Who knows the true origins of boating? It is easy to imagine a person clinging to a floating log thinking he had stumbled on to a good idea. Later on somebody tied several logs together and created a raft which seemed like an even better idea. Other folks with a solid work ethic hacked out the middle of a log and invented the hull. Paddles, oars, sails, engines and mini-fridges that keep the beer ice cold came along in good time. A couple of thousand years and many patent disputes later we have a vast industry in watercraft with many different uses. A device originally conceived as a way to get across a river now spans oceans. It supports commerce, defends our shorelines and provides a favorite form of recreation. The act of “going to sea” became more than just a moving form point A to point B. It became a calling, an inspirational journey, the stuff of literature and sometimes pure hell.

“Those who would go to sea for pleasure, would go to hell for pastime.”
18th century aphorism

The idea of going to sea for pleasure took centuries to develop. Yachting is more or less an invention of the Dutch. We get the very word from their “jacht.” Wealthy Dutch ship owners would have on hand a small speedy vessel for going out to greet their incoming ships. By the seventeenth century the low countries had fleets of these private vessels plying the shallow waters of northern Europe providing waterborne recreation for the burgeoning merchant class as well as the nobility. Royal yachts of various nations were grand affairs that took every form from elaborately decorated barges to something that was more like a fashionably appointed man of war. The industrial revolution brought a democratizing influence on yachting as recreation became an activity available to citizens outside the upper classes.

The first luxury yacht built in America was Cleopatra’s Barge. The vessel was Built in 1816 by George Crowninshield Jr. She was 83 feet long with a 23 foot beam and was rigged as a hermaphrodite brig. George sailed away on her for one adventurous tour of Europe. He died in 1817 and the boats career turned to shipping for a while. The Barge was sold to King Kamehameha II of Hawaii in 1820.

The story of yachting includes everything from luxury cruising to high stakes racing, family outings to entertaining world leaders. American schooner yachts were drafted into service during WWII for anti-submarine patrols. British yachts of every size and description were among the hastily assembled fleet that rescued British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Today’s pleasure craft enjoy the benefits of modern technology including GPS, Radar, computerized systems and a wide variety of composite materials. What remains from this long trail of history? We have never lost the urge to experience the eternal nature of the sea. The deck of a boat is still one of the great places to gaze at the stars. Every journey has the potential for inspiration and crossing the water is still a good idea.

 
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The book that ignited my interest in small boat cruising in high school. Robert Manry made the wind and waves accessible to me.

In my east coast incarnation I was a seller of so-called antiques and collectibles. It amounted to being a sort of nostalgia merchant. The experience showed me that niche markets grow from niche interests. If you are a stamp collector you will like selling stamps. If you are a sports fan then sports memorabilia, autographs or trading cards will suit you. I am a sailor.  Although I have always followed a broad array of interests sailing is the one that never fades from my worldview. Back in 1985 I spent a year of my spare time and a lot of money getting my private pilot’s license. I have an interest in aviation that goes back to my childhood. My passions have been expensive ones and in deciding between boats and airplanes the winner has always been sailboats.

While beachcombing for books I have come upon various kinds of readers and book collectors. The antiquarians are seeking the oldest and rarest volumes. Speed readers tend to get through a volume and then pass it on to someone else. I like to savor a book and will reread some if they are particularly useful, meaningful or well written. Selling books is interesting because you can get an insight into a person by what they choose to read.

Books are at the foundation of all my interests and so it is with sailing. They teach, entertain and encourage like loyal friends. Thus, I have always been a collector of books on my favorite subject. Life sent me in directions which have caused me to leave behind a large library of precious friends but I am making an effort to recover them. In the world of collecting few things are as ubiquitous as books. The opportunity to find new treasures or replace old ones is everywhere. There are used bookstores in every city. Antique malls always have a loose selection of old books and often some very good dealers in printed matter. Independent booksellers are invaluable in an age of franchised purveyors of the lowest common denominator. Flea markets and estate sales teem with boxes of books to be had at dirt cheap prices.

There are many classic stories of the sea, from Moby Dick to Mutiny on the Bounty. Everybody knows these from school but the wider body of work is immense. Fiction is just a part of the whole. There is a vast array of real life accounts of voyages short and long. Instructional books on sailing, navigation, boat-building, seamanship, pirates and more things nautical flow from the publishing world like an ocean current. Certain classics have been in print for many years.

the-ashley-book-of-knotsThe Ashley Book of Knots is a big heavy book formatted in an encyclopedic style showing every conceivable way to use rope From the practical to the irrelevant. If you are into marlinespike seamanship it’s an essential text. When I settled into life in Washington state it was the first book in my new library.

Maritime history in our country has had no stronger preservationist than Howard I. Chapelle (1901–1975). He roamed the country documenting and measuring traditional working craft that were disappearing from the waterways. His books are part history and part studies in naval architecture. I have been rummaging through these volumes since I was a high school student hiding out in the library. The Search for Speed Under Sail, The History of the American Sailing Navy, Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction, and American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction are essentials of which I am still missing two. As money allows it will be easy enough to pick them up on ABE books. Fortunately they had a long print run.

L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) is one America’s premiere yacht designers. He published several of my favorite books, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, Capt. Nat Herreshoff: The Wizard of Bristol, The Writings of L. Francis Herreshoff, Sensible Cruising Designs and An L. Francis Herreshoff Reader. The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice, and Enjoyment of Boating is one of the most engaging and informative books on cruising under sail ever written. Some would find the book to be very outdated but if you are paying attention you will learn more than you expected about anchoring, boat designs and simple navigation tricks. Such tricks might save your bacon when the GPS goes unexpectedly silent.

For the kind of entertainment that can only be had in the pages of fiction I have always preferred C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. These 11 novels tracing the career of a British naval officer during the great age of fighting sail ring with authenticity as well as drama. I have read the whole series at least five times. I also like to have a shelf full of Alexander Kent’s Richard Bolitho novels. More ripping yarns from a British pen. Many people like the more modern equivalent in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian but I have never quite warmed up to the characters. To each his own.
A favorite part of the genre is those volumes that review various sailboat designs or feature the work of a particular designer. They are usually illustrated with photos and plans. Prime examples are Good Boats, More Good Boats and Still More Good Boats by Roger C. Taylor. The genre reminds me of motorheads who can tell you the make, model and year of any car on the road and give you an informed opinion on it’s performance. In my head is a catalog of boat designs built up over more than 40 years of absorbing everything I could about sailing vessels. The characteristics and qualities of various rigs and sail plans crowd my memory banks. Wooden boats take precedence but I don’t discriminate against other materials. The best boat I have owned so far was fibergl15454845328ass.

The best of vintage nautical books have either great engravings or maps bound in. This goes hand in glove with One of my other collecting passions Maps bring distant locations to our table tops in a way that is both informative and soul enriching. The art of navigation begets the art of topography. I cannot see a detailed chart, old or new, without concluding that it springs from an artistic sensibility as well as applied science. The universe provides both the canvas, the paint and the brush.

When circumstance ties the sailor to the land he may drown in the details of work and civil society. the right book may be a lifesaver that sustains him in this dry element. This is especially true when chilly mornings descend icily when landlocked in the colder seasons. Then it is time to seek comfort in book-lined anchorages where time is suspended like a boat in a gale hanging in an eternity-like second on the crest of a wave. Somewhere beyond the multitude of whitecaps is a blue sky and a kinder wind.

By the fire one hears the rattle of rain on window panes. The mind strains to be far away. It is often the best course to spend time with friends we have collected to line our shelves. They are companions in our housebound exile. Gathering them has been an adventure in itself which has it’s own set of fond memories. Literature is a comfort to a sailor, even on land, as snow falls softly amid the ranks of sleeping hulls in a wintry boatyard.

 

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The beast that darkens my water view  was scheduled to be towed to Seattle some time this week. That has been put on hold due to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development issuance of a code interpretation that requires an additional use permit for the rig and the two tugboats that go along with it. The rig was supposed to stay in Seattle until moving on to the Chukchi Sea along with the drilling ship Noble Discoverer which will arrive in mid-May. While not scheduled to moor at terminal 5 It has not yet been disclosed where it will be berthed or if it will face similar permitting issues. That ship is currently near Hawaii according to marinetraffic.com.

It seems there are some rules about what a cargo terminal can accommodate and oil rigs aren’t quite within the scope of allowable use for the terminal according to the city of Seattle. So the gears of government are grinding out, what? A new permit? I’m sure Shell has a fairly deep pocket. An order to take your business elsewhere? Port Angeles seems to be enjoying the monetary flotsam that follows this kind of operation. In the event that Noble Discoverer also takes shelter in our fair harbor the Port of Port Angeles Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren has already expressed his delight.

The original permitting for the use of Terminal 5 moorage was obtained in a less than public manner. Greenpeace and ShellNo.org have brought that out in the Seattle press and their own publications. The Department of Planning and Development is now more interested in making sure all their t’s are crossed in the light of day. Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray has stated “I expect the port to obtain all required city permits before any moorage or work begins at T5 on offshore oil drilling equipment.” One wonders why this wasn’t considered before Shell started moving all this heavyweight shipping across the ocean. Don’t they pay experts to think about these things?

The Mayor goes on, “While requiring a new permit may not stop the port’s plans, it does give the port an opportunity to pause and rethink this issue.” While all this thinking is going on there has to be some kind of meter running. I am constantly in awe of the vast resources of civilization spread out across the globe and the many things they are used for. And the things that go wanting. It all exists on a scale that a middleish class sort of person can’t grasp. One doesn’t know if they should be jealous or disgusted. It does indeed give us reason to think. To be open and innocent as children listening to Dr. Seuss, “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” Maybe we should do that more often.

 

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On an overcast Sunday morning the beast in Port Angeles harbor stood on it’s own. The mother ship sits apart forlorn with nothing to adorn her empty deck. Polar Pioneer floats freely with it’s pontoons almost submerged.  She draws 30 feet in the transit configuration. Two cranes lift their arms to the sky and a large support vessel snuggles up to her starboard or is it port side? Hard to tell because I don’t know which is the bow or stern of this seagoing rectangle.

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When I pull out of my driveway and point the car down the hill towards town I can see the Pioneer’s central superstructure dead ahead. I will be glad when it has moved on but for now my curiosity is elevated beyond reason. This large metal island looks like one very expensive tchotche. And so it is. It’s about 550 million dollars worth of oil rig built by Hitachi Zozen in Japan and entering service in 1985. This rig has been in various parts of the world including Norway where it drilled 1,400 feet. Polar Pioneer is leased by Royal Dutch Shell from Transocean Ltd.

Drilling in the ocean is an expensive proposition anywhere but the Arctic has already exacted a large toll from Shell since 2012 when their exploratory drilling rig the Kulluk ran aground in Dutch Harbor Alaska. Soon to arrive in Seattle will be Noble Discoverer which will be the primary driller in the operation.  Polar Pioneer is tasked with drilling a relief well in the event that the other rig has a blowout. Shell’s containment plan also includes a capping stack mechanism. This is a large submersible lid with a containment system to redirect the flow of leaking oil.

So what is the bottom line driving this game of petroleum roulette. Shell has over 5 billion dollars invested in Arctic oil already. This is leveraged against potentially 412 billion dollars beneath the Chukchi Sea. That kind of money train is hard to stop.

This where the protesters come in. Greenpeace and the local environmental organization sHell No! are planning to raise their voices and intercede in the name of protecting the Arctic ecosystem from irreparable damage. They are planning a kayak Flotilla on May 16 and some form of direct action on May 18. They say thy will “converge on the Seattle waterfront by land and sea, transforming Terminal 5 and Harbor Island into a festival of resistance that will nonviolently block Shell’s preparations for Arctic drilling.” Stay tuned, this could get interesting.

By the time that comes about the view from my street will no longer contain the rough beast which will have already “slouched toward Bethlehem.” I am simply a sailor and want no more from the sea than to enrich my spirit by feeling it’s motion and borrowing a mere cupful of it’s kinetic energy. For now the scale of this giant machine that came to visit my harbor does nothing more than disturb my dreams.  I hope that is the limit of it’s power but fear that Royal Dutch Shell has enough money to buy more than enough trouble for an ecosystem which is better left alone.

 

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Our harbor has shrunk. A massive object has dwarfed everything in sight instantly making one think about the works of man. The sight of it deeply effected me and has occupied my mind daily. To say I have mixed feelings is an understatement.

The Polar Pioneer, an offshore oil platform arrived on Friday on it’s way to drill a hole in the sea floor off the coast of Alaska. It sits on a heavy lift ship, MV Blue Marlin, itself a marvel of the modern age.  The whole improbably impressive thing measures 355 feet from the waterline to the top. The load looks like it would be a very scary deal in a storm at sea. I’m sure they will be studying the weather forecasts closely.

It’s entry to the Port Angeles, Washington harbor was met by a small flotilla of kayaks and inflatables piloted by members of Greenpeace. They were here to protest it’s very existence as one more damned thing that may potentially turn a large portion of the ocean into petroleum soup. The Blue Marlin was in turn accompanied by the Coast Guard with an assist from the Clallam County Sheriff, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the legal strength of an in junction against Greenpeace resulting from a boarding action that took place during the Pacific ocean crossing from Malaysia. The affair has a distinctly David and Goliath flavor. Nobody seemed to have the modern equivalent of a slingshot in hand and the enormous vessel came to anchor without incident.

The oil rig itself will be offloaded from the Blue Marlin sometime in the next several weeks. It will be outfitted for being towed to Seattle were it will be readied for it’s final trip to the Chukchi Sea 125 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.

Giant technology seems almost out of place here where the mountains feet are washed by salt water and grow thick with the descendant’s of mighty trees that built a nation. Nature is not infected by ego. It has no need to compete with those who so often stoop to conquer. Polar Pioneer stands on the back of it’s transport vessel with it’s central tower pointing at the sky. It sits on massive feet which will some day stand on the buoyant force of the sea like a latter day messiah waiting to surprise the unfaithful.

Few of us will venture to the barren waste that Polar Pioneer is destined for. How long will it stand? Does the future hold a day when the thirst for it’s product is replaced by other means. Might it be that time will move in a stream that races past this Goliath of the frozen sea and leave it forgotten and silent through long centuries of obsolescence. When I look out on our fair harbor I can’t help but root for the young David’s who stand with slingshots at the ready. I remember the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley and think about the passing of power and the works of man.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

The human brain is a facile machine that can pump out an ocean of ideas. Some are gold, some are dross and fate may have it that some will fade into obscurity. A designer’s legacy is that portion of his or her creations that outlives them. Those who have achieved fame will see even the most obscure part of their work searched out and studied. The best of what we are remembered for is not merely popular. It is true, honest and highly valued.

Dad in boatshopDad w_Lana

 

 

 

 

 

John Magner was not a prolific creator of so-called important yacht designs. He was not a Herreschoff or an Olin Stephens. He worked on a simpler level mainly building boats that came from other mens drawing boards.  He did a fine job of it. His small boats, El Toros, San Francisco Pelicans, and Atkin schooners were unpretentious craft that introduced children to the ways of wind and water. They brought families together for recreation and the sort of fellowship that creates strong bonds.

I imagine him culling the work of many years for the elements that pleased him most. Out of that material his own nautical brainchild was fashioned. He called it the Dungeness Crabber. It has the look of similar traditional boats in the mold of British coastal working boats. It gets it’s name from the bay that lies in the shelter of the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s Dungeness spit. I first encountered the Crabber back in 1984 while reading an issue of Small Boat Journal magazine, a publication made for boat dreamers with small incomes. An advertisement caught my eye for plans to build a 21 foot 8 inches long pocket cruiser with a plywood hull. She had a salty looking gaff rig and roomy cockpit that spanned the full width of the boat aft of the cabin. The traditional look with a sweeping sheer that blended perfectly with the bold bowsprit grabbed my interest.

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I immediately sent off  five dollars to Magner $ Sons Boatworks for a study plan package.The study of boat plans has been a harmless obsession of mine since I first stumbled onto Howard I. Chappelle’s The Search For Speed under Sail in the high school library. The lines that bring the three dimensional shape of a boat’s hull alive on a flat page and the detailed exposition of the timber construction of an ocean going vessel seemed like high art. John Magner’s neatly rendered drawing of his Crabber gave me some pleasant hours of day dreaming. It seemed like the sort of boat one could actually bring to life in a two car garage 100 miles from salt water. At the time my life was not conducive to the project and sailing had been largely set aside in the pursuit of a pilot’s license. Yes, I am a scattered chaser after dreams.

Several years later the altering fortunes of our nations economy made it plain that I could not own an airplane and a sailboat at the same time. A serious examination of my priorities caused me to choose a sailboat. I liked the idea of building something bigger than my San Francisco Pelican and the Crabber seemed like just the ticket. I had the funds to make a start but the time factor poked at the center of my impatient spirit. If I was to give up flying I wanted a small cruising boat as soon as possible. The Annapolis boat show settled the issue with a sweet deal on a Seaward23, the Dragonsong that I have written of frequently in this blog.

If we old sexist sailors regard boats as female in name, form and temperament then I guess the Dungeness Crabber was the one that got away. She faded in memory and did not emerge again until I moved to The Olympic Peninsula of Washington where I kept wondering why the town of Carlsborg was jingling a little bell in my head. I have already related the story of the little Atkin Schooner sitting in the yard of John’s son. When I sat down with Kevin and Brian to gather information on Florence Oakland I had an opportunity to see the full plan set of the Crabber. There in bold detail was the pocket yacht I remembered from a long time ago. The four pages of hand drawn prints from a time before Autocad made engineers into mouse pushers showed carefully drafted construction details and a complete materials list. You can always tell when a draftsman has spent a lot of time in the shop.

A good set of plans show a sailor all the tools that will be at his disposal while underway. The gaff cutter rig has enough lines to keep a couple well occupied without making single-handed sailing out of the question. Everything from the throat and peak halyards to the lazyjacks was on the right scale and workmanlike in a seaworthy fashion. Her multichine hull features chines backed up with stringers. It was strong construction although my mind immediately considered the idea of stitch and glue seams.

I don’t know that you could say the boat would be a cheap build. Marine plywood is expensive these days and a gaff rig wants a fair number of blocks, thimbles and a chandlery full of bronze bits and bobs.  With a sailor’s attention to detail she’d turn out to be a proper little ship. The hull construction would allow for trailering, thus avoiding moorage fees. However, the setup time at the launching ramp might try one’s patience. Hauling her home for the winter, bottom painting and all the maintenance that boats crave would be a snap.

The cabin looks snug with berths for two. It cries out for a wee woodburning stove.   I can see myself at anchor with a kettle on the boil, tea bags at the ready. There’s some lemon juice in the cooler and a pint of rum discreetly situated among the small library of books on a shelf above the settee. It’s the perfect setting for hammering out the kind of nautical nonsense I dispense on the internet as well in mixed company.

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When I first talked to them John’s sons did not know of any surviving examples of the design. They  remembered one that was built and went to live in Southern California. I’d had no luck with Internet searches. A message posted on the WoodenBoat Forum rendered a few nice comments but it wasn’t until recently that I got a message telling about a Dungeness crabber that was built and launched in Australia.  The story of her adventures in launching which include a twisted tabernacle and the help of friends from the Wooden Boat Association of Australia are recorded in the article The Launch and Mast Raising of Rufus, The Dungeness Bay Crabber.

Rufus was built by Geoff and Jill Carroll beginning in 2004. The boat was lofted on his dining room floor on sheets of MDF.  The next four years was spent constructing blocks, bulkheads, transom, stem, keel and skeg and a centerboard case in Geoff’s spare time and school holidays while teaching full time. A strongback was built in the backyard for further construction. The hull was built upside down and turned over in 2010. After constructing the cabin and laminated deck beams fitting out was completed in 2013. The construction of masts and spars followed.

Considerable effort went into launching Rufus. The boat had to be dragged across the Carroll’s yard after which the boat movers delivered her to the marina. While raising the mast it twisted damaging the tabernacle. The transport company made good the damage by manufacturing a new steel tabernacle to replace the wooden one. This was followed by a formal mast raising and Rufus was christened with a bottle of Magners cider in honor of John Magner her designer.

Geoff kept Kevin Magner informed of the launching and the initial sailing trials.  Rufus makes a good impression everywhere she goes. Geoff says, “she gains a great deal of comment by those walking past the Marina in St Kilda, Melbourne. One passerby commented, ‘Now that’s a boat with soul’ It made my heart glad.” Geoff and his wife Jill enjoyed the assistance throughout the project of friends and fellow members of the Wooden Boat Association of Australia.

Geoff made a short video while sailing Rufus from St Kilda in the NE corner of Port Phillip Bay to Werribee South. That’s about 30 kilometers from Melbourne. The trip took about four hours due to fickle winds at the beginning of the journey. The next day’s return trip only took about three hours. The video shows Rufus running with the wind over the starboard quarter with a reefed mainsail. She looks to be moving well without causing the crew any undue stress.

The trip was the third time that Geoff had taken the boat on a trip out on the bay. He reports that two people spent a comfortable night below decks in her quite adequate accommodations.

Geoff stated that he did not know of any other Dungeness Crabbers in Australia. A single known survivor of a fine builder’s legacy is surely not enough. But Rufus is a fine example of a small boat sailor’s dream.

Docking

There is a connection one experiences with a handy vessel. It is a necessary conduit to the many aspects of the marine environment. When we take the con we do not merely drive the boat. We sail the wind and waves while contending with the tide. The senses are engaged by every facet of our surroundings. Tossed about by great forces we settle into their grasp and find our way out and back again. Every casting off of the mooring is a move from the static to the dynamic. Each connection occurs in a moment preserved in precious memory.

Later we may recall the bite of the rudder transmitted by the feel of the tiller. We hear again the snap of canvas as the mainsail fills on the opposite tack. The wind plays the rigging like a harp. It sings the tale of days running downwind racing with fairy terns or taking a trick at the wheel of a schooner reaching into a crowded Maine harbor. You steady the helm, ready to sing out to the crew anticipating the command to come about. There is delight in the slow dance she does coming across the wind. Contentment comes when the vessel surges ahead on a new tack pulling it’s weight along a new course.

A good boat gathers together each moment between “anchor’s aweigh” and “let ‘er go.” What a designer and builder create is a repository of experience; the very thing that legacies are made of.

 

I love a small town on a river. They lack the pretense of either big cities or trendy ski resorts. There may not be much to do but sometimes that is exactly what is desired in a destination.

In the fall of 1992 I was a busy man. Not content to be a fairly prosperous citizen with a full time job, a manageable mortgage and an upbeat attitude about turning 40. I had convinced myself that I needed to go back to school. It seems there is a community college everywhere you go nowadays ready to hand out associate degrees to anyone with a modicum of ambition and a craving to reach out in order to exceed their grasp. There is not much wrong with that but I can tell you it will ratchet up your stress levels. In hind sight one of the most important academic tools I had was my boat.

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It was the ultimate refuge from my self-imposed work load, a valuable place to study for final exams and the best place to simply sit and write. Dragonsong took me places that were both relaxing and inspiring.  Oxford, Maryland is about as sleepy as small towns get. On the Rockwell scale I give it a full  10 Normans. Situated on the Tred Avon River it has a simple charm and as far as I know there is nothing in the way of franchised commerce. What you see is what you get. It’s all Eastern Shore crabber’s culture.

I recently had one of those clear reminiscences of a particular day in October when the tourist trade was non-existent and I seemed to have the town to myself. Leaving my inflatable dinghy, affectionately named the Rubber Doughnut of Death at a handy dinghy dock I ambled across the neatly manicured town and fetched up at the Masthead Restaurant. I found a table on the deck of the nearly empty restaurant and ordered some of the local fare. It was a fine meal and as I settled back to finish off a glass of beer while being eyed hopefully by a large seagull.

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I relished the view of the river and drew in the fresh air with the feeling that it brought actual healing to my soul as well as oxygen to the blood. I took a mental snapshot of the moment and stowed it away for the future and earlier this day I retrieved it.  Something told me that I was in need of it’s restorative power and my muse decided that it needed a poem to accompany it like a glass of cold beer and a whiff of salt air.

Crab house Afternoon

Food wrestled from the bay
With which I fill my eyes
Is lit by the sun’s every ray
And tastes like heaven sent it
To feed something deeper;
A soul-craved need
On a curve much steeper
Than any I can measure
With clever tools and arithmetic.
The sun is kind on this fine day.
How long can I stay?
Moments are never too long
That warm the blood
When the tide is in the  flood
And brings a calm at the ebb.

 
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2014 WOODEN BOAT FESTIVAL Port Townsend, Washington September 5,6, & 7

Wood is a superior substance from which mere mortals bring skill to natures finest boatbuilding material. Acolytes of the sacred fiber are poised for the annual pilgrimage to Port Townsend to see boatbuilding elevated to it’s highest state. I have been anticipating this time with naught to sustain me than a subscription to WoodenBoat magazine and the mental massaging of my obsession.  I live a barnacles throw down the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Port Angeles which consistently fails me in this regard. What passed for a Kayak Symposium this spring was dominated by polyester and various fabrics frozen into shape with suspiciously toxic chemical matrices. Only the few enlightened enough to sport Greenland style paddles provided respite from the plasticization of  maritime recreation.

They call this the Evergreen state. Washington has given me 12 years of coniferous landscapes. All that brilliant green is only slightly dimmed by the arrival of Autumn. The skeletons of millions of cedars and firs have provided industry to this rough-hewn heaven as long as human inhabitants have been able to fashion tools. You have to admire the tenacity of the native peoples who scraped the very marrow out of felled logs then took to the waves in an environment with tidal forces worthy of the myths they engendered. In decades past lumber schooners crowded the harbors of Puget Sound and sturdy tugs and steamboats fashioned from native timber brought local commerce into the industrial age. And of course yachting brought beauty and grace to the continuous movement of human enterprise in and around the Salish Sea.

Many different materials will float or can be shaped into vessels that will remain above water, mostly. Their prime attribute is to satisfy a variety of engineering specifications in a form that is smooth and homogeneous with a high strength to weight ratio. Thus are created unbroken surfaces of glaring white made up of things molded or welded from stuff torn out of the earth or synthesized in laboratories. Let me qualify my assessment of the panoply of boatbuilding materials by saying that I am confident that more poetry has been written about trees than glassfiber and polyester resin. Therein lies the difference between wood and it’s competitors. Yes, at the end of time the landfills of civilized society will bear a greater load of plastic bottle boats as we pop them out in identical dozens. But wood will have left a more indelible impression on the human soul. It is from the forest that a nutritious feast for the eye may be harvested. Port Townsend is the place to get fed.

For those of us who revere the art and craft of boatbuilding it can be hard on the neck trying to see everything at once. I try to make a plan each year with a special emphasis. Some years I have offered my services as crew on a schooner for Saturday’s Schooner Cup Race. Another year I concentrated on tools and materials. This is the year to visit with people and their boats. I will certainly stop in to see Kaci Cronkhite and Pax.  There is nothing quite like a spidsgatter kept in Bristol fashion. When I was younger and fantasized about circumnavigating I was enamored of the famed Colin Archer designs and their many iterations. Since coming to the Puget Sound area I have seen that one could transform a crusty old fisherman into a ballerina. Maritime magic is the stuff of which spidsgatters are made.

Another essential visit to make is to Dave Eckler and his Chester Yawl. You may remember him from previous blog posts as I assisted him in the building of his fine 14 foot rowing craft.  Dave will be exhibiting the boat along with some of his custom made accessories for other owners of rowing craft and kayaks. I especially like the efficient set up he has designed to hold oars securely in the boat while trailering.  One of his items sure to be popular is an attractive small drink cooler for the thirsty rower.

Rowing is of special interest to me right now and I will be looking at the various offerings of designers and kit manufacturers with a critical eye. I hope to share my observations with my readers.

There is always more to see and do at the festival than I have time for. The wooden Boat Festival offers an embarrassment of riches. I refuse to believe it is too much of a good thing. I have been involved in woodcraft my whole life. Long ago I was selling woodcarvings at craft shows and was always struck by a common habit of the many people filing by my exhibit in any long day of hawking my wares.  Many people were not content to look. They instinctively reached out to touch the wood. They often commented on the urge. Wood has an attraction that can’t be synthesized. We are drawn to it’s warmth as much when it is fashioned into an object of use or art as when it burns on the hearth.  That’s why I go to The Wooden Boat festival. It will warm my heart better than anything as the chilly winds of Autumn presage the cold of winter. One needs memories to relish by the fireside.

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I am a random visitor to small coastal towns. I feel at ease with myself where the water meets the land. To know the real depth of a village one has to put down some roots to find whether the soil is rich or barren. I have enough of that detailed knowledge in the place that I live. As a temporary partaker of municipal life I feel like the best meal is laid before me without having to help with the dishes. Hospitality nourishes the inner person and gives relief from the daily weight we carry about in our hometowns.

One of my favorite places for escape are sailor towns.  There life clusters around the waterfront where civilization takes a living from the sea. The ones I am most familiar with are” Newport, Rhode Island, Annapolis, Maryland, St. Michaels, Maryland, and Port Townsend, Washington. Each one offers ample services for the mariner and his craft. They are old towns with quaint charm by the buckets full and artistry oozing out of every pore. I love them all but Newport was the first of these worthies that I came to know and provided me with a moment that is etched in my mind like a copperplate engraving.

In the mid nineteen seventies I fancied myself a professional woodcarver and sculptor. I made a not very spectacular living haunting art and craft shows in the middle Atlantic States. When WoodenBoat magazine held it’s very first WoodenBoat Show in Newport I signed up as an exhibitor. I had been to Newport before when I bought my San Francisco Pelican. On this occasion I was by myself and found the town steeped in nautical atmosphere that was off the scale. For four days I was in sailor heaven. When the show closed in the evening the social life went on at the bars which closed around midnight. Down at the docks friendly people in summertime mode gathered in amiable groups that made a stranger feel welcome. There were guitars to sing along with and girls amenable to flirtation.

I would roll into town in the morning and spend the time before the show opened wandering the quiet streets. I found a small cafe with tables on the sidewalk. They served a bracing cup of coffee and a passable croissant. Among the snapshots of blissful moments in my life is a picture of my young and happy self, enriched in spirit by a creative streak and in a delightful place of my own choosing. The sky was summer blue as I looked up into it from my chair on the sidewalk by a narrow street. Sparrows coyly paraded in front of me, intent upon my croissant. I was easily seduced and shared my breakfast gladly. There was no care large enough to break the peace that I felt living deliberately for a brief time in one of the great sailor towns I have known.

To Morning From Memory
by Chris Kleinfelter

The morning light in Newport that day
fed to me by the sun embraced my skin
It entered into memory as if the cafe table
was frozen in time.
The sidewalk sparrows
waited on me,
a burning sun
doling out photons
which in my blindness
I saw only as breadcrumbs.
The pastry so fresh and sweet
stirred my restless heart
and I knew then
that mornings had always been
the love of my life.

 

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A boat by the side of the road invites inquiry.  Driving by without hearing their stories seems an act of neglect. I don’t mean the sort of boat that’s sitting behind a car on a trailer with a flat tire. I mean the sort that squats in someone’s yard looking like it has grown roots, a boat that should be carving a carefree wake in the washboard surface of a wave tossed sea. It sits there among the trees whose solidity it mimics without so much as creating a furrow in the leaf littered lawn.  You see them everywhere but most are not worth a second glance.

Every so often one of these dry land dreams catches my eye with a stronger light. They radiate the kind of vibration I used to get when I was an antiques dealer in search of valuable merchandise. For me character born of craftsmanship and tradition have a palpable effect on the senses I have never been able to explain. It heralds a recognition of importance, that an item is well made and possesses a quality of design that is enduring and intrinsically valuable. The finest kind of of these nautical discoveries is the sight of a schooner. The problem with Schooners is they are usually so big, so inaccessible, and unattainable. Schooner rigs work best on a heavy displacement cargo hauling, people moving vessel. It’s a rare thing to come upon an example of the type on a scale that a working man can relate to.

Oakland

When I first came to the Pacific Northwest I did a lot of rambling around the Olympic peninsula. Naturally my eyes were always peeled for interesting  boats. Carlsborg, Washington is a sprinkling of houses and businesses along a road by the same name. While driving that road one day I spotted a blue hull under a tarp setting back from the road. A subtle jangling of an old familiar vibe rattled in my head. A set of davits protruded from the stern and a bowsprit pointed the way forward. She was clearly a traditional type of sailing vessel so I played the usual game in my head of guessing the rig type, make, model, and designer. My mental database kept coming up with a connection between this boat and the location.  I remembered a boatbuilder from Carlsborg because I had ordered study plans from him for a design advertised in the long gone Small Boat Journal magazine back in the early eighties. This boat didn’t quite match the memory of the 22 foot cutter called the Dungeness Crabber by her designer but something spoke to me and remained in memory. I passed by this mystery boat many times over the past 11 years. She never appeared to go anywhere. The boat was waiting for something to happen.

Note the nautical charm of carved trail boards and the vertical staving of the cabin.

Note the nautical charm of carved trail boards and the vertical staving of the cabin.

On one of my weekly drives through the Port Angeles Boat Haven I stopped to check out the bulletin board. A full color advertisement showed a picture of a familiar looking blue hull. There she was like an old friend discovered on Facebook. Better yet, the ad answered questions that had buzzed around in my brain for years. The heading said, ” Sailboat For Sale, 23′ John Atkins Gaff Rigged Schooner ‘Florence Oakland'” A number of pieces fell into place immediately. I have admired this design for years. One of the few small schooner designs with a proven reputation. She measures 22′ 5″ long on deck and carries 297 square feet of sail in a well balanced set of main, fore and jib. She was built with an extended cabin and self-bailing cockpit making her one of the saltiest looking pocket yachts I have ever come across. This boat sits with no name on her transom. In fact she was never launched and was in need of some finishing touches. I had to know more about this little schooner because this boat comes complete with a very interesting history.

John Magner was a boatbuilder with an eye for tradition. He built boats that were uncomplicated, salty and sound including  William Short’s Great Pelicans, several of John Atkins designs including two schooners and various dinghies and daysailers. On a snowy day in February I drove to Carlsborg to meet with John’s sons and take a closer look at the boat. The builder began construction in the 1970’s. He worked on her intermittently between other building projects. Mr. Magner passed away in 1989 after battling cancer. This left the boat unfinished and she remained in that state ever since. The hull built from wedge seamed Alaska Yellow Cedar  below the waterline and red Cedar above and the cabin and cockpit are basically complete. The interior needs some finish work and an old Volvo Penta is installed on solid engine beds but needs work and various things hooked up. There are tanks which were never fully installed. The masts and spars are finished and look to be in good condition. There are some bits and pieces of rigging scattered around but for the most part she needs some more standing rigging and a complete compliment of running rigging. There are no sails. Sanding and repainting are necessary. There is some rot around the corner post on the starboard forward cabin top. I was shown a blistered section of the plywood coaming on the starboard side. The boat has been tarped over all these years but did suffer these few effects from exposure.

Bridge deck at forward end of cockpit has the hole for the mainmast and a nice rack of belaying pins.

Bridge deck at forward end of cockpit has the hole for the mainmast and a nice rack of belaying pins.

John Atkin designed Florence Oakland for Jacob Hess of Canton Ohio. It was named after his mother-in-law. She was originally designed for plywood construction to make the boat trailerable. Several have been adapted for batten seam construction so it is not surprising that Mr. Magner opted for wedged seams. The sail plan spreads out a lot of sail area in a low aspect ratio that promises a good degree of stability. She would handle easily getting off a mooring with just the big mainsail raised. Atkin’s original concept was for a daysailer with a lot of cockpit space and a small cuddy cabin forward. This boat has an extended cabin going back to the main mast. While not creating spacious accommodations it provides a cozy situation for weekends and longer vacation voyaging. A simple galley arrangement will allow for basic boat camping meals and a whistling teapot dispensing hot drinks and charming ambiance.

More can be learned about this interesting design at the Atkin & Sons website. I recommend an article “Florence Oakland, A Backyard Schooner” by Mike O’Brien originally published in Boat Design Quarterly also found at the Atkin & Sons website. John Magner’s sons would like to see their father’s work go to an owner who will appreciate the work that has already gone into this charming little schooner.  They are asking $5,000. This is a fraction of the current cost in materials and time. She would make a fine project for any builder with a heart for tradition and an urge to feel the pull of a schooner’s tiller in their hand. You can contact Kevin Magner at 360-683-5653 or email at reveriegardens@olypen.com

 

Oakland

 
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