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.