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,
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
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