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Slogging to Windward
by Chuck Merrell 

August 2001


Usually when the end of July hits here in the Pacific Northwest, everybody pretty much agrees that summer is indeed here. But not this year. We seem to be stuck in a perpetual spring type weather pattern, not much boating going on, cool days and chilly nights-not the thing to make you want to grab the sand bucket and head for the beach. Be that as it may, some of our resident hardcore boatbuilders are stirring around. Why, last Wednesday we even launched a little homebuilt power catamaran built here over the past year and a half or so, and I have the pictures to prove it. 

Okay, so I'm understating the case a little. My friend Adrian has been busily building his latest liveaboard dreamboat; his third so far. This one, fifty feet long with a sixteen-foot beam and judging from the nature of the boat and the power he has in mind I would say the speed expectation is somewhere in the realm of twenty knots--great for getting around the sound or up to the San Juans and not take all week doing it. Adrian designed the boat himself, and since he's not a designer by trade or training is gingerly feeling his way and of course hoping that his ideas work. The boat itself is completely built of plywood but the finish so far is nearly flawless, the kind of paintwork you see in fine mega yachts. Not surprising when you learn that Adrian works for one of the premier yacht builders in the world.

Now, whether you like it or not is beside the point. The sheer size of the vessel is impressive. It's probably the biggest backyard project I've ever seen. But what's really inspiring is that one person actually has the fortitude to risk his limited time on Earth and hard earned money where his dream is, not to mention getting so much accomplished in such a relatively short time.

We all know those needy, anal retentive types who hang out on the e-group lists, post questions ad nauseum on every aspect of some proposed boat or other, conduct voluminous correspondence off line with anyone who'll reply, then one fine day buy some plywood and take another six weeks (after more advice, postings and correspondence) before picking up the saw. Finally, the deed is done and gleefully our intrepid builder posts the; "I made the first cut" message--I guess trolling for some attaboy feedback before giving up and starting over with the process of considering yet another boat project (the really, really right one this time "fur sure dude").

Anyway, it's the guys like Adrian I take my hat off to. Whether the boat is a success or not, whether it works or not, or whether it's ultimately landfill material, they forge ahead. They get the answers as needed, solve the problems as they occur and don't niggle, naggle via email or schmooze the E-groups hoping to get answers from other niggle-naggle-list-jockeys who are probably just as unproductive and unknowledgeable as they are. 

Here endeth the "Life (and boatbuilding) takes guts and action" sermon. Oh yeah, and here's the launch pictures of the "Princess Christina" Adrianís boat of which I speak.

(click to pictures enlarge)

Oh yes, and by the way, before you get on my case and tell me I'm anti-egroup, Usenet, or mailing lists, let me say that all these are good ways to get advice and learn from other enthusiasts if used in moderation and now and then. I'm not putting that down at all, but I am putting down those who seem to think that boatbuilding is a talking game called "Hesitation". To put it another way, we all have cars, but we donít go out and drive emí around the block all night.


Speaking of boatbuilders who walk the walk and talk the talk, this column wouldn't be complete without mentioning my friends Bill and Beth McKibben. I speak of BillníBeth as a unit. Beth might demure, wanting to stay out of the limelight, but having observed them both for the better part of twenty years, I'd say that of all the boats they've built, not many if any would have come to pass had it not been for Beth lending her support, her sail making and upholstery skills and trip provisioning efforts to Bill and all their projects (and cruises). 

I remember one evening back in the eighties when I was in Victoria and we were out having dinner (great Indian restaurant--Western Canada has lots). Bill left the table for a minute and I asked Beth, "Well, how do you like being a boatbuilding widow?" Beth replied, "Widow, nothing. As long as what he's doing keeps him happy, I'm happy!" Again, my hat comes off--even faster this time. Any damn fool can build a boat if he doesn't get bogged down on the Internet or with TV, but not many are lucky enough to have a wife like Beth. This year Billn'bethíll celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary.

So, rather than going on and on about this couple (Phil Bolger has talked about them in his books), let me share with you some pictures on a web page I just set up at which covers a retrospective of their projects (not all of them, mind you) over the past thirty years. Here's the URL:


In the same mold, of the same ilk, or however you want to express it, comes my friend Bill Samson. Of course, I'm prejudiced, but really, he's one of the most productive people I've ever known. 

Top this: In the last few years, he's built "Sylvester" the Chebacco, built two kayaks, a Bolger June Bug (named Tweety), produced "The Chebacco News " Ezine, written an instruction manual for building the Chebacco, written several articles on boatbuilding for Watercraft Magazine, attended school and learned how to tune pianos (for an income stream to supplement his retirement when he retires), mentors a whole stable of PhD candidates (itís Doctor Bill, actually) for the university where he works, travels for at least a month every year with his wife, spent almost a month with me, still teaches college courses in software engineering every week, and is currently building a new boat I designed for him. He says he'll finish it before the summer is out AFTER he gets back from his conference in Germany on Folding Kayaks. Donít forget that he also sails and kayaks about once a week.

The craft Bill is currently building (it's a stretched version of an old Atkin design which I converted to modern stitch and glue) is called Peach Pie. You can see step-by-step photos of Bill building this boat at the following URL:

Need I say more? Find the OFF switch for the computer and the TV and the ON switch for the woodworking tools. Hup, two, three, four . . .


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