Friday 31 May 2013

Spooky Dusk

    "Where anything can happen when the zephyr blows..."
                                   -Robbie Robertson

       From mid-May until, say, late September, the weather on the north shore of Lake Erie is pretty predictable.  It's like a meteorological haiku:
      Calm from dawn until noon.
      Breeze until late evening.
      Calming  towards morn.

     Today was weird.  Breezy this morning and choppy on the Bay, hot, humid, dead calm and dead flat this afternoon, then a storm rolled in , and it got weird.

     Intense rain for about 10 minutes, then the fog fell.

    This ain't Maine- we just don't get fog in May. At 5:30 at night.


   Then it rained again.

    Visibility increased, and  you could actually see the fog roll back in. I am not indulging in a lazy cliche here,  at least not this time- it literally rolled across the Bay.

   The mist crept onto shore like something out of a Stephen King flick. 

  Within minutes, the marina was covered in an unsettling blanket:

     When the weather gets weird, what do the weird do?  Pour another glass of wine.

     I'm glad to see the precipitation- we can definitely use the moisture right now, weird or otherwise.

"Talk the Dock!"

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Book Reviewsday Tuesday: The Living Great Lakes

          "Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her..."
               -Gordon Lightfoot

          The Great Lakes are, collectively,  trillions of gallons of freshwater awesome.  Superlatives are the descriptive standard-  biggest, longest, deepest, largest, best, most.  
    These Lakes of ours are epic. 

     Some in-your-face Lakes trivia:

    The coastline length  of the Lakes exceeds the lengths of the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of the United States.  Combined.

    The surface area of the Lakes exceeds the states of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  Combined.

    The Lakes encompass two countries and  straddle two time zones.

     The Great Lakes contain 5% of the standing fresh water on the entire planet.

     Individually,  the five lakes bear little resemblance, one to another, and if it wasn't for the tie of shared waterflow, one would be hard pressed to create any sort of logical connection.
         Without shared water, what possible commonality could  deep cold Superior and shallow, warm Erie share, being  separated by hundreds of miles and five degrees of latitude?

       This vast scope and individuality are what make a narrative condensation of the Lakes such a daunting task, and why it runs the risk of resulting in a tome written in the spirit of the Jain/Buddhist/Hindu parable of the blind men seeing an elephant:
     The small picture is captured while the whole is discarded, the scale lost, distorted or just plain ignored.

      Which may be why few writers have attempted the task.  It is Micheneresque in scale,  and Michener has sailed across the bar.

       Jerry Dennis took on the challenge.

      And conquered it.

       The result, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas , is a solid success that sets the standard.

                                                            -cover image courtesy of  McMillan Publishing


          Five Lakes, each with her own unique geology, ecology, politics, geography, history, climate, sociology, economy and hydrology.

         Enough for five hefty textbooks that nobody would want to read.

        How the hell does a writer capture each Lake, and further capture the Lakes as a whole?

         Dennis went sailing, and this narrative device transforms what could have been a dry academic compendium of facts into a compelling and enjoyable read.

          The author signed on as crew on the delivery of the Malabar, a ferro-cement sightseeing schooner being relocated from Lake Michigan to Maine.  This journey allows us to see the Lakes through the author's eyes, and each port of call and waypoint is the prompt for an anecdote, a history lesson, a flashback to an event in the author's past, or an interview with a local character, like Long Point's  now-deceased beach comber/historian Dave Stone.

       Jerry Dennis grew up on the Lakes, lives on the Lakes, has sailed and fished and swum and dived and camped and canoed on the Lakes, and his love and his background shows.  He gets it.

      He gets that the only way to tell the tale of the Lakes  is to travel them, and let the tale tell itself. Set the scene, weave in the facts and the statistics that fill in the background of the Lake at hand, and then get out of the way.

    We hear from the Malabar's  delivery skipper, on his first extended trip through the "sweetwater seas."  We are introduced to sailors racing from Chicago to Mackinac.We go canoeing with outfitters on Superior's north shore.  We meet the engineer on a lake freighter, dreaming of the day he can retire and sail off on a sailboat of his own.

     Through them, we get to know each Lake- where they have been in the past, where they are today, how they got here and what the future may hold.

      There's the rare editorial glitch, like the repeated misspelling of Port Colborne, but the errors are minor and easily forgiven,  in light of the overall high quality of the storytelling.

      The research for last week's post prompted me to re-read "The Living Great Lakes."  Originally published in 2004, it is still relevant, and still a great read.

     If you live on the Lakes, this is an enjoyably thorough, knowledgeable overview of the lakes we call home.

     If you don't live on the Lakes, "The Living Great Lakes" may make you wish you do.

     Pick up a copy to read aboard this summer.

"Talk the Dock!"



Sunday 26 May 2013

Low-Buck Launch: Splash 2013

       "She's as pretty as she's ever gonna get..."
                                         -Living Color

      Brazil, Buenas!

      I've been parsing the percentages here at D6C Mission Control, dissecting the demographics, noodling on the numbers, always looking to get more people to Talk the Dock!  and have discovered some cool stats:

      A significant percentage of readers are from outside of North America- UK, Australia, Holland, Brazil, Russia, Romania, Nigeria...

     Okay, some of the hits might be actual readers, not searchbots.

      Yeah, I might actually find a way to make some money from this gig, too.

      Diddling the data, I realized that it's entirely possible that some of the rituals and requirements of Great Lakes sailing are completely foreign and incomprehensible to many from outside of North America.

     Like the spring sweat-equity extravaganza known as "splashing."

    I figure a little background info might help.  Locals, feel free to skip to the good stuff.

    Okay, if you can't find any good stuff, just skip to the average stuff.

    Shut up, smartass.  Just scroll down to the part that says "SKIP TO HERE"


       This is four-season country.  Here on the South Coast of Ontario, Canada,  it gets cold in the winter, warm in the summer, and rains in between.   The water often freezes all winter, and the marinas, by and large, are not equipped to allow boats to stay in the water year-round.  So every fall boatyards are busy hauling boats out and storing them on the hard, then each spring the process is reversed, and the boats get relaunched, or "splashed."

     As spring is a time of renewal in the natural world, so it is in a boat owner's world as well.  The weeks, days, and hours of spring prior to a boat's splash are filled with scraping and sanding and painting and patching and fixing and varnishing and swearing and yelling and drinking.  The "Northern Nautical"  version of the 80/20 Rule becomes the practice in boatyards far and wide:  80% of the maintenance a boat will receive all year is accomplished in the 20 days prior to her being splashed.

   Then you do it all over again next year.

  It's worth it.


      In splash seasons past, we have painted the deck, painted the topsides, stripped the bottom, rebuilt the top end of the engine, installed electronics, refitted the galley and cabin, varnished our asses off and generally made improvements  and revisions that were cosmetic or convenience related, not critical  to operation.

    This season was different.

    Climbing aboard to compile this season's punchlist of projects that we couldn't afford to do but couldn't afford to ignore, I checked the steering gear, and found ...

   ... blocks that were in bad shape.

    Okay, looks like steering R&R just moved to the #1 position on the "To-do" list.

      Upon further inspection, it looks like the blocks themselves are in decent shape- it's the wood under them (the block blocks?)  and the mounting hardware that is shot.

     So, the usual drill ensues-
1.  Measure
2.  Remeasure
3.  Cut scrap wood (for new block block blanks)
4.  Trim and shape
5.  Sand
6.  Cover in Epoxy
7.  Sand
8.  Varnish
9.   Test Fit.
10.  Utter Profanities
11.  Re-remeasure.  For Sure.  This Time.
12.  Repeat steps 3-9.
13.  Install

   Ahhh, step 13- that is always where it falls apart.  

    To bolt on  the new block blocks I have to UNbolt the remnants of the old block blocks, and the operative word here is bolt, which implies a nut, of which none can be seen in the pictures above and you know WHY? 

     Because they are hidden down HERE, that's why!!

   Oh, you can't see the nuts in question?  That's because they are waaaaayyyy back there- behind the engine, and above the fuel tank:..


     ...About 5" out of reach from the quarter berth, and I am about 4" too fat to slither in there.  

     (Yes, Astute, Critical, ABYC-versed Reader, all of the hoses leading to/from the tank and the cockpit drain hoses should be double-clamped.  More on that in a minute.)

     So, obviously I need to make another large hole in my boat.

     My new Matrix drill/driver/saw earns it's keep:
      Drill a hole, snap off the drill head and install the jigsaw head, turn a small hole into a bigger hole, snap in a cover plate...

    Snap the drill head back on, drill some smaller holes, swap out the drill bit for a Phillips head bit and drive some screws.


           Last time I had to drill a big hole in my boat and install a deck plate it took 40 minutes.

          This time it took less than 10.

     Now I can reach the nuts  AND the hose clamps.

      With the old block blocks removed and the well cleaned up, I threw some paint at it, installed new blocks  and put it all back together:


     Clean up the displaced caulk and the paint slop and she's as good as new.

    Not a moment too soon:


   When I inspected the blocks last season, I figured they would last until the end of the season.  They did...barely.

  That wasn't the only Whiskeyjack wood that had seen better days.  The swim ladder treads could no longer be tread upon.  

      I figured I'd repurpose Whiskeyjack's old galley locker doors into new treads.

     Splintery mahogany wouldn't be an ideal choice if the treads were to be left bare, but since they are going to be finished bright, I wasn't worried about slivers.

      Turns out I didn't have to worry anyway.

       I lit up the table saw and made the first cut and discovered...

     The doors weren't solid wood.

     Without missing a beat, I immediately resort to Plan B, and in hindsight, a Better Plan:  Cut up a couple of the companionway boards from DonorBoat.

       (Y'know, you'd figure that if I am able to seamlessly adapt to Plan B when Plan A gets in the weeds thanks to years of failed Plan As, I'd have learned to just turn my Plan Bs into my Plan As. 

        Hasn't happened yet. 

         Likely won't. )

       A couple of trips along the router table...

       Chuck a spade bit in the Matrix, measure the spacing, drill each tread, cut to fit the swim ladder rungs, shape...

      Varnish, and install.

      Here's the deal:   Preparing the boat for spring splash starts immediately after the boat is hauled out for the winter.  But the early stage, say, oh, October through March, is devoted largely to planning and procrastination.   Once the snow melts off the deck, effort is expended on exploratory sanding and scuffing  of  brightwork and hull.  

     Weather is both a factor  and a convenient excuse-  if it is too cold or too wet to paint or sand or varnish, one can rationalize taking a day off.  

      Upon setting the splash date with the yard, however, the clock starts ticking rather loudly, and excuses are no longer an option.  Nothing less than an ark-construction-inspiring deluge, or surprise snowstorm  will interrupt the -every-spare-moment pace of  splash prep, culminating in a late night/ early morning frenzy of  effort that doesn't end until Whiskeyjack  is in the slings.

      And each year, as I watch Whiskeyjack settle into the water,  I promise myself that next year, I'll be more organized, better prepared, and procrastinate less.

     Yeah, right.

    And then, it's done.  

     And it's all worth it.

   "Talk the Dock!"

Friday 24 May 2013

Uneasy Times On The Bay

     "I don't know how I'm gonna survive..."
                                  -Melissa Etheridge

      * Sorry about the gap in D6C installments- instead of simply typing outta my ass like usual, this post actually took real research and stuff.


      Even if you aren't a boater, it fuels your life.  You drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, wash your dishes, your car and your dog with it, and some heathens use it to ruin perfectly good whiskey

     Without water, life ceases.

     With less water, life is possible, but less fun.

      Welcome to "less fun."

     Welcome to the 2013 Long Point Bay Boating Season, where and when we become acutely aware of the effects of events miles away and generations ago.

     I wanted to know what we are facing and why, so I did some research and learned some stuff.  I figured I'd pass along what I have learned.

     This year the Bay is caught in a perfect storm:  lower than usual water levels and high silt accumulation reducing water depth thanks to low precipitation, higher temperatures...and politics.

      Those of you following along at home know that water levels are a cause for concern down here on the Dock.  Boats need water to float, and sailboats, with their  keels sticking down to offset the force on the spars sticking up, need more water than most.
   Here was how the Dock looked in the Spring of 2011:

     Pretty much the same depth as the Fall of 2010- a relatively wet summer throughout the Great Lakes, and especially the Upper Lakes (Michigan, Huron, Superior)  helped bring up water levels throughout the season.

   The winter of  2011-2012 was dry - damn little precipitation, high temps virtually no ice on the lake,  yet  when the Dock opened in April, water levels were UP.


      I didn't understand the significance at the time.

       The spring of 2012 was short, hot and dry and the summer was long, hot and dry.

       This was the result:

        By mid-September the foot of the dock was high and dry thanks to a lack of precipitation throughout the entire Great Lakes region.  The first seven slips couldn't float a boat, and Will's Tanzer is nudged into the sand in the eighth slip out.

        I had never seen the water this low.

        So, where do we stand now?

      This winter was colder and wetter than last, locally, with more rain this spring, and here's how the Dock looked on Opening Day (April 15, 2013):



      Thankfully, up over last fall, better than Opening Day 2011, but about a foot shallower than Opening Day 2012.

     Okay, so what is going on?

     Historically, business as usual.

     Lake Erie is, essentially, a really, really big pond.  Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, the farthest south, and has the smallest volume of water.... all of which has an impact on water level fluctuations.  The average depth is only 62 feet, and the deepest part of  the Lake is 210 feet, give or take.
     Long Point Bay is a little like a Mini-Me version of the Lake- maximum depth is  over 100 feet, but the vast majority of the Bay is closer to 20 feet.

                                                                                                   image courtesy of NOAA

    When the Upper Lakes enjoy a typical cold temperature / high snowfall winter, Erie's ownership of the "Shallowest Great Lake" and "Southernmost Great Lake" titles doesn't matter much.

    But, when inflow is reduced, it becomes crucial for the Lake to hold onto what she's given.  This is where that "Southernmost" part kicks in.  Erie doesn't get as cold as the other lakes, and as such usually freezes later, thaws sooner, and doesn't freeze as thick...
    When it freezes.
    The recent warmer winters have added insult to low-water injury.  The Lake hasn't frozen solid over the last few winters.
     "So?" Contrarian reader asks.

 So, no ice cap in the winter because of warmer temperatures means more water lost due to winter evaporation.

    Yeah, it turns out water doesn't just evaporate when it's hot.  It evaporates at any temperature above freezing, albeit at a slower rate.  So, instead of evaporating 8 months out of the year, the lake evaporates 12 months out of the year.

     Any evaporation is not a good thing in an already shallow Lake, and a shallower Bay. Increase the duration of the evaporation period by 50%?  Yeah,   not good.

   So, back to the geography:  Long  Point Bay is shallow.  Get into the Inner Bay, and it is much, much, shallower:

                                                                                    image courtesy of

           That's a lot of zeros on that chart.

           That's good for fishing and hunting and birding and hiking and kayaking and such because lots of fish and birds and turtles and other animals and trees and plants and such really like that shallow water, and that diversity is one of the reasons why Long Point is a World Biosphere Reserve.

          Much of the Inner Bay, at the best of times, is the depth of a suburban backyard swimming pool.
        (And not one of the nice ones, like you wish you had, growing up.    An above-ground pool.  A cheap one.  All shallow end.)

           These aren't the best of times, depth-wise.

           Here's the history:


                                                                                                 -graph courtesy of NOAA

                There's 150 years of average annual water level above sea level.  The red line is the average of the averages.
            Here's the current Data

      And here's how April 2013 stacks up against the historical record, according to the Canadian Hydrographic Service

Monthly Mean Water Levels
in metres referred to IGLD 1985
Niveau d'eau moyen mensuels
en metres par rapport au SRIGL 1985
April  2013  AvrilSuperior
HuronSt. Clair
Mean for Month (preliminary data)
Moyenne mensuelle (données préliminaires)
Mean for month last year
Moyenne mensuelle, l'année dernière
Mean for month, last 10 years
Moyenne mensuelle, 10 dernières années
Statistics for period of record
Statistiques pour la periode d'observation
Maximum monthly mean / year
Moyenne mensuelle maximale / année
Mean for month / Moyenne mensuelle183.26176.38175.04174.2274.887.44
Minimum monthly mean / year
Moyenne mensuelle minimale / année
Probable mean for next month
Moyenne probable du mois prochain
Chart Datum  /  Zéro des cartes183.20176.00174.40173.5074.205.55

    Right across the board- water levels are down from last year, below the average for the last 10 years and below the average for the last 95 years.

     In other words, if the water levels were Faber College grades, Dean Wormer would put  Lake Erie on double secret probation.

                                                       -courtesy of youtube & universal pictures

             Avid Reader, if your eyes haven't glazed over yet, and if you a contrarian skeptic, you are now pointing to the top graph and saying "It ain't as low as 1936! Or even 1962! Kwitcherbitchen!"

   Good point.

    Here's what's changed:

     The St. Clair River.


       The St. Clair River is the tie that binds the Upper Lakes (Michigan, Superior and Huron) to the Lower Lakes (Erie and Ontario.)  and sometimes that tie can be constricting.    The 60s were a booming time for manufacturing and agriculture in North America-  larger, deeper draft ships were needed to keep feeding the supply to the demand.

      Except they couldn't fit through the bottleneck of the St. Clair River.

       Solution?  Dredge the river.

      Yes, Constant Skeptic Smartypants Reader, I see you smirking.  Go ahead, say it.

       "Dredging is obviously GOOD NEWS for the Lower Lakes!   A deeper river means more water volume, and more water volume means less lake level fluctuation and the lake is consistently deeper, as borne out by the GLERL graph up there."

       Yep.  Absolutely right.

        Until the Upper Lakes suffer a drought...
         Like last year.

         Less water up there means less water down here..
And they have  a hell of a lot less water.

         The repeated dredging to keep the deep draft channel open, along  with sand and gravel mining has led to  "unexpected erosion"  according to a study commissioned in 2005. leading to:

    "...the [IJC estimating the ]drop in level difference between MH and E [Michigan, Huron and Erie- ed.] since
1860 is 36 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in.), compared to the actual observed drop of
approximately 80 cm (2.6 ft). Without implementation of compensation measures, this
drop represents an irreversible decline in the long-term average lake level of MH..."

   (More here for anybody suffering from insomnia:  )

    How low did the Lake get in the mid 30s??  Down to 173.18 metres  (568 feet) above sea level, in February, 1936.

   In February 2013, Lake Erie hit 173.86 metres, (570 feet) above sea level.  Not quite sinking to a new low, but damn close.

     Take a look up there again at that Inner Bay chart- see all the depth marking starting with the number 0?  yep, less than a metre of depth at chart datum.  According to Real Time Water Level Gauging at Port Dover
   the Bay is currently hovering about .6 metre above  datum.
      Two feet.
      If the lake level drops to the level last seen in 1936, the Inner Bay is going to be nothing but a bigass puddle full of unhappy birds and fish and turtles and grasses and such.

   Low water levels have an impact upriver as well.  Here's  the channel abutting the Bridge Yachts yard:

     If that is where the water level is in the spring, by fall it's likely gonna be swampy.  Three seasons ago, every slip in the picture above was occupied.  In my conversations with canal-fronting homeowners this spring,  it sounds like most of those slips will likely remain vacant all season.

   "So,"  Impatient Reader sighs, " A lack of precipitation up there in the Upper Lakes coupled with warmer, dryer weather down here is having an impact on water levels and the St. Clair River dredging didn't help, but, the water is still above datum on the charts,  so what is the big deal?"

     This is where that "perfect storm" part I was talking about earlier comes in:

     It's not just that the water level is dropping...  the bottom is also coming UP.

    Let's go back to the low water days of 1936 for a second.  Here's one big local difference between then and now:
     Silver Lake.
     Essentially a millpond on steroids, Silver Lake was originally a power source for a woolen mill, and later a water source for the Ivey's greenhouse operation.

      Here's what it looked like back then:

  You can see Ivey's greenhouses and the powerhouse chimney in the background.

     Here's what it looks like today:

      It's dying.  The water level has dropped dramatically over the last few years.

  Here's why:

    Misner's Dam is picturesque...

  and on the verge of collapse.

  With the dam's stability in question, Norfolk County made the decision to drain Silver Lake, which, as so often happens, has caused some unintended consequences.
   Consequence #1:  In addition to it's intended roles in wool milling and plant growing, Silver Lake also served another purpose- it acted as a settling pond for sediment flowing down the Lynn River.  With the dam out of commission, the Lynn River has been flowing unimpeded, and the River downstream of the dam has started silting up.  Lower water levels and a rising bottom are forcing some unpleasant decisions.
       Dockage at the Port Dover Yacht Club  looks to be problematic... at least for now.

       From the newsletter:  "...Low water continues to plague us especially this year. We’re not sure what that means especially sail boats but power boats on the back channel could also be affected as well. Unfortunately we are beyond the point in time where dredging can occur..."


     Consequence #2:   Apparently repairing a broken dam is no simple thing when two levels of government and bureaucracy are involved.  As it stands now, Ontario's  Ministry of Natural Resources  is demanding that any new dam being built must be constructed to withstand a "thousand year" flood, which means raising the surrounding land over 2 metres, with an attached price tag estimated to be north of ten millon dollars.

      (My suggestion, just fix it and fight the fines when the MNR comes calling, was roundly rejected.)

    Consequence #3:  Turns out not everybody wants the damn dam fixed.  Port Dover seems to be split between those who wish to save Silver Lake  and those who feel that repairing the dam is a blow to conservation, and this is an opportunity to return a manmade millpond back to it's natural state.

    Arguments are valid on both sides-  I wonder whether the value of a "naturalized" mill pond will be fully realized considering how developed the remainder of the Port Dover waterfront has become, or whether it will do more harm than good.


   Back at the turn of the century, this is what the harbour in Port Dover looked like:

   Minimal breakwalling,  lots of open banks, the Lynn River could flow out and the Lake could flow in as necessary during storms, largely unimpeded.


The entirety of the Lynn River and Black Creek are breakwalled and narrowed.  Narrow inlets mean  outflow speed is increased, and inflow speed is increased as well...along with silt being driven in with every major storm.

   Silt and shifitng sand that was no big deal a decade ago is now an expensive problem.  A shallow harbour is a useless harbour, making dredging not just a matter of convenience, but an economic necessity.



   Sometimes dredging doesn't work out so well either.

      The Marina is being dredged, for the second time in five years.
   Right about there.

   Where the markers are.
    ...Marking where the backhoe sank.

    Read the tale here.

     Coming into the marina yesterday (yes, Whiskeyjack is finally in the water- more on that later) Rod Keegan and I marvelled at the depth at the mouth of the marina- or lack thereof.  Whiskeyjack's depth sounder measured a low of 6.4'.


     The solution?

      I don't know.

      Maybe  go into the prop repair business.

                                                                                        - image courtesy of Toronto Star

       We need some rain.

        Thanks to Jaye Lunsford , retired environmental scientist and liveaboard blogger extraordinaire, for her assistance in researching this post.  Any and all errors are the author's alone.

        "Talk the Dock!"




Tuesday 14 May 2013

Book Reviewsday Tuesday: ASPOL, Y'all.

        "Mingle with the good people we meet..."
                           -Bob Marley and the Wailers

      I am a reader.

     Fiction, non-fiction, thrillers, romance, suspense, science fiction, horror, humour, the classics, high-brow, low-brow, I'll try it.

     But I might not finish it.

     Life is too short to invest time in an artless read.

    (When I hear someone pat themself on the back  for plowing through a boring doorstop of a book  they didn't enjoy, I mutter to myself,  "It isn't a badge of honour- it's a sign you need more life in your life.")

    (( Of course, it  could be argued that muttering to one's self about the empty accomplishments of others is a sign one needs more life in one's life.  It could  be argued.  Not that I would.))

      Sometimes, a book sneaks up on me.   I pick it up, certain I'm gonna toss the worthless waste of pulp back on the shelf before the first page is turned, and four hours later wonder why I hadn't read it sooner.

      "A Salty Piece of Land" is that kind of book.

      I was positive, absolutely sure, unwaveringly adamant that I would not like this book simply because of the author:

      Jimmy Buffett.

     See, here's the deal:  I can't stand his music.  It's like nursery rhymes for adults.

     So, my hopes were well and truly damped when I picked up this book in my local book store's remainder rack, and read the first line:
      "It all simply comes down to good guys and bad guys."

      Well, it doesn't suck so far.

       Within minutes I was well and truly stuck into the laid-back adventures of seafaring cowboy- on- the- run Tully Mars, Lost Boys fishing guides, the crew of the schooner Lucretia and the search for a Fresnel lens for a lighthouse in need of help.

        It's a book I re-read at least once a year, usually when winter is at it's deepest, darkest and coldest, when the Dock is farthest out of reach.

         ASPOL isn't Big L Literature.  It's never going to be taught in ivy-covered halls.  It's just a tale, told well enough, about characters that a reader can care about.

        And that's enough.

        If you can get past the Parrothead packaging you discover  that Buffett can write more than three- minute rhymes. There's not a whole lot of art on the page but there is a ton of heart.  He can set a scene and his dialogue may not always sing, but it doesn't clunk- it's obvious the man loves his characters and loves the settings and the adventures he tosses them into.   Yeah, it's occasionally far-fetched, yeah, some of the characters are thin on detail, thick on stereotype, so what?

      So are Hobbits and Hogwarts.

      Pick up a copy.  Toss it up on the bookshelf until the next rainy, miserable, holed-up kind of day.  Pour yourself a couple of fingers of rum, settle into your favourite chair, and get dug in.

      There are worse ways to spend a few hours.

       Like golf.

     "Talk The Dock!"


Thursday 9 May 2013

Long-Term Gear (P)Review: Crocs. Huh, What?

     "You keep samin', when you should be changin'..."
                                            -Nancy Sinatra

         Like most sailors, I like to think of myself as a romantic traditionalist, carrying the torch passed down through generations of seafarers.

         SWMBO thinks I am a creature of habit, resistant to change.

         One of us is right.

         On very, very good days, it's even me.

         Take shoes, for example.

         Boat shoes, in particular.

         For decades I have worn Sperry Topsiders ™ in a variety of permutations- slip-ons, laced, leather uppers, canvas uppers, you name it.  They are solid, sturdy, dependable, shoes that all have a common set of characteristics:

        They always stink by the end of the first season.
        The soles always harden and get slippery by the end of the second season.
        They aren't cheap, even on sale.

         3 years ago, I rotated my latest pair of stinky, slippery Topsiders ™ into service as "boatwork shoes" and moved a new pair of West Marine Topsider-like shoes into regular use.  Same styling, slightly lower price....
       .... and same result- slippery as teflon covered-snot, and as stinky as bleu cheese aged in a diaper pail, by the end of the second season.

        So, they rotate into the "boat work shoes" slot and the Topsiders ™ rotate into "lawnmowing shoes" role.

       All of which means I need a new pair of boatkicks for this season.

       This time around, I decided that I might maybe, possibly, break with tradition.
        I knew what I wanted:
        Toe protection.

         Last season, I had the chance to check out a pair of Vibram Five Fingers ™.


    I liked the concept, but didn't like the lack of toe protection, and I like shoes that I can slip into with a quickness if necessary- these ain't that,  when you gotta make sure your piggies park in their own pocket.
And, although I rarely get invited to places that have a dress code, on the odd chance that an invitation to an event requiring a jacket is issued, deck shoes are acceptable, and mark one as a man of the sea-  Five Fingers™?  Er, maybe not so much.

   So, is there anything new that might meet my needs?


  Meet my new Crocs ™  boat shoes: 

   Yeah, I know what you're saying. 

     I said the same thing.

   "Crocs??? "
   "Crocs makes boat shoes?  Like, on-purpose boat shoes, not just I-wear-my-Crocs- on-my-boat shoes?"

    Yep, it turns out they do.  

   And the Crocs folks are so confident in the quality of their shoes, they sent SWMBO and I a pair of pairs to test this season.
           I ordered up a pair of  Cove Sports  while my better half opted for a pair of Above Decks.

When our new footwear arrived at Stately Jones Manor, the first impressions were largely positive.

      The stitching was nicely finished, the leather uppers were soft and supple and the shoes were light- the Cove Sports weigh about half  of what my previous boat shoes weigh.

     Do they meet the requirements, though?

     Ventilation?  Got it.

     Check out the scuppers on these bad boys:

     Water gets in, water gets out.  Air gets in, air gets out.    See the way the moulded sole wraps all the way around the side of the foot  and caps the toes?  Looks like it might be a toe-protection winner.  Big burly boaters don't cry- but jamming your toe on a cleat will make one's eyes water and cause the hurling of creative epithets to the world at large.

   Comparing them side-by-each, it looks like the SWMBOs shoes have more support than mine:

  But, looks can sometimes be deceiving.  More on that later.

  One feature that I appreciate is that the removable insoles are all polymers.  No cloth, no glue, nothing that is going to come loose and end up polluting the lake or end up in the garbage... and one less "gets wet and stays wet" area.

    Both shoes have real-world usable "pull tabs" on the heels.  You can actually hook a finger in the tab loop to pull your shoes on.  Nice touch.

   Two minor gripes-  the laces. SWMBO finds the laces on her shoes to be kinda cheesy.  The laces on mine are kinda slippery looking.  More on that later, as well.

  Got grip?  Sure looks like it.  Nice tread pattern, good siping around the perimeter allowing water to
escape under each footfall.

  Okay, cool- first impressions are largely all good.

  So, let's put them to work.

   For the last 10 days, SWMBO and I have been wearing our new Crocs everywhere.  To work, to the marina, walking the dogs, riding our bikes, everydamnwhere.

    Initial impressions of these Crocs boat shoes under load?

   Better than expected, and in this traditionalist boat shoe-snob's view, far, far better than a pair of Crocs has any right to be.

     There has been no break-in period.  No blisters, no stretching, no issues- from the first day, it felt like I had been wearing them for years.
     They are WAY more supportive than they look.  I have been working some long days, on my feet for up to 12 hours at a time, and my feet don't hurt.  That is a Very Big Deal.  I have feet so flat that ducks go "damn!"  and the end of the day often finds me popping pain relievers and soaking my feet. (Yeah, middle age sucks.)  I have been foot-pain free for the last ten days.

      The initial grip is excellent.  Better than expected, which can take some getting used to, after shuffling around on slick soled shoes.  Will it last?  We'll see.

     The ventilation is great-  After taking these shoes off at the end of the aforementioned 12 hour workday, my shoes, and my feet, do not smell like the end of a 12 hour workday.

     They look good.  I've had people ask about them, and everyone is floored when SWMBO or I give up the maker.  The response is always the same:  "Those are Crocs?  Where can I get a pair of Crocs like those?"

      The laces are mildly annoying-  SWMBO thinks hers look cheesy but stay tied without getting stretched out or knotted, mine look better but need frequent retying.

     So far, neither pair is showing any noticeable wear.  On the dirt, they are doing the job they were hired to do.  However, one key component in this long term test is missing-

      These are BOAT shoes, and they have yet to do their thing aboard a BOAT.

    Will they  be up to the task to which they have been tasked?

     Will they  hold up over the long haul?

     Whiskeyjack splashes on May 15th.  Then, it gets serious.
     We'll keep you posted throughout the 2013 boating season.  If they work, we'll let you know.  If they don't, we'll let you know that as well.

      Meanwhile, it looks like the shoe roster has just added another player to the rotation:

   "Talk the Dock!"