Often enough Dad remarked that the hardest thing about building a boat was the first step: the starting.

Of course,  the building of any boat involves the initial ‘dream’ of boats in general, and thereafter the choosing  of a particular boat – and then the gathering of appropriate materials, the assembling of tools, the clearing of a space etc…but the real start, to my way of thinking, begins on the drafting table – and I well remember a sense of exhilaration, as we watched him draw the first pencil line on a thin sheet of plywood.

That simple pencil mark represented the baseline, and above it would grow (bit by bit) the heights, breadths and diagonals signifying the various moulds of our boat: the chosen and particular boat of three dimensions.

Without the initial pencil line, there could be no boat – and once it was drawn, we knew a wooden vessel had begun to take shape, and that in due course it would  be completed and launched and sailed, according to a sort of irresistible logic and momentum.

I was reminded of that mysterious process recently, while reading our dog-eared copy of Skiffs and Schooners, by R.D. (Captain Pete) Culler.

Pete Culler was first and foremost a craftsman; he was better suited to shaping wood than words – but even so, he wrote a number of inspiring books, in which he combined practical (and uncompromising) advice  with the many plans of small wooden boats for sail and oar: all of his own design; all of them beautiful and alluring.

Here is what he says about Starting.

Any man who wants to can produce a good boat. It takes some study, some practice, and, of course, experience. The experience starts coming the minute you begin, and not one jot before. I sometimes hear the wail, ” I have no experience.” Start. Start anything, and experience comes. Some say building a boat is one of man’s nobler efforts. Maybe so; it’s a lot of fun, anyway. As one of my builder friends says, “It’s only a boat; go ahead and build it.” If the first effort is a bit lumpy, so what? There will be another less lumpy later on.

I like that. It strikes me as an encouraging paragraph for a novice, and  could apply equally to any project: be it the creation of a boat, a lute,  a stone wall,  a manuscript, a song – you name it.

After the dreaming and the planning – start.

Mind you, when it comes to my Renaissance Lute  project, there are times when I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew; there are times when I wish I had ‘learnt the ropes’ in my more youthful days; there are times when I really haven’t the faintest idea what I am doing.

I can only hope that the first pencil line on the drafting table will carry me through, irresistibly,  to an acceptable conclusion.

But more of that anon….


Quote from: Skiffs and Schooners, by Captain Pete (RD) Culler
International Marine Publishing
Camden, Maine  1994