Lessons in humility through fancy work

The heart of a ship is its bell. Often the first piece of bright work to be polished and when a ship has reached the end of its life, it’s the last piece removed from the boat. Bells sound the meals, keep the time, and signal the change of watch. However, the bell can’t be wrung without a bell rope.   Hours of craft and work go into making a bell rope, as it is ultimately an expression of the crew’s pride in its vessel. This past week I’ve had the pleasure of crafting the new bell rope for the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

Before I had the fortune of being called to come play with the Agile crew I was most recently employed as a ship’s rigger for the Oliver Hazard Perry. It was my pleasure to be part of the building team for the first full rigged ocean going vessel of her size and class to be built in America in over a century. I met and worked with an amazing group of people, and learned another obscure skill set, namely how to splice and seize wire. Several weeks ago, after I had left the project, one of my friends sent me a picture of our ship’s broken bell rope. My response was if they furnished me with the materials to craft a new bell rope, and gave me a few weeks time I would make them one. Low and behold, within a couple weeks a package arrived in the mail from my dear friends Vincent and Elise, complete with a roll of #72 seine twine. The ball was in my court. When I was home last week I made sure to pick up my copy of the “Ashley Book of Knots” commonly referred to as the “Ashley’s” or “ABOK” (pronounced A-B-O-K).

And so began my lesson in  humility. I decided to work a variation of ABOK #3754 for my bell rope (The Ashley’s is an encyclopedic collection of knots which are usually referred to by their number in the book). Fancy work such as bell ropes and bag lanyards is something I used to do regularly and take great pride in. Although it having been over a year since my last project I had to re-learn a few things. My first effort took me about two school days to complete. The knot work looked fine however the sticks I had used for the cores of my sinnets were weak. One broke and the other would have quickly rotted after a soaking of fresh water such as from rain. But I was finished. Completed with my task grudgingly undertaken for an organization I no longer worked for. And then I had a conversation with @bear.

He pointed out the low quality of my cores, and how it wasn’t okay. And despite my making (bad) logical excuses for the low quality of my work. He kept digging and explained his frustration with me. How that sense of workmanship made him distrust me with certain work and projects. We had a really solid, open and supportive communication.

And then I went and worked in Paul’s garden for a couple hours and did some serious thinking. About why I was making it, how I had made the piece and why I was accepting of the standard of quality. I came out of the garden with a few realizations. The culture of “good enough” had been prevalent at my old job. The foreman had stopped caring and his attitude had slowly seeped into most aspects of the project, and that was part of the reason I had left. I had quit my job and moved here to work on getting away from those kinds of attitudes and personal pit falls and I was failing. I hadn’t really changed yet, I was still just being “good enough;” functional but not great. I  went back to Bear and told him of my garden thoughts, and thanked him for pushing me to be a better version of myself.

That evening I picked apart my two days of work. Not with sadness or regret but with a sense of joy for the practice. Knowing that when I remade it the next day it would be better, it would be something I could be proud of.

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Hailing from the gently rolling hills of South Eastern PA, my favorite hobby is collecting obscure skill sets. This desire has lead me on all sorts of adventures from art school to Ship rigging and sailing, with brief stops along the way making and selling candy and working in a print shop. I'm constantly devouring books and knowledge to embark on new projects and adventures, I hope you'll join me on the journey.

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