It was Jonathan Banks, the DT technician, who came up with the idea that a boat should be built. It was a great idea, and being the only student who was a ‘wooden boat connoisseur’, the prospect of helping with the build was something I could not miss.
Jon and I were both on the Grade 9 Leeuwin expedition, and we’d witnessed the raw power of a sailing ship, tempered with a grace that no diesel electric engine or turbine could match, the sort of grace only centuries of human ingenuity and tradition could hold. Maybe it was our desire to replicate this that led our commitment to the project. Da Vinci’s famous quip, “Once you have tasted flight…” rang true, but in a nautical context.
I spent many Wednesday afternoons down by the shed outside of the Design and Technology department, running through, the at times satisfying, at times monotonous, routine of fixing the strakes* on the boat. One and a half hours of trimming down plywood planks, holding them in place along the frame, mixing the epoxy resin, applying the epoxy resin, putting screws on, taking screws off-one and a half hours, every week.
Once the excitement of this novel experience had worn off, the work started becoming repetitive. Frustration would mount as screws got stuck, or planks did not quite line up the way they were meant to, and the harassment from the mosquitoes was ceaseless. But something always kept us going.
Perhaps it was the hope that this skeleton of a boat, still mostly bare with only battens and frames, would one day begin to look shipshape, instead of the mass of woodwork that it was then. Perhaps it was the humour we’d find in even the most disappointing things, like the sub-par, worm-infested plywood planks we had to make do with. Or perhaps, it was just the simple pleasure of putting heart and soul into building something: a pleasure denied to us in this age of mass-produced goods and consumerism.
My one-and-a-half hour ‘efforts’ combined with Jon’s toiling on the project, day in, day out, as well as the assistance of many others, such as the Outdoor Education department and the many Middle and High School students, culminated in the launching of the boat. The Florence, named after Jon’s baby daughter, set sail on 13 June 2016, about two years after work began in 2014.
The temperamental tropical weather did not seem to be on the Florence’s side in the beginning, but a favorable breeze that lasted for about an hour was the perfect chance, and she was launched. The boat was not without issue – as expected from an amateur build – and water seemed to be leaking in through the daggerboard well. No leak, however, could dampen the overwhelming elation I felt as I sat by the tiller (that I’d varnished!), beating upwind, with the boat almost gliding over the water and the wind rushing across my face. A glorious moment, to say the least.
It was a great honour to see this project through to the finish, and it was a one-of-a-kind experience that could not have happened without the help of all involved, especially the students and staff of UWCSEA. In a school like this, it is all too easy to catch the ‘sea fever’, or any fever of your choosing, for that matter.
*Strake = a plank that makes up the hull of the boat