John Vigor is well known to small boat sailors as a prolific writer whose works includes numerous books and the Non-Denominational Boat Denaming Ceremony. Mr. Vigor also writes a blog and his blog post yesterday Amateur Boatbuilders Can Do Better generated some spirited discussion on the DuckWorks FaceBook page.
Some thought Vigor's premises (amateur boatbuilders can do better than build simple/crude boats; amateur boatbuilders do this because they lack the confidence to build complex/fancy boats; amateur boatbuilders can produce professional-like results trading time for skill; simple/crude boats do not easily find new homes (limited resale value) are elitist and offensive. Some thought the simple/crude characterization of some designs meant boxy and ugly. Some thought those premises are spot-on in describing a general failure of amateur boatbuilders to live up to their potential; and thought these premises necessary for introspective analysis of (and by) the amateur boatbuilding community.
My initial reaction fell more or less with those who felt the remarks to be elitist. There was something a bit snarky about Vigor's remarks. There was a bit of defensiveness in me as I read the piece. After all, while I envision perfect joinery, what I see in my mind's eye just doesn't come out of my hands - and I am okay with that.
I could (and did in a hurriedly typed draft) take Vigor's premises apart one at a time, it seemed to me this morning that I had missed the boat, so to speak, about the post. I realized some people like to build - for them it is about the process of building a boat and these are the builders who turn out those impossibly-good-looking-works-of-art and craftsmanship. Some folks like building a boat and getting out on the water. These are the builders who turn out solid, functional, work-boat quality boats that get used - a lot. And, there are those whose interest is in getting out on the water as quickly as possible; their boats, while functional and well-used, often raise eyebrows (at the other end of the spectrum from the works-of-art boats). Nothing wrong with any of these folks or their approaches to building boats.
My impression this morning is that John Vigor is, however inelegantly, expressing his preference for high quality workmanship - which has little to do with how simple or complex a design may be. His use of simple/crude vs. complex/fancy designs confused the issue and was interpreted by some to mean ugly vs. pretty designs. But I do think he missed his mark by insisting that lack of self-confidence is the main (really the only factor he addresses) factor why amateur boatbuilders choose to build "simple/crude" designs instead of "complex/fancy" designs.
We all know our own limitations. We all push our own envelopes and are sometimes surprised with a new skill or a better-than-expected result. The Maid of Endor is a fine, complex and fancy design. I don't believe I am selling myself short by deciding not to build that, or any other, particular design. It is beyond my capacity to build but my self-confidence is not the limiting factor. Time, space and materials are greater limitations on my choice of designs to build.
Sure, amateur boatbuilders can do "better"… as can every doctor, lawyer, dishwasher, ditch-digger, hobbyist or professional - you name it - out there. But what is meant by "better"? As for introspective analysis, I think we all do that all the time, particularly when we are building on our boats.