Thursday, August 13, 2009


How much do you give to an effort before it consumes you? Sleep, effort, wealth, health? Is it ever worth it? Is it ever not worth it? Is there anything sadder than not hoping for anything?

I don't know. But I do know this*: most of the things I love doing started out as smaller-scale and -- often -- much more wild efforts.

Right now I'm building a boat, John Welsford's 17-foot Pathfinder design. Last night I glued and bolted (#10 x 2" SS pan head machine screw) the mast step in place. Okay, not really the mast step, the twin supporting posts that go under the mast step and help transfer the mast's downward load to the I-shaped spine and thus to the boat's bottom.

Earlier attempts:
  • A self-designed "sea kayak" in my parents' basement, which I sketched out when I should have been reading Homer. Inconveniently, it was nearly too heavy to lift, and so I sawed it into firewood with a strange lack of regret.
  • A thirty-foot ocean-capable sailboat. Project was scuttled for a variety of reasons, not least of which was my own lack of ability and the vexing tendency of 10x10 oak beams to warp and check like DNA strands. Sawing that one up broke my heart.
  • A sea kayak built from a kit. Aha, this was the solution! With everything cut out, I "just" had to assemble. Success; it still hangs in my garage.
  • Countless rafts over the years, with only two outcomes: 1) too heavy to lift; 2) too heavy to float.
But we can go back even further. When I was young, it wasn't boats but spaceships. For this I blame Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet books, which I've noted before. In these, two young lads build a spaceship! In their backyard! And it works! There was something about mushrooms, too, but I barely remember anything besides the building! Of a spaceship!

Evidently I took this very seriously. My parents relate one side of an overheard conversation when I called NASA. Seriously. And someone answered.

"Hello, do you have any plans?"
"Nine. And a half."
"I'm building a spaceship."
"In my backyard."
"Okay, thankyouverymuch."

Naturally, I spent hours and hundreds of pages of recycled dot-matrix paper (remember the horizontal green and white stripes?) drawing spaceships, instrument panels, rocket engines, seating diagrams, etc. I have never understood why or how, but this drive transferred to boats right around the same time I discovered girls (age 30. Kidding! It was in eighth grade.)

Point is, the thing that sends me out into the sweltering garage every afternoon to work on the boat is, in part, the same thing that sent a very young me to the library to look up liquid fuel rocket engines, or to stockpile Campbell's soup cans with the intention of hammering the thin metal into spaceship body panels. Hey, free metal, right?

Still, I have to say that if I could build a spaceship in my garage I'd do it in a heartbeat. Especially if I was ten years old.

*Bill Murray: "I don't know Babs. But I do know this: you've really let your uvula go to the dogs."


Barbara said...

I don't know...I liked having that space shuttle plan expand and develop. What better ways to keep creativity flowing? Dreams--they drive us all and motivate us to do things we could never imagine. Keep it up!

David said...

...And there was the lengthy attempt to find the thrust-to-weight formula for determining how big to build the engine. Not even the guys at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena knew that one!