Sunday, August 2, 2015

Brain explosion

From boat school I headed southwest to Mystic, Connecticut to visit my old college pal Ben Philbrick. When Ben left Prescott College back in the mid-1970s, it was to get back closer to boats and the ocean and do an independent study on boatbuilding. He applied to a few different places, but the only positive response he got was from some old guy at Mystic Seaport named John Gardner.

[pause for that to sink in]

Yeah. John Gardner, the guy who single-handedly started the movement from the dying trade of commercial small wooden boatbuilding to the modern trade of recreational small wooden boat building. The guy who captured the lines of all those disappearing small boats, brought many of the boats to Mystic (the world's largest collection), and wrote all those books about how to build those boats. One of Gardner's pupils, Jon Wilson, went on to found WoodenBoat Magazine and WoodenBoat School. So Ben ended up being John Gardner's final helper/apprentice at Mystic. Wow. He is still in awe. Ben then went on to run his own boatshop for many years and lives not far from the seaport on an old three-story house on the hill overlooking the sea. Great to catch up and listen to stories.

I spent a couple days at the annual WoodenBoat Show hosted at Mystic Seaport. It was a bit more than my poor aging brain could absorb. So many incredible boats, so many details that I want so badly to steal. And the trade show guys took away a lot of my money in exchange for some very cool tools and technology.

Whale boats.

Class act power boat.

An inner city boatbuilding club (how cool is that?) with a steam bender very reminiscent of the one we invented in New Zealand.

I want rope gunwales on my dory.

Center motor well in a cool little dory.

One of my new friends from WoodenBoat School, Geoff Kerr, was there with his Caledonia Yawl Ned Ludd. Geoff was at boat school a week prior painting a new yawl for the school fleet. I fell in love with the hull. This means I may need to learn to sail. Oh great. I really need a new obsession.

Oh yeah. Mystic has a fine collection of bowsprits. My dory may not really need one of these, but I want one anyhow.

 And one cannot leave out Mecca:

They opened up the Mystic Small Boat Collection and Ben Fuller gave a tour. Two huge old warehouse rooms full, three boats high in places, of crazy wild boats. This blew out the very last of my brain. All the seminal boats that I've known about, read about, studied in John Gardner's books. All those cool dories that are in The Dory Book. There they are. In the flesh. OMG.

With no remaining cerebrum, I drove back toward Boston to return to my life in the high deserts of Arizona. Night found me in my dad's birthplace, Middleborough, Massachussetts. They mostly leave off the "ugh": Middleboro. Not much to see here. A cool downtown building, an historic sign...

I did go to the library to see if my dad's birth made the weekly paper. The weekly events surrounding  June 20, 1908--more than one hundred astonishing happenstances-- included George Shaw catching a large fish, the municipal lighting department getting a new wagon for the lineman, E.H. Blake getting his twentieth consecutive license as a fireworks vendor, F.B. Lovell, L.S. Bailey, J.C. Chase and others making plans to attend a gypsy moth demonstration in Lynn woods, and Miss Florence H. White's cousin Leon coming to visit. But no dad. I guess the Dimocks weren't FaceBookers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Ahh, home at last. It seems like WoodenBoat School has become a second home to me. Man, I love it here. The boats and jigs for the Fundamentals of Boatbuilding class are already set up in the west bay awaiting our two week boat party.

On Sunday evening we meet the pupils--eight gentlemen from around the country who all want to know more about how to build boats. Wade Smith, boatbuilder and boatbuilding teacher is running the show. I am his lovely assistant. Let's build some boats.

Not so fast. Before we build anything, we are going to draw it out with pencils. The fine and feared art of lofting occupies much of the first few days.

Finally a fun and tactile reward: stem-bending ribs into a hull and riveting them fast.

More fun: chiseling rabbets.

At lunch one day we have a great ceremony. The leaky old workboat Babson, after decades of faithful service on the WoodenBoat School waterfront, is replaced with the Babson II, which Greg, Mike, and others put together over the winter. After a moving speech, Rich backs her in.

And the Babson stands by to meet her replacement.

One afternoon we make a field trip to the Brooklin Boat Yard, the brain child of the late great boat designer Joel White, who was the son of author E.B. White. Joel's son Steve runs the place now. Here's the view from the fourth floor. Big place, and way high tech. But even though the lofting is all done by computer now, it's done, as it should be, on the fourth floor, in the loft.

They have some seriously cool boats in for maintenance.

Wade is explaining about the finer uses of toilet bowl wax as a boatbuilding material.

Most afternoons after class gets out find me in my favorite boat, a wee Maine dory called the Wild Rose, in which I race about the harbor using a single sculling oar.

Until the sun and sundogs set and it's time to go gorge myself on Cathy's ridiculously plentiful and delicious dinner.

But back to class. Here is Wade's duck transporter--a simple way to move thirty pounds of awkward, pokey drafting ducks.

On to carvel construction. Wade getting out a strake.

On it goes.

And we jump into lapstrake planking.

Two weeks go by pretty quickly. We wrap it up over beers and books.

Then head down to the waterfront for the lobster and mussel roast for one last gut-splitting dinner.


Seriously, if you are interested enough in boatbuilding to read this blog, do yourself a huge favor and sign up for any of the great courses that are going on back here. The catalog comes out in December just in time to give yourself a Christmas present. Sure, it's addictive, but hey, it's a pretty nice addiction.

And by the way, we are putting together a one-week course next year wherein I will be teaching the fine art of building a river dory. Come on Down East and join us.

Friday, July 31, 2015

More boaty wanderings

I've been seriously on the move for the last few months, but finally have a few days' respite to catch up. Two days in pretty much a coma in my La-Z-Boy seemed about right. So: where was I?

Cape Cod, that's right. I stayed for a few nights with new best friends (a mutual friend suggested we meet), Laurie Raymond and Rusty Strange in Falmouth. Serious boat folk, they. Laurie has a Friendship sloop in the harbor, and Rusty has a Chinese junk that he lived on for three or four decades until just recently. So we had a few things in common to talk about. Here is a lousy shot of Rusty's junk amid all the "normal" boats.

In the daytime I took off wandering. A few highlights: The old Crosby boatshop in Osterville, home of the Cat Boats. Here's one that's not doing too well.

Paul Moscaritolo, a man after my own heart, who has pretty much re-invented boatbuilding as he sees fit. His twin-rudder, shallow draft sailboat is built with 2" thick strips of common framing lumber, glued together with PL construction adhesive. He did a few years' experimenting with the technique, and the boat has been floating for eight summers, so I guess it works just fine.

Bill Womack, proprietor of Beetle Cat. They've been making the same boat for about one hundred years. They make less than a dozen a year, but have about two hundred of them that come back each fall for overhaul and winter storage. A cool business model. The materials and workmanship are exquisite.

Here's the new mold that they've been using since 1946. The old one wore out.

On to New Bedford, whaling epicenter of yore, where George Kirby is still making awesome marine paint the same way his great-granddad did. It's marvelous stuff--just about the only paint I use at Fretwater Boatworks. George III just retired, so George IV has spiffed the place up a bit.

I got the full nickel tour. This here's the hundred-year-old pigment grinder. George's paint has more pigment than any other I have used--it covers!.

And here's the paint mixer

And here are George and his brother-in-law Bill showing me my very own Rolodex card with the formula for my very own color, Tequila Beach.

I made the trip out to the end of the Cape to see the sights and stopped in at Walter Baron's Old Wharf Dory Shop. He is under the boat. Not so amazingly, we had a lot of mutual friends and plenty to jaw about.

And once again, I felt right at home. Girly pictures and boat ephemera on the walls, beer bottles on the floor.

And out to Martha's Vineyard to see the Benjamin & Gannon shop. It's center-field in this shot from the ferry boat.

Boats all over the place.

I met Nat Benjamin, fresh in from sailing his family to Cuba and back in the Charlotte. Here he is propping her up for a bit of maintenance.

 They treat their tools as reverently as I treat mine.

I had almost as much fun as Oona did.

Since I was in the neighborhood I took the high-speed ferry out to Nantucket to see if the man who was once from there was still around. Didn't see him.

Holy crap this thing goes fast. It kind of skitters about on the surface, which is a bit unnerving.

I rented a fancy-ass mountain bike and pedaled off to the east end of the island. It being the first time on a bike since before knee surgery, I was pretty excited and went way too far before realizing I had gone way too far. It was a painful trip back to the youth hostel, but a fine sunset on the south shore. I recalled one of my mom's favorite sayings: "Oh my achin' ass."

Time to head north: I detoured through the town of Swampscott, just north of Boston, home of the famous and gorgeous Swampscott dories. None there. And I'm not in the club.

 But you can see why they'd want a flat-bottomed boat.

Next stop Essex, to tour the Shipbuilding Museum. Lots of nice exhibits and strange old boats.

A novel paint scheme for a dory. In the background is Harold Burnam's shop, but he was not there. I met him last year in his ship Ardelle in Gloucester.

And a quick stop at the Lowell Boat Shop, alleged birthplace of the Banks Dory. But they close at four.

On northward to the mouth of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I booked a sunset cruise on the gundalow. I had read about a boat called a gundalow on the Shenandoah River, which was very similar to the sweep scows of Idaho--one of which I recreated for a hairball replica run of Glen and Bessie Hyde's fatal Grand Canyon run of 1928. I thought I should see if this gundalow was at all related to the Shenandoah version or sweep scows. Nope. Turns out gundalow is an old Yankee corruption of gondola, and refers to all sorts of different boats. Here on the Piscataqua, it is a huge barge with a gigantic triangular sail that can be dropped for bridges. Historically they would ride the incoming tide as far up the forks of the river as they could go, exchange cargo, and float or sail back to Portsmouth. So all the major towns in the area are at the high-tide mark of the rivers.

This replica is fairly faithful in construction, but in order to take passengers, they were required to add a motor. So we motored out to the ocean and sailed back in. Here we are pulling the sail out from the boom.

But it was finally time to head to Maine to assist Wade with the Fundamentals of Boatbuilding course at WoodenBoat School. But one cannot simply drive by without stopping at Liberty Tool. That might be easier on the wallet, but it would be sinful.