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Family Boatbuilding

June 16, 2010

Last summer my nine-year-old son, Rowan, and I built a sailboat. Really…we did! It’s a Union Bay Skiff designed by a Pacific Northwest boatwright, Brad Rice, whose son also happens to be named Rowan.

My own Rowan and I signed up for a family boatbuilding workshop at The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. Over the July 4th weekend the two of us spent four days assembling the boat with the help of the CWB staff and volunteers.
This is the kind of experience I think we’ll both remember our whole lives – mom and son building a sailboat together. There were some tense moments, for sure, over the course of the weekend. Once, Rowan even threw down one of our tools and then went and sat under the boat – refusing to work. Once, I left the building area in tears of frustration wondering how we would ever accomplish this task.

Each time, we came back to it though. We came back to measuring, drilling and screwing pieces together, gluing, applying epoxy, adding fiberglass along the seams. We both love to work with wood and I think that passion is what carried us through. Well, that and imagining ourselves flowing across the water on a boat of our own creation.
By the end of the four days we had a boat that would float and sail! We took it home for finishing work – sanding, painting and varnishing. That was a month-long endeavor. We even had a sanding party, feeding our friends pizza in exchange for their help with sanding.

There were days I cursed myself for taking on this project in an already full and busy life. Then there were the moments outside by myself early in the morning sanding the sides of our boat – smelling the wood, feeling it beneath my hands. The moments of leaning on one side of the boat and feeling it move beneath me, hearing it creak or bump against the pallet beneath it. It even sounded like a boat!

I love sailing at least as much as I love working with wood – the sounds, the smell, the feelings. Just the knowing that this was our own boat, a boat fashioned by our own hands, could bring tears to my eyes. I love having this boat. I love that we built it.  I love that my kids are going to grow up playing with the wind and water – learning to sail on a boat we built.

We launched it, finally on a weekend in early September. Extraordinary! I hadn’t sailed in 10 years. It’s going to take some time to get good at it again, but we caught some wind in our sail and moved our tiller and sailed around the lake and back to shore. Our boat carried us well and Rowan and I couldn’t keep the smiles from our faces as, out on the water, we remembered that, “Hey! We built this!”.

– Kimberly Gallagher

Family Boatbuilding will be offered at CWB during the month of July.

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