The Handmade Orca

A few years back, my two sons asked for one thing for Christmas. They wanted their own proton packs. Looking online, it was about £80 each for the old Kenner toys, which were about as sturdy as Ben Gardner’s boat, or the super expensive prop packs which came in at about £500 a piece. I didn’t have a £1000 to blow on toys. But I had about 8 weeks before Christmas, so I set about building my own, the universe essentially providing the materials I found on my day to day travels. I spent a few quid on spray paint, some rucksacks I cut up, and some bike lights, the rest was found items. They cost me next to nothing, they were sturdy, and most importantly, the boys loved them. I even hand stitched some name badges on some boiler suits. They wore the suits to bed and played with the proton packs for months on end.

The boys seem to collect fandoms. Currently it’s sharks. The bigger the better. So naturally, Jaws has become their current favourite film. That and the sequels, even the Sharknado’s were devoured.

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I looked at getting them some Jaws figures for their birthday, but at £100 a pop, I ruled it out. I wasn’t impressed at them. The only Jaws toy on the market was over priced cuddly sharks and a display piece involving the Orca being attacked by Jaws. It had limited playability.

There’s no proper Jaws toys on the market, so why not build my own. It’s just wood and paint. I had about a month, so I set to work.

I found some old plans from a model Orca from the seventies, one you build out of balsa and put an engine and float on a lake. I didn’t want mine to float. I wanted it to be sturdy. I wanted it to be played with and age gracefully.

I got a D in Design and Technology at school, despite my father being a joiner by trade. I was desperate to not follow in his footsteps. I wanted to write films for a living. I’d never really built anything before, but I had my father’s workshop at my disposal and half a forest of offcuts and an arsenal of tools. I set to work, using the model plans as a template. I knew how to use a saw, and measure and all the basics, all it would take was imagination. Essentially, I made a lot of it up as I went along. The plans I had were for a flimsy model boat. I needed something that could take a battering from two 8-year olds. It needed to be sturdier than it needed to be.

The base was a solid board, I used too much glue and nails constructing the cabin. The mast was an afterthought, but I felt that it was integral to the final product given the ending of the film. I found a way to attach it using a screw from beneath and cable tie to the wall of the cabin. I had bought some lollypop sticks to construct window frames, and seeing that I had loads left over, I began making an actual deck. I varnished it up, and by God it looked cool once it was finished.

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I needed flourishes. A couple of wine corks painted bright yellow became the iconic barrels that prevented Jaws from diving. I got a dolls house chair from Ebay that I painted up, as well as a fishing rod and a thimble sized bucket that I filled with red paint to make a chum bucket. The wheel on the bridge was pilfered from a toy pirate ship, the controls were simply Lego levers. Easy.

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I wanted more flourishes, so I found a Discovery Channel Shark Cage playset complete with diver, equipment and two sharks. It was the right size and scale for the boat, so I built a winch out of

wood, an old cotton reel and a steel eyelet. I connected it all together with some wire. Bingo, I had Hooper’s Anti-Shark cage.

I scaled the boat to fit 3.5 inch action figures, just in case I ever happened to own the sought after Jaws figures. In the meantime, I made do with some cheap action figures from Ebay, christening them Shark Hunters. The boat wasn’t completely screen accurate, but I’d built it cheap and fast. It was a device to help power the boys’ imagination. I’d seen a You Tube video in which a guy had spent 2 years to complete his Orca model. It was perfect in every way. But you couldn’t play with it. It would’ve ruined it…

The Birthday arrived, and thankfully the boys were both blown away. They kept asking if I had built it, and HOW I had built it. I said it was one of a kind. It was a toy for them to play with. In fact, it was rare, the only one in the world. Wide eyed and giddy then played all morning with their Orca.

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A few weeks earlier, one of them had actually looked at the writing beneath one of his toys and said, “Why are all my toys made in China?” Already halfway through the project, I replied, “Would you like some toys built in this country?” He enthusiastically nodded yes.

I’d completed what I set out to. I created something unique that the boys would treasure, and I’d made it strong enough to put up with their rough games of shark murder. Along the way I’d learnt a few new skills I didn’t know I had. For the few weeks I was building the boat, I didn’t watch hardly any TV, and I didn’t miss. I felt a change in my mental wellbeing, because I was stepping outside of my comfort zone and my brain was focussing on something it wasn’t used to.

My advice to you. Start a project. Get away from the idiot box and your phone and do something, make something. For yourself, or someone you love. Craft, write music, paint, anything, something. Have an idea and follow it through. The sense of pride is a brilliant feeling that can’t be beat when you’ve created something from nothing.

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I asked the boys what they wanted building next. Without missing a beat, or looking up from their Orca, one of them said “We want a submarine. Build us a submarine.”

I was going to build an acoustic guitar. But a submarine sounds tempting now…

Nathan Robinson / NathanRobinsonWrites is an office furniture installer and horror author from Scunthorpe. He’s the father to twin boys, a keen runner (cardio, just in case of the apocalypse) and the author of Starers, Ketchup on Everything, Midway and Devil Let Me Go. Find him on Instagram

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