He came. He sawed. He kayaked.
After spending eight days in a boat-building class, a writer hopes he won't be left with that sinking feeling...
I was the walrus – goo goo g'joob.Skip to next paragraph
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I'll describe that marine metamorphosis later. For now, suffice it to say that it made for a profitable, if humbling, end to a rewarding encounter with slats of pine and white oak, ballistic nylon, and a polyurethane mixture. Over eight days, five of us – one teacher, four students – would meld these materials into working replicas of a 1935 skin-on-frame hunting kayak from Greenland.
The original sits in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Ours now have homes in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Oregon. The man who bridged this time warp and taught us the ways of the chisel, Japanese saw, and block plane, is Brian Schulz. The founder and lead instructor at Cape Falcon Kayak, in Manzanita, Ore., Brian is one of several people around the country who are taking advantage of at least a thousand years of indigenous R&D to help the skilled and unskilled alike turn humble materials into seaworthy craft in a relatively short, but intense, burst of activity. This is one of the aspects of kayak-building that he finds so appealing.
Building skin-on-frame kayaks is "an incredibly gratifying thing that you can do in a week," he says, "and it's not beyond the skill level of the average person."
Each of us has come to the class by a slightly different path. I met Brian at a wooden-boat show I attended during a business trip to Oregon last August. (Note to boss: slide time.) Classmates Pam and Stuart Selkin signed up on the advice of a friend who had taken Brian's class. Both already had custom-made skin-on-frame kayaks.
But, Pam says, she and Stu got tired of saying "no" when asked if they'd built their own craft. Pam, an attorney, and Stu, a physician, drove up from Melville, N.Y. Alan Podesta, an electrician from Annandale, N.J., also met Brian during a trip to Oregon and rounds out the class.
We lug our tool boxes into the Apprenticeshop in Rockland, where people come to learn the craft of wooden-boat building. It hugs a small slope that falls away to the waterfront below. Unfinished wooden walls, bare-plank floors, and wooden work benches carry the stains and smells of varnish, sawdust, and wood shavings – the shades of boats long since built. Two wooden canoes span a pair of rafters above us. Two additional floors with more workspace and industrial-grade power tools lie below us. The lowest of these floors opens to the waterfront. Our task over the next days (and nights) will be to create 17-foot kayaks that weigh around 30 to 40 pounds each.
We each bring a rudimentary collection of hand tools Brian has recommended. And we bring different skill levels. Alan is the most able of the four students at virtually all of the tasks we perform. He often finishes a particular step first, then quietly lends a hand to others who are a bit slower. Brian also taps him to help with some of the more exacting prep work for subsequent steps in the building process.
Pam and Stu claim initial expertise only at cordless drills. Both say that on the drive up, they vowed to avoid band saws – which don't have blade guards – especially since Stu relies on deft fingers to perform surgical procedures. But before the class ended, Pam would become queen of the band saw, and Stu find a satisfactory substitute in a portable jig saw.
Brian approves and observes, "With a jig saw and an electric hand planer, you can build anything."
I fall somewhere in between Alan and the Selkins.