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...)

Monday, 3 September 2012


Coming to boat building from a different angle than some people; ie the world of journalism, I have always felt it my duty to report the truth about what I do. "Journalist writing about the truth?" you say. Well yes. And it has sometimes been counted against me, for instance the occasions when I bear my soul about mistakes or, as I like to call them, "things that could have been done better".

I have in the past pointed out deviations in the line of planking; less than fag paper fits and such like in the hope that by pointing out flaws, people will realise not how difficult it is to build a clinker boat, but how hard it is to make it perfect. If you tried to find perfection you would drive yourself crazy, for it is often in the so-called imperfections that true beauty and originality are found.

Take plans, for example. Building a class dinghy and, of course, tolerances have to be adhered to, but in the case of a custom commission then it's important not to become a slave to plans. In any case, even the best designers often expect clinker planks to conform to the most impossible curves. Left to their own devices, planking will achieve its own fairness, so long as you impose strict but benign discipline or boundaries; rather like young children, I imagine.

That means not allowing them to creep up the moulds at the quarters, especially - a danger point in all clinker boats. But to an extent you can trust them to tell you where they are happy to lie and the worst thing you can do is apply too much force or, to stretch the child analogy, unnecessary cruelty or punishment.

And yet this honesty has its downsides. Who wants to hear that their boat could have been built better? Who wants her flaws, however minor or trivial or imperceptible, flagged up? I could pretend that everything went to plan, effortlessly, and yet I know for a fact that very few boat builders achieve perfection and certainly not without extreme effort and thought. So, why not, given the complexity of the task, admit that the line of rivets near the bow is uneven; the second strake down at the stern could do with another 1/8th in or even mention the tiny split that appeared at a hood end fastening but which will never, ever give any trouble? I like to think that it humanises the process of boat building; demystifies it a little because, let's face it, building boats has always been surrounded in unjustified mystique.

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