Polysails Website

1940's Boats

Sail Shaping

2001 Customer Survey


by Guest Columnist Dave Gray

Decision Time

As I slide along toward retirement, I’m going to have to get my life in a little better order—particularly with regard to this matter of messing about with boats. Big decisions loom ahead. Where do I want to spend most of my time? In the workshop? At the computer? On the water? How should I expend my diminishing energies? Building more boats? Expanding the PolySail business? Refining sail designs? Sailing the inland waterways? And what about family, friends, messabouters, and others. Should I reach out? withdraw? form a cult?

Then there’s this other matter. What do I do about blending in forty-odd years in the education field with messing about with boats and sails? Can I do something that makes the two areas compatible?

I’m not certain what prompted all this soul searching, but I think I can lay much of the blame at the doors of Bob Hicks, Phil Bolger and Dynamite Payson. Their magazines, books and designs got me hooked. Jim Michalak, Robb White, Emiliano Marino, Reuel Parker and some of these paragons of small boat and sail design also had a hand in expanding my affliction. Now here’s the real question: Do I aspire to be like them?

I guess the answer to this last question has to be a resounding “maybe!” I’d like to be remembered something like them—not with the kind of reverence boatbuilders have for these guys or the kind that’s reserved for the experts like Chapelle, Herreshoff, and Gardner, but more like one of the niche guys who helps people get their feet wet in boat and sail construction. David Beede, Dave Carnell, Chuck Leinweber, and Craig O'Donnell come to mind. Some of the real experts may be well beyond just messing about in boats. These guys, like Robb White, are serious about boats and boating. It’s their livelihood. They’ve got their lives invested and their names and reputations on the line every time someone takes one of their boats out on the water. Me, I just want to be somebody who helps and inspires folks to get out on the water quickly, cheaply, and safely in contraptions of their own invention. I think I might prefer to shoot for something like being one of the guys who teaches elementary messabouting for protected waters only. Then again, maybe I’ll shoot for tenure status by teaching Polytarp Sailmaking 101 at the PolySail Online Middle School. What I really enjoyed was helping the teacher at Orchard Day School by providing sail kits to outfit the nine D4s his class built.

Pursuing this line of thought to the bottom of the food chain begins to put things in perspective. At the introductory level, perhaps wannabe messabouters don’t need to build fine craft. Could it be that they just need simple boats that live up to their immediate expectations and prepare them for building their next boat. Expertise is developmental. Maybe that first craft NEEDS to be made from lauan and sport polytarp sails, and rot away after a season or two. That’s one way of making certain there’s room for the next boat. I identify with these guys. I guess I could focus my efforts on the novices and work with them to find my own niche.

I’ll probably have to write at least one book on making sheet sails from polytarp for popular small boats. Then again, maybe a pamphlet or a set of online instructions is good enough. I think too that I’ll have to collect a few simple sailboat designs that can be made from a couple of sheets of plywood. I’d like to include a couple of my own designs, maybe a flattie skiff and a small catamaran. Of course, I’d have to build and test them first. For inspiration I could dig through some of the old “How to Build 20 Boats” books. William Crosby, J.A. Emmett, J.J. Fanta, Weston Farmer, Sam Rabl, Hi Sibley, A.M. Youngquist—more great experts, but they must have been messabouters at heart. Who knows how many others they inspired to try their hands at boatbuilding.

Mulling all of these questions and considerations over has certainly helped my decision-making. I’ll just answer “yes” to all the questions I posed. Maybe that response is the essence of messing about with boats. Ratty had it right all along! "There is nothing - absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it." *

It’s time to order the T-shirt!

*As all good messabouters know, this famous quote is from Kenneth Grahame's 1908 classic The Wind in the Willows. If you think it’s time to admit you too are hooked on messing about in boats, you can order the T-shirt with the initial part of the quote from: www.messingabout.com

Dave Gray