Langley man sets sail in hand-built wooden boat

LANGLEY — Lawrence Cheek is getting Far From Perfect ready to rock.

The Langley author is taking the 13-foot sailing dinghy he hand-built to the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in September, where it will be seen by thousands of visitors.

Six years ago, Cheek and wife Patty attended wooden boat shows at South Lake Union and Port Townsend.

“I was inspired by the sheer beauty of a wooden boat,” he recalled.

So much so, he decided to build one himself from a set of plans, not a kit, and write a book detailing the inner thought processes that propelled him to both construct the boat and write about the experience.

The result, “The Year of the Boat,” is now a bestseller in boating circles and a must-read for anyone contemplating such a project.

Actually, the title is a misnomer because as Cheek required 18 months and 419 hours to complete Far From Perfect.

“I failed to meet the deadline. Life interceded along the way,” he said.

After growing up in the hot Southwest, then moving to Issaquah, it didn’t take long before he became entranced by the natural beauty of Puget Sound and the craft that plied its waters.

Having built a kayak from a kit some

years before, he wasn’t a complete novice, but close. And he was determined to succeed.

“Wooden boats take the forms of nature that speak to us on many levels,” he said. “Especially as a functional craft and as works of art if done properly.”

Rather than a simple “how-to” guide, the book — subtitled “Beauty, Imperfection and the Art of Doing It Yourself” — delineates the author’s internal uncertainties while offering practical tips on avoiding the mistakes he made along the way.

“It’s a weave of disparate threads about boat building mixed with a little personal history,” he said.

For his boat’s debut at Port Townsend the next year, Cheek was concerned over how it would be received. He felt there were too many imperfections.

He needn’t have worried; people loved his little sailing dinghy despite his fears.

“There’s no competition at the show, and none of the snooty hauteur you’d find at a concours d’ elegance of classic cars,” he wrote.

This year’s festival organizers will be happy to hear that.

Port Townsend’s wooden boat festival has been around for 32 years, with more than

200 vessels old and new, of every size, on display. The show has become so well-respected that in August 2000, boating enthusiasts launched an effort to expand and improve on the concept, and the Northwest Maritime Center was born.

The two-building facility, scheduled to open in September 2009, will be used by educators, students and visitors who want to learn more about the ways of the sea.

Clinton’s Herb Weissblum is on the center’s board of directors and an avid sailor. He said the center will be more than a static museum.

“This place will be devoted to anything that floats, contemporary and traditional, made of wood or not,” he said. “It will feature a combined teaching and learning experience unique to the Northwest.”

Design highlights include outdoor public areas with access to piers and docks, a maritime heritage resource building and the Chandler Maritime Education Building.

Interpretative panels on the dock will explain the marine environment that surrounds the center. A boardwalk linking the city park will allow visitors to stroll in from the west, and the public pier will be the hub for on-the-water programs.

The maritime building will house the wooden boat chandlery, exhibits, meeting rooms and a boathouse.

The education area holds a shipwright’s shop, bosun’s locker, classrooms and a special “messing-about-in-boats” shop where sailmaking, leather and rope work and family boat building activities take center stage.

Finally, there’s the Pilothouse. Above the education building will be a representation of a modern vessel’s bridge with all the latest navigation, communications and ship-control equipment. The Pilothouse will give visitors a terrific view of Admiralty Inlet and be in constant communications with the 8,000 ships that transit Puget Sound annually.

The center’s executive director, Stanley Cummins, said that the real displays will be people working with others.

“The basic idea is to get people, especially youngsters, to approach the sea from a mariner’s viewpoint,” he said. “We’ll be encouraging folks to get up close with maritime concerns so they don’t lose their connection with Puget Sound.”

Another, more practical, aspect is to help local maritime industries. Cummins said there are jobs going begging at local shipyards and boat builders.

“Even aboard ships there are labor shortages because fewer young people are interested in that world,” he said. “Finding qualified workers is a huge issue, and that’s why we will concentrate on exposing children to the possibility of a marine-based career,” Cummins added.

To that end, the Center for Wooden Boats has begun a program to get seventh-graders on the water in boats, classes that include three to four days aboard a wooden schooner.

“They learn all about sailboats, longboats, row boats and the men and women who know how to tie a really good knot,” Weissblum said.

Cheek has come full circle as a boat builder and author. With his first boat under his belt, he’s tempted to try another.

“Either a 19-foot sloop by the same designer or a 17-foot daysailer with a cat/ketch rig,” he said. “I actually moved to South Whidbey because I needed a bigger garage.”

He isn’t just showing off Far From Perfect at the festival; he’s been asked to give a talk about “the struggle between the destructiveness of perfection and the need to strive for excellence, even if one doesn’t achieve it.”

Cheek also plans to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28 at the Clinton Progressive Club by invitation of the Clinton Library.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates