Not fishing as much as I would like these
days, due to the computer-related stress
injury in my upper right arm, I have been
going a little stir crazy.
But I found that exercise of the arm in activities
which do not involve use of the computer mouse or
similar movements - such as fly casting - does
actually help, to move the muscles and tendons
in other directions is actually good therapy.
I had enough of lying on the sofa all weekend
watching the tube, so I pulled out some of my
boat building books and started researching. Back
in March, I had purchased a fiberglass bass boat,
an eighteen-foot Cajun Esprit some twenty years
old. Though I was raised and nurtured in wooden
boats, I felt I needed something bigger and faster
to make those distant trips into the river basin
It's been a love-hate relationship from the moment
I acquired it, moving steadily toward the hate side
each time I use it. Oh, I love the size, the convenience,
the speed. But I despise the fact that much of my
former shallow water haunts are out of my reach now,
and that in order to get the big Johnson outboard
up and on plane I need about three feet of water
to take off. I also don't like the gas consumption.
This boat's a member of OPEC.
This was a predicament made in heaven: A boat I
dislike and time to get into the shop.
The search was long and laborious, but I finally
settled on the work of John Gardner, perhaps the
premiere small craft designer and historian of the
boat building community. In the book More
Classic Small Craft You Can Build Gardner
drew the lines for a northeastern clamming skiff
that seemed ideal for my needs.
Now, I do not fish for clams, nor do I intend to. I
like clams just fine, don't get my wrong, but what
I need is a good fishing boat that is in many ways
similar to the big Cajun but in other ways quite
the antithesis to it. The Gardner skiff suits my
needs: Nearly four-and-a-half foot wide at the
transom, with a generous rake to the bow for a
choppy water trip, flaring sides to keep her dry,
and best of all, built like a battleship. She is
also flat-bottomed, and at that width, should ride
shallow, providing me with the opportunity to get
into those forbidden spots again. A smaller outboard,
perhaps forty horsepower, should move it along nicely.
I salvage and hoard antique lumber. Mostly cypress
and Douglas fir. The old wood is far superior to
anything you can buy today. I raided my stash of
eight-year-old fir and built a transom to Gardner's
specifications, and as of this writing, two more
frames moving from the transom forward. They are
screwed and glued with marine epoxy mixed with a
little sawdust as a thickening agent.
Last weekend, the "old fella" that I wrote of recently
and I lofted out and built the stem of the boat, a
demanding and time-consuming process. It came out
great, as you can see by the photos, I hope.
I hope to have the boat done and fitted out by spring.
If it interest you kind folks at all, I'll continue to
write updates on its construction with photos. Please
let me know.
In the book Wooden Boats by Michael
Ruhlman, the author approaches the subject of
present-day boat building in wood by working a year
at the Benjamin and Gannon boatyard in Martha's
Vineyard. Early on, he writes:
"My three-year-old daughter was up and down the
companionway, frolicking through the spacious
quarters of the sixty-three--foot boat, enchanted
as children invariably are to be down below in a
boat. And she was in view in the main salon when
I asked Gannon why wooden boats were important to
him - why he had devoted his life to them? Ross
seemed surprised by my apparent ignorance regarding
what to him was plain, and his blazing eyes burned
right through me.
Wooden boats are to boat building what fly fishing
is to angling: The mark of the eccentric, to a degree,
but to their advocates, a finer and deeper immersion
in the joys of the disciplines. A bamboo fly rod in
a fiberglass boat rebels against its surroundings,
but in a well-crafted wooden skiff seems to embrace
the world within.
"'Do you want to teach your daughter that what you
do, what you care about, is disposable?" he asked.
"That you can throw your work away? It doesn't matter?'"
When some of us look into the open hull of a wooden
boat - skiff, launch, utility, it makes no difference - we
are seeing things alien to the confines of a fiberglass
vessel. The frames, thick oak or fir or cypress, mahogany
or cedar, lock the boat - and ourselves - firmly in
another place, another time. The frames, chines, sheers
and longitudinals sweep through a world that has no
sense of artistry, only functions. Here we can see
in the mind's eye a world before the obsession of
permanence, the neglect of care. People who fashion
wooden boats and those who use them do not wish to
be buried in hermetically sealed stainless steel
coffins painted faux mahogany. The notion of perpetual
imprisonment in such a device is chilling and unsettling.
What modern man will leave behind when he has faded
from the world at last is refuse. Nuclear waste,
strip-mined mountains, rusting steel skyscrapers
and crumbling concrete highways. Our neglect will
outlive us, for we are far more concerned with
such things as apartment houses, tin-can cars
and fiberglass boats. Our homes are temporary
despite the fact that we have built them of
materials that do not rot or decay. Our cars
are disposable, and our boats can too easily
be parked on trailers in the back yard, or left
in the slip of the marina, without the need for
attention. When we die, our makings will continue,
but our names will be forgotten.
Ross Gannon's question to Michael Ruhlman is
an inquiry into what the listener holds dear.
Is it the boat that is to be treasured, or
the notion given the child concerning the
caring for things, the disposability of our
lives? In fact, it is both. To fashion a boat,
or merely to own one, made of wood is to embrace
fundamental values sadly lacking in today's
stop-and-go world. A world where little is held
sacred, and the idea of taking care of things
treasured is obsolete because there is so little
left to be treasured.
Nea'se. Thank you for sharing my ramblings,
my waters, and my road. ~ Roger