The Artist Within: Shipyard of Hope


“A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Chinese proverb attributed to Lao Tzu

“A journey of self-discovery begins with a single step…but so does falling down a flight of stairs.”

Kathy Lette, Anglo/Australian author

My journey began in 1988 when I opened a box containing the ingredients for a wooden model of the HMS Victory, an eighteenth-century British warship.  

The box held hundreds of various kinds of wood strips, small pieces of plywood, assorted sizes of wood dowels, spools of thread, a container of copper plates to cover the hull, and many small parts made of cast metal. There were also fifteen pages of instructions written in Italian, with translations into French, Spanish, and English.

Within days, I took the first steps to build the ship, and labored about six months on it until life got in the way. I took a new job and had to set it aside for a season.

The “season” turned into thirty years due to two more jobs and three moves. In December, 2019 I rediscovered the battered hull of HMS Victory in a plastic storage tub in my attic.  I decided that, in retirement, the journey would begin again. So, I took the first step and set up a workshop in my “man cave”.

Then Covid hit. The isolation of the pandemic plus retirement gave me the gift of time; time to spend several hours a day in the “shipyard”.  I learned new skills in miniature woodworking; in mixing colors and applying paint with brushes and an airbrush; in three-dimensional thinking; and numerous occasions to sharpen my fine-motor skills.

I also learned patience in the innumerable mistakes along the way. Too often, I had to go back in my journey and re-do stages of the work. Sometimes the path was obscure because the instructions were so cryptic that I had to guess where pieces fit.

And, finally, I had to live with my mistakes. The imperfections in my work—most of which would not be noticed by a casual observer—would always be an integral part of this work of art. Times where I chose the wrong procedure to install a piece; flaws in the fabric due to my ineptitude or inexperience; or simply knowing the ship was imperfect because I was imperfect gradually became a gift of grace to me.  It was okay as it was; as I made it. The ship was still beautiful, a wooden sculpture of which I am proud. 

Many times I found myself looking up from the bottom of a “flight of stairs”. The build taught me patience with myself as I super-glued my fingers together or cut myself with an X-Acto knife (I actually left my DNA in this model!). Patience was learned by gluing the three thousand miniature copper plates to the hull; in tying four thousand tiny clove hitches to form the ratlines (which are the rope ladders on the masts); and laying hundreds of boards to form the decks.

It is not an exact replica of the Victory as it looked at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but it is my best effort. And, as is true so often in life, our best work is more than enough. 

My hope is that the model will bring joy to my family for generations. After all, it is a gift to them to use and keep as they see fit. I envision my granddaughter, born in the plague year of 2020, raising a glass on New Year’s Eve on 2099 at age 79 and welcoming in the new century. I would hope the in the corner of her home is my ship model that has been her delightful companion on her life’s journey.

Author’s Note: This fifth entry to Emmanuel Voices blog series, The Artist Within, is by C. Neal Goldsborough, a retired Episcopal Priest, Naval Chaplain, icon painter & artisan. Neal resides in Charlottesville, VA.

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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