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  • Tristan Sess


Updated: May 29, 2021

Sailing, if you haven’t already guessed, is by far my biggest hobby. I’ll be sailing until the day I die, and hopefully, I will be able to take all of you sailing with me at one point or another. Every time I take someone out on the water for the first time, they almost always tell me that they wish they were able to come sail more. This isn’t a feeling that is unique to first time sailors. In fact, it gets worse. I would go as far as calling it an addiction, there is almost a dependency on it. I think that this feeling isn’t strictly sailing related, but also expands into just being on and around the water. Every summer I hear people say, “I need to get to the beach, it’s been almost a week.” Now if you’re not from the coast, this probably sounds pompous, but ask anyone from a coastal area, missing a weekend at the beach feels like a prison sentence.

After graduation I, like many others, still struggled to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. First it was following my degree, that lasted for about 5 seconds, then I tried to pursue law enforcement, followed by old summer jobs to make some money. Nothing was panning out and certainly none of the jobs I had were what I wanted to make careers out of. I started work on an oyster farm with a friend of mine in late fall and it ran through the winter. One day after coming off the water in waders in the freezing snow I just sat in my car for about an hour. I was moving to the city in a few months to live with my girlfriend and had no idea what I was going to do. I liked my job and being on the water, so I looked up jobs in marinas but nothing seemed like what I wanted. After a while I came across a boat building apprenticeship in Michigan but they required a candidate with experience, something I had none of. This led to the last career finding google search I’ll ever type. “Boat building school.”

I came across IYRS (International Yacht Restoration School) as the first result and kept looking for a while but always came back to them. They had it all, restoration from start to finish, an experience that started off assuming you knew nothing, instructors that were world renown, it seemed like the dream. In the course of an hour, I went from worrying I was never going to find a job that suited me, to realizing it had been in front of my face my whole life. The school is located in Newport, RI across the street from Gary’s diner. The exact same diner I had been eating breakfast at for just shy of a decade while sailing, and I never knew it was there. I had known many boat building parents growing up and never thought of it as something I wanted as a kid. I even grew up on a piece of property that use to be a boat yard just a few decades ago. They even took a barn from the property to the Maritime museum in Sayville, NY. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or any of that, but I still smile thinking about how everything that has led me here seems so blatantly obvious in hind sight.

We started off with the most foundational skills you could use. The first few days were all about shop safety, then we moved into sharpening our tools. We didn’t touch a piece of wood for the entire first week. Next, we learned how to shape wood joints and make wooden tools, trays and totes. Then, we began our lofting phase. We took an old Beetle Cat, the type of sailboat we are restoring, and took hull measurements (a lot of hull measurements) and began drawing the boat at full size on the ground. I only have 10 days left until the boat is fully restored and in the water, and lofting definitely tied the biggest knot in my brain. After the lofting was complete and we had three full size images of the boat from different angles (Plan, Profile and Body) we began the demolition phase and took the whole boat apart. It was off to the races from there. I’ll save all the details, because there are many, but we have learned how to make every aspect of a boat, not just a Beetle Cat. We have shaped hard woods and soft woods. Milled lumber into complex shapes staring with a plain board with bark on it. We use stem bending to fit pieces of wood into impossible positions. We laminate (glue) multiple thin strips into one to engineer wood exactly how we need. We learned the science behind fastener placement and selection. We’ve varnished and painted, used wood and metal lathes, the list goes on. I’m not trying to suck anyone in hear but here’s the website,

It’s safe to say I love what I’m doing ten times more than I did when I started. It becomes more of obsession with every skill and trick I learn. Our launch day is only 10 days away (June 5th) and we are in a scramble to finish everything. The boats are essentially done being built and we are just putting the finishing touches on to make it look beautiful, but those finishing touches take time. 8 coats of varnish on every piece of wood, three coats of topside paint, canvas, bottom paint, deck hardware, spar hardware and so on. We are on pace but with anything you’ve worked months on, when a deadline approaches tensions always get a little higher. I wanted to write a blog about where I go to school and how I got here because although it’s not about me sailing, it’s been quite the adventure on its own.


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