{ Category Archives: Micro-Expedition }

Micro-Expedition, Sessions 12 and 13

The Gust

“The Gust”, Willem van de Velde, 1680

The bad news is that we had to cancel our final voyage as planned, due to a foul weather forecast and the state of completion of the students’ watercraft projects. The good news is that we’ve agreed to complete all vessels for a March 19 launching, the first day of the Spring Break, aligning us with a full moon, rising at 7:33 PM, just as the sun is setting. Also, the tides will be in sync with the direction of our journeys to and fro, with a 6.1′ high tide just as the moon is at its zenith around midnight. Should be a dramatic occasion.

Meanwhile, several of the students are nearly finished with their projects, particularly the SUP’s and folding dinghies. Grace has been making wonderful progress with her portable catamaran and has proven to be a remarkably capable builder. The delay in our plans will allow the students to be more thorough in detailing their vessels, with more time to make float tests and the inevitable adjustments obviated thereof. I remain confident in the group’s ability, enthusiasm and motivation to carry on, and am proud of all they’ve accomplished over the fall semester as part of my CCA Studio:Atelier, Micro-Expedition. Here are some highlights of progress made over the past two weeks: Continue Reading »

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Micro-Expedition, Sessions 10 and 11

Grace prepares the chine logs for her portable catamaran project

While the students continue to make admirable progress on their water craft, they are beginning to understand why I was so eager to encourage simplicity of design and execution early in the semester. I’ve made pains not to discourage anyone brave and bold enough to develop their own unique hull shapes, knowing that the desire to test an idea would fuel the process, and I’m especially proud of those students who were willing to take a risk, risk being the currency of exploration.

Whether they will be able to complete their craft in time for the planned excursion is of less importance at this point, though most students are in a position to finish if they bear down on it over the remaining two weeks. I originally conceived of Micro-Expedition as an exemplar of my adage, “all vessels originate with an imagined voyage“. To this end, my primary aim has been to demonstrate the importance of knowing where you are going before designing and making anything, and learning how to be your own best client in the process.

sarah fins
Sarah has shaped some handsome fins for her scow-end SUP Continue Reading »

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Back to the Stump

JohnBurroughsFishingafoot and afloat

Excerpt from ‘Afoot and Afloat’ by American naturalist John Burroughs. ‘A Summer Boating Trip’, Burroughs’ account of a boyhood adventure, was first published in 1881. You may read ‘Afoot and Afloat’ in its entirety here.

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Micro-Expedition, Sessions 8 and 9

jack and willey

Jack and Willey broke out the hand planes to joint a long stringer of Sitka spruce

The boats are shaping up and the students are getting fired up for our journey next month. Here’s a little gallery from the past two weeks of Micro-Expedition, the Atelier Studio I am teaching this semester at CCA as the Wornick Distinguished Visiting Professor of Wood Arts: Continue Reading »

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An Exploratory Paddle down the Estero


Idyllic launch where Estero Americano meanders along ranches below Valley Ford

Over the weekend I made an exploratory paddle down Estero Americano to the coast. The tides are in a similar phase as the dates of our planned Expedition, so I wanted to make a trial run to see what the CCA students might expect in terms of timing and conditions as we begin to plan our voyage. With minimal preparation or provisions, it took me just under 2 hours to paddle a yellow 12′ plastic kayak about 6 miles one way without stopping. For the first leg, the narrow slough winds through grazing meadows and marsh, rife with ring-necked duck, egret and coot.


I chased a flock of ring-necked duck to the open water

Before opening up to a broad channel where I first encountered a light but steady headwind, the water was a still, copper brown from agricultural run-off. The open chop revealed floating stands of kelp and sea weed, indicating the beginnings of a tidal surge from the sea after early rains. Sea gulls, hawks and heron displaced the ducks and the water took on the frothier, oxygenated blue-green of the sea. About half a mile from the coast I heard the roar of a beach break, bucked a weak tidal flow, and encountered frolicking otter and curious sea lion.


first glimpse of the beach break along the Pacific, where the Estero drains at high tide

I beached the boat about 1/4 mile from the mouth where Estero Americano seasonally drains to the Pacific and hiked to scout the shoreline for natural shelter from wind and wave. My tide log showed that the six and a half foot high tide had just peaked, but waves were still washing over the dunes into the brackish waters of the Estero. I spent about an hour exploring the dunes and climbing rocky cliffs to get a glimpse of the shoreline before the fog rolled in, signaling my departure. With a slight tailwind, I paddled back to the launch in about an hour and a half, despite my muscle fatigue and the enclosing fog. Continue Reading »

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Micro-Expedition, Session 7

building jig
Jack and Willey made a lightweight building jig for their shallow kayaks

We’re at our half-way point in the semester and the majority of the class are on track to complete their projects with time to spare before we make our voyage just before the winter solstice. Everyone was fully focused and hard at work in the benchroom during our last 6 hour session, and the mood remains productive, light-hearted and cooperative. It actually works out well that some students are a little further along because they are able to give a leg up to the students who need it. To keep spirits high, I brought bagels and cream cheese for the students, who quietly munched as we started things off with the first of a series of discussions about Expedition logistics. I plan to make this a regular practice.

luke and susan
Luke and Susan laminating scarf joints on their kayak panels

scarf joints2
bamboo fiber cloth is stretched over the scarf seams before resin is applied

sup skeleton
Peter has the backbone nearly set up for his ‘Deadrise SUP’

To follow the progress of Micro-Expedition, the Atelier Studio I am teaching this semester as Visiting Wornick Professor of Wood Arts at California College of the Arts (CCA), please click here and scroll down.

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Micro-Expedition, Session 6

estero americano

Estero Americano meanders westward towards Bodega Bay from Valley Ford.

I’m proud of the progress the students have made in constructing their craft in anticipation of our voyage on Estero Americano. They’ve been working like a true Atelier, dutifully helping each other cut, mill and shape their stock, and the little boats are nearly ready to frame up. As we approach the middle of the semester, we’ll begin to take stock of the final project, a 2-3 day paddle down Estero Americano to the Pacific Coast. Each week for the remainder of the semester, we’ll spend about an hour planning the trip, addressing issues ranging from safety and food, to clothing and shelter, natural history and project documentation.

tide log

I’m hoping some of the class will stay an extra night to see the lunar eclipse.

Weather provided, we plan to leave the weekend of December 18, paddle to the coast, set up camp, with the majority of students returning the following day. I’m hoping a core of students will want to spend an extra night to see the lunar eclipse on the full moon of December 20, which rises just before sunset. This week, I plan to make an exploratory paddle on the Estero, which should be navigable after the recent rains.

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