Finding Pax: A Story Of Mystery And Reunion


Finding Pax by Kaci Cronkhite: Wind Spur Books, Port Townsend, Washington,

Kaci Cronkhite has written a story of full immersion. Her recently published book, Finding Pax, takes the reader on a seven year journey connecting many lives that have been touched by a singular vessel. The author’s search for Pax’s origins grows out of the inexplicable bond that occurred the moment she found “her boat.” If it can ever be said that someone has found the right boat it surely happened with Kaci and Pax. These two came within hailing distance of each other at a time when everything was just right for the meeting.

It is strange how many people born far from the ocean are drawn to it by fate. Kaci was an Oklahoma girl more familiar with the rocking gait of a horse than the rolling deck of a sailboat, From her first step on board a yacht she found a similarity in the two motions that would lead her to sail around the world. She came ashore but stayed close to the sailing life as the director of the annual Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Washington. As such she involved herself with a gathering of finely crafted vessels and a community of dedicated sailors committed to preserving a timeless example of human endeavor.

Her involvement would deepen one August day with a simple email message about a boat that was for sale. It was a Danish spidsgatter. A 28 foot long double ended sloop with a tall rig and lines that any sailor can fall in love with instantly. As the story unfolds Pax, built in 1936, had a checkered past much of it shrouded in mystery.

A busy person can have a hard time fitting the needs of a wooden vessel into their lives. The varnish and paint alone are enough to defeat many people. When the boat comes along with a raft of mysteries that cry out to be solved the effort is likely to be overwhelming. The best caretakers of boats with an important history are those who have been tested by the sea and the vagaries of life practiced within the full on press of the human condition. Such a person has made peace with a few demons and learned the value of taking life one day at a time. A little perspective goes a long way.

Port Townsend is the West Coast mecca for wooden boats and at the very heart of the scene is The Wooden boat Festival. From the moment she bought Pax Kaci had a project that would stretch the limits of her resources. She makes it clear that she had the valuable assistance of many fine people from Port Townsend shipwrights and sailmakers to former owners in this country and folks in Denmark who knew Pax’s  builders and designers or were interested in the preservation of these beautiful vessels. As the book progresses you see a marvelous community form around this boat. It seems that Kaci did not buy a boat so much as she grew a family.

The story adds these people in layers that give it a unique texture. Anyone who has spent time around wooden boats and the operations that build and maintain them is familiar with the array of diverse characters that inhabit the scene. The boats themselves require a certain temperament and a respect for good materials and hard work. It is a calling and a special way of life.

The former owners and builders that were a part of Pax’s history flow in an irregular rhythm that is like a song waiting to be written. Discovery follows discovery From Washington to California, British Columbia, Oklahoma, Denmark and back again. The line up of previous owners take the reader through good times and bad, in war and peace. Through it all every soul that was touched by this beautiful boat was sorry to let her go but joyful in reconnection.

It is fitting that there would be a connection manifested in cedar and oak between this community of craftsmen in the heart of modern America and Denmark’s ancient coast. A land of preserved tradition produced a jewel of a vessel that found it’s way to a place where that same tradition is actively being rediscovered. Because of the stories of boats like Pax we are all richer for it.

11713710_10153419793598728_1059960480753507179_oFinding Pax may be purchased at


Posted in Designs, Events, Uncategorized, voyages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Moment That Makes It

A Facebook friend asked a question I have not thought about for a long time. As often happens a simple answer became a short essay, because I’m like that.


Been thinking a lot about the wind and I am highly interested in what Chris and JJ would say about the feeling they experience when the sails on their crafts first catch the wind.


Whenever I sailed my 23 foot sloop Dragonsong  I relished a particular moment, the best of the day. While still in the slip I would start the 9 hp outboard on it’s bracket at the stern. I liked the little 2 stroke motor because it was as reliable as it was loud. I would cast off the mooring lines and motor out of the marina into Bear Creek. Once past the marina I would pass by another marina and the green day mark at the entry to the Rhode River. It would be another quarter mile until I joined the West River where it widened out to meld with the more open waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I could motor the distance or sail it. When the wind was out of the northeast it would require a lot of tacking back and forth. If the tide was on the flood you could relax and just keep the iron topsail running. But if the wind was fair or at least on the beam it was definitely time for sailing.

So, head into the wind and go forward to the mast removing the sail ties on the boom along the way. Cast off the main halyard from it’s cleat and haul away. The main sheet would be left slack so that it could stream in the wind without power. Sailors call this luffing. Tighten that mainsheet real good and make it fast to the cleat with a clove hitch. Coil the loose tail real fast and repeat the operation setting the jib running it up the wire forestay.

With all the sails aloft but not drawing I would return to the cockpit and haul on the main and jib sheets trimming the sails into tight curves of strong fabric embraced by the power of the wind. This is the moment you asked about because suddenly the engine becomes superfluous and with one hand on the tiller the other reaches for the kill switch and suddenly, silence. As the propeller loses it’s grip on the water the boat heels and settles into the pull of atmospheric horsepower. My senses open to sky and water. The only sounds left are the splash and gurgle of the buoyant medium, the song of the wind in the rigging, and creak of gear, modern in design but ancient in purpose. Somewhere in the back of my brain and the marrow of my bones I feel the beat of my heart in concert with it all.

Posted in Destinations, Uncategorized, voyages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Remains

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Collecting Warms a Sailor’s Soul


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. If you like your obsessions the way I do you will find nothing better to feed them than books.

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, especially old ones, 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 while 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 few seconds 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beast Settles In For a While Longer


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

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 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This Rough Beast Floats


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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ozymandias Waits In The Harbor


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.”

Posted in Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dungeness Crabber, A Boatbuilder’s Legacy

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 men’s drawing boards.  He did a fine job of it. His small boats, El Toros, San Francisco Pelicans, and Atkin schooners were the 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 its 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 a 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.

Title block









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 daydreaming. 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 nation’s 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 Magner 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 as in mixed company.


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.


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.

Posted in Building, Designs, Sailor's crafts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crab House Meditations

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.

Posted in Destinations, Uncategorized, voyages | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wood: Fiber Fit For A Festival


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.


Posted in Events, Sailor's crafts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment