Stephen Denette a modern day Noah? — YouTube channel Acorn to Arabella

Stephen Denette had a dream. He wanted to build a boat and sail it around the world. There were some problems he had to overcome however. He knew nothing about how to build a boat. He’s never been on a sailboat let alone sail one himself. He had only minimal savings and no way to fund his project. But he didn’t let that stop him. On April 23, 2016 he and his friend Alix Kreder uploaded their first video to a channel called “Acorn to Arabella“.

Many people thought that Stephen was crazy for taking on such a project. The boat was to be built in rural western Massachusetts more than 100 miles from the ocean. It would be built in the front yard of his family’s property where he grew up with three generations of his family members. The property is several acres of woods including white oak and pine. He would harvest the wood from the family property, mill it himself using borrowed or rented sawmills, and would be built using some tools handed down to him from his great-great-grandfather. The title of the channel refers to the fact that some of the trees they are using to build the boat were actually planted by his family generations ago. The oak trees of course originated from an acorn.

Initially he only worked on the projects evenings and weekends while maintaining a full-time job. But eventually quit his job to devote full-time to the boatbuilding project. If you think Stephen is crazy, his partner in the project Alix is close behind. He also quit his job, left his girlfriend, and moved from Maine to Massachusetts to be the videographer for this project. Although he had studied photography in college he had never worked as a professional photographer and had not worked in video prior to taking on this project.

With a little help from Stephen’s grandfather and moral support from their trusty dog Akiva the two set out to take on this enormous project. Although the YouTube channel started in April 2016, there had been years of planning and preparation prior to this. According to this timeline on the website he began studying boatbuilding from books in 2011. In 2014 he began harvesting trees and milling the lumber. In 2015 after much research they decided on the design for the boat and purchased plans to build it in 2016. Alix built the website, purchased video equipment, establish themselves on Patreon and the project was underway.

The Arabella is a double ended ketch designed in 1934 by William Atkin inspired by the work of Colin Archer who was a famous Scottish naval architect and shipbuilder from Larvik Norway. Archer designs were used primarily for fishing vessels on the North Sea and polar expeditions. It will displace 25,000 pounds and has berths for up to 5 people however it can be sailed single handed. It measures 37’6″ on deck with a 32 foot waterline. It will carry 816 sqr.ft. of sail and the frame is built out of white oak with planking made of white oak and white cedar. The deck will be white pine. It will have a stove, refrigerator, and bathroom facilities.

I discovered the channel in January 2018 when the video below went viral with 2.5 million views and begin trending on YouTube. It was the story of how they melted 4.5 tons of lead and poured the keel of this 38 foot wooden sailboat. Note that the YouTube channel opened in April 2016 and here we were some 20 months later and all they had to show for their efforts was a ramshackle boathouse they had built in their front yard and a large pile of milled lumber in the backyard. Pouring the keel was the first visible step that they were actually building a boat.

Today the basic frame of the boat is completed and they have begun planking the exterior and are approximately 30% up the side of the boat. At least now it really looks like a real boat but for years it seemed like progress was moving at a snails pace. Progress is still quite slow as they have faced many obstacles along the way.

Soon after building the boathouse, a building inspector came by to inform them that it was an illegal structure. They had not bothered to seek a building permit. The boathouse is a wooden framework covered in plastic. They had to disassemble the boathouse and reassemble it at a different location on the property. Then years later a different building inspector decided that the plastic roof was a fire hazard and they had to take the roof off of the boathouse, rebuild the roof and cover it with a more suitable material.

Also along the way they have purchased and or received donated equipment such as wood planing machines, band saws, and other woodworking equipment. At one point they purchased a junk sailboat called Victoria that they completely disassembled to salvage brass hardware that would be used on their boat. Although they did salvage some nice mahogany wood from the interior cabin of Victoria that will be reused for Arabella, they discovered that most of Victoria was completely rotted and unusable. They salvaged the engine from Victoria but eventually sold it to another boat builder and purchased a new engine for Arabella.

The channel now boasts 135,000 subscribers and a substantial number of Patreon supporters. A new video comes out every Friday and averages about 100,000 views. Not only are they earning enough revenue to fund the project and their living expenses, they also have hired an assistant to manage things like T-shirt sales, social media posts etc. as well as a video editor to free up time for Alix to shoot the video and work on the boat himself.

From time to time they have work parties where volunteers come to assist them. They currently have scheduled a planking party to help speed up the process of planking the exterior of the boat. On occasion fans have taken a weeks vacation just to go help to work on the boat. They’ve got lots of support from professional shipwrights and other people in the amateur boatbuilding community.

Those community connections also recently led them to do some volunteer work in Costa Rica in support of a shipbuilding project in that country. Along with other New England boatbuilders they gathered up woodworking and blacksmithing tools from fans who donated equipment. It was a all loaded into a cargo container and sent to the Sailcargo project in Costa Rica as explained in this video.

After initially discovering the channel in early 2018, I went back and watched every video from the beginning and I have seen every video on the channel up to date. It was interesting to watch how the video skills of Alix evolved in the early days. The videos produced in the past couple of years are of sufficient professional quality that I’m surprised some cable channel hasn’t offered them their own TV show. They produce a new video about 20 minutes per week. Alix also entered a video in the International Maritime Film Festival in late 2017 and was voted the Audience Favorite award. That video is shown here.

Here is the video that is the story of their trip to the film festival. I also recommend the video below which is a 45 minute interview of the two builders to gives much of the back story of how they got into this project. Although it is a bit long, it is a compelling story that you might enjoy.

In the title of this review I describe Stephen Denette as a modern day Noah. Obviously he isn’t going to be collecting animals 2 by 2 for this project. However seeing this driven individual undertake the monumental task of building a boat from scratch I can’t help but think of such a crazy project without thinking of him as a Noah type who is driven to build a boat against all odds.

I think he shares much in common with Martin Molin of Wintergatan building his Musical Marble Machine that I described in my previous YouTube channel review. Both men have taken on an enormous engineering and building challenges and gone on a personal journey to fulfill a dream of building something special. They both serve as an inspirational example of what an individual can do to fulfill their dreams with lots of hard work and determination.

I obviously recommend you subscribe to the channel and watch a few of their recent videos. I’ve learned a lot more about boatbuilding that I ever thought I would and I’ve been entertained along the way.

Martin’s Marvelous Marble Machine — The Wintergatan YouTube Channel

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of blog posts highlighting my favorite YouTube channels. Note: you can click on the links in this blog for other related content such as Wikipedia pages and other YouTube videos, channels, and playlists that I chose not to embed in the blog itself.

Today we are going to feature a YouTube channel called Wintergatan that is one of my favorites of all time. It contains about 200 videos and I would speculate that over the past 4 years I’ve watched all of them. Click here for Wintergatan on YouTube.

Who is Wintergatan

Wintergatan is a somewhat obscure Swedish folk electronic band from Gothenburg, Sweden that has only released 1 album and 14 singles. Amazingly they have 1.69 million subscribers and a video that boasts 135 million views. Playing only instrumental music, the band’s ensemble includes vibraphone, synthesizers, theremin, base guitar, drums, and occasionally a typewriter as a rhythm instrument. They also have a homemade music box that uses punched paper tape to play music. Some of their songs are a bit ethereal or mystical sounding but most have a rather upbeat or happy beat to them that makes you want to tap your foot or perhaps clap your hands along with them. Here is a video of a live performance of their song “Starmachine 2000”.

On their channel you will find a playlist of 6 live performances as well as the audio from their entire first album on a separate playlist.

Although they’ve had a presence on YouTube for many years and a small following of fans of their videos and live performances, they would have to admit they are a fairly obscure group.

Enter the Marble Machine

All of that changed in March 2016 when they uploaded a video titled “Wintergatan – Marble Machine (machine instrument using 2000 marbles)” seen below. We suggest you watch it now.

That amazing video has been seen over 135 million times and skyrocketed them from relative obscurity into one of the most popular YouTube channels available. As mentioned before, they now have 1.69 million subscribers and boast over 4000 paid members and Patreon supporters.

For a computer geek like me this amazing Marble Machine is very reminiscent of the “Animusic” computer animations that were popular in the 1990s. In those videos, robotic machines would drop marbles onto musical instruments and play complex melodies. These videos were immensely popular in their day because they were not only interesting visually and musically, they demonstrated the state-of-the-art of computer animation long before companies like Pixar even existed. There videos were sold on VHS and DVD. By the way they do have their own YouTube channel here. It consists of just 11 videos and nothing new has been uploaded in 7 years. However if you’ve never seen one of their videos we recommend “Pipe Dreams” available here.

Back to the real Marble Machine… it was constructed by band member Martin Molin and documented in a series of a few videos between December 2014 and March 2016. Here is a playlist of 14 videos about building the Marble Machine.

The machine was built out of hand cut plywood with a few metal parts and the programming wheels were made out of Lego technics pieces. Martin later admitted that the machine barely worked at all. They struggled to get it to play the now famous “Marble Machine Song” all the way through in order to make that famous video. Although a marvel of handbuilt engineering, it just didn’t have sufficient precision to hold up to repeated performances.

Martin had always had the dream that he could take the Marble Machine on the road and perform with it live on a world tour. It was obvious the machine just wasn’t up to the task. So in January 2017 he endeavored to build a new machine called the “Marble Machine X”. This new machine would still be built mostly of plywood, augmented by some metal frame parts. Rather than hand cutting the pieces, he purchased a computer-controlled CNC router to cut the pieces. The entire machine has been meticulously modeled in Fusion 360 CAD software. It is such a complicated model that it has pushed that software to its very limits. He has even created a video where he consulted with developers from AutoCAD on how to more efficiently use Fusion 360 for such complicated designs.

From January 2017 until now he has created a series of weekly videos that chronicle the building of the new Marble Machine X. It is a weekly series called “Wintergatan Wednesdays”. These construction videos are amazing. They chronicle the daily struggle of trying to design and build and sometimes redesign and rebuild various components of the machine. We journey along with him as he slowly masters CAD design, tig welding, and other fabrication techniques. Here is a playlist of the entire 120 videos titled Building Marble Machine X.

In the past year or so he has brought on board dozens of volunteers to assist with the project. Engineers, designers, fabricators, musical instrument makers, project management specialists, and just plain fans of his work have all stepped up to contribute to the project despite the fact that some speculate the machine will never be finished. Personally I think it will be completed. I would guess he is about 90% complete at this point after over three years of construction. If his promised world tour ever comes to Indianapolis I will definitely be buying a ticket.

The videos present an interesting dichotomy between this lone maker now living in France and working out of his home workshop as well as the team effort of people around the world who have contributed materially and financially to the project.

The videos themselves are extremely entertaining. They are accompanied by his amazing musical compositions and sprinkled with lots of humor. It’s not just some boring videos of a guy assembling pieces of some weird machine. Case in point this week’s video is illustrating the entire path that the marbles take through the machine and how he had to redesign one section because it was unreliable. But the entire video is in the form of a sporting event that he narrates as the marbles race around the machine.

The weekly videos are so popular that they average over one half million views each week. There are also nearly 5000 paid members to his channel and Patreon supporters. Martin released sheet music of a piano version of the Marble Machine Song for free. Fans of the Marble Machine have honored him by making their own cover versions of the famous Marble Machine Song. He put together a video of himself watching these tribute videos and his reaction is quite heartwarming. I can’t imagine what it would mean to a person to have that much fan support and devotion as he spends countless hours alone trying to create the new machine. Here is his reaction video to all of the other Marble Machine tribute videos.

The description of that video includes a link to a playlist of all the tribute videos used in the compilation.

Music Machine Mondays

In addition to all of the videos about building the Marble Machine X, Martin also produced a series of videos called “Music Machine Mondays” in which he tours a number of museums that feature other mechanical music machines. Most of the videos were shot at the Speelklok Museum in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. Here is a playlist of those videos. It includes someone playing a clock tower carillon version of his Marble Machine Song.

Here’s another collection of 21 fascinating videos from that museum featuring different instruments. Martin recently visited another museum of mechanical musical instruments and promises more upcoming videos in that series.

Final Thoughts

The saga of Wintergatan and Martin Molin is an inspiring story of what one person with an undying vision can accomplish. We see how his singular vision to create this fantastic musical instrument has inspired millions of followers and thousands of contributors who want to see him complete his dream. There are lessons to be learned in his journey. Spend some time watching these videos and I think you will find these videos as entertaining and inspiring as I have.

Introducing My YouTube Favorites

Those who know me know that I’m addicted to TV. I watch way too many TV shows and I get so far behind on watching some of them that I am often nearly one year behind on several shows. I’ve had to create a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of which episodes of which shows I’ve seen.

Not only am I addicted to the broadcast networks, cable networks both basic and premium, I also watch streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon prime, CBS All Access, Apple+ and Disney+.

As if that was not enough, I’m also addicted to YouTube. I currently subscribe to 445 YouTube channels. Obviously that doesn’t mean I watch all of them every day. Many of them only rarely post content. But some of my favorites post new content at least once a week and sometimes several times a week.

With many of us stuck at home oo out of work because of the pandemic, I thought I would do a new feature on my entertainment blog where I would highlight some of my favorite channels. I will try to stay away from niche channels that are closely related to my hobbies such as electronics or 3D printing but I may do one review that gives an overview of my favorite 3D printing channels or favorite maker channels.

Where most people are familiar with YouTube and may occasionally watch a YouTube video posted on Facebook or other social media, my guess is most people don’t really take advantage of all the features of the site that make it easy to keep track of your favorite channels and save links to your favorite videos so that you can show them to friends and family. It’s sort of like that commercial for Goodwill Stores where the guy says “To shop you just need a cart… But to compete you need a strategy!” In this blog post I’m going to give you some instructions on how to get the most out of YouTube. I will describe some of his features just for those who want to watch. How to create and upload videos for YouTube is an entirely different topic that we won’t be handling today.

Everything that we are demonstrating today assumes you are watching YouTube on a computer using a browser. We will be using Google Chrome but the screens should look similar on Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge or whatever you might be using. We will not be describing how to do these things on a phone or tablet because the apps might look different for different platforms and we don’t have access to all of that. We suggest you set things up using a browser and then most of these features should be available on your phone or tablet in some way shape or form.

Creating a Google Account

If you really want to get the most out of watching YouTube, you should create a YouTube account. YouTube is owned by Google so if you already have some sort of Google account then use it to login to YouTube. Examples of Google accounts include a Gmail email account, Google drive storage, Google Play store for purchasing apps for an android phone or tablet. If you don’t already have a Google account it’s easy to create one. If you already have an account you can skip this section.

Start by going to and you will see the YouTube homepage that would look something like this:

Note: you can click on any of the images in this blog to see a larger version.

In the upper right corner click on the button that says “Sign In” and you will see a screen that looks similar to the one below. Because I’ve already used this browser to log into 2 different Google accounts it gives me the option to click on one of those but if you need to create a new account you should click on “Use another account”.

That will bring up the following screen. If you hover over the “Create account” button there will be a drop-down to choose if the account is for personal use or business. We will click on “For myself”

You will be asked to give a first and last name, an email address, and a password that you will use for all of your Google accounts not just YouTube. This should not be your email password or any other password you use. It should be unique for Google services. Then click on “Next”.

You will be emailed a six digit verification code that you will enter into the next screen and then click on “Verify”. Next you will be asked to optionally give your phone number. I see no need. You will also have to enter your date of birth because some Google services are age-restricted. You will also be asked “Gender” but you can choose “Rather not say” if you don’t want to. Then click on “Next” and you will be taken back to the YouTube homepage logged into your new account.

At this point you can browse around YouTube, see what’s on the homepage as recommended. In the upper left corner click on “Trending” which shows you the most popular videos currently showing. Or you can click in the search box and look for any topic or channel name that you want. To the right of any video you will probably see a list of recommended videos based on topics that you have watched before. Of course Google/YouTube keeps track of everything you watch so it can make these recommendations and send you targeted advertisements. That’s just the way the Internet works. Actually it is quite useful because I’ve discovered some great content through these recommendations.

How to Watch Videos

I almost didn’t include this section because most of the videos you just click on them and they play automatically. However there are a few tricks and tips that should help you enjoy the videos even more. First of all, most videos are accompanied by advertisements. There is usually a countdown timer in the lower right corner of the video such that after 5 seconds you can click on “skip ads” and get straight to your video. Sometimes longer form videos have ads in the middle of them and you can similarly skip some of them after 5 seconds. There are also banner ads that pop up at the bottom of the screen and there is a tiny “x” in the upper right corner that you can click on to close them.

There are also a number of very handy keyboard shortcuts that you will find useful. For example pressing the spacebar will pause or play your video. Pressing “m” will temporarily mute or unmute the volume. Pressing “c” turns captions are off and on. Some videos have professionally produced captions but YouTube also has a speech to text feature that will automatically create reasonably good captions for videos that don’t have specific captions or subtitles already created. Click here for a complete list of keyboard shortcuts.

There are also tiny icons in the lower right corner of the video available when you hover your mouse over that area. It allows you to increase the size of your video to something called “theater mode” or to make your video full-screen. There is a slider bar across the bottom of the video when you hover over it that allows you to skip to any section of the video.

How to Subscribe to YouTube Channels

One of the most powerful features of YouTube is the ability to “subscribe” to channels. These subscriptions are free. All it really means is that you are making a list of your favorite channels so that you can see the latest videos from each of them in one handy place. After you have subscribed to a channel, you also have the option to sign up for notifications. That is explained below.

Anytime you’re watching a video there are a number of options in the lower right just below the video that look like this:

If you have not already subscribed to this particular channel you will see the red “SUBSCRIBE” button. If you click on it or if you have already subscribed you will see:

Next to the gray “SUBSCRIBED” button is a little bell icon. If you click on it, you will get notifications every time a new video is uploaded to that particular channel. Only enable notifications on the channels that you really want to be on top of continuously. You will get a pop-up message on your browser and you will get an email telling you about new uploads.

In that area you can also click on a thumbs up or thumbs down icon to express your like or dislike of the video. We will talk about the “SAVE” option later in the section on “Playlists”. The “SHARE” button gives you the option to share the video to Facebook, Twitter, other platforms or just copy a shortened URL address. You also have the option to share it beginning at a particular start time if you only want to call someone’s attention to a particular section of the video. You cannot specify an end time.

Let’s look at the YouTube homepage again. In the upper left corner the third item down is “Subscriptions”. If you click on it you will see a screen that looks like this:

This shows you the latest videos from all of your subscribed channels with the newest videos at the top. Actually if any videos are live streams they will be shown first and then other uploaded videos in chronological order from newest to oldest. So each day when I want to watch YouTube, I go to this page and it shows me everything which is new in one handy place. As I scroll down, once I see something familiar I know that I’ve reached the end of everything that was new since the last time I visited. In the lower left corner you will see a column “SUBSCRIPTIONS” that shows you all of the channels to which you have subscribed. Any channels showing live videos will appear at the top with a red icon. The rest of the list is sorted in alphabetical order by channel name.

About Playlists

If you think of your Subscription list as a favorite channel list you also have the ability to make multiple lists of favorite individual videos. These are called “Playlists” but you should really just think of them as folders to store your favorite videos. You can name these playlists anything you want. Some of my playlists are “NASA and Space”, “Maker Projects”, “3D printing”, “Radio Controlled”, “Science”, “Math”, “Music”, or “Comedy”. Others are more specific for example I have so many favorite videos for TV shows such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones etc. that they each have their own playlist. Other playlists include “Marvel” and “DC comics”. When you click on the “SAVE” button you are given the option to save it to one or more of your existing playlists or to create a new playlist.

Playlists are a great way to organize your favorite videos in case you want to watch them again or show them to your friends and family. It would be nice if they would let you nest your playlists like you can nest folders on your computer hard drive. For example it would be nice to be able to have “Music” and then within that “Classical” and “Rock” etc. but unfortunately you cannot do that. You cannot have a list within a list. But as mentioned before a single video can be added to multiple lists for example I might add a video to both it and “3D printing” and “Assistive Technology”.

Professional and Commercial YouTube Channels

My upcoming reviews will focus mostly on channels that are independent efforts of a single person or a small group of YouTube creators. But there are also many channels related to your favorite networks, TV shows, and musical artists. We suggest you do a search for your favorite shows or artists and subscribe to those channels first.

All of the late-night comedy shows such as Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Trevor Noah, and John Oliver have YouTube channels. Significant portions of their comedy routines such as Jimmy Fallon’s hashtags, thank you notes etc. appear on YouTube. Seth Meyers famous “A Closer Look” political commentary is often posted in the early evening before the show even airs. Videos also include some segments of the monologue and excerpts from guest interviews. John Oliver’s weekly show on HBO is a 30 minute show but the major portion of it is about a 20 minute rant on a particular topic of the week. It amazes me that he puts these entire rants on YouTube for free considering that HBO is a premium cable service. It’s been especially fun to watch the YouTube videos these comedians have been posting from home during the pandemic. Be sure to check them out.

I also subscribe to channels for various networks like AMC, BBC America, CW and FX because they include lots of behind the scenes videos about my favorite genre shows. HBO had some great videos behind-the-scenes of the making of Game of Thrones. Other shows such as Doctor Who and The Orville just to name a couple have their own YouTube channels for trailers, interviews, and behind-the-scenes content.

My favorite artists such as Sting, David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, Blue Man Group and others have their own channels. If your particular artist doesn’t have a dedicated YouTube channel, look for a channel from their record label. Some comedians such as ventriloquist Jeff Dunham have their own channel. He recently did some live streaming of him creating a new dummy character for his act. That was very interesting.

Supporting Your Favorite Channels

Creators of YouTube content are supported by ads. However in order to qualify to receive money from the advertising you have to have a minimum of 10,000 subscribers to your channel and I believe there is also a minimum amount of traffic that you have to have before you can share in the revenue that YouTube makes from all videos with ads.

YouTube creators however often have difficulty getting individual videos to qualify for advertising. For example if you are covering a controversial topic, YouTube might choose to de-monetize your particular video. There are also severe restrictions on monetization of videos aimed at children. Because it’s difficult to make a living off of advertising alone, there are other ways you can financially support your favorite content providers. Some channels have a “membership” button that allows you to financially support your favorite channels directly through YouTube. YouTube also gives you the ability to make spontaneous donations during live stream videos.

There is also a site called “” that allows you to pledge money on a per video basis to your favorite creators. Typically creators who use this service will encourage you to support them by this method and/or they will thank those who have already supported them through patreon. Some creators provide exclusive content to their Patreon supporters. Channels are also often supported by selling merchandise such as hats, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters related to the channel.

Note also that there is a premium YouTube service called YouTube TV that provides premium content such as TV shows and movies similar to the way other streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu work. I believe YouTube TV also occasionally supports cable channels and even local TV channels. I’ve never used it so I can’t really say. YouTube TV is not to support your favorite ordinary YouTube channels. It is all professionally created content from networks, cable channels etc.

My Reviews

Immediately after this blog post I will begin posting reviews of some of my favorite YouTube channels. You can click on the links in my blog to get to the channel and to see some of my favorite videos from those channels. And if you like them you can click on SUBSCRIBE to add them to your subscription list or perhaps add particular videos to one of your playlists. I’m going to be posting several reviews probably one every other day for the next several days to get you through your pandemic quarantine. I will then attempt to write perhaps one per week after that.