Walk­ing the Walk


Power & Motor Yacht - - SIGHTLINES -

In the late 1970s I moved from my home state of Cal­i­for­nia to New Or­leans to get my first shot at pro­fes­sional boat de­sign. I was met with great skep­ti­cism by the ship­yard work­ers at Hal­ter Marine West End Di­vi­sion, as they were in­tro­duced to their new de­signer and all they saw was a 25-year-old, long-haired kid wear­ing flip-flops.

While I looked like a hip­pie, they viewed me as a nerdy aca­demic, clearly out of my el­e­ment in a com­mer­cial ship­yard. Those old salts made my life pretty rough in the begin­ning and kid­ded me un­mer­ci­fully for be­ing a no­to­ri­ously light drinker, or­der­ing me milk when­ever we went out to a bar af­ter work.

Dur­ing my first year, the yard was build­ing a 65-foot Hal­ter alu­minum sport­fish yacht and some of the in­te­rior fin­ish work wasn’t com­ing out very good.

The gal­ley coun­ter­top de­sign called for an in­laid lam­i­nate de­sign and the gaps be­tween the pieces were to­tally unac- cept­able. I had the car­pen­ters tear the work out sev­eral times un­til they got re­ally pissed off with me, com­plain­ing it wasn’t pos­si­ble to do it any bet­ter. The fol­low­ing morn­ing they came aboard the boat and were sur­prised to see that the coun­ter­top in­lay was per­fect. Their at­ti­tude to­ward me changed that day in an in­stant when they re­al­ized I had stayed late the night be­fore and had done the in­lay my­self.

They didn’t know that I had left Cal­i­for­nia be­cause I had been type­cast in my role as a yacht car­pen­ter, and had to move half­way across the coun­try for a chance to be a de­signer. In fact, I had been a wood boat­builder for sev­eral years and was prob­a­bly a bet­ter car­pen­ter than any of them. The no­tion that I was just a book-smart de­signer with no prac­ti­cal skills ended that day. They came to re­al­ize that their milk-drink­ing de­signer could also bench press 300 pounds and was not the help­less egghead they had imag­ined.

I re­lated this story to a friend who worked as Hal­ter’s chief weld in­spec­tor. He held his mas­ter’s de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing and was gen­er­ally viewed with aca­demic con­tempt by the ship­yard work­ers. He told me about the flak he was get­ting from a welder one day, af­ter he had re­jected his work, with the an­gry steel worker chal­leng­ing him to do bet­ter. My friend asked to bor­row his weld­ing vi­sor and pro­ceeded to lay down sev­eral per­fect welds.

The as­ton­ished welder had no idea my friend was a nu­clear-cer­ti­fied welder who could make five passes on the back side of a pipe us­ing a mir­ror, with all of them pass­ing X-ray in­spec­tion. He had worked his way through col­lege as a welder, on his way to be­com­ing an en­gi­neer.

I wouldn’t give you much for a guy straight out of school with a bunch of ad­vanced de­grees, if he hasn’t spent any time crawl­ing around the bilges of boats. For­tu­nately, the boat in­dus­try has plenty of pro­fes­sion­als who started off do­ing the hard phys­i­cal work of boat­build­ing, be­fore get­ting a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

It is hard to judge who some of these peo­ple are, but give them a chance to show you their skills and I’ll bet they would sur­prise you. I al­ways love bor­row­ing a tool and show­ing the guys on the shop floor what this old boat­builder can do.

Crafts­men can be shocked to learn who’s watch­ing.

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