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Friendly Women and Old Men: Wooden Boats Summon Them

If superstitions about shoddy ship launchings were valid, I would have put my cedar-strip rowboat on Craig’s List the morning after its maiden voyage June 21, 2006.


If you’re not a nautical type, you won’t know that ships get labeled “ill-fated” if the woman christening it at the launch ceremony doesn’t break her champagne bottle over its bow and bathe its hull in bubbly. Likewise, if a ship rolls dangerously upon its launch and damages its hull on the pier, sailors consider it a bad omen.


Omens. Maybe that’s why my wife, Penny, and our daughter Leah didn’t wallop my rowboat’s bow with a bottle before its maiden launch on Waupaca’s Shadow Lake in central Wisconsin. Besides, after working sporadically for 30 months to build my boat, I didn’t dare risk damning a loved one and damaging my creation by letting anyone whack it with a bottle.


We launched my cedar-stripper without incident that evening from my secondhand trailer. Then we took turns rowing around the lake, trolled a pike lure for a half-hour, and returned to the dock before sunset.


I couldn’t have felt more proud as passersby ogled the boat while I retrieved our truck and backed the trailer down to the pier. Minutes later, my women and several mourning boat worshipers averted their eyes and silently dispersed, leaving me to my suffering.


Why? The rusty old winch on my used boat trailer failed as I cranked the boat aboard. As the winch’s crank whirled like a biplane’s propeller, my beautiful boat rumbled back down the trailer, bounced off the rollers beneath its keel, struck a metal bracket, and gouged a 5-foot scar into its belly.


I eventually stopped sulking. After replacing the winch, repairing the hull, and building a carpeted bed atop the trailer, I relaunched and retrieved the boat without incident. We’ve had no more cursed launches or retrievals in the 15 years since.


The only thing now as routine as boat-ramp chores is obliging wooden-boat fans who stroll over to gawk and ask questions. Typically, aging fishermen and woodworkers of all ages check out the boat, and possibly my wife, when I leave Penny at the pier while retrieving the truck and trailer. She’s flattered by their attention, of course, and answers their FAQs with the informed authority of a museum guide.


But those guys aren’t my cedar boat’s primary fan base. Listen up, all young men who waste time trying to meet girls through dating apps or a cute puppy trolled through parks. If you want to meet smart, interesting women of all ages, take this advice from an old guy with 15 years of firsthand experience: Build a cedar-strip rowboat and drive around town, stopping often at parks, gas stations, rest stops, rural bars, fast-food restaurants and, occasionally, boat landings.


And make sure your boat’s bow is shiny, and well-crafted from multi-colored wood laminates. Yes, a cedar-strip canoe probably works, too, but I haven’t built one to test that assumption.


If you take my advice, you’ll delete your dating app and quit using your puppy for bait.


When you’re beside a cedar-strip boat, you feel magnetic. Women approach alone or with friends, ease forward, and pet its polished bow while inquiring about its wood, weight, finish, construction time and maintenance requirements. You won’t need to stammer through awkward pickup lines and the silly small talk of first encounters. Just listen and speak when spoken to.


Full disclosure: I don't know if women will provide their cell numbers or promise to text. Being an old guy who’s bald, wears glasses, sports a big nose and stands 5-foot-8, I realize women are there for my boat, not me.


I’m still waiting for one to request a row around the lake or a pull around the pond. Whether we’re visiting boat-side at a Kwik Trip in Eau Claire or a Wendy’s in Wyoming, their eyes stay fixed on my boat’s caned seats, not my eyes’ graduated lenses.


Still, I like the attention, no matter its safe detachment. The kind ladies treat me more personally than they would a store clerk helping them find allergy medicine. I assume they’re friendly because they know I neither care what’s inside their purse nor wonder which credit cards are current.


And my wife doesn’t distrust their intrusions, even though she’s witnessed but a fraction of them. She knows I’m harmless, as do my daughters who notice me blushing after a woman I’ve just met brushes her fingers down my spoon-billed oars.


Besides, women my daughters’ ages look right through me, and those my age won’t take me in if my wife throws me out. Older women prefer men to be visitors, not occupants. Or so I read on the internet.


Fair warning: I’ve only described how women act when I’m beside my cedar boat. They might act differently when inspecting another man’s wooden boat. And they might think twice about approaching if they peg someone a fugitive or flight risk, so look your casual best.


To ensure those who approach feel rewarded, be sure to build and maintain a boat they’ll admire upon close inspection. Make them want to pet it. If they’re of an appreciative nature, they’ll see a boat that reflects its builder’ skills and commitment.


One more note: In addition to women, old men and woodworkers, cedar-strip boats also attract pitiful souls who long wished to build a boat but never did. Surely they’re good people, but why reveal such forsaken intentions? No one admires anything that wasn’t built.


So build your wooden boat, folks. You’ll enjoy the process and you’ll cherish the results. Unlike a puppy, it won’t chew your chair, soil your rug, or die too soon. In fact, long after your boat leaves you behind, its new owner can restore its youth with a little sandpaper and fresh varnish.


Maybe they’ll even think of you while rowing it.

Leah and Patrick Durkin launch his cedar-strip rowboat in June 2006 on Waupaca’s Shadow Lake. — Patrick Durkin photo


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