Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Time Spent Adrift


I will drop everything and go sailing at any opportunity. Blowing about in the wind delivers the same psychological equilibrium as two hours in the wood shop.

Sailing, like woodworking,  is perceived as an arcane pastime in this modern world of cross-continent flights and cars that will easily cruise at 130 miles per hour.  After all, are we not in pursuit of instant gratification and the spontaneous reward of sticking a plastic card in a machine, only to be delivered cash on the spot?  (I recall, in youth, when $20 bills were a luxury. Now they are simply dismissed as “ATM Tokens.” How time changes perspectives…too bad the penny has gone to zinc…copper originals make great smelt for a screw or nail that will not corrode...but you didn’t read that here.)

So back to the sailing addiction. Sailing, like flying a helicopter, gives you the option of controlling weather—in a manner of speaking—that is akin to carving up lumber without a plan.  Oh, you know where you are headed, but how one arrives at the destination is very much up to whim and Mother Earth’s whimsy.  Tides intercede, the landscape creates gusts and wind patterns that don’t reflect “rational thinking.”  Then there is the urge to pull a tiller in a direction other than the one prescribed on an approved chart.  Same thing is true with wood.  The pros will tell you a perfect solution.  I often opt for a “trial and error” approach.  Needless to say, error often wins.  Have I mentioned the backyard firepit?

All of which brings me back to the shop.  Having drifted down the Columbia River for two days on a sailboat delivery, I was in need of some sawdust upon returning to Port Townsend.  My chosen mode of transportation is a 1999 Ford 150—fast is out of the equation, so I get to do a lot of thinking and listen to more Country and Western than the local psychologist prescribes, a story for another day.  In any case, the thought in mind was to build a boat.  

Here’s where the rational reader gets to roll their eyes and seek wiser insight.  Who wants to build a boat?  Particularly, in their garage?   


I am not carving out a craft that will enable one to commute across oceans or streams.  In fact, it will not get you or the loved one over a flooded curb. What I thought would be amusing is a craft that fits within the dimensions of your old-time Radio Flyer red wagon.  I have one someone gave me as a gift years back.  Poor thing has been used to haul cement, Halloween candy (and kids), to say nothing of the occasional set of groceries or ailing pet.  I finally cleaned it up and varnished the rails. Great place to stow CDs, computers and other paperwork without looking like a tech geek.

Why a Radio Flyer?  The old red wagon fits through a standard door (with wheels on the trailer it is approximately 24 inches wide) and can be pulled amidst a crowd without tripping your neighbor or drawing a dog’s ire—the entire rig is 40 inches long.  Perfect dimensions for those of us who don’t own a boatyard or cannot incur the wrath of neighbors by putting up a “temporary” shed for the next decade.  (Don’t laugh; I have an acquaintance who decided a canoe would be the perfect winter hobby.  Two years later city officials shut down his “illegal business” with script from a prosecuting attorney—the lesson learned: scale projects to a scope that don’t intrude upon others’ serene spaces by having to construct buildings in the backyard.)  

Here’s my plan.  And you can certainly weigh in with advice.  I am crafting a “row boat” that will measure 38 inches long by 16 inches wide.  She will have a draft of about 12 inches so as to haul gear, and a trailer that is fit for lugging the craft down a city sidewalk or street.  The real trick is my finicky insistence on no screws or nails.  Add to this a requirement to keep material costs (including hardware) below $100 and you have a challenge afoot.  

Back to the boat delivery.  With time aplenty—sailboats underway are not known for speed—I plotted out a scheme for this microcraft in my head.  No scribbles on paper or actual angles configured ahead of the game.  With best guess in hand, I stopped at the local lumber yard on my way back into town.  Purchased four 1x4 at 8 feet and two 2x4 at 8 feet.  All pine.  Easy to saw and sand—to say nothing of tossing materials in the backend of a pickup without fear of drawing attention from the lumber thieves.

With that said, I am about to retreat back to the shop.  Starting to count the number of clamps I can muster and how much glue is necessary to affix every plank.  No instant gratification…but Grandmother always said a sweater was not knitted overnight.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.

Amy SleeperComment