The Beginning


My boat building mentor had this almost mysterious platonic view of building boats. He’d express that because we work from an ideal form, that we are involved with the divine, whether we carry explicitly spiritual beliefs personally or not. He thought that whenever an ideal exists that one strives to make manifest in the material world that they are caught up in a larger story, an old dream that has descended upon so many minds.  You could call it beauty, you could call it something else. So when I thought, how to begin writing on the progress of the build of the Dove, I thought of how my mentor’s view complicates the simplicity of how to locate the  beginning of the building of a ship.

A materialist might say that we didn’t start until we put blade to raw material and cut something out of it. An idealist on the other hand might say that this project has existed perennially and that it has only fallen upon us to act it out once again. An existentialist might say something far too complicated for this blog post. Wherever we began, I think it absurd to begin with a picture of the keel in the shipyard or to begin with the loft floor or a shot of the architect’s lines drawing. So consider this a prelude and consider it a giving of respect to those who have been possessed by this trade of shipbuilding before us, to the history that we are swimming in, to the raw material that we (attempt to) bend to our will, and to the dream that keeps us going- that keeps us building.

Its a hot and humid day in St Michaels this July 20th at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. In the shop our massive loft floor fills what used to be additional space for workbenches. Out back we have pieces of southern live oak and cortez which are being used for the backbone build up all in various stages of shaping. Out front and piled up along the perimeter of the yard you’ll see slabs of white oak and long lengths of locally harvested ash and some not so locally harvested angelique.  Come on a weekday and you’ll surely meet a few of our eleven staffed shipwrights perhaps sweating beneath a straw hat- Anywhere you look you’ll catch a buzz of the Dove project.

We have nearly completed lofting out the vessel from the drawings provided to us by our architect, but born out of collaboration between lead builders, historians, archaeologists and sea captains; and we are close to finalization of our joinery configuration which is a dance between ideals of structural integrity and available material. We’ve also sifted through all of our cortez and live oak- setting pieces aside for the keelson, gripes, sternposts, etc. The keel was fastened a month ago and the stem and sternposts are being shaped currently.  In the coming week we’ll see backbone pieces getting closed out, and perhaps a rabbet cut into our keel. We’re in full swing and hope you’ll follow along as we craft a new icon for the state of Maryland and continue to peer into the mysteries of shipbuilding. 

-Samuel T Hilgartner
lead rigger/ shipwright