A Man’s Home is His Boatyard

Plywood schooner
A tiny schooner, a canopy, and a dinghy.

Of all the advantages of owning a decent-sized property rather than renting an apartment, the greatest for me is being able to put anything wherever I want.  There is a certain wild freedom in being able to leave my car in whichever corner I happened to use it last, without regard to assigned parking spaces; or to setting up sawhorses and sawing wood just where it’s most convenient, and then not having to clean up the shavings.  That freedom is circumscribed somewhat by the rocky, broken nature of most of the lot, and by the heavy forest that prevails throughout, but there’s enough cleared area that when I was offered the tiny schooner I’ve been talking about lately, I didn’t have to wonder whether I’d be able to park it somewhere.  And when I wanted to erect a temporary shed over it, I didn’t have to secure permission from either landlords or neighborhood associations.

Brownell trailer for boat hauling
Ganymede gets hauled by an hydraulic trailer.

But that’s not all.  With the end of the sailing season, rather than take Ganymede, our 31’ cruising boat, over to the boatyard where she’s spent the last winter or two, I had her trucked to our house and dropped off next to a huge heap of cordwood that’s seasoning for future use.  While it makes the turnaround a little awkward, the advantages of having her right there, visible from nearly every window, are immense.  Not only are we saving piles of money by not paying boatyard fees, but I have her right there, where any project doesn’t require hours of planning and loading and driving.  And I do have some projects, but they’re going to wait till the weather improves.  After all, I have time—it’s costing nothing to keep her where she is.  Besides, I have more urgent projects to attend to.

Before the tiny schooner dropped suddenly into our lives, I had begun work on what had started as a fancy long ago, over long evening suppers in Ganymede’s oil-lit cabin.  The idea was that since everybody loves fresh bread, why not bake it every morning, then sail around the anchorage and sell it to whomever was just brewing up a pot of coffee and wondering whether it was worth firing up the dinghy to have a go at the bakery onshore?  It would require a slightly bigger dinghy than what we had, and so the “bread boat” was born.  It was designed and refined and discussed for days and weeks, and  we passed some very pleasant times working out the details of what it would look like.

Dreams, however, remain just that unless you do something about them.  Finding myself with a little breather after building an upstairs to the house, felling a few dead trees for firewood, and constructing some henhouses over the course of our first winter in the house, I began to put a keel under the breadboat dream.  Like most things I design, it’s pretty basic: twelve feet long; codfish bows and a mackerel tail; square transom.  The frame was simply a backbone with plywood stations every foot, and braces between stations to keep the spacing.  Since this was to be a plug from which to pull a mold (having more than one child, I have to build several identical ones), I had planned to simply plank it with MDF strips, fair it with wallboard compound, and destroy it after the mold was off.  But I also hate to be that wasteful.  What if the plug itself could be turned into a boat? Perhaps a prototype for testing mast and centerboard locations?

It turned out to be harder than it looked, covering the frames with core foam and getting them faired.  I wound up with some hollows so outrageous it took two five-gallon buckets of PolyFair fairing compound to straighten them out, and even so they still look a little lumpy.  Ah well, imperfection is my signature.  Four layers of 10-ounce glass later, a final scrape of fairing, two coats of finish primer, and endless days of sanding rendered the prototype ready to have the mold built on it.  That done, and both separated, I almost had to wonder where I’d put them both until spring brings weather warm enough for fiberglass again.  I found some room at last, but until I move some things around, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline to take on any other boats.  Three coracles, two dinghies, two dinghy molds; four canoes, one prototype breadboat, a cruising boat, and a plywood schooner is all I can reasonably keep.  Any more, and I’d have to start parking my car on the street.  And then the neighbors surely would complain.

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