Sailing through School

One of the unschooling activities that we are looking at for next year is boat building, or at least boat repair. Graham Watt sent me this wonderful article on how you can learn most of life’s essential lessons by building your own boat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

We hear a lot these days of student debt, young people working for years in humdrum jobs to clear the heavy personal debt that a university education necessitates. I’ve heard of former students who’ve almost had to forgo buying iPod Nanos, plasma tvs and magnesium rims for their Civics just to make ends meet, some even forced to continue eating Kraft dinners. This is unacceptable, and for those young people leaving high school and considering university I offer an option I myself took several years ago. Your parents will have the proverbial bird when they hear it, but they did when you came home with the celtic tattoo and the lip ring too.

So here goes:

For the same amount of time and money you’ll spend in university, you can build yourself an incredibly beautiful sailing boat. And I guarantee you’ll learn more about life, yourself, and the nature of stuff. The bigger the boat, the easier it is to build . Little boats need precision. Big boats just need energy. Building a large sailing boat by yourself as your major learning experience, has several advantages over going to university. It’ll take you some serious construction time, about as much as you’d spend deconstructing things and being terminally bored in an undergraduate program. And there’s a very positive side to the boatbuilding option; you’re putting something beautiful together, rather than taking something ugly apart.

As well, you can live on the sailing boat after you finish it, and sail away in it, then after several adventures involving beautiful women or men or both, sell it for much more than you put in to it. Try doing that with a diploma, unless of course it’s in psychiatry or advanced plumbing.

So forget about the skill set. What you really need is a Skil saw. As far as actual learning about life, and becoming a serious thinker, I think the boat building experience is better here too. Everything you do physically in building a boat, must also be done mentally. One quickly learns to plan, reflect, and especially not to drill a 10mm hole in the hull unless you’re damn sure it’s in the right place.

Let’s look at some comparisons.

Importantly, the examinations are much tougher for the sailing boat than for the university work. The sea is a hard marker. A 10-metre wave tearing off your deckhouse is more devastating than a note from your prof saying you should rework the essay on Heretical Tendencies of Disparate Families Living Near Organized Places of Worship.

There’s an artistic side to boatbuilding. Some yacht designers are pure artists, with an ability to match functionality with grace under pressure. Remember, a Stradivarius, looking so fragile and vulnerable can be put through the rigours of Beethoven’storms with little damage. Boats are like songs, so build one you can stand to have in your mind a long, long time.

There are several free bonus courses you’ll receive when you opt for the boat building. You won’t find free courses at the university, I assure you. With the boatbuilding bonus courses you’ll hardly feel you’re learning, but I assure you that you will . With the sailing boat you get a relatively painless course in geography, and some nifty words like metacenter, and phrases like ballast/displacement ratio.

You’ll also receive, absolutely free, a slightly more painful course in how to use a screw driver while inverted in an area resembling a horizontal concert toilet. You’ll learn about exotherms and how the potential explosive effect of too much catalysed resin in the acetone bucket can quickly get you off the All-Bran and possibly off the boat. When you build a big boat, you actually get into it, you’re not just faking that you’re into it as you might when writing an essay on Cardinal Newman’s Apologia. And of course, after you’ve finished the boat the learning goes on and on. You’ll enjoy a free course in natural conflict resolution as a sailing boat lives on the interface of atmosphere and hydrosphere, boisterous personalities frequently at odds with each other and quite willing to tear you apart to prove a point.

So why go into debt for $50,000 learning things at university you’ll never use, like finding out why Hegel was such a dork or that Fidel Castro isn’t a hedge fund, when you can go into debt borrowing $50,000 to buy stuff in order to build a boat?

It’s a no-brainer, literally.

You’ll sail the boat for years, hopefully with a wonderful partner you’ll meet who thinks you’re absolutely terrific, partially for having such a fine boat, and maybe because you have callouses and perhaps a missing finger or two. Then you’ll sell the boat for at least $150,000.

Trust me, I did this myself, except for the missing fingers. 35 years ago I opted to build a sailing boat rather than going to university. I still think it was a good move. A university degree that’s 35 years old has very little power to impress. But the boat, which today is sitting pretty in tiny Luperon Harbour in the Dominican Republic with Dutch registry still turns heads. And while I don’t own it anymore, I’m still learning something from it. I’ve found that something you build yourself remains yours no matter where it goes.

The day we understand that the problem is proximity, and we turn around and let our asses thaw, is the day our productivity will begin to grow.

By Graham McTavish Watt, Sackville, NB


The Canada Goose — built by Graham Watt

3 Responses to “Sailing through School”

  1. Ken Carroll


    I think this is an appealing alternative, although it’s the community aspect of university life that creates whatever learning as happens there. Either way, parents still feel a very compelling need to put kids through the educational system because a university degree from a good university is without question and advantage to the job seeker.

    I’m watching as my 8 year-old is going through some endlessly pointless hours of useless learning and all the stuff that has no intrinsic value these days. But to reject that system would deny her the opportunity to get into a top college. I think that’s more risk than most parents are willing to take with the little darlings.

    Ken carroll

  2. Greg Saunders

    Great article! It’s true what Graham says. YOU will learn a lot and gain life experinces.I worked on that boat myself back in my teens with Graham when it was just a hull. It turned out to be a life time experince!
    Greg Saunders


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