What I Did On My Summer Vacation

August 19, 2009

Despite my grumblings and self-recriminations, I am making some progress during these hot mid-summer days. An hour here and two hours there added up and I suddenly realized that I am, in fact, ready to attach the side boards—which will complete the hull and mark another important milestone.

First, however, I decided to circle the boat with my camera a take a few photos of the interior before it is hidden behind the side panels. I want to remember why the boat is taking so long to finish and I also decided, with some humility, that future Pocket Cruiser builders would like to see how I solved some of the boat’s small, but nettlesome design problems.

These close-ups aren’t especially inspiring, I admit, which is why most builders like to post artfully composed photos that emphasize the grace and beauty of their craft. I liked looking at these pretty pictures before I started my boat, but right now I am more interested in the blood and guts of boat building. Whenever I hit a snag, I find myself combing the Internet (usually without success) looking for close-ups that help me see how other people constructed their bilge board boxes, attached the transom to the keel, or secured their mastbox—among the dozen or more technical dilemmas that I have encountered over the past few months.

So for posterity and the edification of those who will build the next batch of Stevenen boats, here are a few images, enhanced with commentary and cautionary tales:

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 3

Figure 5

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 7

Let’s start at the bow of the boat. Figure 1 shows the front, from the forward bulkhead to the tip of the stem. Once the sides are attached, the many hours of interior work will be almost fully hidden, so before we seal the vault, so the speak, take note of the mastbox, which is attached to

Figure 8

Figure 8

the inside edge of the bulkhead. Figure 2 shows how it is secured with plywood collars at both the top and the bottom. Stringers fill the remaining space.

The mastbox is sized to hold a 4 x 4 inch inch post (which is, of course, actually 3 ½ x 3 ½ inches). To assure an easy fit the box is about an 1/8 inch larger. To my inexperienced mind, this means that water will seep into the box, sit there and, since there is no draining mechanism, rot the wood. There is much discussion among Pocket Cruiser builders about this problem.

One faction advocates drilling small weep holes so that any accumulated water can drain away. Another group promotes encapsulating the inside of the box in epoxy. These are not mutually exclusive strategies, but for the moment, I followed the latter path and took the extra time needed to paint three coats of epoxy on all interior sides, including the boat bottom. For even more protection, I used epoxy when adhering the top and bottom collars. The rest of the boat will turn to oatmeal long before the mastbox will. Figure 3 shows the opening of the mastbox and the liberal use of epoxy.

Moving on to figure 4, please note the ten-inch eyebolt protruding through the stem. The bolt slides through a six-inch hole cut with an auger and secured on the inside of the hull. I fretted about drilling such a long hole, but old-fashioned augers allow for wonderfully precise drilling. The more serious concern was filling the hole after the eyebolt was inserted. I don’t like having a hole in the boat so close to the waterline and I spent a fair amount of time worrying that water would seep in, promote rot and make a puddle in the forward bulkhead. My simple solution was to line the inside of the hole with epoxy (using a small dowel to smear it around), then coat the bolt with as much thickened epoxy as it would hold and shove it in. Finally, I pushed in more thickened epoxy once the bolt was inserted and secured. I don’t know how well it will work, but it was the best I could do.

From here, let’s move toward the middle of the boat and pause at the bildge board boxes (figure 5). As I discussed in detail in an earlier post, I modified the size of the box slightly, making it both narrower and not quite a wide as the plans indicated. Also, I placed the box closer to the bottom edge of the boat. If I built and placed the box according to plans it would not fit underneath the deck. Pete Stevenson told me that I was the first to have this problem, but I suspect it’s more common than he knows. I know of at least two other builders who modified their boxes for one reason or another.

I made one other modification to the bilge board boxes: Based on the recommendation of builder Tom Christensen I angled the top of the box so that it would follow the upward curve of the bow. This allowed for a better fit and helped the deck maintain a graceful sweep from stem to stern.

The boxes were also encapsulated in epoxy and, as added precaution, secured to the boat bottom and deck with epoxy. Following the directions, I had little difficulty cutting out the slots in the top and bottom (see figure 6). Finally, I added two small partitions that attached to the sides of the boxes. They may or may not be necessary structurally, but they are part of the plans.

The tour is nearly complete, but I want to also show a close-up of the transom (figure 7), showing how the outside of the boat’s rear panel sits flush with the end of the keel and the keel’s capboard. The plans are bit vague on this point, but I looks like a flush surface is needed with attached the rudder mount later on, so it’s worth point out.

Finally, figure 8 offers the obligatory “pretty boat” view that shows how all the parts come together and remind me that I am making some progress after all.

I don’t pretend that I solved every problem or made the best decisions when I encountered a problem. But I am always grateful when other builders share their experiences and insights, even if I eventually blaze my own trail.

Advertisements

In Defense of Hobbies

August 12, 2009

As a boy, I had the usual career goals: fireman, policeman, and—for the longest time—airline pilot. All that faded quickly enough, but unlike most young people, I never really came up with an alternative plan. As a young teenager, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “retired.” It was good for a laugh, but most people didn’t realize that I was serious. I really did want to skip midlife and head straight to the pension.

I'm not making a dime doing this. Is that OK?

I'm not making a dime doing this. Is that OK?

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t lazy, nor did I lack ambition. I had lots of interests, lots of passions, many dreams and plans. And that was the problem. I didn’t want to do just one thing, or be just one kind of person. I wanted to do a little bit of everything: paint, read, travel, build interesting things out of wood, plant a garden, study nature, learn a foreign language, write.

Individually, each interest could lead to a job. I could be a horticulturalist, since I liked to garden. I could be a naturalist, since I liked to be outside. But I didn’t want to pick one activity to the exclusion of all others. Instead, I wanted to dabble in all of my interests. And since full-time dabbling is the allowable pass-time of the retired, I decided that I wanted to be old.

Later, as young man, I modified my career aspirations slightly. After studying European history I wanted to be a renaissance man—someone who had the wealth and resources needed to simply pursue my multiple passions, wherever they might lead. I also wanted to live in an era when there was room for people to make a name for themselves in many different disciplines. Michelangelo could be an inventor and a great artist; Benjamin Franklin could be a diplomat, printer, and scientist. Thomas Jefferson—one of my early heroes—was a brilliant writer and a gifted architect. All three men were allowed to cross boundaries of knowledge with impunity and make contributions to each. I could see myself as their contemporary, pottering about my English manor—inspecting interesting horticultural specimens in the morning, practicing the violin in the afternoon, writing a treatise on democracy by candlelight.

But since “renaissance man” is not a recognized occupation in the twenty-first century, I played by the rules, earned a series of university degrees and established a respectable place in society as a writer. It’s not a bad way to make a living. I often worry about finding enough work, but I relish the autonomy. I can travel when I please and work when it’s most convenient. Since I don’t commute, attend departmental meetings, or engage in idle chatter in hallways, I work more efficiently and have more free time.

But, to the detriment of my emotional health, I never really abandoned my preference for dabbling. I’m 45 years old—fully credentialed, completed settled, utterly respectable in nearly every way—and I still believe in the value of fun, leisure and creative exploration. I don’t mean lying around eating bon-bons and watching the Guiding Light. I’m talking about traveling the world with my children, learning to paint in oils, hiking the Appalachian Trail, becoming something more than a marginally competent musician—things that, in their own way, require hard work and discipline. I could do this happily and productively for the rest of my life.

But I can hardly admit to these fantasies without appearing like an eccentric or aspiring dilettante. Those of us in the American middle class (and most Americans believe they are middle class) are conditioned to think of themselves first and foremost as workers. Employment is the coin of the realm; the more we work and the more we appear to suffer because of it, the more virtuous we appear.

This fixation with employment is understandable if we were only worried about the practical need to earn a living. But modern society has given work a much higher and more symbolic role. Jobs (which are more commonly called “careers”) are not only sources of necessary income, but all-encompassing sources of personal identity: “I am a doctor;” “I am a teacher.” People don’t do work, they are work. It defines our place in society. It defines us. A person without a career is almost without an identity.

Worse still, careerism assumes that most people can be only one thing—a scientist or an artist; an astronaut or a poet. There is no room for multiple identities. In fact, we are conditioned to look at people who cross boundaries with suspicion. Hyphenated identities are flaky. There is some tolerance for midlife career changes, but they are often pursued under duress (the factory job goes away, for example), and are allowed only after new credentials are earned. We are “retrained” (probably in computers) and placed on a new track, just as limiting and exclusive as the one before.

In a career-oriented society, uncompensated passions and talents are given the slightly dismissive label of “hobbies.” They are allowed, but treated like a piece of parsley on a plate served with the dinner entree —a colorful garnish that livens the presentation, but doesn’t add anything to the main course and is, in the end, disposable. In this context, my boat is assumed to be of no great importance to my happiness or my identity. It is simply how I fill time when I run out of work.

Some people feel completely fulfilled by their jobs. My father, I think, was one of these lucky few. He lived a rich and full life within the boundaries of his profession and believed with total certainty that he was doing something of great importance. With this role model, I grew up feeling that there was something wrong with me for not feeling utterly fulfilled by my career, for not being absolutely sure that I was making the world a better place. I wondered why the son of a university chancellor and presidential appointee wanted to knock off early on a Friday afternoon to work in the garden. Was my DNA a few molecules short? I knew how to play the part of the committed professional, but I always felt like a fraud.

But I think it’s also safe to say that most people have dreams that don’t fit into their workaday lives. David Heineman, a fellow Pocket Cruiser builder, told me recently that he wished he could live at least one hundred different lives simultaneously. One would be a painter, one would be a musician, another would build boats. What a relief it was to hear someone else say, almost word for word, what I have said for years.

I don’t know why we maintain the fiction of careerism. Instead of looking at the narrowness of our economic lives and calling a spade a spade, we only redouble our efforts to secure happiness by finding a new and better career. If we are unhappy, we’re told it’s only because we’re in the wrong profession. But I wonder if we might be happier if we simply admit that a career is, in the end, just a job and that while jobs can be (and should be) rewarding and useful, they need not define who we are. Plenty of societies, both past and present, understand this fact well enough and live happier and richer lives as a result.

Like most people, I need to work and, quite frankly, I’ll probably need to work for many years to come. But that doesn’t mean that I am obligated to work more than necessary or simply think of myself as “a worker.” Maybe I can’t be a true renaissance man, but I can realize that work pursued for pleasure is no less important or meaningful than work completed for money. At this moment, my boat is as important to me as anything I do in my office. And a good day is when I not only spend some time “earning a living” but also have the free time to glue some stringers, play my guitar, hang out with my kids, talk with my wife, and read a good book. In other words, be a complete person.