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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.