25 February 2016

An Unlikely Voyage (Part 3)

← Part 2 of An Unlikely Voyage

Here is the third and final part of Chapter 1, in which I unexpectedly learn the secret to woodworking, boatbuilding, and life itself.

Well, maybe not. But it was a good start.

The book continues with the building of Cabin Boy, the little John Atkin skiff that served as taxi, delivery truck, and saved my bacon more than a few times. Cabin Boy is the real hero of this story. And then the bulk of the book, which is all about the long, long voyage from Florida's Nature Coast, to Long Island Sound—2000 miles through open ocean, steamy Everglades, trackless marshes on the Intracoastal Waterway, more bridges and locks than you can count, and finally through New York's infamous Hell Gate. All proving, it's never too late for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

* * *

A few people have asked if the book will be available for Kindle. The answer is yes, but since one of my pet peeves is poorly formatted Kindle books, I am formatting the book myself, to make sure it's perfect. I'm working on it, but it will probably take me a few more weeks to get it done. I will post an announcement here and on my Facebook page when it's ready. If you are a Facebooker, you might want to Like that page.

Thank you for all your support!

Chapter 1

Part 3

The next weekend, I confronted that balky bedroom door.

Since I’m an unhandy guy, my usual approach to hated, home-handyman jobs is to rush through them as quickly as possible, with lots of huffing, puffing, and “Where’s my dang screw driver!?” type dramatics. I inherited this approach from my father, the Huffer-and-Puffer-in-Chief of our whole family.

But for some reason—and I can’t say what it was—I took a different tack with this job. Maybe, with four kids still in the house, I was just motivated to have a bedroom door that closed; maybe I started off so stumped on this project (why didn’t it close???) that rushing through it wasn’t an option; or maybe I was just ready for it.

Whatever the reason, I let out a deep breath and decided to give the job as much time as it needed. Little did I know what a turning point this decision would be.

At first, the problem with the door didn’t seem complicated. Our house had been built in 1929 by an Italian immigrant who’d made some money in New York City as a master mason, working on the 8th Avenue Madison Square Garden. This man had been an artist in concrete: the house was a minor Art Deco masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the door fit perfectly when he first carried his young bride into the bedroom.

Nevertheless, in the eighty years since, either the door or the door frame had changed shape. They no longer matched. The peg no longer fit the hole.

Since the shape of the door frame was literally fixed in concrete, I swiftly reasoned that I’d have to reshape the door to fit the frame. Slightly dazzled by this unexpectedly brilliant insight, I pushed the door against the frame to see where it stuck. At the top, I saw. It was a quarter inch too tall at the top. If I could take a bit off, maybe with some sort of file.

I actually had a rusty old file in my pitiful collection of hand-me-down tools. I fetched it from the basement and stood on a chair to get a better view of the problem.

The top of the door looked as if it had been chewed by a chipmunk: shallow, grooved tooth marks gnawed into eighty year old oak. The chipmunk hadn’t gotten far. I compared the toothed file in my hand with the tooth marks on the door. Apparently, at least one previous owner had had similar tools. And skills.

I climbed off the chair, sat on it, and had a think. Perhaps a saw was a better tool for the job. Yes, I was sure it would be. I climbed back on the chair, measured the amount to be cut three times, then took the door off its hinges and lugged the absurdly heavy monster down to my ‘workshop’ in the basement.

At that point, my workshop consisted of a rickety table and a handful of rusty tools. Luckily, one of the tools was an ancient handsaw I’d inherited from my grandfather. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a Disston—a saw of noble lineage. This was luck akin to Bilbo finding Sting in a troll’s cave. Fate? I don’t know, but by some magic, the saw’s teeth were still sharp.

I laid the door on the table, picked up the saw, eyed the line I’d marked, and then had a moment familiar to every newbie woodworker. Was the line drawn correctly? Could I follow the line? Or, with one cut, would I ruin a beautiful—and lets face it, valuable—piece of wood? Would I end up the hero who fixed something? Or the damn fool who destroyed it? Helena loved that door, even if it didn’t close.

It took a long time to work up the courage, but eventually I consigned my fate to the gods, and started making sawdust. Amazingly, when I rehung the door on its hinges, it closed with a satisfying snick. Helena applauded.

“Wow,” I said, opening and closing the door, wondering if it really had been fifty years since it last closed properly.

As that door closed, another one opened. Time. It was all about time. My grandfather—a blacksmith, raconteur, and perennial seeker of rainbows—had a stock of proverbs he loved to repeat. One of them was, “You can climb any mountain, as long as you climb it slowly enough.” He’s said it a million times, but I’d never really listened. Maybe, with enough time, I could fix or build anything.

Such is the delusional power that comes from fixing a door.

“I might even be able to fix a wooden boat,” I said, not realizing I’d spoken aloud.

“Of course you can,” said Helena, giving me a congratulatory kiss before moving on to the eighty-two other chores she accomplished that day. Such is the power of women.

“I might even be able to build a wooden boat,” I said, the idea taking hold. “A small boat,” I corrected myself, some remnant of common sense still clinging on. “A dinghy. We’ll need a dinghy, anyway. If I can build a small wooden boat, I might be able to maintain a larger one.”

Palm trees waving against a blue sky. A pink beach. A gleaming white schooner floating in a turquoise lagoon. A stout dinghy pulled up on the sand. Helena and I picnicking on the beach…

And that was how all the trouble started.

* * *

Next Up:

How To Get Your Copy

If you live in the US

You can order a copy directly by clicking on this link: Amazon.com, or by searching Amazon for "Unlikely Voyage".

If you live in the US, you can order an autographed copy of An Unlikely Voyage through PayPal, using either your PayPal account or a credit card. Just click the button below and follow the instructions.

Or you can get out your quill pen and order a copy through the post. Send a check for $19.95 to John Almberg, 249 Lenox Rd., Huntington Station, NY 1176. Please include your name, shipping address, and a custom inscription, if you'd like.

If you live outside the US

You should be able to order a copy directly from Amazon.com by searching your local Amazon for "Unlikely Voyage".

If the book is not available through Amazon in your part of the world, you can order direct from the publisher: Publisher Direct

Unfortunately, the cost to mail a book outside the US is so high (> $20), that I can't offer free shipping. It makes more sense to order a copy direct from Amazon or the publisher. However, if you really want an autographed copy, please email me at john@unlikelyboatbuilder.com and I will see what we can do to minimize the cost.

Thank you very much, and please don't forget to write a review on Amazon!

Next Up:


  1. John, I'am following your blog since you started. Great reading. I ordered your book at Amazon.com.

  2. Dang, A Kindle copy would have been easier to get here in the UK. Never mind, a real pulp-wood book is so much nicer anyway. Mine is on it's way from Amazon.

  3. Hi John, My shiny new copy of your book arrived here at my home in the UK today, from Amazon.com

    Now that is what I call good service! I've ordered from the USA in the past and had to wait weeks for the goods to arrive, and on one occasion they never did and I waved goodbye to my money for nothing. Not this time. I have at least a dozen books waiting patiently for me to get around to reading, but yours is now the top of the pile!

    1. I think we have to give credit to Amazon for rolling out copies to their distribution points around the world. An amazing operation.


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