October 8, 2011
I am always intrigued by the questions readers ask and one that came in recently caught my eye. “Your short bioprofile describes you as a, ‘model boat builder.’ Can you show us any pictures of your models?”
Well, yes I can. Of the one of which I am most proud. There are two pictures with this blog.
The original vessel in question was built in Bedford Mass. in 1813 and comissioned into the United States Navy that year as USS Rattlesnake. She was a fourteen gun, three masted, ship-rigged brig. At the time there was a modicum of unpleasantness occurring between the recently constituted United States of America and The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The War of 1812.
On the 20th of June 1813 Rattlesnake encountered HMS Leander, a 50 gun cruiser. Despite throwing all guns overboard to lighten ship and give her a chance to outrun her pursuer Rattlesnake fell victim to light airs and was caught. There was no shame in surrendering to a vessel which so heavily outgunned the smaller. Rattlesnake was bought into the Royal Navy, crossed the Atlantic, of which more later, and finally perished in the Mediteranean.
The model, an all wood construction, was built from a kit based upon the original naval architectural plans. The building took one year from 1981 to 82 during which time I had a day job in Calgary, Canada. In part my work involved using microsurgical techniques to repair damaged Fallopian tubes. My model building was greatly facilitated by my being able to use worn out (surgically but not for lay use) fine instruments and indeed some of the model’s rigging is silk suture material. I was also able to persuade myself that working on the model and using fine motor skills was akin to the excercises a concert pianist might perform.
The model sat in my home until 1987 when I had an opportunity to accept a position at Bourn Hall Clinic, the world’s first IVF clinic, in Cambridgeshire, England, and work with the now late Doctor Patrick Steptoe and Professor Bob Edwards. Bob is now Sir Robert and in 2010 became the Nobel Laureate in physiology. I had a wonderful two years there and in my journeying there Rattlesnake had made an uneventful Atlantic crossing.
When in 1989 it was time to return to Canada the model crossed the Atlantic for a second time, once more than the original, and again arrived intact. Because I never could hold a job for long she has since been shipped from Winnipeg to Vancouver to Bowen Island in the mouth of Howe Sound, British Columbia.
Before I decided to return to Ireland for a while I felt that expecting a fragile model ship to survive a third transatlantic crossing was tempting the fates.
Rattlesnake now resides in a glass case in Doc Morgan’s restaurant on Bowen Island where she can be admired or ignored by the patrons. Her bows point to the sea of the marina, but in the words of A. E. Housman;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
Her far-borne canvas furled…
And I am now in home port on Saltspring Island British Columbia—where if I’m ever going to finish book 7 in the Irish Country series, I’d better get back to work.