I’ve got a new language to learn; it’s the language of boat building. Reading around the subject, I’ve been using the glossary in John Leather’s ‘Clinker Boatbuilding’ as a guide. The first pass through was a little bit confusing, some of the definitions seem to be almost self-referential; take the definition of ‘sheer’ for example: ‘the sweeping curve of a boat’s sheerstrake upper profile.’ I felt that I needed to know what sheer meant before sheerstrake made sense; surely it shouldn’t be part of the definition without itself being defined? Digging deeper into the book, I discovered that the sheerstrake is the uppermost plank of the hull, and the meaning became clear; the sheer is the shape of the top of the hull. I clearly have work to do before I’m fluent in this new language.
I found ‘scantlings’ in the glossary as well; I liked it because it has a satisfying ring of conciseness which is a guiding principle for this blog. John Leather tells me that the definition of scantlings is ‘A ship and boatbuilding term for the dimensions of the members of construction’. So I will know I’m a boatbuilder when I can build a boat from its scantlings.
Three weeks to go. From Monday 10th September there will be no daily bike ride through London traffic to get to the office. No sitting at a desk. No computer. No weekly visit to the gym. No monthly salary. Regular mugs of tea will be my only link with my previous way of life. I’m going to learn to be a boat builder at the International Boatbuilding Training College in Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft.
Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis; in fact that’s what it is. It feels like the right time to assess what I do, what I’ve done and what (I hope) I will do. I love making things and I love boats, so it seems to make sense. I want to do something useful for as long as I can, I want to get to the end of the day, the week, the year and know what I’ve done (rather that not being able to quite put my finger on it).
As the autumn comes along and the days get colder and shorter, i’ll stoop and build ’em up not with worn-out tools, but with well honed tools. Honing will be the theme of the autumn and winter this year. I’ll be honing my tools and honing my woodworking skills. Preparing to be a boat builder. But now I’m preparing to prepare to be a boat builder.
John Leather’s ‘Clinker Boatbuilding’ has given me some useful insights already and I’m sure will be a useful companion; he tells us in Chapter 1 that ‘sharpening tools is the first thing that a boat builder must know or learn by practice’.
No doubt that’s where we’ll start in September. I just hope I’ve got the tools to sharpen.