Retirement can be hazardous to your health, but you can improve your chances of staying mentally and physically healthy by keeping happily occupied after you leave your job. Buzz Menz of Middleton, Wisconsin, started planning his exit strategy a decade before he retired: “I decided to build three boats to keep me busy, thinking that 10 years would be plenty of time. The plan was to start with a small row boat, then a larger sailboat, and finally a weekender type of sailboat.” By the time he brought an end to his career, he’d be ready to sail off, hale and hearty, into his sunset years. He had worked with wood for most of his life but knew that boatbuilding set a higher standard. “A boat is a different animal all together, and considering it is the only thing between you and the sea, potentially holding your life in its cockpit, it is important to build it right. One of my biggest challenges was knowing when a particular construction detail was good enough.”
He liked the look of Steve Redmond’s Whisp, a 15′ 7″ sharpie skiff for oar and sail, ordered plans, and began building. He’d previously built a strip canoe, but that experience didn’t prepare him for the more challenging work required by the Whisp. “I was starting to have some doubts about my chosen path to retirement.” Enrolling in a boat building class taught by Karen Wales at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts, in North Carolina, boosted his confidence and he learned that even with boatbuilding’s high standards, perfection was not only unattainable, but an impediment to progress. Each step has a point at which it is good enough and it’s time to move on. After the two-week class Buzz returned to the Whisp and finished it.
Before moving on to the next boat on his list, the sailboat, Buzz built stitch-and-glue kayaks for himself and his wife. Three years down and seven to go.
His search for a sailboat project led him to Iain Oughtred’s Caledonia yawl. By chance he saw one sailing on Lake Mendota, the lake just a mile from his home. He spoke to the owner and learned that the Caledonia yawl sailed well with full sail in light air and reefed in a blow, had good stability, and was easy to sail single handed. The owner and his partner had built the yawl in a little over a year.
Buzz ordered the plans from The WoodenBoat Store. His garage wasn’t big enough for building the 19′ 6″ boat so he either had to rent or build a larger space. He decided to build an oversize garage next to his office, just a few blocks from home. A year went by before he could start the yawl. Six to go.
He got a letter from Iain about an updated version of the Caledonia yawl with seven strakes instead of four, more volume, better stability, and other improvements. Buzz ordered the new plans and when they arrived he was ready to start.
It took two years to get the boat planked and ready to roll upright. He thought the greater part of the job was behind him but in retrospect decided “whoever said you are half way to done when you turn over the hull must have been building a canoe.”
For the interior he came up with his own layout and installed decks fore and aft, bulkheads at either end of the cockpit, and enclosed benches for storage and additional flotation. To dress up the decks he milled up some cherry that had been gathering dust in his garage at home. He glued cherry strips to 4mm okoume plywood and was pleased with how strong the decks would be but daunted by the effort it would take to sand them down smooth. “I was having some wood floors refinished that week at my office, so borrowed their floor sander to grind all the strips down to a uniform thickness and finished up with a belt sander and finish sander. Once I fiberglassed and epoxied the cherry side, the results were stunning.”
With the pieces all assembled Buzz spent two months sanding, painting, and varnishing. The dust was still flying when his 10 years had elapsed.
A month after he retired, he launched the boat, alone fortunately, because he discovered a leak between the centerboard case and the keelson. That problem fixed, he returned to the lake for another launch and a maiden voyage. He motored out from the ramp with his brand new 2.5 HP Yamaha outboard in the motor well.
Clear of shore, he set sail. “Once I had the two sails set, the boat responded well quartering into the wind. I put it through all angles to the wind to see how it behaved and was pleasantly surprised. The boat responded the way it was supposed to respond. This was great, since I had just spent 5 years on and off building this boat, it was a relief to know that the finished product met my expectations.” GOOD’NUFF, as he christened his boat, was, after all, good enough and Buzz set sail, leaving his career in her wake.
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