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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.