Here’s a bit more backlog of my boating adventures this year. In June, in a self-indulgent fit, I signed up for three consecutive one-week courses at WoodenBoat School in Maine. I flew into Boston, got a screaming deal on a rental car and headed north. The East is kind of small. Within a few minutes you are in New Hampshire, where they have giant roadside liquor stores with their own exits, where you can buy lots of tax-free booze. Then into Maine where you can buy a nice fixer-upper house for cheap.
Across the Penobscot River at Bucksport.
And into the tiny town of Brooklin, where Major Powell retired. He died in his cabin here in 1902.
And down the road a mile or two to WoodenBoat School. Here I set up camp for the duration.
My first course was in toolmaking for boatbuilders, with Harry Bryan—a notorious New Brunswick Luddite, boatbuilder, and toolmaker. Here’s Harry putting a wicked edge on a chisel with his hand grinder. His very cool drill press is in the foreground.
Harry making a chisel blade out of a piece of scrap metal. He lives a long way from the hardware store and it’s usually quicker to make the tool than go to the store. And the tool comes out a lot better than the crap they have in the stores now anyhow.
And here he demonstrates rabbet cutting with a standard chisel versus a three-sided homemade chisel fashioned from a lug wrench. Wow, gotta make one of those.
And how to do a scarf joint fast with a homemade slick made from a truck spring. It has a nice curve to it, so you can control your plunge much better. Gotta make one of those too.
Making these things involves a lot of different skills including de-tempering and retempering steel without losing your own temper. Harry’s tools are the blonde-handled ones. Mine are the cherry-handled ones. What fun.
Here are three of my treasures from that week.
My second week was bronze casting with Sam Johnson, whom I had met back in 2001 in Oregon when I was building my Holmstrom replica, Julius. My host Roger Fletcher had invited Sam down to give us a few pointers on lapstrake construction. Which he did. In about fifteen minutes he explained everything we needed to know to build the boat. Amazing. I figured a week with the guy might be even more educational. I was right. On the first day he laid out the rules, quickly and succinctly, and then fired the furnaces. Let’s make stuff. Sam is on the left coaching the first pour.
I told Sam I had two goals for the week–to replicate a couple oarlocks, and to make a bronze bow-eye. Here’s the first oarlock, about two hours into the course.
An hour later, another oarlock and a bow-eye. Hmm. What to do for the next four days?
Well, for one, design a bad-ass stern-eye that will hold a few big ropes and carabiners. Carve a pattern out of wood.
Smooth it, paint it, and cover it with graphite so it won’t stick to the sand mold. Re-shape it as necessary until the mold will part properly.
Then make it. Grind it smooth and polish. I think I can hang my boat from the ceiling with this.
For the whole week we made stuff amid the roar and stench of the furnaces. Exhausting and delightful. And he also taught us how to make our own foundries for cheap. Tempting…
Or go row around in the beautiful boats.
Or visit old friends. This is the Whitehall I worked on last year. A couple of those strakes have my sweat and blood all over them.
Back to class. The third week was with Greg Rössel, who I studied with last year. This year I took his lofting course. Kind of dry stuff, but doing it with him was really educational. Here is Greg with a fishnet stretched over a boat model, demonstrating how moving one line affects them all.
Each team worked on one particular boat. I chose the Whitehall, of course, as that’s the Powell boat that ran Grand Canyon. Each day brought a lot of new challenges and crises, all of which seemed to resolve by the end of the day.
On our last day I got to lead a team in pulling the lines off a silly little boat that is the subject of a children’s book. They plan to use our lines to teach kid’s courses in the future to replicate little Boatie.
Oh, and there was a fourth course as well. My friend Wick was taking a course in building Greenland skin boats, and they worked late each night, so I got to help Wick for a few nights. Here we are as the boat neared completion.