|These are my People. My Roots. Square Boaters! (Sitka Sentinel 24 May - 2011, photo by James Paulson)|
In the movie, The Commitments, a soul band is to be formed. Prospective applicants are met at the door with the single question, quoted above. One by one, they are asked the QUESTION, and we are treated to their answers; or lack thereof. What is it gets you through the door? The right influences, of course.
DIY boatbuilding is kinda like that.
There're a LOT of influences out there. I'll assume you have the good sense to avoid the bad ones (those who say you can't, shouldn't, won't). The good ones are left, and giants they are. But we're looking for those among the giants who can get us through the door.
When I first became interested in sailing, I devoured everything Lynn and Larry Pardey had written about their adventures on SERAFFYN. She's a 24'7" Lyle Hess designed marvel, based on British Pilot Cutters, and which they built themselves.
Philosophically, Lynn and Larry are still two of my major influences. But it took me years to shake the Lyle Hess/Pilot Cutter influence. Not that his designs don't jam Mustang Sally on my heartstrings. They do (oh, they do!). But Larry, in particular, brought advanced boatwright skills to the door... skills I did not and do not possess. I dreamed of that perfect boat, but it lay at the far end of arm's reach.
Deep draft; complex, tight and reverse curves; well shaped sails... with these influences, given time, I might have eventually pushed my way in. But it would have taken years learning the skills, acquiring the means. If I had started younger, maybe. But, at 30, I was late to the gate... time to be sailing.
Influenced by Anke (a woman of great good sense), we 'settled' for a meantime, sailing lifeboat conversion. We could afford it and afford to risk a few learner's bumps and scrapes. Best of all, we could sail it from day one. Her generous owner took us on trust while we paid her off (flippin' pizza, pullin' weeds).
During these first years of baby-steps onto the water, encounters with the GLOUCESTER GULL introduced us to other designs of Phil Bolger. Hmm. Square Boats. Hmph. Compared to the Hess cutters of my dreams, they're homely suckers. But their relative simplicity is apparent at a glance. Shoal draft, most of 'em. Sail pretty well, too. Hmm.
And once I started looking, I began to find them in all the right places... out there.
Many Alaskan workboats are pretty square, too, influences at the back of my mind. Power scows, bow-pickers, landing craft, barges. They have their own kind of good looks, craggy and competent. Square boats fit right in, up here.
A thoroughbred horse in parade dress is a beautiful creature; a workhorse in working harness is handsome in another way - and practical to boot. I began to shake the need for the gracious line, and acquire a taste for handsome is as handsome does.
In fits and starts, my influences swung round to advocates of simple hulls with simple interiors, rigs and gear. I acquired a taste for boats within my reach. Boats whose paint we'd dare to scratch. Soon we were sailing on a boat built entirely by Anke and myself. After I let go my dream of perfection, that door finally stood fully open to us.
After twenty and change years' sailing, I've got more choices. I've acquired skills along the way. Jack of all trades, master of none, to be sure, but mastery enough. Means is still an open question. I find myself deaming curves and building square.
In The Commitments as in boat-building - there is another, essential ingredient that gets you through that door. Passion. Without it, the right influences are so much empty erudition. Armchair Sailors will never emerge from our Barcaloungers without the passion to put down the books, blogs and 'zines, pick up tools and take our best shot, whether the boat be Curvy or Square.
Passion alone won't produce the perfect boat, but perfection has yet to launch a single one.
What? You still here??