She crouched low in the water, the afternoon sun setting her mahogany loins afire. Her black leather cockpit and covering boards contrasted with sparkling nickel work making each piece a jewel. Ragtime was a 1930’s double cockpit forward runabout that I now owned- the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. I could feel my heart throbbing just looking at her. Even her name was evocative of the roaring 20’s, flappers, rum-runners, personal style that transformed every man into John Garfield. She was my magic carpet away from a world of plastic cookie cutter boats and into the select company of vintage mahogany thoroughbreds.
I was an energetic 65 year old, and I was looking for an elegant way to pass my retirement years. Besides, there were grand children that I wanted to indoctrinate into the culture of tools and fixing things. Even as I doubted my own skills, I wanted to show these youngsters how to accomplish something with their own hands instead of punching buttons.
I already had a shop, although my wife calls it a garage. There was the Home Depot not 2 miles from my shop that offered nearly all the materials. Beyond that, UPS could bring the world to my doorstep. Materials, hard work, life lessons, and my time would not cost the same however. But the value of the finished project would be very different. I can now say I stood back in admiration from my work nearly bursting with pride. Ragtime was complete.
The boats launch day was as terrifying as it was fulfilling. I had invited a professional marine engineer along, so he could handle the boat while I worried. She slipped off the trailer, floated about right, and seemed to be at home in her natural environment, I had anticipated a gentle, tentative first run- perhaps to 2500 RPM. This was not to be. We had no more than eased ourselves into the cockpit, when my driver rammed the throttle full forward and we rocketed across the water like a comet. I was mortified until he slowed somewhat and began carving gentle S turns in the water. Incredibly she was stable and well-mannered during these maneuvers.
This boat’s performance can be described as fast and nimble. Being a mid-engine inboard, there is no squatting and having to climb out of a hole. It achieves speed easily and the generous spray rail results in a comfortable dry ride even in a modest chop. It was success.
As a builder, I have experienced more personal growth during this time than any other single enterprise of my life. Consistently overcoming seemingly bewildering problems forges a man, It makes him less likely to accept failure and dead ends and more likely to carry on until its right. In this process, I learned many things. Chief among them is that anything can be fixed-albeit some fixes may be costly in terms of time and materials. And just as important, the builder must maintain his standards or he enters upon a slippery slope. People will only see his last effort and they will judge his work from that.
Boat building has ceased being my labor, and now has become my art. Indeed, like pictures at an exhibition, these glistening mahogany beauties repose in splendor side by side. One recent visitor remarked that he felt like Howard Carter must have felt when he entered King Tut’s tomb.
Dr. Dale Hamilton served 23 years in Army Special Forces before retiring to his boat building business. He now resides in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.