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Our recent discussion in Chick's Micro Power Cruiser Project prompted me to write this.



                                                                                      HOW GOOD IS GOOD ENOUGH


   Recently a few of us were having a conversation on our “messing About in Boats” online forum about how good is good enough. I’ve been building a new boat and had just discovered a mistake. I was returning home after being out for the day and on my way into the house. I stopped by the boat to admire my previous day's work and something just didn't look right. The front face of the cabin looked higher on the port side than the starboard side. Now how can that be? I know that I measured and cut both sides off evenly.

   Maybe some folks can say “i mever nake misteaks?”, but that doesn’t hold true for me. There seem to be two major, but conflicting philosophies that control most everything that goes on in my shop. They can be summed up thusly. "Measure twice and cut once", and "I've cut it off three times and it's still too short." Although always intending to follow the first of those, somehow the second usually seems to win out.

   Here is a perfect example of how these things usually work out for me. I had laid out the cabin face on a sheet of plywood before cutting it out and installing it on the boat. I thought I’d followed the first philosophy, but here is where perhaps the second philosophy almost explains what so often happens during my projects. Even though I only cut it off once, it was still crooked. It's one inch higher on the port side!

   As soon as I got into the house, I posted pictures and comments about my mistake on the forum.  Ken soon replied back, “Ya know, Chick, that's pretty generous of you to go to all this trouble just to make people like me feel better about making this kind of mistake.  I'm pretty sure your fix is going to look a lot better than mine would, though.”

   Then Steve replied to that with, “So buried beneath the fiberglass cabin top of Jazz Hands is a 1/4" plus shim of plywood edge glued to the port side of the cabin top. In spite of clear directions and dimensions given by Alan to Pete M who shared with me, I just couldn't get it right. I had the supports and stringers all glued up and the cabin top was just a bit too narrow.” The easiest thing was to make her a "wide track Pontiac" if you are old enough to know what I mean. Or as my late father used to say......’They'll never see it from Broadway’ which is what you can say after you fix it.”

   Next, Ken came back with, “I was talking on the phone with a colleague today about quality control.  He related a tale about a local engineering firm that I will name ‘Jones Engineering’ in order to protect the guilty party.  My friend said someone had told him once that being off by a few millimeters was tolerance stackup, being off by 20 millimeters was a design mistake, and being off by 500mm was Jones Engineering.”

   My reply to them went kinda like this, “Ken. As you all know, I'll go to extreme lengths to demonstrate to both of my readers how to do it wrong. I've been honing this talent for most of my 71 years.” “Steve, A measly 1/4 inch. C'mon. If ya wanna be an expert at the screw-up like your elders, ya gotta do better than that!”

   As we continued the discussion, Oyster (Yet another of the messing about gang.) commented, “This current build that I am attempting to finish up on is probably a five out of ten in cosmetics from anything in the past that I personally have done. This actually stems from a lot of reasons, and not from the lack of wanting and trying.  But as I have aged, cosmetics takes a back seat to function in a boat. Plus this is late summer and a person can spend their time polishing or using.  Using is now taking a front row for us.”

   Still another of the guys, Don, who also seems to use and enjoy his boat, comes much closer to perfection than my humble efforts. Maybe the reason is that he's still young enough to put the time into making it "good enough" to satisfy his requirements.  

   Perhaps another philosophy that I learned back in my early years working in the production engineering department of a major sailing yacht builder would apply here. We would often make this comment to each other as we went out onto the shop floor to check-out the work being done there. There were plenty of mistakes being made, and the inspection crew would have to be sure that they were corrected. It goes something like this, “There’s never time to do it right, but always time to go back and fix it.”

   Even knowing that, I've always settled for my own version of "good enough". But then, I have an excuse. I'm the original poster child for ADD. (Attention Deficit Disorder) Actually, I was ADD before they even knew that there was such a thing. Back until I was about 25, the ADD was compounded by adding an HD (Hyperactive Disorder) to it. I never walked anywhere. I always ran. Anything I did was as fast as I could go. Well, that's not quite true. Anything that I didn't want to do was either done as slowly as I could go, or ignored completely. So, in my case, "good enough" is "good enough" because I have a medical (psychiatric?) excuse for it.

   To wrap it all up, the question remains, "How good is good enough?" That requires a subjective answer. And a very personal one. The answer is, "Whatever you think is good enough." When you are out in your boat enjoying the experience, and you are happy with what you have created, it's good enough. If you keep saying, I wish that I had done this or that better, then it may not be good enough. If there is a flaw that you know is there, but no one else does, and it's "good enough" for you, then it is "good enough". Some folks will say that they want to use the boat before they get too old to enjoy it. That also is “good enough”. If you say, “It's not perfect and it's not good enough”, then I'm sorry for you, it probably never will be good enough. A perfectionist, when asked when he would be done with what he is working on, says, "It's never finished, they just come and take it away." For Steve, the 1/4 inch shim changed "not good enough" to "good enough". For me, cutting the high side down made mine "good enough". For some, a paint job that looks good from 15 feet away is "good enough", while others require a perfect, "see-your-face-in-a-flawless-shine" paint job to be satisfied.

   So, as you can see, there is no right or wrong answer to the question, “How good is good enough.” We all do what is best in our own opinion, and take pleasure in what we have created. As the all-wise Oyster says about it, “That's when you are on the water, and yes, even in a yellow boat, with the critical landlubbers and engineers with their pocket protectors and micrometers looking from the shore and trying to figure how to experience your Nirvana, wishing they were there too, that's where I am with tolerance.”


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   I build ugly boats so I can go have fun sailing and so I can see all the beautiful boats that other people build.  I'm always grateful that there are people who build beautiful boats for me to look at and I hope they don't mind too much that they have to look at my ugly boat after all their work. :)

   Really, though, the prettiest boats out there are yellow... Even if (in my case) they need to be viewed from a distance.

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  • 2 weeks later...

How good is good enough.,,, Personally when I was young and building something for myself, glits and gingerbread meant more than It does now. Currently, structural integrity and functionality rules the roost over and above any real shine now.  I think it revolves around being concerned about impressing others versus not worrying about what others think this late in life. 


For sure that should be important and probably important to others.  But that's where I am now. Its not longer about the process, which to many is really where its at. But building is truly fun and the reason why I still keep a workable grinder around though. B)

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Ultimately, "how good is good enough" comes down to the addition of, "...to me". We must please ourselves, whatever that may mean. If coming up to someone else's expectations is important to us, then we should by all means meet those expectations. But I'm like you. I just want to enjoy building and using my boat, and do the best that I can do with the patience and attention to detail that I'm comfortable with. I do still have my big Makita 7 inch variable speed grinder, and plenty of epoxy to fill in where I've gotten to aggressive with that grinder!

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