In our late 20’s and early 30’s my wife and I lived in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a stone’s throw from the Chester River, in a town steeped in the sailing culture. Ironically, we didn’t spend any time on the water during our seven years near the Chesapeake Bay. Our children were young and we had no desire to take babies and toddlers on a sailboat. But I was able to observe yachters from Annapolis and other marinas on the “western shore.”
There are many skilled and dedicated sailors in the Chesapeake Bay, but there is also an odor of pretension. Sailboats can be—and too often are—another way to establish status; for some, they are little more than nautical BMW’s—teak and brass confections intended to make visible the owner’s financial success.
So I know perfectly well that my plan to build a small and simple boat from materials easily found at the local lumberyard makes me vulnerable to ridicule. I don’t expect to be warmly embraced by yachting class as I waddle through the bays of the eastern seaboard in an overgrown plywood box.
But I’m a contrarian by nature, and I have never felt the need to compete in the status game. Fairly or unfairly, I decided long ago that ostentatious displays of wealth indicate superficiality, misplaced values and an unbecoming degree of insecurity.
Instead of money, I most admire skills. I reserve my respect for those who have nurtured the creative impulse and can invent things beauty and utility. My interests are wide ranging, although I have particular fascination with the more obscure arts–from bookbinding, letterpress printing, and calligraphy to home brewing, winemaking, and quilting. I admire my wife’s skill as a seamstress and I study the work of skilled carpenters. I especially admire those skilled in my own chosen profession of writing, as well as my hobbies of gardening and woodworking.
Being able to build a modest house and sew a simple shirt or dress is a far greater achievement than being able to buy a mansion or the latest Paris fashions. Why? Because even the most crudely made structure or garment is a creative act. It is a demonstration of a real (or emerging) skill, an engaged mind and originality. It is bringing something new into the world, rather than eating up what is already there.
For better or worse, my life follows my values. Most of our furniture is homemade—from kitchen cabinets to the dining room table. Our salad greens come from a greenhouse of my own design; my beer is home brewed; our music is from my guitar and my wife’s piano. My office is in a building built by hand from foundation to roof. I don’t profess great talent in all (or any) of these activities. There are better brewers, better carpenters, more skillful gardeners and vastly superior musicians. But that’s not my concern. Each skill is adequate for our needs and brings pleasure. Indeed, the lack of perfection is a certain source of pride. Small errors and imperfections bring personality to even the most mundane object. Even years later, I read gouges and gaps like stories in a diary, recalling the events of their manufacture.
All this leads me to the conclusion that it is nobler to build a boat than to buy a boat and, as an extension of this philosophy, any homebuilt boat is better than any manufactured boat. It’s not a concession, but an added benefit. It is a display of my values and an integral part of the sailing experience.