The Four-Year Kayak


Anna: that was then.

Here’s my daughter, Anna, with a kayak we started building back when she was in high school. She’s just about finished with college now, and we’re hunkering down to get this boat in the water.

It’s probably safe to say that unlike most boat building projects, this one started with a high school philosophy class in unschooling. Anna’s hipster teacher at St. Paul Central kicked off the semester by introducing the ideas of John Holt, who believed that kids will do better following their interests and educating themselves rather than by being held captive in school. Anna, who considered herself a prisoner of education, declared herself ripe for unschooling.

What can I say? My wife and I are hippies at heart. We didn’t fight her. Anna signed up for college classes that are free to Minnesota high school students and got an internship at Planned Parenthood. And just to make sure that she had me deep in her pocket, she suggested that we build a kayak together.

We had some laughs for a while, laying out the gunwales, bending the ribs, and setting the keel of an interesting kayak designed by the Oregon builder Brian Schulz. (The F1, details here.) Then the steam escaped from our project. Anna may have sensed there was no further danger that she would be extradited to school. The partially-completed kayak went up on the basement wall, where it gathered a fearsome veil of cobwebs over the past four years.

Lately I’ve been nagging, telling her that if she didn’t finish the kayak, I would. Anathema! She had worked hard at every step of the way to keep any tools out of my hands. I was allowed to tell her how to do things, but she insisted upon doing them herself. Everything that was cut, bent, lashed or pegged was her work. She wasn’t going to roll over now.

So lately we’ve been spending an afternoon or two a week in my workshop, finishing off her boat. We got the chines lashed in place, got the stem pieces cut and positioned, rebent some ribs that were out of whack. The end is in sight, if not quite imminent.

When we started the project we talked about the colleges she was applying to. Now we’re talking about job applications. She’s got a line on positions in Philly, Chicago, a few other places.

I’ll spare you the sentimentality, though it is considerable. I’m hoping that once this kayak is finished we can throw it in the water for a trip before she moves away.


Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Four-Year Kayak

  1. My fondest memory of the Christmas holiday break this year was working with Emma, my daughter, on my latest kayak. She has helped with each, and I cherish that time together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *