In the Same Boat Is Back!
To Make an End Is to Make a Beginning
Two months ago, In the Same Boat upped anchor and sailed away from her longtime berth. But we’ve a new home port now, and with a favoring breeze from T. S. Eliot, this is the first day of what we hope will be an extended commission. So whether you’ve been with us from the start or are just now making your first visit, let’s set sail.
by Tamia Nelson | October 31, 2017
The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting‑place.
— Arthur Ransome, Racundra’s First Cruise
Arthur Ransome was still a young man when he wrote those words. I, on the other hand, am neither young nor a man, but I’m no more eager than Ransome was to “accept the idea of a final resting‑place.” And though I’ve never built a boat, I’ve built quite a few other things. I made the desk at which I’m now seated, for instance, along with my drawing table and the shelving units that hold my files and tools. You could say that my instinct for what used to be called handicraft comes naturally. In the hours when my mother wasn’t helping my father install modern wiring and plumbing in an 18th‑century farmhouse, she was making the clothes that I and my six siblings wore, while my father’s brother spent much of his working life rehabbing and renovating a succession of homes. Closer to the roots of my family tree, my father’s father (I called him Gramps) retired from a job sorting mail on an intercity express train — in those days, you could count on a letter being delivered overnight anywhere from Bangor to Baltimore for the price of a first‑class stamp — to reclaim a neglected 24‑acre farm and grow prize vegetables. And his father was a skilled machinist whose mastery of a half‑dozen European tongues reflected his years as an apprentice in a continent where national boundaries were still fluid. Pop, as he was known to all of his “kids,” some of whom were pushing 60, was still going strong when I was born, and even though I was only six when he died, I spent many days watching him drill and turn metal in a shop filled with tools he’d crafted himself. Fleeting as our time together was, I learned a lot from him.
So it’s no surprise that I’m a maker of things. I started out building cabins with Lincoln Logs, but by the time I was in my teens, I’d erected an Adirondack lean‑to on Gramps’ land. It was a lean‑to with a difference, however: It had walls of fieldstone, rather than pine. (Gramps, whose 24 acres were strewn with thousands of boulders, each one a calling card left by the last glaciation, was delighted by my choice of building material.) And today? Well, I’ve got plans for a small house on my drawing board. Could this be the “tired wish of a [wo]man content with a single anchorage”? Perhaps. But I’m not quite ready for a permanent dry dock. My immediate goal is to build a boat.
Actually, I mean to build several boats. Nothing as big as Ransome’s Racundra, though. Just a canoe or two and a sailing dinghy — the last of these to scratch an itch that’s plagued Farwell for several decades now. He wants something that’s equally at home under sail or oar, big enough to weather a modest blow yet light enough to portage (with a cart) and small enough to respond to a paddle. Something along the lines of a Parrett flatner, maybe, or a Bolger Windsprint. Or even a currach. I’ll leave the decision of what to build up to Farwell, but I plan on doing a good deal of the building, and one thing is certain: any boat I have a hand in will be made wholly, or at least largely, from wood. With the world’s waters now dying a slow death from plastic pollution, I’m loath to add to their burden. Mind you, I’ve no illusions that it’s possible to live a blameless life. For better or worse, ours is assuredly the Age of Plastic. Mr. McGuire (remember The Graduate?) got that exactly right. But I’m bound and determined to do what I can to minimize my contribution to the swirling middens in our oceans and the drifting swarms of plastic plankton now poisoning aquatic food chains — food chains on which we all ultimately depend. Plywood, tape, and epoxy aren’t benign, of course. Not by a long chalk. But they’re better than many alternatives.
In any event, Farwell and I will have more to say about our boat‑building projects in the months to come. The work will proceed by fits and starts, however: two steps forward and one step back, with progress dictated by the state of our purse and the press of other demands on our time. But the flame of desire has been lit, and whatever the setbacks along the way, that flame won’t go out.
Right now, though, we have a website to build, and we invite you to lend a hand. Browse through our backlist of articles any time the fancy takes you, and if we’ve got our facts wrong, tell us. If you’ve found a better way to do something, tell us that, too. And if you think we’ve given an important subject short shrift, be sure to let us know. We’ll be writing about a wide range of topics. Some will be familiar fare: canoeing and kayaking, traditional navigation, natural history, and “amphibious” trekking, along with a few of the many ways to make a backcountry camp into a comfortable home from home. But other articles will take us farther afield, and some of these may make uncomfortable reading. That’s the price we pay for choosing to look life in the face, I suppose. After all, you can’t paddle, sail, or climb with your eyes closed, and even half‑shut eyes can’t help but see storm clouds building in the distance. The urge to turn away is always there, to be sure, but both Farwell and I think it’s best to face unpleasant facts head‑on. I’ll bet you do, too.
The bottom line? The label on the tin says it all. We’re Back in the Same Boat, and we’re here to stay. We’ll have something new for you every Tuesday, and we invite you to stop by whenever you have the time and inclination. Nor will the new columns be all that’s on offer. Every Friday, we’ll pull an old article from our backlist, recaulk the seams and paint the bottom, and then post it afresh. And there’s also the In the Same Boat backlist itself: 900‑odd articles on just about every aspect of messing about in boats.
Is that everything? No. We have a few surprises in the works, as well. We won’t tell you what they are today, though. They wouldn’t be surprises then, would they? But we’ll post a virtual handbill at The Landing whenever something altogether new makes its first appearance. Check in from time to time to see what you might be missing. (Catching up? No problem. Older announcements are archived on the Dispatches page.)
That’s it for now. It’s good to be back. And if you’ve got something on your mind, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’re all in the same boat, aren’t we?
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