Friday, October 3, 2008

Losing a Friend



Unfiberglassed Kayak

Back in my bachelor days of living in an apartment that required no maintenance or improvement efforts, I always sought out a winter project to occupy my time. The first winter outside of college I took up photography, bought lots of lenses, a nice SLR camera body, filters, etc, and set off every weekend on long drives taking pictures of what I saw. I still have lots of those pictures on slides and hope to someday scan them into my computer for presentation here. The second winter I took up woodcarving and spent many an evening carving odd trinkets finally culminating with a bull elk that still graces my bookshelves in the great room today. Being a bachelor of course, I just let the wood shavings land where they may in my apartment living room carpet and tried my best to get them all cleaned out come spring. I was forever stepping on a missed splinter of wood for my remaining years there in that apartment and I imagine the current occupant might have a splinter or two lodged in their foot. My third year was spent rebuilding and repainting my road bicycle along with a combination of the other two hobbies. It wasn't until my fourth winter that I really hit upon a hobby that really has clung to me years afterward.

It was actually during the summer after my third winter that I hit upon the idea. At the time I lived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, also known as the frozen tundra during six months of the year, and generally known as Minnesota. With lakes everywhere, I thought it would be nice to own a boat to enjoy them away from shore. Having helped my father as a child build a wood strip canoe, I thought it would be nice to build another one. I was fairly certain that I could do the actual wood stripping inside if I moved the kitchen table into the bedroom and scooted all the living room furniture against one wall but hey, it was an apartment, I was a bachelor and these weren't technical hurdles. But in the process of trying to find plans, I found a book by Nick Shade entitled "The Strip-Built Sea Kayak: Three Rugged Beautiful Boats You Can Build". On the cover was the most gorgeous kayak I had ever seen and I knew that a canoe was no longer in my plans.

Being an engineer with access to powerful computer automated drafting software, I soon had the numbers and figures in the book converted into full-scale drawings of the forms. I started picking up an assortment of tools that I previously had no use for like a block plane, sander, some saw horses, etc. I was even in the process of figuring out where I was going to get the wood. Then it happened. A co-worker named Tom went through a divorce and suddenly had a three stall garage with only one vehicle and an assortment of power tools like a router table and table saw. It also had a heater. Remember, this was known as the land of the frozen tundra. Although he lived twenty miles away from me, I knew that it was an offer I couldn't refuse. My fellow tenants were spared the joys of smelling fiberglass fumes leeching through the walls and I could still eat my supper on a table halfway close to my television and not in the bedroom. For a change, winter couldn't come soon enough.

When the nasty weather started flying and summer activities dwindles, I sawed out my forms and over the course of several weekends assembled my forms. I spent another several weekends turning some free redwood leftovers from a decking project and some white cedar bought on the cheap into a bunch of thin strips. I bought a 1/4-inch cove and bead router bit set online and put a bead on perhaps a couple thousand linear feet of strips only to realize that when they say 1/4 inch, they mean radius and not diameter. What that meant was cutting the too large bead off a couple thousand linear feet of strips and hand planing them to fit. This took a couple more months. By the time I had finished May was just around the corner and the snow beginning to melt.

The finished project was gorgeous and the kayak and I made our rounds to show it off beginning at the local bar a couple blocks from Tom's garage where I had taken breaks and eaten the world's best mushroom swiss burger basket for lunches. I used the kayak as often as I could that summer but as fall approached, milky white blemishes started appearing in the glass here and there. I chalked it up as not giving enough curing time in-between layers of glass and went about my life. That fall as I was thinking of my fifth winter project, I was laid off, 9/11 happened two weeks later and suddenly I wasn't in the mood for any other mental occupation than finding a job in a world that wasn't hiring anymore.

Flash forward seven years and due to moving away from my plentiful sources of lakes, a job that required long hours and losing my bachelorhood, my kayak only saw the water less than a handful of times. The few white splotches turned into a general milky appearance all over and the fiberglass had actually started to blister in spots. I knew that it needed to be loved or it was going to fall apart and so a few weeks ago, I made the decision to find a loving home for it. It took me a few weeks to get up the courage to post it on an online sale sight and when I did, it was sold in just a couple days. Monday night the new owner, a young college student that reminded me of me back in those days, loaded it up on his beat up Volvo with 200,000 miles and drove off into the night. It was a real bittersweet moment for me.

But through the years and even now after my beloved kayak is gone, the dream still lives on. The dream to build another kayak except this time, using a totally different concept that I feel will revolutionize how people will come to think of wood and fiberglass boats. One that I feel I can potentially make into a successful business that will someday drag me from the sensory deprivation chamber that I call my office and into doing something that I truly love all day long. I would tell you but then I would have to kill you and readership on my blog just wouldn't be the same from then on. But perhaps some day in some future year when I make a go at it and if it works out, I will let you my readers be one of the first to see the finished product. From the ashes of one dear friend, another one shall rise in its place.



The Last Time I Saw Her

8 comments:

Murf said...

I know what you do and I'm surprised that you describe your job that way. It seems rather creative and hands-on but maybe that's to an outsider. If you want real sensory deprivation, try data entry.

So how much crap leftover from your bachelor days do you still have to get rid of? ;-)

Ed Abbey said...

Murf - I was being sarcastic. Actually I don't get to spend much quality time in my cubicle. I'm down in the lab or on the production floor. I just like the sound of sensory deprovation chamber. To answer your other question, not a heck of a lot.

R. Sherman said...

Beautiful lines on that boat. I'm sure you were sorry to see it go.

Cheers.

sage said...

Sherman is right, the boat has nice lines--it would be a pleasure to paddle and I hope the new owner both treats it well and gets a lot of use out of it

Ed Abbey said...

R Sherman & Sage - It really did have beautiful lines and paddles like a dream. My next boat will have the same lines but just different wood & pattern. I could have sanded this one down to the wood and refiberglassed it but it was too much work and besides, I want to try out my idea. I may build another one before my new idea just to practice on fiberglassing which was my downfall on this kayak.

Murf said...

So actually you were fibbing then. :-)

The Real Mother Hen said...

So, what is your new idea? You can't kill me, because I may buy the new kayak from you! :)

It's a lovely boat I must say. And I enjoy your writing a lot.

Ed Abbey said...

Murf - What exactly have I fibbed about?

Mother Hen - I can't say but I will be sure to blog about it when I get to that point. Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoy the dribble that I scratch out.