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by Mike Machnicki - London - England

Why We Build Boats

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I was struggling with the dinghy build the other day, in addition to the sandpaper continually getting clogged, the bow towing eye is an innovative design involving a piece of flexible pipe as a mould, that’s OK but fastening it to the boat in the manner described was not easy, in fact far from easy. In a fit of exasperation I threw down the tool in my hand and wondered why anybody would want to build a boat. Fortunately times like this are very few and far between, a bit of patience and a clear head will see you thorough most difficult problems and if not the best solution is to leave it for another day, when having slept on it the answer is so obvious you wonder why you didn’t see it yesterday.

My difficult problems were resolved but it did get me thinking ‘Why do people build boats’?  Its not just why we build them, but why is there such a passion and compulsion in the building. People build houses also, bricklayers; carpenters; electricians; plasterers but there is not the passion, the compulsion may be there - to pay the mortgage. Is it because they are professional, I don’t think so, would that be to say if they did it part time they would be more passionate about it, that doesn’t sound right, more compulsion to pay the mortgage maybe. I think the answer has to be fundamental so I asked my wife who has degrees in psychology, if anyone could explain basic human drives, she is the one. “Yes, you do seem to be obsessed” she observed “I wish you put as much passion into the gardening”. After some discussion it dawned upon me that she felt absolutely no urge to build a boat, in fact there was not even a spark of interest. My wife was not the only one commenting on this, not long ago my daughter said to me during a discussion “Dad, you are boat obsessed”, “You mean boat orientated” I corrected her. I suppose they are mother and daughter so asking one is the same as asking the other.

Other boat builders don’t seem to know the answer either, words like need to; have to; cool etc are used but no explanation is forthcoming as to why. I am beginning to suspect that most people don’t stop to analyse the why, they just go ahead and build it. For me going ahead and building it is good, very good in fact, but I also need to know why I am driven to it, addicted to it. Do I need therapy for the addiction? Every other part of my life seems normal, I am still able to function and hold down a job, albeit part time at three days a week. Asking the question elicits vague answers and far away looks, the minds eye wonders to sun drenched atolls and storms at sea, hermit crabs and deep sea monsters (see previous article on Black Scabbard Fish). Hang on a minute I seem to be rambling, maybe this addiction is starting to affect my mind.

Let’s try to approach the answer logically by asking the question why would anyone need or even want a boat?

  • To go fishing, either to feed  the family or for sport
  • As transport
  • For use with other hobby, e.g waterskiing
  • As a hobby in itself, no not good enough, why not take up golf if that is the case, lots of exercise and fresh air.
  • To explore
  • To escape
  • To stimulate an underutilised and under stimulated mind (didn’t like to use the word idle as it may cause offense)

I think we are now making some progress on this, one of the most fundamental questions that face mankind. Boat building is a time honoured tradition with over 30,000 years of history, no I didn’t get carried away with the zeros, the oldest dugout canoes so far found are about 30,000 years old. If you think about it, it has to be so, we know that human life started in Africa and migrated in several waves over the last 100,000 years. How did they get to Australia which has been cut off from the rest of the world for millions of years, long enough to develop unique flora and fauna. The Australian aboriginal peoples are different from Malaysians and Polynesians so they must have been there a long time (current thinking is 50,000 to 70,000 years). Perhaps building boats is so old that it has been genetically embedded within us. Are we programmed to build boats? It’s a good try but I can’t see my bank manager accepting it as a reason for the overdraft.

Two reasons for needing a boat in years gone by were for fishing and transport, waterways were the main highways before tarmacadam was invented, which is why towns always grew up next to water. In medieval Britain it was easier to travel by water than through the dangerous forests. Still today in more remote areas of the world the river is used for transport. Even in some not so remote places the river retains this important function, just take a look at the thriving river communities in countries like Thailand, China, Holland and Bangladesh, though I will admit the last two examples would be in a poor state without boats due to their vertically challenged geography.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no single main reason why people own boats, the reasons seem to be very varied, though could be grouped in - fishing, transport, relaxation. This seems to be a different question from why there is such a passion and compulsion to build a boat. The latter three items in the list above seem to approach the truth a little closer, explore, escape and stimulation. Our modern lifestyle is a recent innovation and, although it gives many advantages, like washing machines and hot water on tap, I am not convinced that it is a good thing overall, or that we have completely adapted to it. Certainly many of the more common ailments to which we succumb, are due to our incomplete adaptation to modern diet and lack of exercise. Having spent the last 35 years sitting in front of a computer designing and building software I find the need to relax with some physically creative pastime. Modern life and the throw away society, apart from not being sustainable in its current guise, is not satisfying, it gives very little scope for creativity to most people who work as small cogs in a large machine fulfilling one small task (albeit an important one) and never seeing the final result of their labours or being able to directly link the rewards to their actions. When you pull a fish out of the water, cook it and eat it there is a far more direct and compelling link between work and reward.

Working in an office or factory every day one is cut off from the natural world that created us and from the urges that shaped our nomadic past, one could say ‘It’s a life, but not as we knew it’. A boat gives us the means of being self sufficient and autonomous, and building a boat is the last bastion of freedom from red tape and bureaucracy (try typing the word into Google I got 7,800,000 hits, there is too much of it out there).

Creativity is a basic urge that is within all of us, though latent sometimes, to be happy and fulfilled while resisting expressing it is just not possible. The human mind needs the fresh stimulation that exploration gives. The human spirit needs wild remote places for escape to refresh the soul. Could this be why we build boats?

Click HERE for a list of articles by Mike Machnicki


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