Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Living Dreams

Just over three years ago, I set out to build a small sailboat, and also endeavoured to record the ensuing events, thoughts, emotions, and experiences in this blog.  This marks the 100th post in this blog.  As such, it seems an appropriate time to take a retrospective at all of the events chronicled so far...


Let's talk for a moment about dreams, for why do people build and own small pleasure craft if not to satisfy some sort of dream?  For some it is the dream of building something, something beautiful, something useful, something physical and real.  They are in it to participate in the joy of creation.  Others dream of the places they'll go, the days spent thrashing upwind, spray flying, and the cool nights in a quiet anchorage.   They dream of sailing back in time, enjoying discovering new lands and seeing new things, voyaging where others seldom go.  They look forward to a future of anachronistic adventure.

For me, it was both.  The call of creation surely beckoned.  My being yearned for the primordial joy of losing one's self in the most basic of human arts, using one's hands to turn raw materials into something useful.  This alone would be motivation enough for a project like this.

Yet, there was more.  Reinforcing that motivation, and sometimes even overwhelming it, was the desire to live out the dreams of simple times on the water.  Close your eyes!  Just think! Imagine sailing into port on a summer evening, sun dipping down toward the horizon, a warm, gentle breeze caressing the skin and filling the sails.  Imagine a blustery autumn day, the oranges of land, the sky still blue despite clouds rolling in ahead of the coming storm, the steely grey of the water, punctuated by whitecaps, the thrill as your doughty vessel plunges forward, undaunted. Imagine swaying peacefully at anchor, experiencing quiet and peace, perfect and still, reclining in the cockpit, gazing up from at a million stars that you never existed.   The soul is stirred!

If you have to ask why to build a small wooden boat, you will probably never understand.


Reflections on Creation


So, animated by dreams, I set out to build a small sailboat.  The boat of choice was a design called PocketShip, penned by John C. Harris.  He designed PocketShip not for a customer, but to be his personal boat, a boat to meet his needs and wants.  It turned out that this manifestation of its designer's dream spoke to the dreams of others as well.  The reaction of others to this design was so great, that John Harris made it commercially available through his company, Chesapeake Light Craft.

A CNC-cut kit is available for this boat from Chesapeake Light Craft, but I eschewed in favor of building from plans.  As another PocketShip builder wrote, "I couldn't really tell people I built my own sailboat if someone else cut out all the parts."  If that sounds a little prideful, it is.  Building from a kit requires 95% of the time and 99% of the skill that building from plans does.  But, for me, there was an emotional need to start from scratch.

I first took pencil to plywood in early November, 2010, laying out the shapes that would define this thing that I was creating.  Two weeks later, those shapes began to emerge from the sheets of plywood.  The result was a collection of strange geometric figures that would have been at home hanging from the walls of a gallery in the Museum of Modern Art.

Soon, epoxy started to flow, welding these elements more and more complex compounds.  Sheets of plywood became a centerboard trunk, basically a glorified box.  More wood was added and that glorified box became a keel, still more two dimensional than anything.  Still more wood and that two dimensional keel became a three dimensional shape, a shape clearly recognizable as the hull of a boat.

Wood was added, epoxy and fiberglass applied, and everything was sanded smooth.  More wood, more epoxy, more sanding.  Over and over, wood, epoxy, sanding.  And each time, things became more real, more finished.

That is not to say that it was one, easy, uninterrupted process.  Errors were made and solutions had to be found.  Motivation had to be maintained when the appearance of progress was scarce and the resulting gratification lacking.  And then there was the time everything ground to a halt because of fear.  Fear that the boat that was taking shape would not live up to the dream.

For me, it was the big epoxy fillets that hold the boat together.  These are not just an important part of the structure of the boat, but they are also exceedingly visible in the cabin of the boat.  And I had a vision of them being perfect.  Perfect.  I wanted people to gaze upon them in awe.  I wanted superlatives heaped upon my handwork.  And yet, when I looked at the work that I had done, I didn't see the perfection I was looking for.  So, I tried to correct it.  After several perfunctory efforts at sanding them into perfection, I became disheartened.  And afraid.  Afraid that I could never bring my work up to snuff.  Afraid that the dream could not be translated into reality.  In my despair, I found myself working on the boat less and less, until, finally, all work stopped.  For months.

The dark lines are the fillets that "weren't good enough"
Salvation finally came in the form of the 2011 Wooden Boat Festival in
Port Townsend.  There my eyes were opened.  I saw fillets.  Real life fillets.  Fillets by professional builders.  Fillets on display boats.  And they weren't any better than mine.  Reality smashed my illusions of perfection, and allowed me accept my work for what it was.  Good enough.

Dreams are just that, fantastical imaginings of a nonexistent reality.  There are no flaws in dreams, a fact which must be recognized when translating dreams to reality, for reality has imperfections.  Those imperfections must be embraced, for the disillusionment resulting from maintaining an impossible standard of perfection will surely kill any dream, any joy, any love.  Flaws will exist, disillusion will be experienced, and it is ok.  You have to make the decision to look past the flaws, to choose to love both the good and the bad.  And you move on.

And move on I did.  The cabin got fiberglass, a sole, and a coat of paint.  The decks went on.  The topsides were stitched and glued.  Piece by piece, the final form of the boat emerged.  Soon, the boat itself emerged from the garage, briefly, only to be flipped over and immediately put back in.  More fiberglass, more epoxy, more sanding, a blues song or two, some paint, and again the boat went into the sunlight, and again it was flipped over and returned to the nest for more of the same.  The next time she emerged, it was for real.  After a brief flurry of rigging action, the boat was ready to fulfil her raison d'etre.  To be a vessel of the sea.

A Dream Being Fulfilled

The act of launching Solitude III on September 4th, 2012. had all the trappings of a dream fulfilled.  Construction of this vessel was complete and I was sailing on her.  Yet, really, launching the boat was just a milestone.  The adventures just started; the dreams are still being fulfilled.

Solitude III has been in the water over a year now, and oh, the places we've gone.  Those dreams of sailing adventures the help fuel the building process are coming true.  There have been early morning sails, after-work excursions, all-day adventures, and sunset cruises.  There have been solo adventures and trips with friends and family. 

So far, sailing has been confined to waters near home, though that has not limited the the adventure.  From the vantage point of a small boat, you see the water from different, more intimate perspective, and allows one to see familiar sights with new eyes and with new wonder.

And that's not the end of the story.  The voyages and the adventures have just begun.  The dreaming continues.

Timeline of Major Events (So Far...)

20 September - Ordered the PocketShip plans
12 November - Construction begins.  Bought plywood and started laying out the parts
25 November - Cut out first parts.  Very first part was the doubler for the cockpit storage locker.

19 April - Keel laid.
13 May - Hull stitched
26 June - Hull glued
July-September - Afraid of sanding
October - Interior fiberglassed

January - Decks installed, topsides stitched.
May - Topsides complete and fiberglassed. Rubrails installed
June - Mast constructed
July - Boat flipped.  Hull 'glassed.  #1 hit song, "Boatsanding Blues" released to international critical acclaim.
August - Hull painted bright red.  Boat flipped upright again.
30 August - 2nd-tolast coat of topcoat on upper hull.  Trailer purchased.
31 August - Painting complete.  Transom and rubrail varnishing complete.  Boat licensed
1 September - Keel box built for trailer.  Installed grab rails, drop board retainers and bow eye.
2 September - Installed lots of hardware
3 September - Boat onto trailer.  Spars installed.  Standing and running rigging setup
4 September - Boat completed!  Maiden Voyage!!!!!!!!!!
5 September - Day of rest.
6-9 September - Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend
December - Voyage to Langley

February - A German builds Solitude III in two days!
March - Sailing with Gray Whales
May - Overnight cruise to Edmonds
September - First salmon caught
October - Jammed centerboard demands attention!

No comments:

Post a Comment