by Ross Lillistone - Esk, Queensland - Australia
A Vision of Perfection
The middle-age man stood quietly, brush in one hand
and paint container in the other. He was carefully
observing the hull of his boat, which stood upside-down
on a pair of saw horses, the smoothly sanded timber
hull glowing in the late afternoon light.
The construction of this boat had taken the best
part of eighteen months of his spare time, but seemed
to have taken up all of his spare thinking time! Throughout
the man’s adult life, he had been planning to
build a boat, but the pressures of work and family
had meant that his fiftieth birthday had passed before
he had commenced making sawdust.
Highs and lows predominated his emotions when the
boat was under construction. During the years of planing
for the project, the man had formed a vision of perfection
– he had gone over every detail in his mind,
and being a careful and methodical person, he was
sure it would all go together just as he had anticipated.
A stack of books and magazines provided witness to
his thorough approach, and many of his friends had
It had therefore come as a surprise to him when things
didn’t work out exactly according to his imagined
perfection. Over the months he learned to come to
terms with broken screws, incorrectly measured pieces
of timber, batches of epoxy which went off too fast
(and some which didn’t go off fast enough).
He came to discover that no matter how much effort
he put into the construction, perfection was not within
his grasp. No matter what element of the construction
he attempted, he found himself wishing that he could
do it all a second time in order to get a perfect
The desire for perfection, and his inability to achieve
it on the job, almost defeated him. However, a friend
had pointed out to him that as long as a person tries
to do a perfect job, the average standard of work
will always be impressive. With that in mind, the
man didn’t become depressed if his jigsaw strayed
from the perfectly marked line – he just concentrated
on the rest of the cut and made sure that the average
of the cut was on the line.
There were hundreds of processes he came across during
the construction – many surprises lurked, just
waiting for him to relax his guard. What he discovered
was that while it is impossible to attain perfection,
a determined effort will yield good results. The satisfaction
gained from knowing that his glue joints were sound,
and that he could work around mistakes, eventually
convinced him that his boat was going to be a good
one. The materials were of high quality, and he knew
that the boat would last a lifetime.
Towards the end of the structural work a new and
pressing problem arose – when was enough enough?
Each time he sanded or scraped a deposit of epoxy,
he found another blob which hadn’t been seen
before, and stood proud of the smooth surface of the
plywood. Everytime he put the “final”
application of filler into cracks and nail holes,
he discovered unseen blemishes after the “final”
coat was sanded. It sometimes seemed that he could
work for another year just on the sanding and filling…
In the end, he made the decision to apply the first
coat of paint – regardless of imperfections.
So here he stood, paint brush at the ready, and the
result of a year-and-a-half of work in front of him.
Taking a deep breath (through his protective respirator,
of course) he commenced painting. What a relief! Once
started, he knew that he had crossed a threshold,
and once again, having fallen short of perfection
had not been the end of the world.
As the painting progressed, his mood lightened, and
he found himself enjoying the process of working the
thinned primer/undercoat into the smooth surface of
the boat. The paint was absorbed deeply by the wood
fibre, and although the painted surface showed up
previously unseen imperfections, he knew that the
end result was going to be good. This boat had not
been slathered in epoxy (the epoxy had been used chiefly
as an excellent adhesive, and also used in matrix
with glass cloth in areas which needed reinforcement),
so the man was able to gain satisfaction from seeing
the paint lock itself into the grain of the timber.
He had, of course, epoxy-sealed the insides of the
buoyancy tanks, and a few other areas which would
not be well ventilated when the boat was in storage.
These areas were not subject to ultra violet radiation,
so he was happy to leave the epoxy un-painted.
A couple of weeks later saw the same man surveying
the end result of all of his labours. The painting
was finished – all eight coats counting the
priming and undercoating – and he was able to
see what his friend had meant about the “average”
of the job. Sure, there were imperfections, but the
boat gave off a distinct feeling of quality. The lines
were highlighted by a subtle combination of colours,
and the depth of the high-quality, single-pack paint
could be seen. In fact, the man was pleased that he
had been unable to attain a perfectly smooth surface,
as the boat could now be seen to have been hand-made,
and it was obvious that the building material was
Some of the glue joints could be seen, but there
were no gaps to hold water that could otherwise induce
rot. The man knew that even though the finish was
not perfect, all of what really mattered had been
done without compromise – the glueing, the fastening,
the marking-out and the painting – all had been
done properly, and with the best materials. Structurally,
this boat was really good.
Perfection is unattainable, but if you pay attention
to what really matters, you will end up with a boat
of high quality. However, boat building should carry
a health warning – it is highly addictive.
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