When I was eleven my dad asked me to join him on an errand run. Riding along in the passenger side of his well-loved banged-up VW, NPR (probably CarTalk) our soundtrack, I wondered where we were going. Maybe Charette, where I loved looking at all the high-end art supplies and taking in the scent of creativity just waiting to happen! Or maybe the hardware store (also a very specific smell) where Dad could look at the product in person to better assess what he needed for a specific project.
“I have to go to the airport to pick up some plane tickets for a business trip” he told me as we headed into Boston Logan. This was back in 1987 when you could pick up tickets.
When it was our turn in line to get the tickets at the counter, my gears started turning and I realized, we were being checked in! For! A! Flight! Today! “We’re going somewhere!?” I asked him, bouncing in my Keds.
My dad chuckled and said “Your brother was practically on the plane before he figured it out when I made a similar trip with him years ago.”
We were headed to faraway place full of wonder and excitement called
I was on board, literally and figuratively. I was so psyched to take a special trip with my dad, I’d go anywhere (well, except camping. I really hated camping).
Our reason for the visit was to watch the keel of my father’s boat get poured. I do not remember actually witnessing this even though I do know it happened. In fact, I remember virtually nothing about the trip aside from it raining like crazy, and feeling so excited for the adventure. This is no reflection of life events themselves, just evidence of my terrible memory.
Not long before this trip, my dad got his hands on the blueprints for what would become his beautiful sailboat Shimmer.
That’s right. My father built a sailboat. Wood hull, 30 feet long. With his own two hands.
In our backyard a huge very structurally sound, almost-aesthetically-pleasing tent went up, also built by Dad. Covered with heavy, opaque plastic, it would glow at night like a poorly-landed UFO as he toiled away on his pride and joy inside it after work and on weekends.
Dad painstakingly shaped wood around the expertly built skeleton and secured the pieces with countless clamps and epoxy to make the hull. The epoxy was kept in a custom cabinet which he also built and which contained a light to keep the epoxy warm so it wouldn’t harden when not in use.
This cabinet and it’s clever engineering always fascinated me. He would occasionally talk about a challenge he had before him, and how he was going to solve it elegantly; a set of stairs that need to go in but also be removable and fit somewhere easily and out of the way. A way to make a seating arrangement comfortable with some clever redesign which in the end makes the seat double as a bed. How to create storage spaces where there is no room for any.
I asked Dad if he ever wondered at any time what the hell he was thinking. Had he ever considered quitting? He gave a clear “No”. He’d been so fascinated by the process, he told me, and all the challenges and problem-solving, that he really enjoyed it. He reminded me of how the floor of our carriage house served as a thirty-plus foot long table where he laid out a thirty-plus foot long drawing to navigate his way through aspects of the construction. The hull was built upside down, and flipping it when it was time was a massive undertaking. I could be remembering wrong, but I vaguely recall lots of men, pulleys, and grunting.
I do remember hearing about how the boat was brought from the backyard to the driveway in order to be brought to the Cape for completion while I was in college (are you following the passage of time here?). A crane was used to lift the massive hull up an over the carriage house to park it on a trailer.
When Shimmer, named by my mom, was launched for the first time I was away at an internship at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Just out of college, I couldn’t leave my position, not even for such a momentous occasion.
That’s right; This process started in 1986. When it was complete, it was August 1998.
I asked Dad about the maiden voyage and he remembered how his dad Bill came up from New Jersey to be there, and how Reeli, his sister-in-law secured a bouquet of flowers to Shimmer’s nose before she was launched into Buzzards Bay.
What followed were years of countless sailing adventures enjoyed by many thanks to my dad’s dream and hard work.
Many people brag about their kids. I brag about my parents. An acquaintance might mention their plans for the weekend “I mean, I was thinking about going canoeing…”
Triggered by mention of anything on water I’ll excitedly share “MY DAD BUILT A THIRTY FOOT SAILBOAT!” all crazy-eyed, “by himself!”
Now, thirty-three years after his dream began, my dad is hoping to find someone new to love and care for Shimmer. May the right person come along, appreciate his hard work, admire his beautiful boat, make her theirs and take the helm for their own many years of adventures.
I will continue to brag about how my dad actually built a sailboat, and engineered this ingenious warming cabinet for epoxy, and took up basically all of backyard with his glowing UFO for the entirety of my teen years.
And of course, the time he took me to rainy Toronto on a whim when I was eleven.