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Dave and Anke
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quick and Dirty Mind: Zen and the Art of Git 'Er Done

Quick and Dirty at Sea
Tim Severin on the The Brendan Voyage

Git 'er done!

-- Sensei Larry, the Cable Guy

Quick and Dirty Mind

The phrase 'quick and dirty' can trigger a defensive, group reflex from a large segment of the boating community. Hackles raise quickly, just at dirty - a vestigial reaction from potty training, I imagine. 

Admittedly, the phrase is rather vague, and the reactions reflect that ambiguity. Associations are made, often sub-consciously, with various derelicts, kludges and failures that the defensive have known. Or the phrase may suggest an aesthetic, offensive to the spit-and-polish crowd.

So what do we mean by it; we who cherish and practice Quick and Dirty boatbuilding?

To us, Quick and Dirty is a state of mind. Not a method or choice of materials, though those may come into play, but an attitude. A practice. Active meditation in the Zen sense of the word.

Quick Mind implies simplicity. Quick Mind is an awareness and tendency toward simplicity. Occam's Razor adapted to boatbuilding [Of two solutions with equal utility, choose the simpler]. Quick Mind manifests in design and execution.

Practically speaking, simplicity inclines one toward fewer parts, straight lines and few but simple curves, uniformity, multiple functions of single parts, synergies, open and flexible design. Away from intricacy, complication, sub-divisions and gimmicks.

Quick Mind implies efficiency. Quick mind is an awareness and tendency toward efficient procedures and movements. Inefficient approaches to even simple designs will slow the project.

Practically, efficiency inclines one toward working with one's body physics, just so motion (not too much; not too little), organization of effort and material and space, repetition of like tasks (to benefit from a smooth and continuous learning curves), concentration of effort (longer hours, shorter commutes), communication. Assess, address and appraisals. It also inclines one to eat, sleep and take breaks in their measure. All work and no play makes Jack and Jill slow boy and girl.

Dirty Mind implies the least approach that does the job, whether in method or materials. Dirty Mind inclines one to understand and accept the nature of materials. It is the state of mind embodied in that old advice, "Don't patch old fabric with new cloth." Not that new cloth won't do the job, but it expensively exceeds need.

Dirty mind implies thinking out-of-the-box and improvisation. It inclines one toward creative uses of materials. It inclines one away from the latest and greatest, in favor of tried and true. Or maybe the other way. Latest and greatest may indeed be the quick and dirty solution. Or the solution may be untried but promising. Let Dirty Mind guide you among the pros and cons.

Quick and Dirty Mind implies the equilibrium of form and function. Balance between what is needful and what is desired. Between art and science. It embraces integrity, performance, robustness and sea-worthiness.

We all have an aesthetic - a set of tastes. De gustibus non disputandam. Yet these are malleable. Subject to cultivation and manipulation. Great effort is spent to shape our tastes as potential consumers of goods and services. We are pushed and drawn this way and that in directions we may not fully understand.

Consider that form, well fit to function, is a beauty in and of itself. Handsome is as handsome does.

Workboat, or 'fisherman finish' - with its rough and ready carpentry, stout gear, flat paint and signs of wear and tear - may seem plain and plebeian in comparison to the warm glow of varnished woods, buff and glossy paint, the patina of weathered bronze and silvered, teak decks.

It’s our call.


Jeremy Ulstad is a boat rat / renaissance guy who formulated these Quick and Dirty guidelines:

Agile Boatbuilding:

  1. Make it Cheap – Thrifty does it!

  2. Make it Fast – Not gettin’ any younger!

  3. Make it Work – Not working is no good!

  4. Make it Right – Dial ‘er in!

This checklist will take anyone a long way!

Got 'er did!
Sensei Larry, the Cable Guy


  1. I like the way you think. Perhaps because "quick and dirty" is an old mantra of mine.

    The hardware store and building supply are my friends. I could wait to get fiddly bits from the marine store -or I could fix it now and go sailing.

    1. And goin' sailin' is what it's ALL about! 8)

  2. Lovely post!! I always prided myself on not ever using a finer sandpaper than 100 grit and I prefer 80. The hardware store guys in the deep south town knew me well as a quick and dirty adherent: roaming the aisles to find something that would work was pure pleasure. And using southern yellow pine formply, that the concrete guys use, just boggled my scrotomic royally. This from a guy who gets warm and fuzzy vibes from a stoutly constructed gravel barge. A lot of what you're (very concisely) positing here can be seen in the functional sampans and junks of the floating oriental communities in China, Viet Nam, and such. Boats like these are for USING with minimal time MAINTAINING, for pounding up with passion and getting out there with minimal fuss to have a freakin great time. One guy in town had a conniption when we visited his "yacht" and failed to put a coaster under our coffee cups on his finely crafted wood dinette table... sorry bud!!!! Yes, a certain segment of the boatbuilding community is going to deeply appreciate this post and the other will consider it heresy. A great defense and a hearty hooray for the quick and dirty crowd.

    1. Hi Gomez,

      Yes, the True Masters are in the mystical Orient! INDIGINOUS BOATS Blog (link in right hand side bar) has scads of posts with excellent examples of the QD Way.

      And I know the kind of yacht you mean... often great folks, but I'm always afraid I'll leave a stain where I sit.

      George Buehler (QD Master) has a fun section on his standards... he wants to be able to push thumbtacks or drive a nail coathook into a bulkhead without a second thought! Dirty Mind at work and play.