|Quick and Dirty at Sea|
Tim Severin on the The Brendan Voyage
The phrase 'quick and dirty' can trigger a defensive, group reflex from a large segment of the boating community.
Admittedly, the term is rather vague, and the reactions reflect 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 I mean by it; I who cherish and practice Quick and Dirty boatbuilding?
To me, Quick and Dirty is a state of mind. Not a method or choice 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. Inefficent 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 curve), concentration of effort (longer hours, shorter commutes), communication, debriefing. 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 needlessly and expensively exceeds need.
Hackles raise quickly over the very word, dirty - a vestigal reaction from potty training, I imagine. Dirty is a little harder to elaborate, so I'll give some examples.
A traditional approach to building bulkheads use to call for planking them up from diagonal or double diagonal, tongue and groove planks. When plywood, web framing came along; a material cheaper, lighter stronger, quicker and dimensionally stable. Yet for years, many traditionalists refused to shift, considering it to be a dirty approach. Some still painstakingly fasion faux traditional bulkheads with a hidden, plywood core!
Yet I believe the originators of traditional techniques - Quick and Dirty Masters of their day - would have jumped at plywood, had it been available!
A friend was insisting to me that epoxy is the only glue to use on a boat, being the best available (strongest, most versatile, etc.). I attempted to explain that it is also among the most expensive, and there are many jobs at which other, less expensive glues exceed the demands of the job. Nope. Dirty.
Some folks new to the Pacific Northwet asked me about paint systems (to be applied locally). I passed on advice from many local fishermen (latex house trim paint, or oil stain) as easy, inexpensive and effective. Too dirty... they applied an expensive, name brand paint of high repute... and it all bubbled within weeks.
Depending on the boat and its use, roofing tars, beeswax concoctions, latexes, galvanized doohickeys, plastic gew-gaws and other low-life, dirty bits provide long lasting, inexpensive and utterly functional solutions. With art and love, they are often attractive, as well. I've seen sleek dorade boxes made from bread pans and dryer vents, charlie nobles from stainless steel salad bowls gleaming in the sun, fairleads from copper pipe and elbows... the list of dirty tricks goes on and on.
Dirty mind implies thinking out-of-the-box and improvization. It inclines one toward creative uses of materials. It inclines one away from the latest and greatest, in favor of tried and true. Or untried but promising. Latest and greatest may, indeed be the quick and dirty solution. 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, ourselves, are 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 plebian in comparison to the warm glow of varnished woods, buff and glossy paint, the patina of weathered bronze and silvered teak decks.
Yet, Grasshopper, to which will you pay mind?