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I know this is supposed to be about Tiny Homes today, but when I read the following article, it just made sense to post it. Because integral to the thinking of this tiny lifestyle is the doing. And doing what you think you cannot do. Because, barring physical inability (and that's a big bar, trust me, I know), anyone can do just about anything. Really.
This is really long for a blogpost, but it's a great read. The photos are David Wegman's, so I can't steal them without asking him and hopefully it's too early where he is to ask him right now. Of course, half the people I know seem to be up and about at 4 in the morning, but I'm still not going to ask. Yet. You're stuck with my photos of wild skies, way down there at the bottom.
Ship Happens: Building Manna with David Wegman - by Cara Cannella - Key West Citizen, Keys Style, Dec 2013
December 4, 2013 at 6:26pm
On November 6, 2013, a year to the day I moved to Key West from New York City, I launched a boat built with my own hands and those belonging to David Wegman. Those four hands tell much of the story. Mine: soft, clean, used to scribbling in notepads and typing, and tentative with a power drill. His: large, paint-spotted, showing a lifetime of work and play on land and at sea, with muscle memory so fluid they can build anything in a flash.
David has built twenty or so boats of this style—a twelve-foot, seaworthy rowing dory that can also sail. In seven hours of shop time over a few days, we built it for a total of $240 (see below for breakdown of materials and contact information for ordering his lofted plans for it).
With plans made out of old nautical charts taped together and cut to size, the building of this boat requires no intimidating calculations for a novice like me. Using basic power tools (skill saw, table saw, cordless drill, grinder) and a machete for hacking at hand-drawn oars, we built it in the Bahama Village front yard of the Chicken Preserve compound, where David has lived and worked among other Key West artists (and wild roosters) for more than three decades.
I’m just beginning to understand how this boat—named Manna for my nieces Mia and Anna, ages six and four—fell from the sky. Over thirty-four years, I’ve traveled through many states to receive it. Circling several continents in double that amount of time, David met me here.
In 2001, the sailor-painter-sculptor-woodworker-musician took two of his five daughters on a Hudson River expedition in a sixteen-foot version of this boat with the addition of a little motor. They departed Saratoga Springs, New York (one of David’s many home bases, along with Key West, Maine, and St. Barth’s, to name a few) to row its entire length over two weeks just preceding 9/11.
“I wanted to do something with my kids that wasn’t electronic,” he says of their building and exploring in the River Queen. “The main thing was to do something exciting. This boat teaches you how to row, how to scull, how to take care of something.”
Aurora—then eight years old, and now an architecture student in Boston pursuing a pilot’s license—and Crescent Maizey, then five, just out of high school and the proud owner of a Wisconsin driver’s license and new car—brought their pet bunny Sugar along for the ride. (A children’s book told from Sugar’s point of view must be forthcoming.) In order to be totally self-sufficient, David rigged a rainproof shield of PVC pipe and canvas, similar to those on covered wagons. The girls rested in sleeping bags on a buffalo skin rug likely found in a Dumpster, given his uncanny knack for finding treasure in unlikely places.
At stops along the way, David engaged people in conversation about General Electric’s looming dredging of the river in an attempt to clean up an estimated 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) their manufacturing plants dumped into the Hudson over three decades. The PCBs, still found in the river’s ecosystem as far south as New York Harbor, have also been found in people. David was on a curiosity mission, intent on raising awareness—mostly his kids’ and his own—of the issue.
His life on the water began in 1971, less than a year after he moved to Key West from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He borrowed money to pay $1,000 for his first boat, a 30-foot Cuban refugee vessel with no motor, and used a parachute from his dragster-racing days as a sail. “I knew nothing about sailing,” he recalls. “But something said, ‘Buy this boat.’ It was an opportunity to get farther from Key West and explore.”
He must have sensed a similar sort of curiosity and clueless insistence in me when we were introduced on the morning of October 9 of this year over breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s, not long after he arrived in Key West for the annual transition between summers at his self-built cabin by the lake in Maine, and Caribbean winters on his 32-foot schooner, the Afrigan Queen IV.
Within minutes of meeting, I told him that I wanted to build a boat—that I was a total beginner thinking about enrolling in a twelve-week intensive course at The Apprenticeshop in Rockland, Maine. Why I mentioned this to a stranger, I’m not sure, but I know that I liked his straw hat ($14 at Ward’s Supermarket in Gainesville), and the fact that he listened closely. After rolling his blue eyes at the prospect of my paying $6,000 in tuition to learn how to build a boat, he said that one of his five daughters runs a surf camp in Costa Rica, where she built her own house. I could build a simple boat of his own design right here in Key West.
My ears perked up when he described it as a “dory.” I knew that’s what Thoreau built and wrote about in “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” while living at Walden Pond on land owned by Emerson. When I lived in Boston during and just after college, I would ride my bike out there to swim across it. A few years ago, out of the blue, I was overcome by a clear daydream of rowing my nieces across Walden Pond in a boat of my own making.
“Don’t be afraid to do it because you’re a girl,” David said, reading my mind. I, who has never built a birdhouse; who only recently learned that when buying polyurethane, one should also buy a product to remove it from skin; who hires a handyman to assemble Ikea furniture; who, just over a year ago, was getting midtown Manhattan manicures on lunch breaks from work at Vogue magazine. I could build a boat without the support of a formal curriculum. Right.
With my notebook and pen, David sketched his plans for it, not knowing what he was getting himself into. Beside his drawings, I noted what he said: “Has room for six people and a dog. Learn how to scull.”
Over the next few weeks, we became acquainted. At one point during Key West’s debaucherous ten-day Fantasy Fest in October, he prowled the streets in a Big Bad Wolf get-up with me by his side, body-painted as the horizon. Even when he didn’t say much, his sculpture of a mermaid reading a book about a little girl (“Mermaid Dreams”) revealed plenty. I tried to keep track of his tales of circumnavigating the globe for eight years, hanging out with Keith Richards and Bob Dylan in St. Barth’s, and bailing water off his sailboat for more than a week straight amid an offshore hurricane with 150 mile per hour winds, eating only from the occasional can of food floating by from the bilge.
On November 6, we transported my finished boat, still wet with blue paint, by truck from the Chicken Preserve to the brand spanking new Stock Island Marina Village. Over the preceding weeks, David had designed and installed art inspired by local nautical history for that night’s opening of its Captain’s Lounge. He decided that a Champagne-christened launch of my boat would fit the festive atmosphere.
When we tossed it in the water, I jumped in and realized that I didn’t really know how to row, especially not before dozens of onlookers and twinkling camera flashes. David jumped in with me to demonstrate. Under a setting sun and crescent moon, within a month of meeting, we were like family in there. We laughed. He yelled instructions. I ignored them. When I finally got the hang of it, he got out. I rowed away from the crowd, basking in the first of many quiet moments this boat will deliver.
Wood from Home Depot:
Oars - Two 1'x6' whitewood pine boards
Sides and transom - Two sheets of quarter-inch-thick 4'x8' sanded pine Bottom - One half-inch-thick sheet of 4'x8' sanded pine
Other: Drywall screws
West System compound (105 Epoxy Resin, 205 Fast Hardener, 404 High-Density filler) Mahogany scraps Pettit's Easypoxy Polyurethane Topside Paint in Ocean BlueMiniwax Helmsman Spar Urethane
Contact Cara at email@example.com or 646.623.8793 to inquire about plans.
I really look forward to reading more of what Cara writes. And if you aren't familiar with David Wegman, you should be. I met him many years ago on Jost Van Dyke and though I don't know him well, his work, in many formats, is very impressive. Check him out.
The morning started out grey. Then the sun burst through. Then...well, repeat. But not the same. Huge, but only soul overwhelming. Sorry, visitors, we know. Enough is enough but it's not over yet.
I don't know how the boat snuck in there. See the white caps on the water of the bay? It was blowing like stink all day and most of the night. Right now...all is calm and is not bright.
Sunset was beautiful. I just didn't have a big enough camera lens.