A British journalist documents the two years he spent building a boat for his young daughter, whom he had at 58 during a second marriage. A mix of memoir, boatbuilding history, and practical guide, How to Build a Boat adds up to a love letter from father to daughter.
Gornall's tone is drily funny and always self-deprecating when it comes to the project at hand. His research, however, is as serious as his journalistic background would suggest. The writer's love for style is evident ... The result is a deeply moving intersection of the personal—Gornall's absolute devotion to his daughter—with the practical. This is not quite a how-to manual, but readers with aspirations to fashion their own clinker-built boat would have a headstart upon reading. By the end, this self-described 'soft-handed, deskbound modern man with few tools, limited practical abilities, and an ignominious record of DIY disaster' has achieved something truly remarkable, and possibly moved his reader to tears. If the boat is a gift to Phoebe, this book is another ... a charming, heartfelt love letter to both boat and child.
Gornall, a romantic, chooses the classic, ancient clinker [boat] design, about which the reader learns far more than we do about his wife and children. But then again, the book is not titled 'How to Build a Family.' Gornall loves to sail the seas of history. He traces each aspect of the design back to its origins ... For a landlubber, the nomenclature is dizzying ... Gornall has an eye for detail—essential for a boatbuilder, but for the readers, the details can become a distraction ... there are times while reading How to Build a Boat that one thinks Melville had a gift for brevity by comparison ... From countless mistakes, ounces of spilled blood and gallons of sweat comes something simple and enduring; practical yet elegant. Per aspera ad astra. This is where Gornall shines ... It is when he directly addresses Phoebe that Gornall truly sets sail. He explains his quixotic, idiosyncratic, obsessive-compulsive decision to build her a boat with life lessons that are simply beautiful ... After reading How to Build a Boat I still don’t know a dinghy from a dory. But as a father I am grateful that a dad has put into words and wood the fathomless love a parent has for a child.
With delightful self-deprecating wit and the enthusiasm of a devotee, Gornall recalls his massive undertaking, celebrating the kindred spirits who signed on to help him on his way, the history of traditional boatbuilding, and even the mercurial attention his daughter pays to the project. With all the pitfalls and setbacks Gornall experiences along the way, his commitment to his one-of-a-kind gift makes for an inspiring journey.