By Christopher Maleney
lluvia means rain in Spanish!
I woke to the rain on the roof again. It was the second day straight that the sky had opened on us without pause, inundating us with torrential buckets that clattered on the corrugated tin and ran in rivers down the dirt road. I lay for a while in my bunk, listening to the noise as I slowly get used to being awake once more.
This was the first time in my two months in Costa Rica that it rained so heavily and so early in the day. Normally, rain will roll in around sunset, and with hours of warnings from the darkening sky, the gathering clouds, and the theater of lightning and thunder playing in the distance. For the first time in two months, I felt cold lying in my bunk, and when I arose I had to dig through my bag for the sweater I had cleverly added during my frenzied packing what felt quite a long time ago.
A few other people were up before me, and a fire was already blazing in the stove. I yawned a few hellos and filled a cup of coffee. While I waited for the drink to take effect, I watched the deluge pouring from the roof, filling up the rainwater buckets, and filling any depression in the earth with puddles.
After a quick breakfast, it was time to turn to. Class would not begin for an hour, so with our backs to the pouring rain we did what chores the weather would allow. While a few fellow volunteers set up the classroom space in the woodshop, I went with our leader, Lynx, and two other volunteers to fix a few saplings that were too top-heavy and, in the heavy wind and rain, had bent over in a bad way.
As we worked, the rain kicked up, moving from a mere downpour to a full-on thrashing that soaked every inch of me that wasn’t sheathed in rainproof clothing. The ground had turned to a swampy muck that, when it grabbed at my boots, reminded me of Passchendaele. The job of hacking at the trees was easy enough, but doing it weighed down by soaking pants and socks proved a substantial problem. I was glad then when the call came from indoors -- “Ten minutes to class,” and we put down our machetes to hurry off and change into dry clothing.
Ten minutes later, we gathered in the workshop around a plywood plank like a table, painted white and mounted on two sawhorses. The rain thundered on the roof above, meaning all instructions and questions required top volume. Below the table, a muddy channel moved the rainwater from the high side of the workshop to the low, turning the dirt floor to mud that squelched as we shifted back and forth, trying to understand the lofting process.
Lofting a boat means drawing out the lines that will represent it - no more and no less. To represent a three dimensional object on a two dimensional surface, the lines are drawn three times. The first view, from the side, shows the long curves of the keel and the deck. The second view, looking down at the ship from a bird’s eye, shows the change from bow to beam and then transom. The third view is from the head-on, where six or eight or more ‘slices’ show the same progression down the ship all laid out next to each other.
Understanding just this took the better part of the first session. When I write it out, it may sound simple, but stand there toe deep in mud, straining to hear the directions over the clatter of rain above your head, trying to read the tiny diagrams and charts across the table, and translate in your mind the jargon of the shipwright and you will feel just as helplessly lost as I did at times.
Fortunately, with a patient, helpful teacher, it is possible to learn difficult things. And when it comes to lofting, the process is not the hard part. For anyone who remembers a bit of algebra, it is easy enough to put points on a graph and draw the lines between them; there’s not even any math required.
You start by laying out a grid of reference points, with water-lines and buttocks as one axis, and sections and buttocks as another with a centerline to guide you. These are all drawn at set intervals depending on the size of the boat and the scale of the drawing. From there, you turn to the ship’s plans to find the height and width (or half-breadth as it is known here) of the each point used to guide the line of the ship you are drawing.
First we started with the shear line in the profile view, which is where the weather deck will meet the frames. We found the points, hammered a nail into each one and, using a thin strip of batten as a guide, we drew that line in from tip to transom. Following that is the rabbet line, which will meet the keel in the finished ship. Once these were on the grid, we turned to the top view and drew in the shear.
At this early stage, things are relatively clear. Only a few lines have been set down on the graph and so differentiating them is easy enough. As you add in the body plan lines, and then transfer the body plan to the above- and side-view plans, the lines begin to overlap and criss-cross, it starts to be nearly impossible for the novice to figure out which of the bundle of pencil marks and nail holes are the right one.
The penultimate step it to draw out the transom, taking as reference points the intersection of buttock- and water-lines. Lastly, the shipwright will take the lines and expand them to the outlines of boards that will then be carved from the milled timbers. Lofting is like the carpenter’s sketches that serve as the midpoint between the architect’s dream-filled plans and the actual frames and beams; all the building lies yet before us at the shipyard, but we feel confident to take those first steps.
The class continued into a second day as we practiced repeating these simple yet confusing steps, and a few visiting classmates, rain-bound, stayed over. The evening was spent gathered in the kitchen, hiding from the unceasing rain. We had given up on keeping the floor clean, and a hundred muddy boot prints hemmed us in around the table. With a guitar and harmonica, two people dug into their shared musical knowledge for something they dubbed the “Lofting Floor Blues.” The conversation ranged back and forth over a few bottles of beer, and, as yarns from days of sailing and working in distant countries were spun, a feeling of intense camaraderie came over me. We were all working towards the one goal, the one project, and all taking it one step at a time.
That night, laying in my bunk and listening to the still unceasing rain hammering on the roof, my mind was filled with the white plywood of the lofting floor, and the curving lines we pencilled onto it. I won’t pretend that any revelation came to me in my sleep; the hard work of understanding was all done in the classroom that first day and the next, but it is in these subconscious processes that we turn the strawy stuff of the day-to-day learning into the the fine gold filigree of real knowledge. I know I have a lot more to learn before I can call myself a shipwright, but I like to think that with this lofting course I’m at least on my way.
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