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Diary of a Sailmaker’s Apprentice

Photo courtesy of the sail loft

Photo courtesy of the sail loft

Feb. 24

The first year of my apprenticeship concludes in 10 days.

I have assimilated. I have learned the ways. Like Dian Fossey, I extended a hand and “Digit” the gorilla plopped his palm in mine. I’m not saying we are bunch of mountain primates although, like those majestic creatures, we sailmaking women are rare, strong and have a way of communicating that takes time to understand.

One of the first things I learned is that it can’t hurt to look pretty. At the loft, this doesn’t mean wearing foundation, the latest fashion, even applying deodorant. When we are wearing something special, in fact, our customers might not even realize it. The point is, we, your sail loft sisters, will notice your hair is down, clean and brushed, that you acquired new dangly earrings, or that you have a new sports bra to be envied.

Even as I write this, I wonder why we flock to one another when we arrive at work with some new accessory, however small. I can think of two reasons. One is, the challenge of sail construction in close quarters can be tough. Our extra bit of color and sparkle helps open a door that allows us to exchange an extra bit of love as the day begins. Another is, most of us would pluck a shard of sea glass from the shore and regard it as a gem. We are wild women and appreciate small treasures because we would rather heel into the lap of waves upon a hull than list in the lap of luxury.

Well, now I feel awkward. The business we work for is woman-founded, woman-operated (mostly) and the first thing I mention about my year here has to do with prettiness. Shouldn’t I say something about how my bosses have turned a male-dominated industry on its head by producing some of the world’s best sails with our code of strict professionalism and super strength? I suppose I was merely thinking, “Why state the obvious?” Besides, every sailor knows prettiness and functionality go hand in hand. The hard-fast numbers behind hull, rigging and sail design are noticeably neat and shapely when expressed in a well-built vessel. To a trained eye, which I hope one day to possess, a tiny flaw may indicate a larger problem with structure and performance.

But here is my point: I am at the stage in my apprenticeship where I am aware of how much I don’t know, but I feel the beginnings of fluency in the language of my work. That holds the promise of greater understanding, of solidifying skills. That language is more than the nomenclature you may find in a textbook. My boss has designed a product and my predecessors have developed a way of building it that exists nowhere else. As such, there is a culture here of loving and pretty perfectionists. I can only hope now that I have learned that, I can truly be one of them one day.

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