A ketch named Destiny
By Sam Low
For nine years, Rock Haslet of Chappaquiddick has been building a boat he's dreamed of since 1978. There's one little detail that might keep her from being launched this summer as planned: she's got to be perfect.
I first met Rick Haslet on a cold November morning in 2005. I found him pushing against a long curved board – a cockpit coaming - to see how it merged with the deck of his 42 foot ketch, Destiny. It was cold in the shed at Martha's Vineyard Shipyard so Rick's speech was accompanied by gossamer white puffs.
“I am very particular,” he told me. “This boat is a one time thing and I want everything to be right.”
Rick had begun constructing Destiny in West Tisbury on land owned by Ben Reeves and Cappy Sterling. He built a temporary boat shed and a workshop which he would give to them in exchange for being allowed to work there for five years. At the end of the fifth year he was still not finished so they gave him one extra year. That was nine years ago.
“I hope to have Destiny launched in the summer of 2006,” he told me, but I could see there was a lot to do and if he continued to take the kind of care he was taking with the cockpit coaming there was no way in hell he would finish in time. He tried to show me the problem by pushing the board in and out a half inch or so.
“That is how it should look. That looks right to me,” he said.
I couldn't see the difference but Rick tore out a week's work and started over.
Over the next eighteen months, I visited Rick to monitor his progress. Rick always answered my questions in detail, complementing me by assuming knowledge I didn't often possess. He always appeared elegant even in paint stained work clothes. He's soft spoken. A man of balance, Rick listens both to National Public Radio and to rightwing talk shows so he can understand an issue from both sides.
Rick is Quality Control Manager for Martha's Vineyard Shipyard. His job is to check each of 400 boats that are launched every spring to see that everything is ready for her owner. It's a perfect fit for a finicky boat builder.
Rick's first boat was a 22 foot Alberg Sea Sprite. He bought a bare hull and finished the vessel himself, then sailed her to the Bahamas . He was 22 years old. “I was constantly redesigning it to make it better,” he recalls. His next boat was a Herreshoff 28 ketch which he sailed from 1978 to 1990. “The whole time I was sailing that boat I was designing Destiny.”
He worked for seven years for Dick Newick, the famous Vineyard designer of, among many other multihulls vessels, Moxie - a trimaran that won the OSTAR across the Atlantic race in 1980. In Newick, Rick found a mentor and among Vineyard boat builders he found a community.
Among his friends are Laura and Randy Hacker Durbin who built their own 40 foot ketch in a field in West Tisbury; Duane and Myrtle Case, who launched their hand-built sloop in 2004 and are fitting her out for extended cruising and Dennis White and Julie Robinson who took ten years to sail their Herreshoff 28 around the world, giving birth to two children on the way. “There are people in the woods building boats that I don't even know of,” Rick says. “It's definitely a community.” Particularly important to building Destiny is Rick's friend and employer Phil Hale. Phil was best man at Rick's wedding and has provided a place for the ketch to be built at Martha's Vineyard Shipyard.
“Vineyard Haven is the wooden boat capital of the East Coast,” Rick went on to say. “If I have a problem, I can talk to a dozen or so shipwrights who know how to solve it. Every now and then I'll ask Nat Benjamin for advice and he always finds his way over here. This is the perfect place to build a wooden boat.”
Destiny is not all wood – there's about 200 gallons of epoxy in her. The hull is “strip planked” with inch and a quarter strips of western red cedar, each glued to the other. This technique allowed Rick to build the boat himself because you don't need massive timbers to provide strength. “I could do it all with small tools,” he says. For added strength, Rick put bronze ring nails every eight inches – staggered throughout the vessel's length. He laid two layers of fiberglass by hand on the inside, two outside and six on the keel and stem.
Laminated wood is extremely strong. If you tap Destiny's hull she rings like a bell. “In traditional wooden boats the whole thing works and moves because every piece is separate,” Rick says. “Here nothing should move. It's almost like welding steel.” Inside Destiny, the need for strength is expressed in even mundane things, like the bookshelves, which are fashioned like box beams to be an integral part of the ship's hull. Naturally, given Rick's proclivities, they are also very beautiful.
Rick is mainly self taught but you wouldn't know it from the work on display in Destiny's main saloon - maple paneling and cherry trim and cabin sides of Silver Bali from Surinam . Everything is lovely to the eye and hand.
“The basic design is mine. I knew what I wanted her to look like, the sheer line, the bow, the stern, but I didn't want to spend all this time and not have her be right so I asked Nat Benjamin to draw the ship's sections.”
The sections are slices of the boat through the hull perpendicular to her length – and they define her basic shape, where she will be concave and convex, full and narrow – and hence how she will sail.
“I had sailed Nat's boats before and like the way they handle – his designs are very seaworthy,” Rick Says.
Destiny's mission is to carry Rick and his wife Chrissie across many oceans in the next decade or so. In the middle of February, 1997, they were married by John Ally in Destiny's unfinished hull. The setting was symbolic of their shared dream of sailing the world.
At the wedding, Chrissie's father said in his toast: “I am so happy that Chrissie finally found someone who likes to travel as much as she does.”
“Chrissie is a real adventurer,” Rick says. “She shipped aboard a shrimp boat out of North Australia for six months as a deck hand. That is really rough water. She was born in New Zealand and Kiwi's are always on the water.”
Like most Kiwis, Chrissie went on a walkabout to see the world. She cooked for a cattle crew so far in the Australian out back that the nearest store was 600 miles away, then she went sightseeing in Southeast Asia and on to Colorado where she ski bummed at Breckenridge. There she met Lisa Smith who invited her to the Vineyard for a visit. “I got off the ferry and went up to Le Grenier to meet her,” Chrissie recalls. “I put down my backpack and Robin came over and offered me a job.” Chrissie stayed on for the summer and, after traveling some more in Europe , eventually returned to the island to settle.
Chrissie started an interior decorating business – called, appropriately, Destiny Interiors. She sewed all the cushions for Nat Benjamin's schooners Juno and Rebecca. In her Chappy studio she sells shutters and shades and creates almost anything out of fabric for the best homes on the island. A perfectionist, she does all the work herself which leads to long days and a steady seventy hour work week. “She goes to work before I leave in the morning and she works until I come home every day,” says Rick. “She is very dependable. If she says it will be done on February 13th at eight o'clock it will be done even if she has to work all night.”
“We're both like that,” says Chrissie, “we couldn't be together if we weren't.”
They live off Pip'n Lane – a dirt road in Chappaquiddick – on three acres of rolling scrub pine. Naturally, Rick built most of the house and the small studio nearby where Chrissie does her sewing.
“Chappy is wonderful,” Rick says. “We love it here, the people and the land. I get a feeling of peace every night when I come home on the Chappy ferry. Chrissie and I could live anywhere. We have been all over the world and we both chose the Vineyard.”
Destiny's launch date has slipped so many times the couple is leery of saying just when she will be finished. I asked Chrissie if she ever got upset with Rick for being such a perfectionist.
“No, because I'm the same way. I'm proud of him. I only get frustrated when he doesn't give himself credit. He comes home and says, ‘I think its going to be strong enough.' And anyone who has looked at the boat knows that it is way, way overbuilt.”
Rick sometimes points out features of Destiny that I can't really see. He sees curves blending into other curves, for example, repetitions of shapes in the coach roof, hatches, bulwarks, combings. He sees them because he has to see them. I had imagined a set of blueprints for every piece of the boat, but Destiny's shape exists only in Rick's mind. In some ways he has no real idea of what each part will look like until he has created patterns on his workbench and pressed them into place to conform to the half finished boat itself, seeking shapes that have lingered in his mind from all those miles of sailing imperfect boats.
Destiny is like a piece of music - a symphony of curves composed to a dominant key - and all the notes must repeat, or make counterpoint or terminate in harmony. One day he said: “look at the curves that are just here,” pointing to the stern area port side, “you have the sheer (the curve fore and aft) of the cap rail and the sheer of the rub rail and the tumble home of the hull (the curve athwart ship) and they all are different and yet they all look good together.”
When I first met him I thought his pursuit of perfection was slightly lunatic but I eventually realized I had been tone deaf to the song he was composing.
Sitting near Destiny's stern and looking forward he says, “It is pretty emotional looking at this boat. When you start you have an idea of what you want and you try to keep the idea in front of you all along. It's coming out even better than I thought it would.”
He has often said that it took so long to build Destiny because he was doing everything for the first time – but he might also have said that it was because he was doing it for the last time. Any professional shipwright wants everything to be perfect – but there will always be other boats so the few imperfections in the one he is building will be corrected in the next. At some point he has to say to himself, “good enough, I've got to move on.” But for Rick, Destiny is the only boat he will build so “good enough” is not part of his vocabulary.
“The last couple of years he's been ready for it to be done,” says Chrissie, “because he has noticed aches and pains that he didn't used to have but he has finish her to the design he has in his head. He wouldn't be happy with it otherwise.”
Building Destiny is much more than a preparation for something to come – it's an essential part of the experience. “Think how many hours went into her,” Rick says. “The enjoyment of the boat will be magnified a hundred times by the fact that I built and designed her.” When Rick talks this way, his eyes rove over glistening wood and his hand unconsciously brushes away a smudge on the varnish. “Destiny – it means freedom to me,” he says. “I think that maybe in a former life I died at sea. I don't know why, I just think that. I have a tremendous respect for the sea. It was my destiny to come back and live on the sea.”
Chrissie and Rick's plan is a little different than most sailors who cast free of land and set out for an endless voyage. Each year, they will spend six months sailing and six on the Vineyard. It's partly out of necessity – they need to earn money – and partly out of fondness for the island. It's also because Chrissie loves her small business and doesn't want to give it up.
If all goes well, Destiny will be launched late in the fall of this year. Then Rick will work on the spars, sails, booms and running rigging. In the summer of 2007, they will sail her locally, on weekends and evenings, and voyage to Maine on a shakeout cruise. That winter they will journey into the Caribbean , returning to the Vineyard for one more summer to “fill the till” as Rick puts it. Then, in 2008, they will sail over the horizon bound for the South Pacific.
Ultimately Rick and Chrissie will reach New Zealand where Chrissie was born. They have found the place where they will eventually settle.
“ Great Barrier Island is about twice the size of Martha's Vineyard ,” Rick says. “There's no power there. Everyone is self sufficient. It's a beautiful place. There are miles and miles of deserted beaches. And it's not far from Chrissie's family, so I think that's were we will settle down. But not for a while. I think Destiny will carry us a long ways before we finally tie her up and go ashore.”