Sea Trials

by Scott Sadil

I’ve reported elsewhere that I’m not really a boat guy. Infatuated with the southern and Baja California surf, I felt boats a distraction, an unnecessary buffer between me and my favorite medium.  All of the action I cared about took place in the waves between shore and the outside reefs.

Even in Oregon, where I encountered a fresh take on water and its seductive ways, I shied away from boats, at least owning them, in part because, raised in an arid climate, I had a limited grasp of the dynamics of rivers. The steady, potent push of current feels so much different than the sudden explosiveness of surf, followed by the abrupt quiet when a set ends and the sea falls calm, however briefly, once again.


Then overnight, or out of the blue, it now seems, I was struck by the magic of boats, especially wooden boats and how they are built – and now I can’t imagine living without a boat on a trailer, or one in the shop, at least for as long as I can sharpen a plane, chisel out a rabbet, and eyeball a fair line.

Yet I’m still not enamored of the complications of boat ownership and the inevitable trials and tribulations of learning to manage her on the water.  Plus, the constant pressure, self-inflicted or otherwise, for something bigger, something better – the more, more, more that seems to me the essence of mainstream American life. I’m not here to cast judgments, other than to point out that amateur boatbuilding, like trying to fool fish with flies and fly rods, or the simple act of catching and riding waves, has never, in my mind, had anything to do with profits, productivity, efficiency, or finagling more bang for your buck.

There are certainly better ways, cost-wise, to go about getting a boat than building one out of wood.  If you are someone who places a dollar-and-cents value on your time, you might be better off licking stamps, then taking your hard-earned gains to the nearest marine dealer.  Then again, if you really think your time has value in terms of what it can buy you by doing something else, you probably didn’t turn over so much of your life to fly fishing, say, in the first place.

Safely home.

Which is only to suggest that boatbuilding, like so many other creative endeavors, is a reward in and of itself – as rich and meaningful, in my case, as the finished product.  Yes, you can fish off your boat, sail the seven seas, pursue your white whale.  But the long journey from a set of plans to full-size lofting lines, from stacks of raw lumber to the sweet smell of varnish, from shaping spars and oars to rigging lines for her first tentative tack through the wind, all of that is equal in value to whatever she’ll deliver on the water.

It’s like two for the price of one.

Or falling in love, I’d guess, with the same person twice.

Before leaving a career in public education, Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil often argued that if high school students practiced reading, writing, and boatbuilding, they would be thoroughly prepared for any future that might come their way – an argument that usually went nowhere.