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Setting sail in a handmade boat

By Rachel Jaeger

A thought crossed the mind of Jim Schorn of Mankato, a former prosthetics designer for dentistry, to build a patriotic sailboat out of marine plywood after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Jim sat down at his kitchen table and drew multiple patterns for a few months before he settled on one that be believed would work the best. He also measured wood pieces that would be the appropriate sizes.

A little over 20 years ago, Jim Schorn of Mankato built a patriotic sailboat from scratch. He called it “The Rachel” after his first granddaughter. Contributed photo

“Planning about what you’re going to build probably takes more time than making it,” said Jim, whose father managed a lumberyard for years and played a part in developing Jim’s interest in constructing various projects.

Jim’s first granddaughter was born around the same time, and so he named the boat after her. He called it, “The Rachel.” He painted the name in white letters in front of the boat. When he introduced the sailboat to Rachel, she was only two.

“Now she’s 20, but she likes pools, not lakes,” laughed Darlene, Jim’s wife.

Building the boat required paying attention to detail, which was like designing prosthetics for teeth. If Jim missed a detail in the first step, it could affect the rest of the boat.

Yet Jim’s confidence in his ability to build the sailboat never waned or wavered. He had a whole decade’s worth of schooling in the books when he studied to become a dental periodontic. When he worked in his laboratory, he designed crowns. He recognized that crowns still weren’t teeth and could easily break. He followed many steps that demanded concentration and an imperfection made early on could affect the rest of the crown (or sailboat build).

Jim also created the sail for The Rachel from his own pattern like he did to the boat and sewed the sail out of stretched-out nylon. He aligned the sail’s fabric in such a way that the seam wouldn’t rip. He credited that experience to a book he read.

Jim Schorn and his first granddaughter, Rachel, inside the boat he called “The Rachel” during the building process. Rachel and the boat are now about 20 years old. Contributed photo

“If somebody wants to buy it from me one day, they can easily put a canvas sail on it,” said Jim.

After he finished the sail, neighbors helped with inserting the sail into The Rachel.

After a year and a half, Jim finished The Rachel. Then came “the climax,” as he called it. He took her out to Doug Lake in Shakopee and set her in the water. She stayed afloat. The next test was learning how to navigate the boat without a motor.

“Learning to sail was a real experience,” said Jim. He had only read books about how to sail. And he discovered, much like he did with designing prosthetics for teeth, applying his book knowledge to hands-on experience was the real challenge.

“I went out by myself on [the boat]. I caught a little wind and I went around to another place where it wasn’t too windy. But when I turned, it was really windy!”

He had turned too sharply and too fast and consequently, The Rachel ended up just skimming over the water.

“And –” said Jim recalling the incident, before stopping and chuckling, “the boat will tip over if you get too much wind in it.” He knew that The Rachel shouldn’t go as fast as it was. To prevent the boat from tipping over, he leaned in to balance the weight. “Then you have to let the rope go to have less wind in the sail,” he said. “So I learned how to do that and I got around to the other part of the lake where there was no wind. I knew if I turned the rudder a little bit, there were enough waves to turn the boat.”

After he did that, another big wind gust swept up and nearly toppled The Rachel.

Jim Schorn preparing to set sail with his granddaughters watching about 16 years ago. Contributed photo

“I felt like I was gonna get wet!” Jim exclaimed, who still had his wits that he knew to let go of the rope that controlled the sail and when he did that, The Rachel tipped upright again. “Then I gradually re-steered the boat and got back to where I started from.” he concluded. He had gone in a circle all around Doug Lake.

Since then, The Rachel has remained in mint condition. Jim has taken her out several times through all these years. He mentioned he is looking for a new owner, but mentioned it would have to be someone who would invest in great care of her.

Before and after The Rachel, Jim has built all kinds of things as a hobby, including a couple of wooden lamps for his living room, a birdhouse that looked like a moose’s head for a friend, and a coffee table for his daughter, Christine.

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