By Tom and Ruth Bushaw
“We are not carpenters or shipbuilders much less master craftsmen. We are not even sailors. But we helped build a beautiful wooden tall ship.” We took a trip in January 2014 on Seaward, offered by Tom’s college alumni organization, and had a simply fabulous time, but that’s another story. The Seaward crew told us about the Matthew Turner project. Later that year, we stopped by Educational Tall Ship in Sausalito to see Matthew Turner. The ship was just beginning to take shape; the keel was laid and the crew was working hard on forming and shaping the frame sections. We were shown around the shipyard and had a nice conversation with Alan Olson. We were impressed with the enthusiasm (almost giddiness) of everyone: the ambition and confidence necessary to take on a project like this: the “business model” (non-profit organization, heavy reliance on volunteers, open-to-the-public construction site, emphasis on sustainability and “green” technology) and the ship itself, even though at this time it was just a “newborn.”
Back home in Washington state, we kept tabs on the progress of construction via the Educational Tall Ship website, tracking the impressive progress and making monthly donations. We discussed how it was unfortunate to be so far away; that if we lived closer it we could go to the shipyard and volunteer. But, alas, from 750 miles away we could only watch progress through the website and newsletters, only “volunteer” through our monetary contributions. Fast forward to Spring 2016… We wanted to visit the Bay Area, perhaps vacation in Sonoma. Then the “eureka moment”. Let’s take a “vacation” to Sausalito and do some real (physical, not just monetary) volunteer work on Matthew Turner! We came for two weeks in October 2016, working on the ship full time. Our first afternoon we were given an orientation and within an hour we were hard at work, albeit only sweeping up sawdust on the shop floor and on deck. We knew that if we helped, even in this way, it would free up others to work on more “skill intensive” tasks. We would have been happy as clams if this is how we spent our whole two weeks, but Franz and Richard (the “hands-on” lead shipbuilders) had other ideas for us. We were asked if we wanted to help “on deck” , filling screw holes and seams with epoxy, then sanding them flush with the deck surface (to remove as many “homes” for water as possible and in preparation for the final layer of decking). We gladly agreed and helped with this activity for a couple days. We were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the experienced workers got us up to speed (“trained”) and then left us to the work so they could be working elsewhere. If they had to “babysit” us continuously, we wouldn’t be adding much value, would we?
Once this epoxy work on deck was nearing completion we were asked if we wanted to help with the building of the foremast. Not knowing exactly what this entailed, we agreed and got to work on our next “assignment” where we spent the remainder of our two-week stay. The 65-foot lower section of the foremast that we worked on was being built up board-by-board to the full 19-inch thickness of the mast. This involved joining boards (or, as Jessie calls them, “sticks”), long-edge-to-long-edge, to get the necessary width, “scarfing” (a method for strongly joining boards end-to-end) to get the necessary length, planing and sanding to ensure a nice tight fit off the scarf joints and the two layers, gluing (via epoxy) the new layer to the existing “stack” and then repeating the whole process.
Our mentor for this activity was Newcomb, who showed us the phases of the process and taught us how to do these things. We were both impressed with how quickly things were “turned over to us.” In fact, within a couple days we felt like we were almost “leading” the effort. Ruth took on the task of measuring then optimizing the order and orientation of the four or five boards per layer to ensure sufficient spacing between scarf joints from one layer to the next. Working on the foremast for seven days really gave us a sense of contribution, accomplishment, and pride; we felt we were almost “responsible for” the last three layers of this half of the mast . One of the most “exciting” moments was on our last day, when the whole 65-foot mast, with half its layers, was lifted and rolled over so that work could begin building up the remaining six layers. The Lead Shipwright, Franz, orchestrated this feat and it was a sight to behold! An important aspect of this experience that really made the work enjoyable for us was the camaraderie amongst the workers. Every day before work began most everyone gathered around to visit before the morning pre-job/safety meeting, where the work goals for the day were discussed and assignments were made. At noon there was always a wonderful lunch provided by volunteers, giving us another opportunity to get to know our fellow workers. At the end of the workday there was often a “meeting of the mind” where we all sat around, discussed the progress made that day (as well as other interesting topics), had a beer, and otherwise wound down.
At home now, we continue to follow the progress of this exciting endeavor. We hope to come down to Sausalito again to volunteer, and we will do our best to witness the launch in April 2017. We recognize that our contribution is only one infinitesimal “pixel” in the monumental “image” that is the Matthew Turner but, nonetheless, the construction leaders let us “own” a process, albeit for just a snippet of time, which gave us the sense that we made a real contribution. In years ahead, when we see the Matthew Turner in pictures or in person (maybe even on deck and at sea!), we can say “We are a part of this!” – what a gratifying feeling! We can only imagine the emotions of all those who are contributing hundreds or thousands of hours to the creation of Matthew Turner. Finally, we want to acknowledge all those who made our stay so enjoyable, who made us feel so welcome: Alan, Roy, Gene, Newcomb, Billy, Richard, Franz, Jessie, Bill, Don, Chris, Jitendra, Meghan, Peter, Rob, Tom, Ralf (and his pastries!)… just to name a few. We won’t forget this experience. Ever.