George and Dominic Zachorne’s boatshop in Wickford Rhode Island burned to the ground in the early hours of September Tenth.
My sense of loss echoes what I felt in the wake of the Notre Dame fire and has forced me to stop and consider what’s to come of this.
We, more than anyone, understand how irreplaceable a treasure was nestled into that old metal shed. The jumble of tools and models and photos – along with the many boats at various stages of construction and rebuilding – was the physical manifestation of a lifetime of exploration and dedication to traditional boatbuilding. A craft whose dwindling number of meaningful practitioners along this coast can be counted on two hands.
Their boatshop was a profoundly rare place. We’ve all been drawn to it, or someplace like it. At the same time, it seemed both that it had always been there and that it would be there forever.
Places like the
Zachorne Boatshop had once been common. For centuries upon centuries men quietly melded beauty with practicality, building boats in ramshackle buildings on the edge of some harbor….
Boatshops have been burning down forever. The loss of any boatshop was always a local tragedy; but there was a comfort in knowing that the knowledge, skill, timber and tools, and, most of all, the sensibility that turned all that into boats; was not limited to that one location.
It existed as part of a wider community. Another shop lay across the harbor or nestled in some cove around the next headland. Spare tools and spare hands would find their way to where they were needed. Those now forgotten fires weren’t the same kind of tragedy this is.
There are important museums with smaller collections…
This terrible misfortune contains the seed of opportunity. The sudden, seemingly irreparable destruction wrought by this fire triggers another powerful force inside us.
The Myth of the Phoenix is more than an old story. It has deep roots in the way life proceeds. Think of trees whose seeds must be exposed to fire before they can sprout.
Everywhere you looked…
What is gone is gone, although we do still hold some faith that Grace will have left behind some little miracles. Who knows what may yet be pulled unharmed from the wreckage?
The little things…
If we can harness the focus, the sharp relief this fire has thrown our way, we can forge a substantial response to this. This tragedy can bring us closer.
The Soul of Our Past…
“You don’t know what you’ve got ’till its gone…”
George & Dominic
Except in this case, for all that has vanished, all is not all lost. Most importantly we have George and Dominic themselves.
We need to find ways to focus and channel our energies.
Models and more…
Our first thought might be the need for a charity event, or establishing some kind of program or fund…. These have a place. I do hope we can find a way to hone these ideas and coordinate a response with George and Dominic.
We must also note that they and their clients who have materially lost from the fire are not its only victims. We are all left with a significant hole in our lives.
Dominic at the Lathe What do we do?
We have a chance to fill in for that brotherhood of boatbuilders who would once have come to lend a hand to the Zachornes. Most of us don’t have their particular expertise; but we can each contribute what we can. We can each add something to the next iteration of
George & Dominic Zachorne Boatbuilders and, in so doing, ensure that their way of life doesn’t vanish from our world.
We need to be clear that what was there can not just be rebuilt as it was. That’s the beauty and tragedy, the awesome responsibility we take on, when we deal in the priceless.
Our Heritage Embodied in Flesh & Blood, Wood & Metal
The Zachornes will decide how they want to proceed. The rest of us have our own parts to play. We can not only provide them with support, but we can use this moment’s shock and the opportunity this creates to make significant changes. Not only in the way we look at our own lives but in how we spend our time.
We can find ways to build on the strong bonds we already share. Bonds we may only now recognize after this horrific loss.
How do we tame the fire once again?
We cannot vainly attempt to recover what has been lost but together we
can begin to build upon what this loss has brought to our attention. We can recognize all we share, in love as well as loss. We can build and we can bring a new, sharply focused intent to bear.
At the Zachorne’s shop we found and worked on maintaining a form of vital community that has become vanishingly rare. What went on there, the boats, the collections, the conversations; these were not simply distractions. Those of us who share this deep love for boats and what they bring to life know that!
How do we rise to this occasion?
A Happier Day…
I suggest that we do this together. That we do this with the clarity and courage these flames have rekindled within us.
All life ever asks of us is to see the present moment as clearly as we can and then for us to take a next step.
Dominic at the wheel
Right now that next step is to see that they are not left to their grief alone.
The next step must also include a gathering of forces to see that what rises from these ashes is as vital, as honest, as true as what was consumed by those flames. This requires us all to come together. Talk together. Work together.
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Photos courtesy of Lloyd Feinberg, a dedicated regular at the
Lloyd before the lathe
I would also like to acknowledge two close friends who helped prepare this piece:
Irving C. Sheldon, Jr.
Shel led me to George and Domenic’s shop many times over the last years, drawing me out of my self-imposed isolation and exposing me to the world to be found within that magical place.
Christian and I have sailed life in company, though at a distance, for a long time. He has helped me form and shape this essay.