is an entirely different manner. Particularly when sandpaper is off the agenda.

The class whizzes pull this off in a manner of hours. The rest of us get to ponder what constitutes circular and why the damn timber will not roll easily over a table top, less pass with the Jedi Knight (aka instructor) standing at the bench in front of us neophytes. Suffice it to say, much pine was left on the shop floor and more than one 4×4 went into the scrap bin as a failed rolling pin.

Mast-DimensionsFrustration aside, this was not a gesture of futility. Many of the finest tall ship sticks in the world are still working with timber spars and similar masts. Someone has to retain the skill necessary to manufacture replacements or we will all be condemned to fiberglass and aluminum. (Hmmm, perhaps “condemned” is too strong a term—what I meant to say was “constrained.” Must have been a Freudian Slip—my subconscious effort to preserve the world of wooden boats when confronted with the reality of modern convenience.)

In any case, something approaching round finally came from my knotty 4×4. It rolled across the table saw with minimal wobble and was suitable for squishing spiders and other insects that meander through the shop.

Such are the days of learning to recreate skills so common to those who resided in this area just a scant century ago. Fortunately the Ford 150 does not need a saddle or to be brushed and shoed on a regular basis—I would never make it to class on time if that were the case.

On to the next week of challenges—drafting up lines for a sailboat. Perhaps I can glean some of the secrets that made the Herreshoff name famous. Sketching has to be easier than sharpening and planing a 4×4 day after day.

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.


For more on the Herreshoff family and their boats, I strongly recommend reading: Roger C Taylor, 2015, L. Francis Herreshoff Yacht Designer, Mystic Seaport, Mystic Connecticut. A thoroughly engaging text, the story is woven together with a wonderful collection of pictures and the designs for a number of craft familiar to all of us who wander the sea.

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Week 2: Time to Return the Favor

I was once asked why spend time on “free” projects when there is so much work to be accomplished at a billable rate? The answer—at least for me—is relatively simple.  Without the generous contribution of time and money from no small number of “strangers”, I would not be granted the privilege of residing in the American northwest, to say nothing of attending a boatbuilding school.

So I find myself in the company of fellow military veterans, working at the Port Hadlock Community Boat Project. For those of you who have not had the chance to wander the campus, the Community Boat Project occupies a space just above the large boat workshops.  Providing a workspace for high school students, artisans seeking to share their skills, and a collection of the curious, this is a haven for people who enjoy wood, water and good company.

The trick, of course, is finding funding and ensuring basic labor and maintenance is accomplished on a schedule that meets program requirements. Occasionally, this means recruiting volunteers to haul trash or move lumber.  On other days it means standing on a ladder or scaffolding while assembling a covered space to store or construct the next project.

As the pictures reveal, we learned a lot in two days of work.
As the pictures reveal, we learned a lot in two days of work.

Confronted with the forthcoming winter—also known as the “great northwet” in this part of the country, the Community Boat Project requested assistance from vets attending the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. A few of us have practice in general contracting—others are just learning to swing a hammer.  Ultimately, it makes no difference.  You will learn to construct and assemble on the fly.

Tear down the old lean-to. Build arches for a new storage area and then stretch canvas and plastic to keep out most of the elements.  I use the term “most” very loosely.  Oh, you can keep the rain off topsides and block a majority of the prevailing wind, but, there is no eliminating the humidity and cold.  Mix the last two in this climate and there is space for everyone to experience the joy of arthritis.  Just ask the twenty-somethings who are standing next to us condemned to be labeled “baby boomers.”

Enough whining.

To keep this project in perspective, consider the option of cutting 17 foot long rafters, hauling them up 20 feet into the air and then assembling in a 15.10.18_CBP-3manner that hopefully will not blow away in the next wind storm. Add to this a covering that is 32 feet wide and about 50 feet long.  Maybe I should have taken the optional course on sail making.

Fortunately, the whole plan came to fruition. Even with a few stumbles in measurement and sawing—Japanese saws prevailed—the structure went up in record time.  It gives one a greater appreciation for what a barn-raising would have been like in the Midwest back at the turn of the century (think 1890) or what might happen on an Amish farm any given Spring or Summer to this very day.

With dogs underfoot, bagels in the belly, and hammers in hand, we partnered the boatbuilding school’s talent with local volunteers in a manner befitting the task at hand. The shelter is up and no one went home with hurt feelings.  In other words, the contribution of time giving to a new generation of woodworkers was worth every minute.

All of which leaves me asking, what are you doing to return the assistance and opportunities provided over a course of a lifetime—be that 20 or 70 years.

The talents found at a boat school may be quite different from those found in a kitchen or sewing room, but all are equally valuable when it comes to enabling those who have not the same chance to pick up the skills we have come to master.

With that said, it’s time to pack my lunches for the next week of lessons, tools, and wizened insights from the Jedi masters.


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.



The Community Boat Project’s mission is to build a stronger Community by intergenerational Maritime Education.
To give youth a “sense of place” by connecting them to the Environment, the Economy, and the People of their region.

They are a partnership between the Puget Sound Voyaging Society, Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Port Townsend School District (#50), Chimacum School District (#49), and Jefferson County 4-H/WSU.

To learn more about the Community Boat Project, visit or at

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Week 1: How I Spend My Week…Not As Simple As You Think

Ah, we made it to week two of boatbuilding school. The morning lecture is in danger of imparting wisdom, while the remainder of any given day has been a lesson in relearning the art of simplicity, or so it would seem.  Joining disparate planks is hardly a new avocation.  Want a chest, house, or ship to come together?  Outside of plastics and Three-D printing, the time-tested solution is cutting timber to appropriate dimensions and then securing planks to one another.

This seems a relatively straightforward process, until someone takes away the power tools and renders Mr. Edison—the man who brought us saws that don’t make you sweat—a pleasant memory that will not be indulged anytime in the immediate future. Confronted with a request to create half-laps, mitered joints, dove tails and a scattering of variations of the same, the dash is on to master chisel, plane and Japanese saws.

I like to think I am a relatively patient person—at least when it comes to woodworking. Rather than demand an expediency afforded by the latest laptop, router and wizards at Google, I am satisfied with assembling projects large and small via imagination and a table saw.  Alas, the latter has been removed from my life, at least for the time being. Joints that would require 15 minutes and some careful adjustment of the blade and table fence now burn up three hours of my day. To be forthcoming, I have rendered a hefty white pine sawdust and firewood scrap assortment while in search of a perfect straight line and a “simple” flat surface.

15.10.11_How I spent my week
           Behold the first week projects.

Another note of wisdom, BEWARE THE CHISEL. Having spent no small amount of time preparing the chisels via 500 grit sandpaper and a wet stone, these tools are ready for a close shave. Timbers are less cooperative, particularly when you add knots and a grain that does not match across the width of a plank.  The seemingly sharp chisels are now blunt instruments that, when even slightly misapplied, become a great way to cut nifty slices on the end of one’s fingers. Despite this fingernail art, no band aids or blue paint tape (a general contractor’s solution to on-site emergencies) on my fingers, yet. Oh sure, there are a few odd slices and indentations in my fingernails, but nothing worthy of a trip to the medicine cabinet or—worse yet—an emergency room.

Having managed to complete the week’s tasks in a semi-timely manner—the bevels took me four tries and more than a few choice of under-the-breadth comments—it was time to step back and contemplate what had been accomplished. A self-critique of my own work suggests there is reason aplenty for more practice.  Standing in a space that rests over waters adjoining our Pacific coastline, I can think of no better place to indulge in this endeavor.


But before I wax poetic, back to the lessons learned. As much as I would like to think years of power tool exposure would have taught a few valuable lessons—14 inch band saws do not come from the store preassembled—the safety gurus lead a how to in handling seemingly benign hand tools followed by  a lecture and quiz  to demonstrate mastery of a drill press and band saw.

Think I passed.

So far I can drill holes about where they should be located and the band saw has a blade rotating with cutting teeth pointing in the right direction. Time to take a break and see the world.  Off to Canada for turkey with family and a chance to wander the marinas of Vancouver.  You can take the kid out of boat school, but you can’t take boats out of the kid.


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.


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Day 1: When Old is New Again

Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987.

Looking around the classroom, I had recollections of a mosh-pit at a Nirvana concert I attended back in the late 80s. “Seattle chic” was all the rage. You know the look; Black knitted watch cap, beard that was trimmed sometime last summer, flannel shirt, pair of dungarees (color not important), but no fashion designers, and working boots. Very fashionable with the college co-eds intent upon making a “statement.” Standard attire for this set.


Welcome to the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding class of 2016. In our midst stand recent high school graduates, college success stories, more than a few veterans, the odd cardiologist, veterinarian and a few wayward souls for whom I have no explanation. Sixty-two strong, we represent more than former day laborers, fishermen, general contractors, and fifty-somethings seeking an “encore career.” (I kid you not, this is the latest catch phrase for those of us who turned on, tuned in and dropped out—after competing round one, two or three in the world of gainful employment.)
Not exactly what one expects. Well, on second thought, exactly what one expects when entering into a world that makes little sense to people who seek to make a career of sitting behind a keyboard and hoping the service sector will continue to blossom. Can’t blame those folks. Good common sense dictates a computer cubical, air conditioning and an anatomically correct chair which is preferable to standing in a shipyard mulling over a challenge the Vikings could likely comprehend.

Row, row, row your boat…

I’m with the Vikings. As, clearly, are many of my classmates. Hell, half of them look like they just stepped off an oar-powered long ship. (Not that I am one to talk. Been a while since my chin saw the sun or a barber clipped my hair.)

Appearances aside, a quick round of introductions reveals what a true wooden boatbuilding school is going to draw. A crew of wood-working enthusiasts of varying skills and temperaments who all share a single desire—get a lot better at a skill that does not involve computer coding, a restrictive dress code or the BMW 700 series to impress cubical counterparts. (I lied about the computer coding—seems even woodworking has dropped into the digital world, the rest is cold-hard truth…trust me.)

Having stood in front of a classroom on a few occasions, this lot has to be a daunting proposition for the faculty and staff. It may be, but as the old adage goes, never let them see you sweat. However, there’s no evidence of a bit of hesitation which is always reassuring when thinking about going back to school. Who wants a faculty that openly asks questions about their own capabilities? Not me. Certainly not my 61 other counterparts.

But, keep in mind the faculty has leveled this playing field. Most of us have mastered a variety of power tools and learned no small number of bad habits. You want a half-lap joint? No sweat, give me a tape measure and table saw—takes about 15 minutes. Not so here. Rather than indulge our rip-saw fantasies, the whole student body has been out shopping for Japanese saws, planes, and spoke shaves. Yup, spoke shaves.

Seems the plan afoot is to help us learn the art of wood working back at a stage your grandfather or great grandfather would have understood—nay, had to practice. Add to that the complications of boat design—this is a boatbuilding school after all—and the time spent framing square homes is going to encounter a new reality. Curved is the new square.


 “I’m standing on a whole new planet, one that drops off
the horizon 12 miles out from a coastline.
And this is just day one.”


With that I invite you to join us on a one year adventure that will certainly feature band aides—damn chisels are sharp—failure, frustration, and a lot of learning. Along the way you may pick up a few tips and offer insights necessary to ensure this odd lot steps out into the modern world with a sense of craftsmanship vaunted at many business schools but only longed after at Harvard.

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.