I’ve held off on this for a while, but now I think it’s time.
I’m not sure how you’ll feel about me once I tell you this, but… well, as close as we are… I feel like I need to just put it out there.
I’m having an affair.
I’ll pause here while you let this sink in.
Okay. I won’t give you all the details – because that’s way too much information – But I feel like I owe you some.
There are these three guys…well, yesterday a young woman I’d never met before joined us so I guess that’s five of us, total.
I confess that I’ve seen even more people behind the scenes but, I’m embarrassed to say, the intensity of it all has prevented me from getting to know them very well.
Yesterday morning, I found my mind once again completely preoccupied with the whole thing. By the time I got home from my walk, I was consumed with doing whatever I needed to do just to get out of the house and to our meeting place.
While JoHn was on the phone, I gathered up my camera equipment and poked my head into the room where he was. I mouthed a generic goodbye and gave a small wave and quietly stepped out the back door.
And then I was elated.
Sun shining, blue skies, crisp fall air…
The thoughts of home and everyday things bled into a mercurial background as I wound my way toward my objet de désire.
French… because passion.
When I arrived at our rendezvous (see? French) point, Rick came out to meet me.
He was followed quickly by Josh, and then Kevin.
After that people were drifting in and out of our room with such casual frequency that someone not in the midst of such a tryst might find unsettling.
But not me.
I was there for Cliffy.
I mean, it won’t be her christened name, but it is the name the designer used on the plans so I…
What did you think was happening?
No no no, it feels like having an affair with my boat!
I mean, I’ve been thinking about her all the time, and getting super excited when I get to visit her, and plotting to see her again even after I’ve just left her. It’s getting bad. I mean, I feel this way and all she is right now is a bunch of lines and curves and a single mold.
But, oh, those lines and curves… and that single mold.
Those, my friends, are the beginnings of a wooden boat.
Years ago, I came across an article on the evolution of the Maine lobster boat, and it contained a drawing or diagram or poster created by a man named Doug Alvord. The image showed – if I remember it right – seven or eight lobster boats, spanning the mid-eighteen hundreds through the mid-nineteen hundreds, powered first by oars and sails, and later by gasoline and/or diesel-powered engines.
I got stuck between about 1910 and 1930 or 40… the hampton boat, the torpedo stern, the mizzen sails….
Not that many years ago, now dear friends moved in across the cove and brought with them their ‘new old boat’. It was a Pulsifer Hampton designed by a man named Dick Pulsifer in Brunswick, Maine – a 21′ gorgeous, yet straightforward, open wooden boat based on the Hampton lobstering boat from the early 1900s.
I loved it.
The only issue was that Dick Pulsifer built his boats a little like Henry Ford built his cars. While Ford said we could have any color we wanted, as long as it was black; Dick Pulsifer said you could have any size Pulsifer Hampton you wanted, as long as it was 22 feet long, and exactly like all the other ones he created (thought he did allow you to change the color).
And that was just this side of too small for what we wanted.
So we looked at other boats, and our friends helped us look at those boats. Then, one day when a certain boat that we thought made sense did not feel like it actually made sense, my friend Pam said something about this wooden boatbuilding school up in Rockland.
And one thing led to another and here I am confessing… er… sharing with you.
Back in the fall of 2018, I commissioned a boat with the Apprentice Shop in Rockland Maine, a non-profit wooden boatbuilding school that is more of a community of apprentice and master wooden boatbuilders… folks who believe in the goodnesses of craftsmanship, tradition, and the sea.
This, I am telling you, is a very cool place.
Fair warning, the folks there will probably show up here in the months to come. My Cliffy won’t be finished until – at soonest – next summer some time.
I’m not in a hurry.
The process, to me, is wonderous. The photographical and writer-o-logical parts of my brain are Snoopy dancing.
Plus, I need the time. Because of the whole goal thing.
At the time I
ordered commissioned (don’t get me started) the Cliffy, I’d never driven helmed a boat.
I knew nothing about boats, really, let alone seamanship… not much at all about navigation or safety or the rules of operating on the water.
But, in the fine tradition of old dawgs and new tricks, my goal is – once she is commissioned (with champagne!) in Rockland – to step to the helm of my own boat and take her the four hours or so, along the rocky Maine coast, back home to Southport.
I’ll bring a few friends of course… ones who can save me from any tragic seamanship errors (running up on the rocks is a big fear of mine), and also protect me from the random whale attack.
As of now, Rick and Josh have finished ‘lofting’ Cliffy. Lofting is the process of taking the to-scale drawings of the boat and laying them out – full size – on the floor. Truly, they have all 26 feet of her drawn out. It was pretty intimidating…
That’s Josh, sitting at about
the middle amidships.
So, right now, it’s all about the molds – the wooden pieces that will be used as support (and removed later) as the Cliffy’s hull is created – and the patterns for other elements of her hull, like the stem and keel and transom.
I actually know what all of those things are now, due to the miracle of osmosis… and 28 hours of boat school (which yielded me a certificate, a cool little card for my wallet, and a handshake from a man in spiffy white uniform (totally worth it!)).
But here’s the thing.
At some point, within some months or year or so, I will have a boat.
A boat with lines and history and romance and the traditional craftsmanship that has been a part of wooden boatbuilding, not for centuries, but millennia.
One whose plans were drawn up for an old Maine boatbuilder, because he admired the boats built by another who’d built boats before him.
A vessel whose design description, in the lower right corner of one page, reads, “26 Foot Cliffy Boat; As used in lobester fishery; Southern end Matinic Isl, ME. Late 1930’s through 1950s; Built by Clifford Winchenbach, West Waldoboro, Maine. Reconstructed from contemporary photographs and the recollection of some old guys.“
Did you get that?
“The recollection of some old guys”.
When I read that line, back last fall, it cemented the decision for me.
I’m getting a boat imagined, created, and remembered…
By Old Yankee Men.
Grampa would have loved this.
Thanks for readin’.
You can comment below, or join fellow ponderers on Just Ponderin’s Facebook page… or both! You are in total control.
*For anyone who noticed, in the description of the Cliffy, the word ‘lobster’ is misspelt as ‘lobester’. I left it that way in the quote, without notation, because it makes me smile.