I understand trees and boats but how can they work together?
Originally I thought I was going into a career of metalwork. One of my first jobs at 17 was at a metal fabrication shop in NH. I was teaching myself about forging iron in my backyard and was fascinated by all traditional trades. This lead me to move to Worcester Massachusetts to apprentice in blacksmithing by the legendary Josh Swalec of Ferromorphics. Although I was learning a lot I wasn’t making enough to justify the means.
That’s when I picked up work with an arborist friend, Topher Mira of Ecoarborist. For a part time gig I learned a lot about how the science and biology of trees along with climbing and cutting them down. I spent more than a few years paying the bills with a chainsaw and hammer.
This same arborist had connections to a wooden boat yard on Cape Cod, the former Pease Boatworks now Firstlight Boatworks. I was in the right place at the right time to snag an apprenticeship and move out to the cape. For a couple more years I learned everything I could and made every mistake I could make.
The work was often split down the middle of traditional boat building and repair, along with modern composite wood-epoxy builds. Spanning that divide was crucial to understanding marine construction as I do today. Many of those boats are featured in magazines and and can be spotted along the northeast.
One question that always seemed to come up was where to source all this wood. Being a 20 year old boatyard they had decent enough connections but it wasn’t streamlined. I also began to look at trees differently when I decided to leave the yard and in need of money, I once again fell back on cutting trees.
I spent the next few years bouncing between cutting trees and odd boat work, including my own boat, not quite sure where the compass was pointing. Just when I started to feel comfortable on one side, the other would pull me back.
I found a project in Costa Rica called Sail Cargo that seemed to meld everything I knew. They where building a large wooden ship for the purpose of shipping cargo along the west coast of the Americas. At this time there was a lot less shipbuilding and more logging and ground construction. They took me on for a few months and I ended up where I started, building a forge for blacksmithing.
While I was down there we harvested timber, dug a lot of holes, and cut the keel timber for what would be a massive boat. The metaphorical backbone of Sail Cargo is sustainability and giving back to the environment, which was fairly on point with the rest of my mentors. The ship itself, “Ceiba,” was mostly being constructed with fallen trees from windstorms. This was great for environmental purposes but difficult for construction production.
After returning to the US I found myself exploring another wooden boat project but this time in Granby Massachusetts. I had met Steve and Alix of Acorn to Arabella a few years back but they were finally in the throws of constructing their Atkin designed “Ingrid.” This double ended ketch was not too dissimilar to my own Atkin “Inga.” Though their mission was different from Sail Cargo in that they wanted to explore the world and climb inaccessible mountainsides, the process wasn’t too different. They both had to harvest, cut, and mill local timber in order to make the project work.
Luckily Steve had a generational farm to harvest white oak but they still had to do some digging for cedar. This was becoming a common hurdle. I was close enough to return on and off for the next few years and I used the two of them for bouncing business ideas off of.
At the 28th annual wooden boat show we were all under the same tent. Throughout the weekend many wooden boat builders and enthusiasts would pass through and talk shop. Graham McKay of Lowell Boat Shop made an impression when he asked if I come across odd shaped locust or oak on my jobsites. Of course I did, it was being chipped up at the end of the day with no where else to go. Now the seed was taking root, but I needed a few things to make it happen. Equipment and space.