Hurry Up Slowly

November 4, 2009

My newfound enthusiasm tripped me up last week. Determined to make real progress before winter, I rushed into the garage during an unseasonably warm day eager to install the cockpit seating. The result was a pile of miscut lumber and low-grade depression.

seat sides

All's well that ends well--mostly. The second set of seat side boards are now epoxied in place.

In theory, the seats are simple—vertical sides support a plywood bench held together with some stringers and glue. Adding to my confidence was the knowledge that, for the first time, I didn’t need to worry excessively about a perfect, watertight fit. With the hull completed, I’m just tinkering with the interior architecture.

But my eagerness to reach the finish line, combined with a sudden lack of timidity and caution, made me inattentive. Instead of carefully reviewing the plans and—of even greater importance at this stage—carefully measuring the actual cockpit space, I simply rushed to my plywood with a few rudimentary measurements and starting cutting away. In a matter of minutes I had both sides of the seating area ready to install and for a few moments I congratulated myself on my speed and decisiveness. I must be getting the hang of the boat building business!

Then, of course, came the disappointment of discovering that I had mismeasured the length of the cockpit floor. Once I set the boards in place it was painfully clear that both were a half-inch too short; there was a gap between the side boards and the transom wide enough to sail a tanker through. I tried to pretend that the discrepancy didn’t matter—that stringers could bridge the gap and epoxy could hide my error. But the mistake was too galling and in, the end, I am too much of a perfectionist to live with dumb miscalculations. So in a pique of self-recrimination and irritation, I redrew and recut the pieces. But by now I was grumpy and harassed, so I made a couple of new mistakes—small ones (you probably won’t see them)–but they gave rise to a new burst of Job-like lamentations along the lines of “Why me?” and “Well, that figures!” It didn’t help that all my cutting was producing a chaotic pile of wasted plywood that kept getting in my way as I worked.

I left the garage feeling that my time had been wasted and warm weather had been squandered. The next day was even warmer, however, and with some trepidation I went back out to the garage. First, I paid penance by cleaning up the scrap wood and putting away the tools. Then I went back to work—but more slowly and with no particular goal in mind. Of course, I don’t need to point out the obvious: My work was both pleasant and productive. A few hours later I had successfully epoxied the seat sides to the bottom of the hull and everything fit with satisfying precision. My small mistakes from the previous day are still there and they will mock me for years to come, but such things are good for the soul—or so I hope.

Autumn is my favorite season. I like preparing for winter by stacking firewood and cleaning up the yard. With cooler temperatures and a sense of urgency, I often work in a more purposeful way. But I needed this experience to remind myself that boats simply cannot be rushed. Everything I learned during the first weeks of work holds true today: progress depends on the incremental completion of countless small tasks. I keep looking for the moment when the fiddly work is over and I can sprint to the finish line, but it never comes. After completing one tiny task, I simply move onto another tiny task. From one day to the next, I seem to do nothing but cut a notch here and plane an angle there. But, somehow, all this tinkering has gotten me this far, and I have to remind myself that I will eventually get me to a finished boat and the water’s edge.