Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Build a Wooden Boat

When I was a teenager, my parents owned a Catalina 25. We sailed it on a decent sized lake in upstate New York. We also had a Phantom, very similar to a Sunfish, which I sailed on the same lake. I had a great time sailing with my family, taking the Phantom out on my own and, when I was a little older, going out with friends on the Catalina.

We docked the Catalina in a narrow inlet. Coming back to the dock we had to motor past a number of other boats until we reached our slip. One day, I remember quite vividly, there was a boat at the end of the dock that caught my eye. I went back down to look at it after tying our boat up. This boat was somewhat smaller than most of the others; I'd guess 18', or maybe as small as 16'. It had a small cabin and was clearly made of wood. It was all painted, no brightwork, and I suppose it could have been said to have a workboat quality finish. Even so, there was something about it that fascinated me. It had been crafted, not produced. I remember thinking "they don't make them like that anymore."

I don't know whose boat that was, and I don't remember ever seeing it again. As time went by I mostly forgot about it. Until years later.

I did my graduate studies in Houston. Living on a graduate student's salary, one of my favorite pastimes was to browse the shelves of the many mega-bookstores. On one particular day, while looking at books in the sports section, probably for martial arts books, I noticed Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding. Build your own boat? Such a thing had never occurred to me. Not long after, I discovered WoodenBoat Magazine. Based on the evidence from their "Launchings" section, all kinds of people built all sorts of boats.

That is when I remembered that little wooden boat at the end of the dock. I'm fully convinced that was someone's project. I wonder how many years that boat laid out, partially complete, in some fellow's garage. I wonder how many nights he went out there "just to get a little work done before bed." I wonder how many afternoons he sat, looking at his plans, thinking "now how am I going to do that."

When I go out to work on my boat, I like to imagine her floating at the end of a dock somewhere. I'd like to hope that someone's eye might be drawn to her. And as that someone looks her over, she will say to him "They don't build them like that. You have to do it yourself."

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