His story of 12 years spent restoring Mudlark, a 1953 custom modification of L. Francis Herreshoff’s Meadow Lark sharpie design, leaves no doubt of his affection for the wooden boats he considers a valued heritage, but his devotion was sorely tried by the restoration of this one.
For a boat professionally designed and built, Mudlark suffered a surprising number of design and construction shortcomings, including a sailplan and lee board positioning that caused lee helm and significant problems with the hull. Therein lies the “ghosts” part of the book’s title. No haunts, just the author’s doing what probably every restorer of an older boat would love to do: ask questions of the designer/builder. Since Mudlark’s are deceased, Ian imagines the conversations…a feat he carries off convincingly.
There are several interwoven stories. One deals with choosing Mudlark in spite of her problems, another with the author’s appreciation of wooden boats. Then there is the aforementioned effort to understand the decisions made by those who shaped and built the boat, and the restorations that eventually meant taking the boat apart and rebuilding — a project the author undertook to do himself after retiring.
Devastatingly honest about his initial lack of skill or knowledge, Ian has a gift for putting into words the experiences of boat keeping and boat restoration to which anyone who has done either can relate. “I learned that there were limits to my time-tested belief that by promising the ridiculous I could achieve the impossible,” and “With age and experience I had learned the best can sometimes be the enemy of the good and that the good was often good enough” may sound familiar. He is justifiably proud of what he accomplished and says he wrote the book “to demonstrate that anybody can take on projects like this if they really want to…and (truly) that if I can do it anybody can do it.”
Ian Scott is a fine writer — articulate, passionate, organized, and possessed of that self-deprecating English humor that enlivens. Having finished Mudlark with the observation that “there will always be something to improve,” he and his wife sailed off to spend 2007 exploring shallow waters. We can hope the “ghosts” approve and another chapter in the old boat’s life will appear.