Writer Lawrence Cheek built a boat and learned how to chart his life course.
Lawrence Cheek was an El Paso kid and Tucson writer, and the last thing on his mind when wife Patty was transferred to Seattle in 1995 was building his own sailboat.
First the couple tried kayaking at Orcas Island, then Larry decided to build a kit kayak. Then he took a kayak-building class, and finally, in 2005, he set to building a 13.5-foot sailing dinghy from plans drawn by Olympia designer Sam Devlin.
The result is a beautiful little craft bluntly dubbed Far From Perfect, and a beautiful little book not just about the project but about life in all its leaky complications, “The Year of the Boat” (Sasquatch, $24).
By the time he was done, Cheek had spent three times the money and four times the hours he’d estimated, but got not just a boat but a philosophy and self-acceptance.
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“Perfectionism amounts to paralysis,” the 59-year-old concluded from his new home in Langley, on Whidbey Island, where he moved after building the boat in Issaquah. “Today I’m more satisfied with myself and my work.”
This was no small thing for a man who battled alcoholism and the demons that haunt any freelance writer who compares himself to the greats. Cheek’s boatbuilding process required innovation, compromise and a grappling with the whole idea of how-good-is-good-enough, since mistakes inevitably crept in. When he took the boat to the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, visitors loved the name.
“It was the smartest choice in the construction process because it relieved the pressure,” he said. He took heart from a New Yorker cartoon: “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.”
The boat’s completion was also testament to the strength of Cheek’s 38-year marriage and the determination that finished not just the boat but 16 books, most about the desert Southwest. During “The Year of the Boat” he juggled writing, boatbuilding and travel to El Paso to care for his dying father. “It was an extremely stressful time,” he said.
“I was daunted from the first day to the last. I’ve never been cursed with overconfidence. But one thing I do have is perseverance.”
Hey, Larry, the boat looks gorgeous, a little red rocket with just enough flaws to make it real.
And now that it’s done, he’s of course appropriating the new garage to build a 19-footer.
“I don’t think my wife ever expects to get a car in here.”