During a few stolen hours midweek, I finally cut the Pocket Cruiser’s transom and both the forward and cabin bulkheads. The transom serves as the back of the boat’s hull while the bulkheads define and divide the cabin space. These three panels also support the previously cut deck boards, so I took the opportunity to dry fit all the pieces together, on the excuse that I wanted to check the accuracy of my measurements, but really because I’m eager to see what the boat will look like.
When I first cut the bottom boards, I marveled at the Pocket Cruiser’s small size, but I also predicted that it would look larger in three dimensions. With all the pieces gingerly settled into place, and with a hefty dose of imagination, I am finally able to visualize its final size.
As I expected, it does seem more substantial. However, it’s still a small boat and the first thing I notice is that the cockpit is even smaller than I expected. To my eye, there will be room for four friendly sailors, but no more. On the other hand, the cabin looks somewhat larger than I anticipated. It’s not a stateroom, to be sure, and with a 33-inch ceiling, I won’t be doing any cartwheels, but there is plenty of room for supplies and sleeping. Squinting hard, I can see myself tucked in at night, rereading Joshua Slocum by the light of small lantern, a cup of tea cradled in my hands…
I shake myself from my reverie. It’s exciting to see the boat taking shape, and equally gratifying that the pieces seem to fit. But there’s a long way between where I am and the fantasy of settling down for the night in a protected inlet.
Still, these daydreams help me stay motivated. On good days, building is engaging in its own right, but I find that when enthusiasm wanes it helps to play make believe and imagine the journeys to come. Indeed, a rich fantasy life is, I believe, an important and underappreciated part of the building process. When people say it took “300 hours” or “500 hours” to build their craft, I firmly believe they should include all the hours they spent staring at their boat, their hands inactive, but their mind buzzing with images of clouds, waves, and salty air.
Helping me stay motivated are pictures of completed Pocket Cruisers and stories of their sailing adventures, both large and small. I often find myself on the Internet looking for images and narratives that fuel my imagination. I read every post that describes sailing adventure. I was especially delighted to find an account by a young couple that spent a year building a Pocket Cruiser and then completed a five-day honeymoon trip down the Mississippi. The builders were clearly experienced and added dozens of small modifications—from hardwood trim to a diminutive galley–that makes my own craft look especially humble. Their well-designed web site includes helpful images of the boat under construction, as well as many thrilling shots of it under sail. I had hit the inspiration jackpot.
The only thing missing was the opportunity to talk directly with other sailors. Pictures are nice and online discussions are helpful, but I was ready for a real conversation with a real person in real time.
I was therefore especially pleased when another Pocket Cruiser builder offered to stop by and bring some photos of his boat. Like many twenty-first century relationships, this one began online. On a forum developed for Stevenson builders and sailors, I mentioned my plan to sail the Chesapeake and then asked if there was anyone else in my part of Pennsylvania with a similar interest. If phrased as a personal ad, it would have read “NBB (novice boat builder) seeks same for a conversation about plywood, glue, gussets and other nautical subjects that bore my family.”
David quickly replied, explained that he, too, was working his own Pocket Cruiser and offered to drop by after work. I warned him that I would have a hundred questions, but that didn’t put him off.
Working methodically when time allows during the warmer months, he is now into his third year of construction and is several steps ahead of me in the instructions. His deck is already attached, the mast box is finished, and the bilgeboard boxes are assembled. As the senior builder, he arrived with a thick folder filled with articles and emails by other builders and a computer full of pictures—many of his boat, some of boats built by others living in the mid Atlantic region.
He spread his treasure trove of information across the dining room table and we settled down to a very satisfactory conversation. Hilary joined in for a while, but as the conversation turned to a detailed discussion of epoxy she quietly wandered off. My oldest son also stopped by, but disappeared as we speculated on the best approach to mast design. I barely noticed. For the first time I was having a conversation about boat building that lasted more than ten minutes.
Finally, we went out to my garage so I could show David my progress. Walking in, he said, “Well, that looks familiar,” and I realized what it must be like to see your boat in someone else’s garage. It’s not your work, yet you know it well—every curve, every cut, every stringer and drop of glue. I had a sudden image of hundreds—maybe thousands–of identical craft around the world, each tended and fussed over by men and women with similar dreams. For a moment I felt that we were part of a larger community of dreamers. I’m not much of a “joiner” but it felt nice.
Only it wasn’t precisely like his boat. All builders modify and adapt according to their needs, skills, and imagination, so as we circled my boat, pointing and poking, David explained how his cabin is higher than mine and observed that my transom is more angled than his. Several months ago, when I made my first cuts, I would have worried about these variations, assuming that I had made a mistake. But by now I have seen enough pictures and heard enough stories from other builders to know that there is more than one solution to any problem. So I tried to sound confident as I talked about a small dilemma I faced with the stem (it looks too tall) and my solution (I think I’ll cut off an inch or two). To my relief, David had confronted the same problem and had reached the same conclusion. We are both novice builders, but it was very nice to hear validation for decisions that I normally have to make alone and worry about in silence.
It was getting late and David finally admitted that he had to head home. He, too, plans to sail the upper edges of the Chesapeake, so I hope to see him again. In the meantime, I go back out to the garage, on the pretext of turning out the lights and shutting the door, but instead I stand and the boat’s bow and let my mind wander. I’m not looking at a pile of precariously assembled boards, but at the finished boat, anchored in a sheltered bay. As the sun sets, a warm light glows from the portholes. I’m inside, listening to the water lap at the sides…
How much time passes before I finally turn out the light and walk back to the house? I have no idea, but I notice that a mug of coffee, hot when I walked out, is now cold in my hands.