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Viking Ship
Viking Voyage Home
The Dream
Before the Launch
  Cast and Crew
  · Lisa Lattes
  · Barclay Jackson
  · Hodding Carter
  · Terry Moore, Captain
  · Robert Stevens, Master Boatbuilder
  · John Abbott
  · Doug Cabot
  · Homer Williams
  · Dean Plager
  · John Gardner
  - Allison Hepler
 
Getting Ready
  · The Food
  · The Gear
 
Reports from Greenland
  The Game
On the Voyage


Cast and Crew

 

It Takes a Village

(With apologies to Hillary and Hodding)

by Allison Hepler


There's something about a wooden boat. Whether it's the smell, the feel, the look or the tradition it represents, a wooden boat is like a magnet. "Snorri" was no exception. Members of the coastal community where she was built adopted her as one of their own. The locals arrived by car, bicycle, foot and boat to observe her transformation over nine months from a pile of so many boards and bent pieces of wood into the solid-looking vessel that consumed the boatshop space - and finally into a boat that floated. This community ownership took many forms over the months. From the perspective of one who was involved from its earliest stages, it was a pretty amazing thing to watch and it involved many different but overlapping "communities."

The builders were "family"

For some of us involved in the building from the very beginning, the boat soon felt like a long-time houseguest - sometimes patient, sometimes very demanding. Snorri was the subject of endless Friday-night-pizza conversations (when it did not require us to forego pizza night, that is). Most of the early builders had known and worked with each other for a long time. Rob Stevens hired Bob Miller, his best friend and fellow graduate of Lance Lee's Apprenticeshop, and Dave Foster, the man who'd taught Rob and Bob boatbuilding at the A-shop. Scott Smith, a local cabinetmaker, rounded out the early crew.

Photo credit: Robert A. Miller

Rob Stevens and Scott Smith look for frame stock in an oak tree

 
Rob hired more boatbuilders and carpenters, many of them graduates of various A-shops. Nearly all of them knew or knew of each other, respected each others' skills, and still learned from each other. Bob had taught John and Mike. Rob had been an apprentice with James. Phil and Lee apprenticed together. Within this community there was a lot of humor, the daily bellowing of the lunch call, when everyone had to stop, and dogs everywhere. There was also a lot of incredibly hard work and very long hours. Apprentices from the Rockland Apprenticeshop came down some weekends to add to the noise level by riveting.

The ship got all the attention

The long hours and hard work took their toll on the bodies of the builders, and also affected family members and friends as we coped with the bad days. This is not to say that we didn't take great pride in the project. It just meant that social events sometimes got curtailed, cancelled or changed at the last minute. If we wanted to see these guys, we had go down to the shop - preferably at lunch when they had time to talk to us.

Things were so hectic, they gave up answering the telephone in the boatshop. If you needed to talk to someone, you had to wait for the answering machine to pick up, then yell for whoever you needed to talk to. Hopefully, someone would hear you and answer the phone. Otherwise, you'd wait till the end of the day or until someone thought to listen to the machine.

 


Photo credit: Robert A. Miller

Launch morning at low tide - the boat has been dragged to the water's edge

Building "Snorri" was contagious to family and friends. Topher, a high school friend from Philadelphia completing a technical school program in carpentry, spent a week working with the crew. He said little, worked hard, and observed a lot. He loved being up here and learned a lot about the workplace environment. He later told his mother that this was the first place he'd worked where he felt he was the most mature person there. At the time, the builders ranged in age from 40 to 70. Topher, Bob's brother and nephew, Rob's mother, and Phil's kids all pitched in the week before the launch.

Visitors welcome, but no time to talk

But one of the most impressive things to witness was the growing number of visits from locals who'd heard about the Viking boat. Rob felt he couldn't (and didn't want to) keep interested folks from seeing the boat under construction. At the same time, he was working under a very tight deadline and a 100% penalty clause, so he fashioned a compromise - he put up a sign that welcomed people but gave them one rule to follow: "We don't have time to talk."

Most folks followed those instructions, although at least one person tried to bribe a worker into talking to him. In the weekends leading up to launch date, 200-300 visitors would come through the shop. Rob says it was probably an insurance agent's nightmare, but it made a wonderful afternoon outing for many.

People far removed from working with their hands loved the smell and the feel of the wood. The Governor of Maine stopped by one Saturday. When he called ahead, Deirdre told him he could come but he had to bring donuts down to the weekend crew (which he did). Locals also helped out in very tangible ways - people like Anne Marie Maguire, who called up one day with an offer of wood from her property. Folks seemed to like the idea of a piece of "their" property becoming part of the boat.

Photo credit: Robert A. Miller

The traditional bouquet of "launching flowers" has been fixed to the bow
Photo by Robert A. Miller

 

Interest came from near and far

Many school kids came down and teachers occasionally prevailed upon Bob or Rob to take a few minutes to explain something about Vikings. It also had international appeal - a group of American third-graders living on a US Army base in Germany corresponded regularly with Rob and Bob, sending drawings and asking questions.

The variety of media also added to the mix of "regulars." Generally, they appreciated the need to stay out of the way as much as possible. And we loved the attention: lots of hurried phone calls to family and friends minutes before a local story appeared on the evening news, buying 12 copies of the paper that had a story or photos, last-minute learning how to tape the TV from your VCR (or getting friends like Seth to do it for you).

Launch day was party day

Much has been written about launch day, and the images, both video and still, capture the crowd and the spirit that was clearly present all day. Grins everywhere. All sorts of watercraft. Helicopters. Kids on the shoulders of taller adults. Rob's sister overheard countless people in the local supermarket that morning talking about how they were packing picnics and heading down to Hermit Island for the boat launch.

As I watched this party swirling around me, still not quite believing that the boat was in the water but so very pleased, I realized how cool it was to see Rob take on this project head-on and to pull it off with his own unique style, skill, and dogged determination. Many people were presumably capable of directing this project, but it was our friend Rob who did it. It's always neat when you see your friends take on a daunting task and then do it. What was even more amazing to me was that he did so much of this in the public eye and it didn't seem to faze him.

 


Photo credit: Robert A. Miller

An hour before the launch, the crowd waits for the tide to lift the boat from its cradle

Connection by Web site

Finally, once headed for Greenland, the Web site kept us connected to the crew. It gave us information and made us feel like they were not so far away. Some of us were lucky enough to be online and we provided for those who were not. I continually forwarded journal entries to Mary, a friend in Philadelphia whose computer wasn't powerful enough to access the web site. Phil and Alida called for nightly updates on Snorri's progress. Conversations in the parking lots of local convenience stores always included shared information about the trip. Like I said, it became a long-time house guest. I'll be glad when she's back in the New World once again.

We even shared a sense of loss

The past several months have only heightened this sense of community for me personally. My husband was Bob Miller, who was killed suddenly in a work accident six months ago. In thinking about his full but too-short life, I recognize how very lucky we all were to have been involved in building this boat. While he was working on it (and often while he was very exhausted - very few pieces of wood on this boat were small and Bob was not a very big guy), he told anyone who wanted to know that this was the best project he'd ever worked on.

I envy people who experience the world around them as they live it. For such a large and (to me) unwieldy boat, there was some amazing woodworking that got done. Bob also got to work with his best friend once again. That was wonderful to see, as was the camaraderie formed by working with other old friends and some new ones.

The shared sense of loss among us when Bob died revived that feeling. We are also very lucky to have all the photos that Bob took throughout the building. Attentive to the fine details that craftsmen and women create and also able to capture the joy of sailing her, he sold many of them to various magazines and took great pride in his fledgling career in photography. Those images are now a permanent part of his legacy, being able to re-visit what he saw as he looked through the lens.

Photo credit: Robert A. Miller

Hodding Carter and one of his daughters do a little "journaling" on launch day

 
Wooden boatbuilding can be contagious

The whole thing still amazes me. I've been part of the world of wooden boatbuilding now for fifteen years, and while it has always intrigued our close friends and family members, it always felt pretty local. Not only has this Viking boat captured the imagination of this community, but now Hollywood has been alerted to the allure of wooden boatbuilding. This month, Kevin Costner gets to play a boatbuilder in a film being shot here in Phippsburg!