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Week 13: What’s a little rain when you have boats to build?

Never underestimate the powers of human observation.  Just don’t expect immediate leaps to scientific discovery based upon this particular skill. Case in point,  Port Townsend seemingly loses half of its population come late October winter winds. Given the option of staying in place to sit out short days or soak up some guaranteed liquid sunshine, the “snowbirds” head south to, oh say, Tucson or San Diego. This makes for quick grocery shopping and short lines at the gas station for those “year-rounders”.


That said, there is a flip side to this annual exodus. About the time the “snowbirds” feel compelled to migrate, their boats come out of the water for maintenance. Boat Haven, Port Townsend’s expansive shipyard, fills up with interesting projects in various stages of completion. However, these fish out of water projects share a common completion date.  The stranded vessels must be back afloat by mid-April, when owners return to once again ply the waters of our great “Northwest.”


Port Townsend Boat Haven Copyright:Joel Rogers /

So here’s where the powers of observation kick in. Why does the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding graduate a class in September?

Because that is when the shipyards get busy.

In other words, the would-be boatbuilder needs a hearty soul or lots of warm clothes. There’s not too many heaters or sheltered work areas in Boat Haven, but I bet the crews in Maine would change places in a heartbeat. After all, 40 degrees and drizzle is still preferable to 15 degrees and 40 inches of snow. With that I leap ahead in our educational experiences.


Having settled into our new division of specialization, the Class of 2016 is learning the fine art of planking and butt blocks. Don’t scoff, there is an art to butt block manufacturing as Jedi master Sean Koomen took great pains to explain over the course of a two-hour lecture. I now know more about joining two planks on a hull than I ever thought necessary.


Tricky stuff this wooden boatbuilding.


Thinking of tricky, you may recall we endured a month of drafting and lofting. Here’s a place where copious note-taking would be useful. Alas, only hindsight is 20-20.

Students in both the small and large craft classes are now confronting the challenge of translating vague instructions or faded blueprints into full-sized sketches worthy of three-dimensional reconstruction. The micro-artists in small craft are trying to translate Jedi master Ray Speck’s layout for a sailing skiff, while we large-craft knuckle-draggers are working through the intricacies of a Nordic Folkboat…or at least a lofted version thereof.

In both cases, would-be lofters are confronting the quirky tendencies of their wooden boatbuilding predecessors. Having constructed 30 or 40 of his sailing skiff, Ray apparently felt too many instructions for future lofters was overkill. On the other hand, the Folkboat lofters have plenty of paper to work from, but its all in metric. Who works in metric measurements? All my measuring tools are marked in good old-fashioned inches. Now I understand why Jody Boyle, another Jedi master, spends a lot of the day quietly shaking his head and trying to impart some of the less arcane lessons of wooden boatbuilding—like, oh, say, replanking a 70 year-old sailboat—a.k.a, FELICITY ANN.


Collage 2


Meanwhile, back down the hill, Jedi master Bruce Blatchley and his collection of contemporary students are engaged in the Handy Billy and that damn submarine. As it turns out, the sub is not just going to be a collection of fiberglass and ballast tanks.Tthe mold, thoughtfully provided by students at the University of Washington, is to be planked and then glassed. A fancy way of saying some of the contemporary students spent a lot of time turning large planks into long strips about 1 inch in diameter. Their shop will be aromatic with fresh cut Alaskan Yellow Cedar until someone starts the epoxy process.

Finally, noting things that float (the submarine being neither 100% above or below) another skiff has now been splashed despite the rain and lack of sunshine. Jedi master Olivier Huin led his crew to the Pacific at the close of our 13th week. With my humble human observation, that drift boat sitting aside the 36′ Chamberlin SEA BEAST is looking like a mighty close next candidate. But that’s a story for next week.


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.