Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

November 15th, 2004

More Than I Had Hoped

As requested, here is the latest update on my boat building project, a sixteen-foot skiff designed by John Gardner.

As you can see from the photo below, all the frames, transom and stem are now done, and I mocked it up on the building form to take a photo. Soon I'll take it down, cut the notches for the chines and longitudinals, then clamp it in place for the first stage of making all these pieces coalesce into a whole.

Gardner specifies three-inch wide chines for this husky boat. I am not looking forward to bending around the forward lines, so I intend to laminate one-by-one strips, epoxied into place and together, to form the chines. These will actually end up being stronger than a solid piece of lumber. Though Gardner didn't draw in a sheer clamp, I'll add one in the same manner for further strength.

The lumber is salvaged antique Douglas fir, the gussets, though, are mahogany plywood. You can see by the photo, she's wide as a barge aft, but tapers to a nice flare forward. She should be stable, high-floating and not too rough in a chop, as much as a flat-bottomed boat can be, anyway. She'll probably be powered by a fifty horse outboard.

I will wait until I have her planked to lay out the positions of the steering console and seats. She will probably be planked with half-inch plywood on the bottom, perhaps three-quarter inch if I'm feeling particularly cantankerous when I go buy it.

I learned several things during my vacation. My eighteen-foot fiberglass bass boat is convenient in terms of size, speed and reliability. However, she is far too deep of draught for the Louisiana river basin and marshes I haunt, and she burns entirely too much gas to get her considerable bulk moving. I need a compromise, and I am hopeful this boat will fit the bill.

Someone asked me a surprising question just a couple of weeks ago. Surprising, at least to me. "Do you really see and feel and hear all the things you say?" they asked. "Or does it just make good writing?"

The question took me aback. It honestly shook me. Now and then I am reminded that much of what I say and write is familiar to many, but much more is alien, unreachable.

Working with the boat that weekend, mocking up her shape, I remembered the question. You see, the Douglas fir under my hands is not merely old wood. I know that it came out of an 1800s home nearby that the owners were rebuilding. A dear friend of mine is a contractor who landed the renovation job, and saved the fir for me. When I work it, I know it's life as a house. Is it odd? Perhaps. But I know the hands that touched it when it was a floor, or a wainscoat, or a cabinet. It was alive once, and in some form, it still is. I know that the cypress that will go into the boat was a barn I tore down several years ago to salvage the lumber. There are untold Louisiana winters in it, summers hot and humid, vibrant springs and subtle falls. It speaks of families tending livestock and storing harvests; it resonates with touches now lying silent in the local cemetery.

When the transom, frames and stem were clamped to the building form in rough outline, they remained distinct, individual parts. But in my mind's eye, seeing it there, she was already a boat. She cut through the swells of Lake Fausse Pointe even then, keeping me safe and dry from a lake my father always warned me would "get up on its hind legs and eat boats." She was already drifting calm, obedient and sure through a backwater canal where my ancestors lurk in the thin places of the world.

I told the man who asked the question about Harry Middleton. A reporter once asked Middleton, "How much of this is true?" regarding his books.

"More than I had hoped," Harry replied.

More than I had hoped, I told the questioner. More than I had hoped. There is an occasional fear, as these fingers pound away. The span of time I lived away from the circle, chasing successes and account numbers. Those two decades rear their ugly heads and reproach me for my folly.

But I sit here in front of this computer, in my khaki pants and neat dress shirt with a collar, and I think my ancestors must laugh at me. Their laughter pushes these fingers harder, dismissing the decades of disbelief, refuting the questions. More than I had ever, ever hoped. When these fingers lie motionless in the local cemetery one day to come, at least they will have told stories of truth. More truth than I had hoped.

They tell truth in many ways, I think, besides this keyboard. They tell truth in hand planes and chisels. They tell truth embracing Portugese cork, and thumbing the lips of respectable bass. They have only learned to do so through a legacy stretching out far, far behind me.

I'm just me. I put my pants on one leg at a time in the morning, whether they're dress slacks or worn out jeans to fish in or work on the boat. I'm half-blind, losing my hair, and smoke far too much. The truths slipping out of me are not revelations or prophetic. They're just more than I had ever hoped for. Ever could have believed in.

Before I turned away at the end of our conversation, I told the questioner this: There are no universal truths other than that there is a Creator of all things, and that being is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. We only complicate truths when we add the details to that essence. All other truths are personal. And thus, just because what is true for me might not be true for you, or vice versa, this does not make either less true.

Guess I've rambled away from a boat building report to a muddled sermon, haven't I? Still, as I look at the disjointed parts of the boat on the frame behind the shop, the parts converge into a whole, and this is, in all things, how the world appears to me.

Nea'se. Thank you for sharing my ramblings, my waters and my road. ~ Roger


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