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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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, so unattainable. Schooner rigs work best on a big stretch of 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.


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 looking 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 the 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 and 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 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




It’s been a banner year for global warming. Here on the Olympic Peninsula we haven’t gotten much play from the polar vortex. More cold than usual came our way for awhile with temperatures down in the teens. As usual the sun has not spent much time visiting our dreary land and receiver of rain drops. Some times I rather miss the snow which has blanketed most of the country. People seem to talk about the weather more than ever. To  look at my Facebook news feed you’d think some bright cable execs had whipped up something like CCC, The Climate Change Channel. My personal favorite program has been “Battering Cornwall” in which a coastline exposed to the unbroken flow of the Gulf Stream is pummeled by record breaking waves. On February 14, 2014 the Surfhog sea buoy off Penzance recorded a record 90 foot wave which beat out the previous winner at 75 feet about a week prior. Much of the action as the ocean comes ashore is captured on video. The scenes of waves breaking against ancient seawalls is very dramatic in an “not where I want to be standing” sort of way.

Western Morning news, 216/2014, Picture by Phil Monkton

Western Morning news, 216/2014, Picture by Phil Monkton

Sailors have lived with the power of the sea for as long it seemed like messing about in boats was a good idea. The sceptered isles have figured prominently in the lore of the sea and are no stranger to maritime drama. The current meteorological onslaught has taken many of us by surprise. The area has been the scene of memorable weather including the 1979 Fastnet Race in which a powerful storm took the lives of eighteen people.  Further back in history the stormy North Atlantic wrote the final act of the Spanish Armada in 1805. Having failed to invade England with about a third of the fleet being turned to floating smudge pots by British fireships or hammered into kindling by Sir Francis Drake. They sought to escape by heading north up the channel to take advantage of the let’s go round it strategy often employed by those who engage militarily with island nations. Fortune and the weather were not with them as they came round the other side of Scotland. As a result the stormy North Atlantic scattered up to 24 wrecked galleons along the rocky coast of Ireland. There is great power in water. We mortals exalt in making it do our will when first we learn to doggy paddle, breast stroke, and do cannonballs off a diving board. Philosophers east and west have considered the nature of the wet medium for centuries. “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”  -Lao Tzu-

The harbour at the world famous Lamorna Cove near Penzance in West Cornwall which was built in 1850 and has now been destroyed by the sea: Picture by Colin Higgs

The harbour at the world famous Lamorna Cove near Penzance in West Cornwall which was built in 1850 and has now been destroyed by the sea: Picture by Colin Higgs

This winter is the stormiest winter in England since they started recording weather events back in 1776. We have watched as one hammer blow after another has been delivered to the western side of the British Isles. It has washed away coastal rail lines and flooded quaint old villages that perch among the seacliffs like the rookeries of pelagic birds.  The ocean puts on these displays as if to remind us who is in charge. It makes us feel small. Which has always been it’s job. It humbles us and calls to us. It reminds us that we are soft but can also be strong.


Yes, I am crazy about podcasts, especially if they center around sailing and boats. This is a narrow field so I take what I can get. You can find a number of them on iTunes that have faded long ago and it’s a happy day when a new one emerges.  I am well pleased with my latest find. Heritage Boatworks by Jed Lavoie is dedicated to gathering stories of New England boatbuilders. Having spent time sailing Down East my interest is piqued by the mention of familiar names and places that needle my nascent memory. This podcast makes me feel the way bright colored autumn leaves affect me in my current evergreen dominant situation. The seven episodes produced thus far have been right on Jed’s stated mission and the future looks good as well.

As a rule first episodes of podcasts are distinctly at the low end of the hosts learning curve. Jed managed a rather good start with an introduction to himself and what he was up to with his personal incursion into new media. He comes off as a regular guy with a passion for boats that he fits into the life of a family man as best he can. Not a professional boatbuilder himself, he is an avid amateur and displays a knowledge of the craft gleaned from a life long enthusiasm for nautical history and sailing. In other words he is a real Seaward Adventures sort of guy.

Heritage Boatworks has featured some very interesting guests. Graham McKay at Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury, MA, Heidi Reid at Stur-Dee Boat Company in Tiverton, RI, Roger Crawford at Crawford Boat Building in Humarock, MA, and Geoff Marshall at Marshall Marine in South Dartmouth, MA. It was a treat to get a verbal tour of Lowell’s Boat Shop with it’s history of building dories that sailed on the legendary Grand Banks schooners. Lowell’s is a living museum dedicated to simple wooden craft that have given utility and pleasure to many people on the water since 1793.

Roger Crawford spoke of his years building and selling traditional Melonseed skiffs. His enthusiasm for the design made me want to go sailing now. Like NOW! The man is a real promoter of traditional methods of building that bring substance to soft technology. His website has a great series on his favorite shop tools that is well worth reading no matter what your level of experience is.

Jed is the proud owner of a Marshall Sanderling Catboat. It is a type of boat that he dreamed of for many years. The Marshalls have always been on my list of desirable watercraft. I used to visit their booth at the Annapolis Boat Show every year and am thoroughly familiar with the Sanderling. Jed’s interview with Geoff Marshall was kind of call back to my own daydreams. I am sure that I talked with Geoff a few times in the past. Had I not purchased my Seaward23 I am sure that a Marshall catboat would have been my sailboat of choice.


Jed Lavoie’s 18 foot Marshall Sanderling catboat.

By far my favorite episode was the one with Heidi Reid. More than an interview it was a conversation between friends. Jed’s second boat was a 14 foot Stur-Dee Cat. He bought it used and did some fix up work on the boat that included replacing the cockpit coamings. He went right to the builder for advice on the operation and as the story is told one gets the sense that the company welcomed it’s customers into their family. Stur-Dee boats are a legacy shepherded by Heidi whose father Ernie Gavin is gone but not forgotten. the company has survived a devastating fire in 1988 and the passing of it’s founder. the spirit of Ernie Gavin is hard-wired into the hearts of his daughter and granddaughter who make no compromises on quality and continue to uphold a brand that has always enjoyed a sterling reputation. The interview had genuine human emotion that was very moving.

14 foot Stur-Dee cat Marconi rig catboat

14 foot Stur-Dee cat Marconi rig catboat

Jed is off to a very good start with his enterprise. There is much to look forward to. He is located in the rich heartland of New England boatbuilding which should be a grand source of more great interviews.  I like having a ready source of fodder for my own daydreams. It is a pleasure to welcome this kindred spirit who has a passion for sailing and an authentic voice.



Television does not have a lot to offer a sailor. There are fleeting glimpses of sailboats and occasionally attractive Hollywood types posing in the cockpit of a fantastic plastic lavishly trimmed out in teak. The dialog is busily engaged in advancing whatever plot is struggling to engage your credulity.  Some movies are notable exceptions but mostly it’s a desert out there. Fortunately the internet is a big place and there are people engaged in catering to every interest. There are boat loads of blogs and websites. YouTube has a raft of videos  showing just about everything under sail since film was invented.

Many sailing videos are interesting but amateurish. You see a lot of cockpit only points of view. The people on board may look like they’re having fun but they aren’t saying much. The sound of rushing water overwhelming the camera’s low end omnidirectional mike can put you to sleep or give you a headache. If any of this has been your experience than I have an alternative for you.

Two years ago I encountered Off Center Harbor at the annual Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend. They had a dead simple setup. It was basically a TV under a tent. The video that was playing immediately caught my eye. It showed a man rowing a traditional wooden boat with practiced ease. He spoke clearly and intelligently. The depth of his experience was evident in his speech.

The booth was being manned by Eric Blake one of the founders of OFC. Besides being a boatbuilder at the Brooklin Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine and an instructor for the Woodenboat magazine Wooden boat school. Eric is part of the Off Center Harbor team. He explained the concept of this video website dedicated to traditional boats and the people who build, maintain and love them. I was captivated by the idea and knew it was a winner if done right. It has been.

The range of subjects include building, rowing, sailing, cruising, maintaining traditional boats and more. Locations vary from the coast of Maine to Washington’s Puget Sound.  The craft featured are various forms of wooden construction but not exclusively. There is a very good three part series on modifying a small sailboat for cruising that features a Pacific Seacraft Dana 24. It is a a capable small cruiser built in fiberglass but with enough wood trim to satisfy anyone short of the folks who grumble angrily about “frozen snot.” I don’t know that you could say there is something for everyone. In fact there is not enough for me but that’s only because I’m insatiable. The site also features blog posts and links to many valuable web resources of a nautical nature.

Many of Off Center Harbor’s videos feature demonstrations of the craft of boatbuilding. The presenters are accomplished and communicate their subjects well. One of my favorites is Harry Bryan. His  Boatbuilders’ Hand Tools, The Basic Tool Kit is great advice for the beginning boatbuilder from a man who knows his tools intimately. In Clamps for the Boat Builder Harry covers a subject dear to my heart. In case you’ve been skimming this blog lightly I will reiterate my fondest philosophy of tool collecting: there is no such thing as too many clamps. Take it from Harry. He’s a pro. Just so you don’t think OFC is a bunch of handcraft snobs you can catch Eric Blake in a three part series: Boatbuilders’ Best Power Tools. He shows some electric workhorses doing yeoman duty in the Brooklin Boatyard.

There are two lengthy how-to-build-it series including Ian Oughtred’s Caledonia Yawl and the FOX double paddle canoe, designed and built by Bill Thomas. These start with a discussion of the design and a little bit of the history of it’s type. It’s interesting and educational to see the boats go together with clear explanations of the steps taken. Most of the videos run less than 10 minutes. however, they are feature rich and visually satisfying. I hope to be reviewing some specific videos of interest to me in the enar future. There are about 150 to choose from so I won’t run out soon.

If you have exhausted Netflix and the like for suitable sailing fare try Off Center Harbor. It is a by subscription website that is well worth the $29.00 yearly price. That’s cheaper than most magazine subscriptions and none of them offers this array of material in high quality video. A magazine only gives you one years slice of a whole body of work. With OFC you get to see everything they’ve produced thus far as well as the item’s turned out during the term of your subscription. Sign on today. It’s going to be a long cold winter and you need something to feed the soul as the body stays cozy and warm.


Christmas eve finds me in a thoughtful mood. The tug of the seasons tide has ebbed. One can rest on the oars and drift for awhile. Sometimes I feel that all I do is drift. There are so many things in life that require real effort. A blog about something as nonessential as recreational boating seems a complete waste of the small amount of time left for it. Still it is important, even essential to some deeper part of me. The tritest of phrases is about “those that can do, those that can’t…” I could spend a lot of time feeling guilty about procrastination. Unhealthy and nonproductive emotions are easy to come by.

The year has been a challenging one. Challenging being a euphemism for it sucked on several fronts. Why I feel as good and positive in this moment is an unfathomable mystery. I have food, clothing and shelter, the love of a good woman, at least one of my two cars runs and the tools in my shop include a Stanley number 4 plane with a sharp blade. The cresting wave of the new year approaches and it looks like it’s time to surf.

When I catch that wave I intend to ride it as far as I can.  Watch these pages as 2014 runs it’s course. There’s a following breeze abuilding and we sail with the morning tide.


The beauty that is in the eye of the beholder demands clarity. It is never more pleased than when it penetrates the blue sky or sees fish winding among eel grass below the surface of clear water. When we who have pretensions toward craftsmanship apply the finishing touch to a project we want to let the materials show their natural beauty.  A clear coating on wood displays the grain’s pattern and enhances the reflectivity and color variety of the bundled fibers. The degree to which we are successful in this requires as much care and attention to detail as skillfully wielding tools to assemble a complex structure.


In the world of wooden boats a premium is placed on the so-called bright finish. In some cultures boats are painted bright, even garish colors.  You see this in the Mediterranean and the equatorial areas of the world. Varnish suffers from the sun the farther south one is located. The Chesapeake summer light is as harsh an environment as I need to be subjected to. By the time you reach Florida I don’t even want to discuss it.  Fortunately The Pacific Northwest is somewhat tolerable and the lack of sunshine that dims many a Seattelites soul can finally be turned to advantage. Once upon a time various oils were applied and laboriously rubbed until they gleamed – sort of. This lasted until oxidation created an ever  darkening patina.  More stable varnishes have been around for hundreds of years. The spar varnish we use now is more durable than the oils and shellacs of an earlier era. Formulations for clear protective coatings have become government regulated chemical stews. They are easier to maintain and they even smell slightly better.

Many builders of the Chester Yawl kits have opted for a bright hull. It looks very good in a “ooh shiny!” sort of way. I confess to being an old fashioned, mostly paint and just a little visible wood kind of guy. In a previous post Dave’s yawl showed the epoxy-coated hull in bright mode. The finished article will be different. A coat of white paint now reduces the visible wood areas considerably. Dave does not wish to be wedded to frequent maintenance of the shiny stuff. I don’t blame him. There is enough bright finish area to keeps the boat pretty and practical. He is somewhat new to the craft of varnishing so we have worked together to make his boat’s beauty at least skin deep.

It is not my intention to write a tutorial on varnishing. Over the years I have heard or read much information on the art with just a smidgen of science. The whole body of knowledge would contain enough contradiction to confuse a philosophy professor. My one bit of solid advice is to get a book that makes logical sense to you and adopt it’s methods as your own. Wherever your gut-feeling leads you in another direction follow that instinct. If you come up with a mess don’t worry. Varnish is infinitely sandable and all you really have in this world is time. Unless you are doing this for money in which case you have more trouble than I can help you with.

I have done my share of varnishing over the years and find it to be more satisfying than painting. It likes to be an unhurried process. I feel no pressure to get things covered up.  The basics of wielding the brush is to flow the varnish from the wet edge of the previously applied varnish. Use a brush made for varnishing. Hard nylon bristles create brush marks like furrows in a field. Good lighting will help you keep track of where you’ve been and where you need to go next.


I could state a lot of ideals here like: dust free environment, stable temperatures, surfaces properly prepared with a specific grit of sandpaper, or no sandpaper only scrapers and planes with razor sharp blades set to take micro-thin shavings. My cramped garage and an unusually cold autumn have made observing the niceties a struggle. the temps are a particularly difficult issue. Dave purchased a kerosene heater who’s design is adapted from some sort of military jet engine. It gives heat, and quickly, but makes conversation difficult.

The first coat is on and from a distance it looks very nice. Up close it bears it’s share of imperfections. The first coat is what I call a “spit coat.” It is not meant to be perfect and will be sanded smooth providing a base for further coats which will provide a more eye-catching sheen at a closer distance. The Tao of varnishing is a practice of patience. The destination is up ahead and we will not see it until we get there.


I have had three garages in my adult life. One of them sheltered an automobile for one night. That seems more than generous to me. I look upon cars as practical transportation fit to live in the outdoors much like a redneck’s hound dog. The space that is normally reserved and labeled on architectural drawings as the domain of automobiles is, in my rigidly held opinion, too useful a space to waste on a machine so lacking in relevance to my passions. I will grant a small exception in the case of the right classic motorcycle as long as it is clear that it holds secondary importance in the true purpose of this holy chamber.

The true and rightful purpose of this venue falls into two primary categories: Shop space or boat storage. This leaves variability in utility as in the designation of “shop” as a place for working in wood, metal, clay, watercolors or even well-stacked Legos.  the storage aspect is properly open to anything in the whole wide world as long as it can be reasonably described as a boat: paddled, rowed, sailed, motored or equiped with military surplus rocket engines. Just as in sail area to displacement ratios – happiness is measured by the square foot.

My current garage is a two car (the word “car” is used here strictly for context) affair with an attached shop area. That is where I have my workbench The top is part of a former bowling alley. On the opposite wall is the standard large expanse of pegboard from which a variety of hand tools dangle off metal hooks. Lots of shelves and hidey places make it easy to horde supplies. The space is well lit during the day by a surplus of windows. I love the space but by the time you allow for a table saw in the middle of the floor it becomes apparent that it is not suited to large projects.

The main portion of the garage where normal people keep, well you know what, just cries out for a small boat or two to be abuilding. Where my theory of garage purposing breaks down comes in relationship to the property owned by but not often used by the members of ones household. Things that have been outgrown seem to take root in my garage and apparently the road to hell is paved with the specific good intentions that should lead to Goodwill. I won’t go into futher detail but let me just reiterate the adage that nature abhors a vacuum, also open floor space. For more on this look up George Carlin and “stuff” on YouTube. All will be made clear.

To relate this to the Chester Yawl let me apprise you of Dave’s situation without violating too much of his privacy. Ever since being laid off he has been faced with a job search in an economy that is at best an employer’s market. As so many people have done he has recently downsized various aspects of his life. This has meant moving to a more affordable housing situation. Consequently, the shop that housed this project so far is no longer available. I know that Dave regrets this and I sympathize with him. We moved the yawl into my garage where it can continue to be massaged with sandpaper and eventually be clothed in sparkling varnish.

Dave had asked for my help with the varnishing and that will now be easier  to coordinate. The day we moved the boat into the garage we spent a long time sanding the rails and a portion of the inside of planking. Additional sessions of sanding by Dave have the yawl almost ready for the shiny stuff. We will be cleaning up the dust and going over the relevant places with tack cloths.  Applying varnish will hopefully be the subject of my next chapter in this long saga.

Working around the boat is a little cramped. But there is enough room to swing a brush. In spite of the compromises made to miscellaneous storage it feels good to have a boat in the garage. I take it as a positive sign that one day I will win the storage war. I have established a beachhead and am determined to move forward: one square foot at a time.

© 2015 Seaward Adventures Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha