The Connelly Boat Building Center of Operations

by Guest Columnist Mike Connelly

The Hat's Meow

It finally dawned on me (even before I read Kevin's last report on the construction of his Acorn Tender) that many would-be builders of boats have had less than smooth experiences turning piles of lumber into happily bobbing aquatically inclined vessels because the wiser and more experienced of the tribe have underlooked the obvious. There's all this discussion about whether one needs a band saw, or whether a circular saw will do, or if a jig saw is really all that's needed. Shall we make fiberglass butt joints on both sides at once, or sequentially? To epoxy-coat or not, to use the finest marine paint or the lowliest True Value exterior latex, to use chine logs or fiberglass tape (on the outside first or the inside first and with PL Premium or with epoxy thickened with sawdust or powdered limestone or the remains of last night's dinner) are all addressed in lengthy and enthusiastic detail, both here and at a thousand lesser locations on the web.

But! But where is it, here, there, or elsewhere, that you find the old salts stating the obvious (only it's not, of course, otherwise the uninitiated wouldn't be suffering and I wouldn't have anything to write about at this moment) about the most basic, the most sub-atomic underpinning aspect of any boat building endeavor? Nowhere. Well, nowhere until now. Here it is then, the secret, the last (or first) missing ingredient in any successful boat-building endeavor. Men and boys, women and girls, I give you the Boat Building Hat. Take a look at the pictures below  for just a moment. Notice anything? Three cool, collected Masters of the Craft, and one guy with a knot on his forehead to rival Mr McKinley. The three MOTC are all properly behatted, and the handsome guy on the upper right has his pate exposed to any and all the wild elements that might pass his way.

There is a great deal of flexibility in the choice of the actual hat itself-- For slaving away in the great outdoors under the hot glaring of the sun, sanding pounds of wood and glue into pounds of sawdust, the wide brimmed straw hat will do best. Not your fine French boater, but rather the very nicely made Chinese Wal or K Mart $4 jobbie, the one that you won't grieve for if a gust of wind snatches it from your head and deposits under the wheels of a passing UPS truck. But this sort of hat will keep the sun from turning the ears red and will keep the hat wearer cooler, and as we all know, cooler heads prevailing is a good thing.

Back inside the less spacious Boat Shed, where cramped has nothing to do with pain in your calf and thigh from sitting cross-legged for an hour in front of a camp fire as you are slowly dehydrated by thirsty mosquitoes and everything to do with the restrictions on movement, restrictions having to do with battens and boat parts stored conveniently out of the way almost but not quite overhead, the array of tools pushed nearly but not entirely under the work table, and the work table itself which while wide enough to accommodate two full pieces of plywood laid end to end, does not, however, leave quite enough room to turn around without a sort of double-waist bend midway through the process, yes back inside the Boat Shed, the wide-brimmed straw hat will simply not do, because with any particular movement, whether bending, turning, or in any other way failing to stand stock still, it will either A) be knocked off the head, B) knock something over, or C) be knocked off the head causing something else to be knocked over.

So inside the shop, it's off with the outside hat, and on with the inside hat. As the photo showed, the hat of choice for indoor work is light in weight and modest of brim. Yet, this style of hat will offer a wide range of protections. It will keep paint and epoxy out of one's hair, which in turn will serve to preempt comments which might otherwise be made by spouses, paramours, offspring and the witty UPS driver. It will keep sawdust and wood shavings out of one's hair, which makes the cleaning up process go by much faster. And when stretching in a convoluted contortionistic manner underneath an inverted hull attempting to fasten a particularly recalcitrant bit of wood or hardware, and suddenly losing one's balance and overcorrecting, resulting in the driving of the head into the gun'l where the interior points of the screws holding it in place have not yet all been ground off, the hat will allow the wearer to escape with a minor flesh wound which can be explained as perhaps having been caused by a deer fly or mosquito, rather than a fuller more plausible explanation and necessitating a trip to the ER for a stitch and enduring witty comments from the UPS driver who will just happen to be dropping off something that says "Caution Biohazard" when you show up seeking aid and succor.

So all you people new to the genuinely wonderful world of building your own boats, before you even think about deciding whether you want the $15 Sears monospeed bearing-free sabre saw or the admittedly more durable $2600 Hitachi CB75F bandsaw, before you start the process of deciding which of the 101 canoes under 16 feet, 17 pirogues likewise, and 52 kayaks over in Boat Plans you want to build, you have to first head to your nearest haberdashery and grab some suitable head gear. Nothing much depends on this-- only your health, your sense of self-worth, all of your interpersonal relationships and of course, the success of your boat project.

Naturally, as you might have guessed, the use of your boat, when it is finally completed, will require the purchase of a Boating Hat.  The hat in my mug shot is a Duckworks Cap, made of the finest materials and to exacting specifications and is luckily currently available for a pittance at the DW Chandlery.