The blog will now be devoted not to boat building but to my 82-year-old Vertue, Sally II, now undergoing a well needed refit at Johnson & Loftus in Ullapool (and gliding...)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Two Boat Builders and a Violin Maker

Well, I didn't win, but of the three finalists in The Balvenie Masters of Craft Awards, two of us were builders of boats (although the organisers would have it that we were "makers"). Don't know if I care to be a "maker"; sounds a bit, well, precious.

But the winner was not Gail McGarva, on her third gig for Lyme Regis, or myself but a fabulously dedicated violin maker by the name of Christoph Gottings. And I have absolutely no problem with that. Apparently he carried out nearly 1000 tests just to get the varnish right, which is why his violins are mentioned in the same breath as those made by Antonio Stradivari.
Photo copyright Nick Hand
Gotting's joints are many times closer than any boat builder could manage. There is no scope for less than perfection, and the choice of wood is critical. And yet there was one thing about which his young apprentice was envious: he must build precisely the same shaped violin every time, he told me after the award dinner. But a wooden boat is seldom the same from one to another, and the shape can be changed mid build. Much of it is in the eye of the builder. He has a certain freedom, in other words, denied to the maker of violins.

The awards took place at The Connaught in London, a treat in itself although I seemed to get through a pocketful of £1 coins in the space of a few minutes: every time someone hailed a taxi or opened a door.

Gail McGarva, gig builder extraordinary
Over dinner the old question of art vs craft flourished as one single malt followed another while a screen flashed up images of the finalists. There were winners in eight categories, ours was in Wood.

Kevin McCloud, one of the judges, told me that the choice to nominate two boat builders out of three finalists had been a hard one. Encouraging for all of us doing our little bit to keep the traditional ways alive. 

However, if there's one thing more important than a wooden boat, I would have to admit that it is the power of music. Which makes it no disappointment to be a runner up to someone like Christoph. On the contrary, just to be in the same category was an honour. To be honest I felt a bit of a fraud in such company...

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