While other students relaxed during vacations, Eaton returned
to Philadelphia and the Malabar II. During 1L fall break, he and
10 friends with propane melted 8,000 pounds of lead to cast the
ballast keel, which provides stability to the boat. Another item
was crossed off the extensive to-do list—until Eaton discovered
the keel had warped as the molten lead had cooled. So winter break
was spent reheating and slowly reshaping the lead. "Things progress,
and then something unexpectedly weird happens where you say, 'Well,
there goes the week,' " Eaton says. "Learning to handle that is
part of the process."
In that process, he sees parallels to and discrepancies from
law school. "Sticking with something for long periods of time, without
getting distracted or discouraged, is very similar," Eaton says.
"But while law school has a finite ending, with organized structure
along the way, the boat is more open-ended." Of course, law school
also doesn't require 10-hour days of repetitive, physical labor—or
"The engineer and the lawyer in me appreciate the process, the
functionality. But at the same time, it's beautiful. It's going
to be a practical, seaworthy boat that also is stunning to look
at," says Eaton, who is clerking for Judge Anne E. Lazarus of the
Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
The Malabar II was designed in 1922 by John Alden, of Boston,
in the tradition of New England fishing schooners. The original
still exists, but only about 10 additional boats have been made
worldwide. Eaton and his family had to navigate significant design
gaps and modernize some of the techniques in order to make it more
seaworthy and easier to maintain post-construction. The biggest
parts are made from white oak for durability, while the plankings—which
must be able to curve up to 46 feet in places—come from the more
malleable Douglas fir. The project has drawn international attention,
including from the BBC, which profiled Eaton in its Big Dreams
video series in March.
The boat's marriage of form and function complement the union
of planning and patience required to create it. And with the boat
undertaking its maiden voyage on the Delaware River this fall, Eaton
is willing to write off the process' frustrations. "Once it's in
the water, nothing will depress me."