Part ode to building something with one’s hands in the modern age, part celebration of the beauty and function of boats, and part moving father-daughter story, How to Build a Boat is a bold adventure.
Once an essential skill, the ability to build a clinker boat, first innovated by the Vikings, can seem incomprehensible today. Yet it was the clinker, with its overlapping planks, that afforded us access to the oceans, and its construction has become a lost art that calls to the do-it-yourselfer in all of us. John Gornall heard the call.
A thoroughly unskilled modern man, Gornall set out to build a traditional wooden boat as a gift for his newborn daughter. It was, he recognized, a ridiculously quixotic challenge for a man who knew little about woodworking and even less about boat-building. He wasn’t even sure what type of wood he should use, the tools he’d need, or where on earth he'd build the boat. He had much to consider…and even more to learn.
But, undaunted, he embarked on a voyage of rediscovery, determined to navigate his way back to a time when we could fashion our future and leave our mark on history using only time-honored skills and the materials at hand. His journey began in East Anglia, on England’s rocky eastern coast. If all went according to plan, it would end with a great adventure, as father and daughter cast off together for a voyage of discovery that neither would forget, and both would treasure until the end of their days.
How to Build a Boat celebrates the art of boat-building, the simple pleasures of working with your hands, and the aspirations and glory of new fatherhood. John Gornall “tells the inspiring story of how even the least skilled of us can make something wonderful if we invest enough time and love” (The Daily Mail) and taps into the allure of an ancient craft, interpreting it in a modern way, as tribute to the generations yet to come. “Both the book, and place, are magical” (The Sunday Telegraph).
Jonathan Gornall is an award-winning freelance journalist, whose writing has appeared in The British Medical Journal, The Daily Mail, and The Times (London). While at The Times, he was the author of a weekly column, “Microwave Man,” that looked insightfully, and often humorously, at the role of man in the modern world. He published a book of the same title in 2006. He has twice attempted to row across the Atlantic, and lives on England’s east coast with his wife and daughter.
“In an age of instant everything, this is a charming book about handcrafting something that does not arrive in a cardboard box and snap together. It is a story about taming impatience, facing fears, and softening skepticism. With love as a motivation, each of us may undertake things that seem impossible.” —Tori Murden McClure, author of A Pearl in the Storm, and the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean
“An utterly captivating, richly poetic account of building a traditional wooden boat for the first time—and a paean to the awesome responsibility and reward of fatherhood.” —Matthew P. Murphy, Editor, WoodenBoat magazine
“Beautifully documents the year [Jonathan Gornall] spent building a wooden boat for his young daughter…His prose is amusing, personal, and informative.” —Publishers Weekly
“Funny, heart-warming and stuffed to the gunwales with fascinating information. Jonathan Gornall’s quest to build a sailing boat navigates the crosscurrents of his life story—the challenges of fatherhood, his difficult relationship with his mother, his lifelong love of the sea. It’s a compelling narrative.” —Benedict Tufnell, Editor of Row360 magazine
“Packed with details, both historical and personal, How to Build a Boat wonderfully captures the tensions, the tightrope walk between reward and dismay. In the end, I wanted to cheer: the boat floats and a daughter's adventures can begin.” —Mark Pillsbury, Editor of Cruising World