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by Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia


Friends of the Shop

Tom Carroll, the driving instructor, comes in to check up on us everyday. Tom knows about cars and motorbikes, not wooden boats; but he watches our progress and thinks.

Other people call in at the workshop, and a pleasant sense of community has built up. At first I found it difficult to work and talk, but the need to provide food for the table at home forced me to learn. Everybody seems to like it better that way. Al will start the working day by asking the question, “Who’ll visit today?”

“Well,” I say, “I reckon it’ll be Russell, because it is two days since we’ve seen him, and Paul will be in this afternoon, because it is Thursday.”

Most of our visitors were complete strangers to us on their first visit, but many are now part of the atmosphere of the workshop. So much so, in fact, that we grow concerned if they don’t turn up regularly….”Where’s your note?”, I hear Al say into the ‘phone, “You weren’t here yesterday, and we were worried about you.” They probably think that he is joking, but he isn’t.

We get presents – Pete brought us three precious pieces of home smoked mullet, individually wrapped and only handed over after a careful briefing on storage and consumption had been delivered. Shane brought in his books and notes – we studied them reverentially. Our friend of one meeting lent us his thicknesser and compressor – he is a big and hard man, but two operations to remove brain tumors have robbed him of the ability to work at his love, boatbuilding. He says that we have helped him by allowing him to prowl the workshop, but does he know how much he has inspired me? Percy Masters from the Caravan Park gave me a couple of kilos of screws – I think of him every time one is driven into a boat. Things just keep on turning up.

Everybody knows Roy Bliss, retired (and legendary) boatbuilder. Mac has driven Roy down to the shed twice in the last twelve months. Roy’s first visit frightened me half to death – Al was going to drop him with the half-made Samson Post he was holding if he went for me too savagely – but I got away with only my delusions of grandeur damaged. The second visit was better, but only because we didn’t know he was going to call. If I had known in advance, I would have needed medication. As it was, he looked carefully, commented frankly (every negative comment was justified), but ended by telling us that we should keep going and learn from the work. “Commendable,” he said, “commendable.” I was on a high for a week!

What are the pitfalls of our pleasant existence? Well, it takes us more time to build a boat than it should, but the customer only pays for the hours spent working, so it is alright in the long run. During the school holidays, there are a lot of kid’s bikes out the front – but the kids build some good models, and they learn a lot, about a lot. We know where they are, and it isn’t in front of a screen.

We ran a book on what Tom would say when he first spotted the Phil Bolger Micro which we are building. The shop had been full of boats, so the work was going ahead in a “flat pack” form. The day for hull assembly came on Tom’s day off – it only took a few hours to do the initial assembly of Micro, so when Tom next turned up, it looked like aliens had dropped her in out of nowhere.

Tom walked up to the structure and looked. He moved left, he moved right, then turned around an said, “What the **** is that?” Then he said, “Where the **** did that come from?” “Which bit is the front?” “Is this the top or the bottom?” It looses something in the telling, but the look on his face was worth a big laugh.

Is there a point to all this ramble? Well, to me it means that lots of people are attracted to wooden boats under construction, especially the pretty clinker ones. Many of the observers do not have a pre-existing interest in the subject, but they look, comment and touch the boats. I can’t imagine regulars dropping in to watch commercial moulded ‘glass production. Our visitors often bring cakes and bikkies (and smoked mullet), and stay for a couple of hours. Jet Ski show rooms probably get more people through them, but I’ll bet they’re not likely to turn into “Friends of the Shop”.

If you are thinking of building a boat but find it difficult to make a start, my advice is to choose a project which is about two sizes smaller than your dreams dictate, then start! I spent thirty years not building lots and lots of boats, despite the most detailed study. Endless comparisons made selection even more difficult – this of course, meant that more study was required – and so on and so on. Choose a design which is too small and too simple, then build it; if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with them all, without too many regrets.