When Longfellow wrote, "She floats upon the
river of his thoughts," I was never really sure
if he meant a boat, a woman, or both. But I am
sure I know the passion that lingers behind
The need to build a boat is something which begins
like a grass seed, so tiny and minute it is barely
perceptible. It roots and sprouts, grows and spreads,
and before long it overtakes everything in sight.
Building a boat is to touch something so far back
in the legacy of human existence it is unreachable
in any other way. We may unearth Egyptian vessels
from the sand, dive ancient shipwrecks, study the
occasional Norse long boat, but we can never connect
with that moment when, so long ago, a human being
not so unlike us took to the water in some manner
of vessel. Some say it was inflated animal skins,
others that it was just a log. It doesn't matter.
What we sense is that need to leave the terrestrial
and reach out for divinity, a spiritual commonality
with that first distant ancestor to which all boat
builders share descent.
It is time to build again. Time to bridge the gap
between the dry land and legacy.
A good fishing boat must be pleasing to the eye
as well as the world in which it intends to coexist.
It must not be an aberration on the water, must not
accost its surroundings. It must not reek of assembly
line production; it must have the subtle variations
that come with hand craftsmanship. A boat which is
so smooth and slick as to be obviously manufactured
by machines fits into the natural world as suitably
as a football into the ninth hole of the golf course.
A shoe box will float; add a slight sweep to the bow
and it will even travel relatively well under low
power. But a boat must be fashioned to glide with
the water, over it and through it, supported by the
water like a cradle. It is an amazing and welcome
coincidence that the lines which make such grace
possible are also so pleasing to the human eye.
A good fishing boat should rest easy when the
water is calm, not wander aimlessly like a
simpleton. It should, likewise, follow the flow
of the water obediently, bow forward, and not
twist sideways like a miscreant log. When directed,
it should turn without protest, and when requested,
it should find a calm, quiet balance, still and
silent, to allow an undisturbed lunch or nap under
the cypress canopy. It must be well-behaved and
For me, only wood boasts such a fine pedigree.
A good wooden fishing boat is all these things,
and more. You may feel a little proud but also
a little odd, perhaps even eccentric, putting
in over at the launch, surrounded by sparkly
fiberglass bass boats and blunt-nosed bateaus
or sharp-stemmed, nearly right-angled sided
aluminum skiffs. You might even feel uncomfortable
under the grins, the condescending smiles that
seem to voice the owner's thoughts that you are
too poor, too stupid or too tacky to own a
sparkly bass boat. I ignore these things. They
are only the wedges of a modern world that demeans
anything which is not produced by that most dismal
of technologies, conformity. These wedges are driven
to split and fracture the log which is individuality.
I will never comprehend what delight people find in
living on a street of identical houses, with identical
cars in the garages and identical boats out on the
lake, varying only perhaps in color or a brand name
decal glued to the side. It is somehow a measure of
excellence to be so generic. Distinctiveness, once
the mark of a Renaissance man, is frowned upon or
ridiculed because the distinct individual does not
conform, and that is to be pitied. Such derisive
people insist on being insulated from everything
which might make them believe there are things out
there more important than money.
Most people spend the majority of their lives on
concrete. They live in homes that are built on
concrete slabs; they walk on cement sidewalks to
their vehicles that ride on concrete highways to
work. They spend their days in offices or factories
built on concrete. On the weekends, they wish to
"get away from it all" so they hook their boats to
their vehicles, drive on concrete streets to a
concrete boat launch, from which they step into
a fiberglass or metal boat, spend the day fishing,
and return home by the same route. Other than
perhaps being splashed in the face by the tail
of a fish, they have touched nothing of what they
thought they were seeking at all.
Concrete, fiberglass and metal are insulators;
they prevent the flow of speculation, observation
and affinity. This is as intended. Should everyone
in the world suddenly begin to tune themselves to
the world as the Creator and Crawfish made it,
economic doom would surely follow.
There was no concrete in my childhood. The driveway
was clamshell, necessary only to keep the cars from
bogging in the mud. The front yard was lined with
juniper trees and two massive live oaks. There was
a wild cherry near my father's old workshop, and
in the back, all manner of cypress, oak and other
trees grew along the bayou. Only at school or the
downtown shopping district did I touch concrete.
Even today, when walking along a sidewalk, if there
is grass nearby, I'll step off to it. Concrete hurts
my feet like cold steel. It insulates me from my
The well-regarded lie is that wooden boats are not
long-lived. At 41 years old, my father's 12-foot
bateau contradicts this. Certainly, unlike modern
boats, it cannot be left in the weather and expected
to remain fast. It must be taken care of. The number
one commandment of wooden boat ownership is, Thou
shall keep it dry. This does not, of course, apply
to vessels that are constantly in saltwater, which
is a preservative. But freshwater is a boat's worst
enemy. A little extra care negates the myth that
wooden boats rot and die quickly. That extra care,
in a world where things are as disposable as a plastic
shopping bag, a Styrofoam coffee cup or a milk jug,
seems to be some sort of insurmountable peak which
only the zealots such as myself will dare summit.
In my younger days, I admit to feeling a slight
embarrassment at the boat launch putting over my
little wooden boat. I felt, as intended, that I
didn't make enough money, was not ambitious as I
should be. I got over it and now simply smile
back with the same demeaning glance at the sparkly
While pulling up at the boat landing recently
another gentleman was putting down his boat,
so I waited politely until he was done, and as
I was coming in to disboard, he said to me,
"You sure don't see many of those anymore."
Thinking he meant wooden boats in general, I
smiled with thanks and said, "Nope, sure don't."
"That's a Nick Stouff boat, isn't it?" he noted.
I was surprised and grateful. While my father made
many boats in his lifetime, mine is the only one
that I know of surviving. But that others live on
in memories such as those of the kind fellow at
the landing that day makes my heart rejoice.
So the objective of a good fishing boat, one
necessarily of wood for someone like myself, is
the search for living creation. It is the essence
of the Raintree and the medicine of grandmothers.
It is little mottled brown birds and dugout canoes.
A wooden fishing boat embodies all those things. It
is a link not only to the waters, but to all those
who came before us. When we reach home waters in a
wooden boat, we are touching that which made us.
The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne. ~ Chaucer
Nea'se. Thank you for sharing my ramblings, and my
waters. ~ Roger