Kevin Walsh
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Fat Guys
Building Boats

Amateur Hour
by Kevin Walsh

Boat Building's Dirty Little Secret

As I type this, beads of sweat roll from my brow cutting narrow, pale swaths through the layers of dust that have accumulated like the Snows of Kilimanjaro on my head to fall freely upon my hands, feet, fingers and face. I am the Abominable Boat Builder, risen blinking and crusty-eyed from his sand papered lair. When I came in from the garage only moments ago, my dogs burst into a warning cacaphony, declaring to all who would but listen that Dust Man, Denizen of The Place Where Tiny Particles of Toxic Waste Float Upon the Air approaches.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Building my own small craft was supposed to be a pleasant, dare I say romantic experience, very much like Kevin Costner in "Message in a Bottle," in which the intrepid actor designed, assembled, outfitted, sailed and died in a beautiful wooden Ketch all within the space of thirty minutes, and without disturbing so much as a single hair on his well-manicured head. "I can do that," said I, and as I set forth upon this quest of building a boat I made arrangements to check the locks on my house to keep at bay the legions of Robin Wright Penn-wannabe's who would surely fill my front yard once word got out, milling about like moon-struck cattle, stomping the flower beds into oblivion and further stretching the already highly-tensioned patience of my wife.

Iain Oughtred's Acorn, while not the Titanic, is not that simple a boat to tackle for the first time builder, and by now, having finished the hull and pulled the boat off the molds yesterday, most of my naive notions of a romantic and serenely meditative experience have been hammered, chiseled, sanded, epoxied and abraded away, leaving a well-honed, squinty-eyed realist who expects Murphy to drop in for coffee at any moment, he having made a habit of doing just that countless times over the past year.

But that was then. Today I sit, stunned at the naivete with which I imagined the future from the rosy doorstep of yesterday. My pride, my sense of sheer accomplishment is now shattered as I stand before what awaits me within the confines of the sweet lines, drawn lovingly by Mr. Oughtred and clumisily realized by yours truly in Okoume ply - great, hulking gobs of rock-hard epoxy, effusive in number, scattered like melting bolders across a primeval plain and cocksure in their knowledge of the slave labor that would be required to effect their removal.

Well, sure, I read that bit in all the books about making sure to wipe up the excess epoxy when gluing wood to wood, that it would save some work later, yes, yes, blah, blah, blah. What I didn't see were the inch-high red letters that screamed, "WARNING: REMOVE THE EPOXY NOW WHILE IT'S WET YOU FOOL, OR YOU WILL REGRET IT TO YOUR DYING DAY." I would have paid real attention to THAT.

But no. I didn't pay attention, and now I'm paying the price, a veritable king's ransom in time and wear and tear on my increasingly fragile shoulder sockets. The Dirty Little Secret stands revealed for me to see and dread: This is Damned Hard Work.

Hour after hour is spent behind a filter mask, breathing my own warm out-gassings while sanding, chiseling, scraping and rasping and filing, until I catch myself muttering imprecations to whatever gods there be to drag the immortal souls of the hideously cruel sociopaths responsible for inventing this noxious evil, this epoxy into the lower-most ring of Hell, there to be fed the corrupt offal of Satan himself. Soon enough I begin to curse myself for wanting to build a boat myself rather than simply pay for one from such companies as Catalina or Beneteau, who sure have plenty of illegal aliens to do this kind of thing for them. And finally, my shoulders aching and incapable of lifting a sanding block for just one more swipe, I declare a break and beat a hasty retreat from the field of battle while the enemy, still entrenched and unvanquished, declare a silent victory which I can somehow clearly hear ringing in my ears.

And that's just the first plank.

After sitting here in front of the television for a short while though, my spirits begin to rise. There's nothing like CNN to demonstrate in the starkest possible terms just how good things are for me, and, buoyed by the unspeakable suffering of those less fortunate than myself, I gird myself for the battle ahead. I roll up my symbolic T-shirt sleeves and head toward the garage, even as I promise myself a long, luxuriously hot shower as a reward for the impending session of back-breaking labor that awaits me. Being clean will be nice for a change.  Besides, Robin Wright Penn could show up at any moment.