My earliest memories of sailing were not on the water, nor even near it, they were in our garage.
The warm sunlight shone down through the open garage door, ending just behind our feet and then bouncing up into the ceiling to fill the room with soft abundant light. It was a Saturday morning, I was ten years old, and watching as my dad mixed phenolic resin powder with water to make a molasses like glue. I had never seen glue that you had to add water to make it harden, or one that was a deep brown like chocolate – it was fascinating.
We took the shaped wooden parts that we had cut and beveled in the shop at the local community college and spread the glue out thickly on each of the faces to be joined. As the clamps were added and compressed, the dark glue oozed out of the joint and was driven into the pores of the wood. More and more clamps were added to bend the wood and shape it onto the keel of our first boat. Then, Dad would pilot and counter sink holes for 1” brass screws, which he turned tightly, one by one, by hand. I can still remember the light on his arms and thinking how strong he was.
It was then, at the age of ten that I became connected to sailing. I knew the strength of a well-built boat because I had helped bend its wood into to a graceful form with my own hands. I had helped scarf, cut, chisel and sand its lines to minimize drag and helped paint it, install its cleats, gudgeons and pulleys on its rigging. I had poured a little bit if myself into our boat.
Ironically, we didn’t finish our first sailboat, a 12ft San Francisco Pelican. As the weeks went by my dad decided that it would be better to actually get out on the water rather than spend the summer building a boat in the garage. We sold it to another would-be sailor and purchased a finished version from a friend. I’m grateful for that, as it got me out on the water that summer. But I’m also thankful for the connections that were made in me to the heart of the vessel and not just its utility.
To me, each boat I sail, no matter the size or rig, is much more than a tool or a “thing” like a car or a house. They are almost alive. I have a sense of the hours of work that goes into creating their simple, elegant beauty. I have a connection to their birth and history. The drafting and lofting of lines, the jigging up the keel and chines, all create what is more than the stark utility of a sailboat – they create dreams. The bending, gluing, screwing, sanding and varnishing bring a sort of spirit to a vessel’s simple, elegant beauty. Each boat I’ve sailed connects me back to that garage, my dad and the dream of exploring the world together, with family and friends, in a ship wrought of our own hands.
It is to me, the very heart of sailing.