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-----Original Message-----


“So I got the results of my lesson 38 final exam/design thesis, and they were good. Funny how with one click on my e-mail inbox, I suddenly find out that I'm no longer a student, but now a graduate. I think it's going to take a while for it all to sink in . . .


What follows is a random list of thoughts and ruminations, in no particular order or priority, of what it all means, and what I think might be of some assistance to those still plugging away at the course.


It's been a long slog. A lot of hours, a lot of head scratching, a lot of tedious calculations, a lot of work learning CAD, which I had never used before. It's been a long slog, sure, but a manageable one. Take it incrementally, and it goes a lot easier. This stuff takes time. Not many schools of this caliber are self-paced, and give their students the luxury of taking as much time as they need to properly complete a lesson. So take your time . . . don't sweat it . . . and enjoy the learning process along the way.


Speaking of enjoying the learning process along the way, I know I've got my list of favorite books outside of the Westlawn texts that I've read throughout the course. The ones that helped me the most personally, again in no particular order:


-   Designs to Inspire, by Ann & Maynard Bray. A beautiful collection of sketches, drawings, and plans that greatly inspired this student. Some of these boats are just drop-dead gorgeous.

-   Anything written by Ted Brewer

-   Anything written by L. Francis Herreshoff

-   Fiberglass Boats, by Hugo Du Plessis. This one was a real eye-opener for me, and a must-read for all students. He made me think skeptically about FRP for the first time. Notice I said "skeptically", not "suspiciously" or "distrustfully"....

-   Voyaging Under Power, by Robert P. Beebe. Some might think this book a bit dated, but for a trawler fan like myself, it was great.

-   The Ocean Sailing Yacht, Volumes I & II, by Donald Street. Any aspiring designer ignores the advice of this seasoned sailor at his own peril.

-   Seaworthiness -- The Forgotten Factor, by C.A. Marchaj. Again, a real eye-opener. I'll never look at a Volvo Offshore racer the same way again . . . .

-   Propeller Handbook, by Dave Gerr. If anyone knows of a better, more concise textbook explaining propeller design, please let me know.

-   The Elements of Boat Strength, by Dave Gerr. If anyone knows of a textbook laid out in a more logical, concise manner that explains scantling calcs in a clearer manner, please tell me.

-   Metal Corrosion in Boats, by Nigel Warren. Great reference book.

-   Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual, by Nigel Calder. And for that matter, any other book or article written by Nigel Calder.


But, quite possibly the single most indispensible book, the one you cannot possibly complete the course without, is the Student Guide 2nd Edition [a technical reference manual for Westlawn students]. Over the duration of the course, I’ve been through the SG2 cover-to-cover no fewer than two dozen times. Probably more. Yet I can pick that book up today, flip to a random page, and learn something that I’ve never known before. Imagine all the knowledge inside Dave Gerr’s cranium, spilled out into a few hundred very information-dense pages. So read it once, read it three more times, read it a dozen more times after that. Then sleep with it if you must. The SG2 answered more of my questions than any other single source over the duration of the course.


Can there be any such thing as one comprehensive recommended reading list for a Westlawn student? Such a list, I think, would fill several libraries and take several lifetimes to read. There's just no way any one person can know everything. The point being that in any profession, in any craft, you can never think you’ve finished learning what you need to know. Just flipping open the latest issue of Professional Boatbuilder magazine when I get it in the mail reminds me every time of how much more I need to learn.


About CAD . . .

I had no experience with CAD in any form when I enrolled in Westlawn. My computer experience was limited to Microsoft’s Office Suite, and a few oddball proprietary programs we used at the power plant where I worked. I consulted the Frey and Omura books mentioned in the SG2, as well as AutoCAD Professional Tips and Techniques, by Allen & Onstott, which I think I touted in another post. I used ProSurf for hull design and fairing, and that was a bit more onerous and time-consuming to get a handle on. But I just set aside the time to sit down with the owner’s manual and play around with it until I felt confident enough to submit a lesson with it.


I was able to get a good handle on CAD, and my point to the new students starting out, who might feel a little overwhelmed or daunted by the prospect of tackling CAD: if I can do it, then ANYBODY can. But it does take time and patience . . . and some old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness. Take it incrementally . . .


What was my biggest mistake during the Westlawn course?

Funny you should ask. My biggest mistake was not asking for enough preliminary reviews and not asking enough questions before submitting lessons for final grading. Dave and Stu might hate me for saying this, (though I doubt it), but if a new student reading this post takes any bit of advice away, let it be this: Never hesitate to submit a drawing or a partially completed lesson for preliminary review, even if you think you’ve got it nailed. I pestered Dave for more preliminary reviews, especially during my final exam, than he probably cares to remember. But I learned more from his reviews, and took away more from his comments and insights, than I got from any of the textbooks. So fire away! Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn something important because you were afraid to ask a “dumb” question.


Speaking of “dumb” questions, who on the student forum has hesitated to ask something or refrained from posing a question because they didn’t want to look “dumb”? (I see a whole bunch of hands hesitantly going up in my mind’s eye) I, for one, have learned something from every single post I’ve read on the Westlawn Forum. And I wonder how much more I could have learned if we all – every one of us – posted more questions, even the “dumb” ones . . . . even the really “dumb” ones. There are no dumb questions, and unless you are Nathaniel Herreshoff, L. Francis Herreshoff, Colin Archer, Olin Stephens, Ray Hunt, Bill Lapworth, and Jack London all rolled into one person, I’d say you’re in no position to judge.


Yes, it's been a long slog, but a manageable one, which is all the more reason to make sure you maintain a balance in your life. Your health comes first, your family is a real close second, and if Westlawn or your day job interfere with either of those, then your priorities are out of whack.


One final thought to this way-overlong post:


Can anyone tell me of a better deal than the Westlawn course?


When I add up the cost of tuition, even including extensions, and consider what I got in return . . . . I think I just received the deal of a lifetime. I got to stay at home, keep my day job, correspond with fellow students and like-minded people from all over the globe . . . . all while learning from some of the world’s leading experts, at my own pace, a new craft that I love in a way only you people can understand.


Westlawn could triple or quadruple the cost of tuition, and it would still be by far the best deal around.”


Christopher L. O'Connor

Port Towsend, WA – July 2009


Chris O’Connor graduated from Westlawn Institute with honors, attaining the highest grade on his design thesis awarded in the last eight years.