Wow. What a wild and wonderful couple of weeks I just had. I flew back to Boston on a red-eye flight and arrived early July 1, pretty bleary. On my way north I stopped in at the Lowell Boat Shop–a favorite icon of dory history. After several shaky years between being a foundering private enterprise and getting re-established as a nonprofit, they are now doing very well. Classes full to bursting and the boatshop humming. Downstairs is a lovely museum full of seminal dory-type craft.
I noticed Kirby Paint missing from their paint room display. George Kirby is going to remedy that and get that ugly DAP can out of there. The paint is several inches thick on the floor here.
On the south side of Portland I caught up with an old high school friend for lunch. We were voted Most Individual of our senior class 45 years ago. Not sure if that was a compliment or not. But the years have not diminished Elise’s smile. Mine has become a bit more of a grimace.
Elise showed me the local boat, which is in pretty rough shape. I am afraid it may be beyond my talents to restore.
I made it up to WoodenBoat School in time for sunset on the waterfront and the last of the Friday night lobster feed. It was great to celebrate the last evening of a few old friend’s classes.
For four years in my spare time at school I have been rowing around in the rowboats and watching with envy as others took out the heirloom sailing fleet. And my friend Jane Ahlfeld has been badgering me for a few years to take her sailing course. All right then. Here we go.
Here is the bay as the fog lifts.
Here is Jane teaching us about cutters and sloops and yawls and schooners. And ketches.
The book learning was pretty exciting, but the real fun was out on the water. We got every twist of weather over the course of the week. But it is pretty hard to take pictures when you’re too busy sailing. Here are a few random shots.
Jane’s favorite Haven 12-1/2 is Crackerjack, with its beautiful tanbark sails. And my thumb over the lens.
After class on Wednesday, Jane gave me the most fabulous birthday present ever. She hopped in Crackerjack with me and let me sail it around the islands, beyond where mere students can go. It was a glorious stormy sunset. This was sort of my test flight to see how badly I would screw up. I passed. Happy Birthday!
One amazing thing (among many) about WoodenBoat School is that their teaching boats are unbelievably beautiful and occasionally priceless boats. They don’t send us out in plastic dinghies. The Havens you could maybe replace for around $40,000. But on Thursday I was sailing We 3, a 78-year-old immaculate pedigreed and papered Herreshoff 12-1/2–an irreplaceable heirloom. In the fog. In gusting wind. Doing a zigzag course, close-hauled, though the mooring field, which was filled with a dozen other priceless beauties. I mentioned how bizarre I thought this was, me being on my forth day at the tiller and being allowed–told, actually–to do this. Jane just gave me a kind of crazy look, rolled her eyes, and said, “I know. It’s nuts. But it’s so cool that we do it.”
On Friday I took out Shimmer, a Herreshoff Biscayne Bay design. A flighty little thing. But oh my god. It was heaven. And it all came together. I am officially ruined now. Barnacle Brad the Sailor.
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Well. Enough with the carefree sailing nonsense. Time to go to work. Over the last couple years Rich Hilsinger, the Director, and I came up with a McKenzie River Dory course for me to teach. Loft it, make all the parts, build it, and float it in five-and-a-half days. I felt we could do it if all went more or less according to plan and I never slept. It was a bit of a gamble and we were not sure it would fill. We needed three students in order to make it happen. Then, a couple months ago, Rich told me the course had gone to twelve people and he felt I should build two boats to keep all the hands busy. Uhhhhhhh. Okay.
Sunday evening we normally meet the class for dinner, then go to our classrooms for a quick introduction. I kept them until ten and we lofted the entire boat. Off to a good start.
We hit it hard for the next several days, building frames, scarfing side panels and floors, making bow posts and transoms. On Tuesday afternoon we built our first hull.
And on Wednesday we built another.
The students were multi-talented and hard workers, and we moved along at an amazing speed most of the time, pausing now and then to re-do something or obsess over an angled cut. It is a constant dance between getting it perfect and getting it done.
Before lunch on Friday we painted on the primer.
On Friday afternoon we were delighted to welcome Roger and Sue Fletcher and Sam and Susan Manning to our class. Roger wrote the book on McKenzie boats and their Oregon ilk. Sam Manning illustrated it, much as he illustrated John Gardner’s Dory Book back in the 1970s. Roger is without question the foremost authority on the history and evolution of this kind of boat, and is largely responsible for the recent surge in the building of wooden drift boats across the country. Sam Manning–well, where to start? Let me just say he is a legend in the world of wooden boats. Illustrator, builder, historian, teacher, and also the foremost authority and practitioner of the art of sculling. I had the honor of boating with him about five years ago and am still wondering how he did what he did with one wiggling oar out the back of his dory.
If I look a little exhausted in this shot of Roger, myself, and Sam, it’s because I am, and we still have another boat to paint tonight. But in spite of that, the evening with the Mannings and the Fletchers has got to be the high point of my boatbuilding career so far. Gonna be hard to top that. What amazingly wonderful and gracious people.
Of course it being Friday night, the class refused my entreaties to let me sleep after painting the second boat, and kept me up carousing around the campfire until two.
But we were back at it early. The red boat with ash gunwales got nicknamed Ashley. Cathy won the lottery for that boat and may keep the name.The blue boat, with oak gunwales, was Oakley. Or maybe it would be Made in the Shade. Or something else. Jonathan won that one and we’d have floated them both but for an unfortunate glue joint explosion on one of Oakley’s inner gunwales on Saturday morning. Ah well… these things happen.
Early Saturday afternoon we took Ashley down to the ocean and set her loose. Wow. What a beauty, so light and spinny.
Many, many thanks to my gang of a dozen boatbuilders. You rock. I think we negotiated that line between getting them perfect and getting them done–two damned nice dories, damned near done. A few more parts to make, a bit more paint to apply, a bit more oil to soak in…
And Sunday–a marathon drive to Boston, with traffic backed up into southern Maine. Arghhh. Then back in the magic screaming silver tube to be transported back to the high desert of Arizona.
And a bit of time off–a few days anyhow–to re-acquaint myself with my lazyboy chair and ukulele. Then off downriver on Thursday.
I need a new agent.