Introduction: Build a Sandcastle With Your Dad

My Dad is not an especially handy Dad. Growing up, he would help fix the occasional broken thing or assist in a particular project when called upon, but handiness, craftyness, DIY...those really weren't his areas. My Mom and my maternal grandfather had those areas covered. Dad was a suit, tie and hat wearer who was always home at 6pm for dinner. While I would stop short of calling him a complete workaholic - he always took time out to be present for the important things - work was never very far away, except for the two weeks we spent each summer at a beach in southern Maine. That was a time in which work never intruded on leisurely walks, wading in the ocean, playing cards, board games and mini-golf, outlet shopping, eating ice cream, lobster and fried clams, and of course, sandcastle construction.

For many years, these castles were your typical pedestrian undertakings, made with the plastic pail and shovel combo purchased in the nearest beach shack. That all changed in 1982 when Dad gave me Castles in the Sand for my birthday. This book quickly elevated our game and Dad in particular embraced the new techniques with great gusto. Castle construction became a centerpiece of our beach activities.

Let me sum up the important bits of this out-of-print book for those of you who don't want to track it down.

  • Timing: start construction at the time when the tide is at its lowest. That will give you plenty of time for building, sitting back and admiring your work, and then watching the advancing tide take it all away. We would get a local paper with a tide chart the first day of vacation and plan which days would be castle days.
  • The Sand Pile: This is the most important part. You need to build a giant pile of tightly packed sand...the bigger and more compact the better. Then, you cut away everything that doesn't look like your sandcastle, just like Michaelangelo! The real secret to building all of these is that they are almost entirely created by cutting sand away as opposed to adding/building up sand.
  • The Tools: forget about the crappy roadside pails and shovels, although the pail might still be somewhat useful. Better to use a larger bucket or a small wastepaper basket instead, though. A real honest to god shovel is essential for building the sand pile, and beyond that we found the most useful tools to be a cement trowel, various sized spatulas, metal or wood rulers and yardsticks, a collander, and measuring spoons. Experiment with whatever you have handy. No need to buy any specialized sandcastle tools.

That's all you really need to build the castles pictured here. Grab your Dad and head for the beach!

Step 1: Famous Buildings

Castles in the Sand gives you a guide to building a number of famous landmarks. After trying few of those we branched out to some other landmarks. A couple times we even went to the local town library to track down pictures so we could be architecturally accurate.

Step 2: Flights of Fancy

As fun as the famous buildings were (and most impressive to passers-by) Dad's favorite thing to do was to build a "freewheeling castle" where we would for the most part make it up as we went.

Step 3: Closer to Home

One year we built a tiny sand replica of our house back home. (A surprisingly faithful rendering, although I don't have any good overall shots of the house to prove it.)
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