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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.

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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.