What’s Wrong With Me?

by Robert Jacobs - Fresno, California - USA

Exactly what the heck is wrong with me, anyway?

That is rhetorical, all youse wise-acres.

I sometimes ask myself this as I futz away on another project. Why can’t I just leave well enough alone? Why must I always be doing something, and almost never the something I’m supposed to be doing? Like making a spring pole lathe…

Again, rhetori…

Sorry, I thought I saw a shiny thing over there so I went to go check it out, but on the way I saw the anthill the big, red ants made, and they were dragging a dragonfly into their hole, and there was a persimmon on the ground next to the hill, which made me think of the trees, so I went to go check them, and I saw the shave horse there under the one, and there was an oar in it, so I started shaving a bit until I got thirsty. I came inside and saw this sitting on the chair, and I remembered where I last saw the bypass pruners to get that one branch on the persimmon tree, and while I’m there, may as well prune a bit…

Oh, yeah. Boats. A’course, there’s the orange one. She’s being chipped away at, I assure you, to reassure myself. Ahem. Hey! She’s flipped over onto the trailer and getting ready to be finished, for real! Excitement abounds.

There’s also boats we already got and use which need using and maintaining. I mean, we don’t DO any of the maintaining, really, but more using. Still. Putting off the fixing and prepping at home generally means you get to do it in the field, or on the water, and with inadequate tools and resources, to boot. See, we DO maintain our boats. Often in public, with rocks. Ahem.

When they get bad enough, we just rebuild them. Hehe.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah, the persimmon tree…

See, I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I don’t exactly live in Nautical Harbor. Hehe. In fact, I live closer to the Sierra Nevada mountains, than anything, really. Tons of water around, mind, in the form of rivers and impounded rivers. Haha. Impounded rivers sounds funny.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here to get my river out of impoundment.”

“Do you have a ticket or case number?”


“Oh, my. 300,000 acre feet, and parked in front of a hydrant…”

We have spent a fair number of years puttering around in all these odd little backwater spots in these foolish contraptions I keep building.

Which, I’m not sure if the boats keep us heading to the water, or the heading to the water keeps us in the boats. I think it’s the boats, because I have a real problem.


I simply cannot stop building boats.

Well, allow me to clarify. I ain’t building yachts, nor anything two or three humans can’t move around by hand, but we still call them boats, usually, and we use the heck out of most of them. Some get used mildly, then go somewhere else. Hehe.

And, now, don’t get me wrong. I ain’t one of those. I like to use as much as build. Shoot, I will take drifting around in a boat over just about any other activity. Not even actively having fun or doing anything other than bobbing around, not sinking.

Don’t you ever wonder? I mean, I ain’t the dummy I play on teevee, and I can even work the maths that explain why boats don’t sink, but it still amazes me. This dang thing weighs more than me, but it floats. And I can get in it, and it will STILL FLOAT?!

This amazes me even more because I do NOT float. Well. I do float, sort of. I float like a rock.

The sensation of floating, to me, is only enhanced by the fact I built the boat. I know every stick or panel or fastener. I know, because I made, every part of this crazy contraption that weighs more than me, weighs more than us, and, usually, doesn’t sink. Well, okay. I don’t make all the fasteners (plenty of trunnels [tree-nails], lashings, and rivets do get made). Really, I didn’t “make” anything, at all, but merely transformed the state of some matter. Still.

Maybe that is part of it. Maybe I like to imagine I created something really useful, and at the same time magical. Oh, yes, conjuring boats is magic. Really. “Normal” people view wooden boats as some sort of voodoo, even if they are “only” plywood boats. Ahem. What kind of wizard can just up and build themselves a boat?


Double magic if one can simply conjure a boat from thin air with no written plans.

But, shoot, y’all. I can make other stuff what’s magic, too. I ain’t drawn to them like I am to boats, though, and I don’t know why. I simply cannot explain why boats call to me so.

As I said, there is no hoary nautical tradition in my family, nor even any exposure to any nautical doings other than tin skiffs until my 20s.

I started with model boats, because I’m a model maker. Model boats are neat, but I feel no compulsion to build them. It was after I built my first real boat all by myself (an anthropometrically measured skin on frame kayak) that I first felt it. A real and irrational compulsion to build another.

Now, I have built them quick and dirty, nice and purty, and nine types of hurdy gurdy, but since that first kayak, I have had at least one boat a-building ever since. SOF, strip/glass, lapstrake (real wood, not ply, yet), stitch and gloop, ply on frame… I have honestly lost count of all the goofy little boats I’ve built or helped build. It ain’t in the hundreds, but it sure is some dozens. And I have no intention of stopping.

What the heck is wrong with me? Hehe.

Since I started building the Frolic, which I intended to be quick and dirty, but which morphed into a hurdy gurdy job early on, I have built two other complete boats. And fixed another one. Yeah. I made a little purple rowing skiff, very quick and dirty, stitch and glue style. How quick and dirty? The weave was filled with high-build primer, mostly.

I also made a West Mersea type duck punt, which was a sort of hurdy gurdy ply on frame with taped seams affair.

Hurdy gurdy, by the by, I’m using as a middle ground between rough and polished. It’s not quite a string section, but it’s nicer than just two violins. Hehe.

Why, though?

What causes me to want to build? Why, for example, am I building a boat (okay, two) and planning and gathering the materials for another? Okay, there are three in the queue I’d like to build.

Materials! Okay, to be fair, sometimes having materials on hand will force MY hand. Hehe. I mean, if I suddenly have a few “extra” sheets of decent domestic supply culled from a larger stack, just in case, ahem, should I just leave them lying about to be damaged? Probably safer to just use them quickly, get them safely into their final form as a goofy little boat before they become something stupid, like a shed.

Dimensional nor rough cut lumber make me feel that way, because it ain’t unusual to have them laying around. Well, stacked and stickered around, but that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, eh? Something about those panels, and the thought of another three board type boat just makes me giddy.

I love the simple three board boat type, whether it be pointy or not, on either end. Hehe. Skiffs, sampans, pirogues, punts, garveys, jon boats, dories, whatever. I like those types for the goofy little waters it is my wont to haunt.

Small, small waters. And a very shallow boat around here means excellent nature opportunities. Wading birds (egrets, cranes, etc), and migratory waterfowl, and a pelican rookery, and bald eagle nests… Little three board boats do these waters best.

It can’t be just the ply, though, because I can’t stop tying together sticks and covering them with sheets, either. Man, there ain’t much as satisfying as tying a boat together with string and not using any screws or glues.

I don’t know.

I suppose there are worse problems to have than a compulsion to build things, especially boats. I suppose I can be thankful I’m not addicted to building three masted schooners, or full size steam locomotive replicas.

I wonder…

Man. What the heck is wrong with me? Hehe.




  1. it’s an affliction many of us are infected with

    big boats/little boats


    building woodenboats/fixin plasticboats

    you can’t stand being idle any more than i can


    and don’t forget to post more pics

    sw 😉

    • Speaking of “oar boats,” of a different spelling. As a youngster of probably only kindergarten-age I was troubled by what I later came to know as “the buoyancy factor.” I absolutely couldn’t fathom how a vessel made of steel, and full of iron ore (one like the Edmund Fitzgerald–later memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot a couple decades on) could actually float. I recall getting the incomplete explanation of “…well, there’s still enough air inside to keep it up…” at the time. Probably correct. Still, not satisfactory to the naturalistic scientist inside every little boy.

      My point? We, in this extremely small group of boatpeople, are faced with an important mission. Keep building, certainly. Keep sharing, absolutely!

      Dan Rogers
      the Frankenwerke,

  2. Hehe.
    Chuck said I’m normal, but I think he meant normal for people like us.
    Yeah. I’m getting technology resorted. Ahem.
    But dang if this didn’t all just fall out of my head one day. Well most of it. Hehe.
    I promise to keep on keeping on, Steve, but you must promise the same. 🙂


  3. Dan,

    It was the concrete boats that broke my brain. 🙂 Wait, we can mix cement, which doesn’t float, with rocks and steel, which don’t float, and make them into a boat that floats?
    Whoa. Hehe.
    Thanks for the kind words, and for all you share!


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