Six years ago my daughter, Anna, started building a kayak. She had recently dropped out of high school. She was taking some college classes, volunteering at Planned Parenthood and running cross country to fill up the days. But because she is a cunning creature, she knew that a sure-fire way to get me firmly behind her idea of no longer attending high school was to suggest that we build a kayak together. Think of all she would learn! Of course I was putty in her hands.
We made some progress that first year. As I remember it, she got the gunwales laid out, bent some ribs. It took us a short while to work out the rules, which basically came down to one rule. I had to keep my stinking hands off the work. She wanted to build the boat herself and not mostly watch as I “helped” her. So while she ripped boards and whacked this or that with a table saw, circular saw or band saw, I held my breath, muttered some prayers, and hoped I would not have to explain to her mother why Anna now had only, say, eight fingers.
She went off to college. I hung the gunwales and ribs in my basement kayak dungeon workshop, where they collected cobwebs and sawdust for the next four or five years. We talked about her kayak occasionally. I suggested once or twice, or maybe a few more times than that, that I could finish it up for her. To this she typically did not bother to reply.
Somewhere in there — my memory is a little blurry — she got the bow and stern pieces cut and lashed in. We wrestled with the chine strips, and replaced a bunch of ribs that didn’t look right anymore. She finished off the frame, this in my splendid new workshop, and then life intruded again. Her life, naturally, not mine. She moved to Alaska to work on a political campaign. She had some great stories — moose on the campaign trail, heavily armed voters greeting her at their bunker doors — but our project had hit another wall. I stood the boat up on its stern and pushed it into a corner.
Anna moved back to Minneapolis after her candidate went down. She got a job working for a San Francisco tech start up. She can work where she wants, as long as there’s a web connection. Her work hours are loosely defined. In short, Anna’s ultra-modern job situation is perfectly suited to finishing up her work in ancient transportation technology.
During the last few weeks she’s stretched the nylon skin, finished up the coaming, and sewn it all together. The work she started at 16 is teetering on the very edge of getting finished at 22. Now there’s only the question of applying five or six coats of varnish.
I believe this will happen. Eventually.