Building my first boat was a means to an end. I had done a lot of backpacking and bicycle touring but I’d grown tired of lugging a heavy pack on the trails and dodging cars and trucks on the roads. I imagined that with a boat I could travel with lots of gear and have a plenty of elbowroom, so I studied charts and set my sights on cruising north to explore the long inlets of British Columbia. I didn’t have the money to buy a boat so I had to build one. I read Gardner’s Dory Book and Building Classic Small Craft and ordered plans for a Chamberlain dory skiff. My parents let me set up a temporary workshop in the back yard, and after I had an enclosed space and a workbench hastily knocked together with construction lumber, I was ready to get started on the skiff.I had a lot to learn about building a boat. I was 25 and I’d been using tools for quite a while and thought I was a fair woodworker. Before I turned 10, I had built a couple of forts in the back yard, in my early teens I made two bunk beds for myself and a bunch of skim boards, and at 17 I built a plywood diving helmet and a pump to supply it with surface air. But the skiff, with its curves and wide array of unfamiliar materials posed problems I hadn’t anticipated. When I started shaping the stem, for instance, I was convinced that white oak couldn’t be planed. I worked on it with files as if it were metal until I learned how to put proper edges on my growing collection of woodworking tools. I also mangled a lot of bronze boat nails hammering them into undersized pilot holes thinking the small holes would provide a better hold. With all the trouble I had, I often wondered what I had gotten myself into, but when the planks went on the curves emerged, and the frustrations began to loosen their hold on me.Eventually I finished the skiff and rowed and sailed it north up the Inside Passage, calling it quits after 700 miles when the weather window started to close. I’d spent a good part of a year building the boat and only a month putting it to its intended purpose, but I wasn’t left feeling that I’d made a bad bargain. I could have continued using the skiff to cruise the waters of Washington and British Columbia, but I was drawn back to boatbuilding. I erected another temporary shed in my parents’ back yard and built a gunning dory for my father. Then I started building boats for my friends. I was looking at plans instead of charts; the means had become an end.

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