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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?

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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 15: Pancakes



Somewhere along the line an editor has politely told me no introductory clause has a single word and certainly should not be a breakfast meal. What a shame, all that lecturing gone to waste and I insist on opening with pancakes.

IMG_4307Mind you, that is not all we did during week 15, but the blueberry pancakes for lunch on Thursday will take a while to fade from memory. Many thanks to staff members Tulip Morrow (Student Services Cooridnator), Heidi Groh (Admissions Coordinator) and Christina Cogan (Communications & Development Coordinator). Add to that one of our classmates and Jedi master Sean Koomen (Chief Instructor), who makes a mean blueberry buckwheat pancake. Why all this breakfast nonsense? Thursday was national blueberry pancake day—at least according to Congress. And you thought they did nothing useful in Washington DC? Ok, enough pancakes and syrup, at least for the moment.

So, where do we stand here at week 15?

Jedi master Jody Boyle patiently watched for two days as a pair of us large craft knuckle-draggers tried to figure out how in-walls are installed on a skiff. (Yes, there are at least two more skiffs waiting to float out of the Class of 2016’s  growing fleet.) We finally figured out the game, and then he divulged a secret. ‘PATTERN BEFORE TRYING TO BEND TIMBERS.’ We had the second in-wall done in less than 60 minutes. When it comes to wooden boatbuilding, experience and lessons learned sure beats labor and silent cursing. Thinking of labor…

Remember Oliver? I introduced Oliver last week. Our ceaseless taskmaster of a planer who will take all manner of abuse regardless of timber or weather. We knew Oliver could care less about wood types and what we discovered this week is that he cares less about rain. Good thing. It’s been wet up here in the Northwest—still beats snow. My apologies to counterparts in Maine.

So we start feeding Oliver in the pouring rain. No worries. He’s up to the task.


The result? A “Great Wall of Wood” in the Hammond Shop. We are drying planking for the Felicity Ann, Folkboat, and Whitehalls, all at one time. Makes for a lot of scrambling around timbers and the “stickers” necessary to provide breathing space necessary to take this lumber from building material to ship stock.

No one said wooden boatbuilding was easy on the imagination or spine.

Time to stop grumbling. Another skiff has met the sea. On Wednesday, Master Jedi Bruce Blatchley splashed “Thin Lizzy.” Rain or no rain, this stretched version of the standard skiff (we added two feet), went into the Pacific and out for a row. Proving he was up to the task, Bruce took the lead in rowing Thin Lizzy around the bay. A skiff that will serve family and friends for a generation to come.

So where do we stand?

Up at the large craft shop the Sea Beast has found decking and a cockpit. The Felicity Ann has most of her planking, and the Folkboat won an admirable white oak transom. And then we spent time steaming and bending timbers. Who said we sleep up here in the sawdust kingdom?

In the Rubb Shelter the Whitehall teams are proving the craftsperson skills we learned in that first quarter and are about to meet Oliver. (He’s cranky…just my head’s up.) Down in contemporary, half the submarine looks like epoxy wizards are ready to roll. (I still have to figure out the pram they are working on…more to follow.)   And in the Westrem…? Well, a lot of lofting and crafting of all the bits and pieces that make up anything that floats.

And so goes another week here at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. If you thought this was all work and no fun, keep in mind a colleague, his wife and I had the chance to sail last Sunday and are looking forward to much more time afloat. Imagine the scenery when the clouds blow out and the strait opens to fair winds and following seas. Kind of like thinking of pancakes when you make same with an intention to make people happy—always fun when the work is done.

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.


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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Marking 35 Years of Teaching


January 2016 marks the 35th year of the Boat School!

To commemorate this milestone we journey back to November 1982 when the Boat School campus was located at the Port Townsend Boat Haven and the first student built boat was launched.

The Charity Ann was a 28-foot working tug built on commission and was a replica of one used for many years by the owner’s family. It took a year and a half to complete and was built of fir, iron bark, red cedar, and redwood.


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2016-2017 Enrollment is Open

2016-2017 Enrollment is Open!!

If you (or someone you know) has dreamed of starting a new hands-on career, make sure to apply for one of the three boatbuilding programs we offer! The last two years we’ve had full enrollment and a waiting list. Students are accepted on a rolling basis so applicants are encouraged to submit applications as soon as possible.

Don’t miss your chance to begin your year of discovery!

For the School Catalogue and Enrollment Forms, visit


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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.