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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.