Thursday 18 December 2014

A Winter's Ponderings

"You'd be well on your way, if you could only set sail..."
                             -Kenny Loggins

Long nights, short days, water too hard to sail in, and an off-season maintenance punchlist with an emphasis on sanding, sanding, more sanding and refinishing leaves me with lots of time to think.

    (I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing- ed.)

     As I sand cockpit grates, cockpit tables and companionway doors preparatory to their semi-annual renewal coat of varnish, and consider new projects that will turn big pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood and large piles of sawdust,  I find myself pondering: 

    Why do I do this, this varnishing thing? 

    Why don’t I use that newfangled synthetic, fast-drying, easy to apply, orangey-looking stuff that so many sailors swear by, that requires only two coats, and a lot less sanding?   It would take so much less time, and it works almost as well, and it looks almost the same and… 

…and it ain’t right.

    As I was laying down the finish coat, watching the varnish bring the grain to life, I realized that there is something zen about varnish.  The smell, the feel , the magic as it goes on, the connection to dozens of generations of boatkeepers who have gone before ,  doing the same off-season refinishing job, and likely asking themselves “Why?”

  Varnish is about keeping the fire.

  To me, that is a big part of the appeal of sailing:
  We're keeping the fire.

   But that fire grows a little dimmer, every year.

    Here’s what I mean:

    For millennia, sailing vessels were constructed of wood, with sails and lines of natural fibre, caulked and sealed with vile tarrish concoctions boiled over a fire from ingredients fit for neither man nor beast.  Legend says that any brew too thin to seal wooden boats was re-marketed to the pub trade under the brand name Guinness, and any goop too thick to caulk a hull was jarred and sold as Marmite.

(Hey, watch it! I like Marmite! – ed.)

    For centuries the traditions were handed down, from wright to wright and boatswain to boatswain, and while there was advancement in design, materials and construction methods stayed pretty much the same.    A 15th century boatbuilder would have gotten along pretty well in an early 20th century boatyard, since the tools and techniques hadn’t changed much. 

    Aboard, the same pattern held true.  Lanterns and lamps dimly lit the way for centuries, flags were the only option for communication beyond range of voice and navigation was an arcane art of sun shots and celestial scrutiny.

       The fire was kept, the torch passed, from one generation to the next.

      Then, in a span of less than five decades, the world of small boats saw more technological advancement than had been seen in the entirety of the past five millennia.
   Within the last half of the 20th century, fiberglass had virtually replaced wood as the material of choice for production boat building.  Aluminum had virtually replaced wood for construction of spars, electric lighting had virtually replaced lanterns and lamps, radio had virtually replaced signal flags and Loran, and then chartplotters, virtually replaced the sextant and dead reckoning.

    The  great naval architect L. Francis Herreshoff might have denigrated fiberglass as “frozen snot,” …but it turned out to be very successful snot indeed.

    Thanks to snot, boats could be built faster, with less skilled labour, requiring less maintenance.
    The upside was that sailing became a more accessible option for the everyman. 

    The downside was that the fire dimmed.

    Skills that had been passed down for generations, from sailor to sailor, became, first, quaint,…

   … and then forgotten.

    Quick, how many of us carry a full complement of signal flags aboard?  How many of us have caulking irons and mallets in our tool bags?

     How many of us know what caulking irons are?

     Now, don’t get me wrong- I love the reduced maintenance and longer lifespan of fiberglass hulls and alloy spars and synthetic sails, and I think my radio and chartplotter are wonderful tools to have aboard.  I appreciate that I DON’T have to keep caulking irons and mallets in my toolbag…

     … however, I draw the line at slathering the wood on my craft with some synthetic that is cheaper, and easier, and faster and almost the same, if you squint.

          See, I figure there is magic in boat work, a purity of process, an adventure of design and construction that envelopes the senses- the sound of the saw, the sight of brightwork glistening, the smell of varnish... it is poetry.

       Or maybe it’s just fumes.

       Whatever it is, it ain’t much, but I’m keeping the flame, as best I can.

"Talk the Dock!"

Friday 12 December 2014

We ROCK! and We Rock the Liebster!!

"Havin' fun!"

I've been saving this momentous post for a momentous occasion.

"What makes this post momentous, and why now?"  Faithful Reader asks.

Because this is the 300th Dock Six Chronicle.

As of December 10th, our (mis)adventures have had more than 200 000 views.

*insert polite applause here.*

Thanks to all of you who take the time to give us a read.

And, most momentously, our friends Dan and Jaye, the pirates behind the  Life Afloat blog, flattered the D6C by honouring us with a Liebster Award nomination.

The Award, alas, comes with no cash prize, no trophy, but it DOES come with the warm fuzzy feeling that at least one fellow scribbler thinks your scribbles are worth reading.

Dan and Jaye explain the Liebster Award:

"So here's what it is about:  bloggers recognizing other bloggers.  The Liebster Award is a project that promotes the discovery of new blogs.  If you're selected for the "award", you must answer some questions given to you by the blog that selected you, and then also choose other blogs for the award and give them some questions to answer. "

Right, then.

So, here's our Q and A....

What got you started on boats/sailing/cruising?
   I hated golf.

    I’m not kidding!  My hatred of golf at the age of 9 led me to become the sailor that I am today.

       Before I became an eccentric adult, I was a weird kid-  I was hard to motivate, had, and needed, few friends, was happy to sit and read all day. The arrival of summer vacation caused my parents no little frustration,  as i had no desire to do anything except nothing, which, clearly, was not an option, apparently.

      My parents were, and still are, avid golfers.  When summer vacation arrived, my parents signed me up for “golf camp” at the club, aka “daycare for avid golfers.”

     I hated it.  

     I did discover, however, that I could eat all I wanted in the clubhouse... for free.  All I had to do was sign the bill with my parents’  membership number!  WIN!  So, mom and/or dad would drop me off, I’d slump toward the first tee, and as soon as I could, I beelined for the clubhouse and had my first burger or hot dog of the day.  I quickly got caught, however,  and my parents, smart and empathetic enough to realize that the  links life was not for me, asked me how I would prefer to fill my summer. 

     Me? I’m 9!  I don’t want to do anything!

     The ‘rents made it clear I had to do something, and started rhyming off  pastime possibilities- Daycamp?  No. Arts camp? No.  Sailing school?  No.  Wait.  Maybe.  I’ll try it.
 So, Monday morning, we head down the road to the local sailing club, and Mom signs me up for two weeks, and in short order I step aboard one of the school’s Alcan Petrel dinghies and...

....I was hooked.  Instantly and forever.  

    Realizing I was finally onboard with SOMETHING, my parents got onboard as well.  A cheque was quickly written for the rest of the summer sessions, and the following spring I took proud possession of a Mirror dinghy, and by the time i was 12 had worked through all of the CYA White Sail, Bronze Sail and Silver Sail requirements.

  Then, I discovered girls, and motorcycles, and cars and engines, and didn’t sail a boat for over 25 years.

   Flash forward to 2008.  SWMBO, descended from Viking stock,  from an avid boating family, the daughter of a boating magazine editor, had never sailed...

    ... Until she attended a corporate retreat in San Diego in March of that year.  One of the team building exercises was a dinghy regatta on Mission Bay.  SWMBO loved it!  She fired me an enthusiastic email, and opined that acquiring a sailboat would not be a horrible idea.  I had a solid employment bonus coming at the end of the quarter, so by the time SWMBO got off the plane from California, I had lined up a half dozen boats ofr us to tour over the next week.  By the end of April, we took stewardship of a Georgian 23 Whiskeyjack-  Six season later, we acquired NextBoat, our  soon to be renamed S2 8.0C.  The rest is modern  history, chronicled in the Chronicles.

What was your life like, pre-boat?  What did you do for recreation?

Pre-boat, I wrote a little, did the occasional home improvement project at Stately Jones Manor, restored old Volkswagens and motorcycles, drank beer.   Boats and boatbuilding replaced the VWs and motorcycles, until recently, kinda.  I have acquired a small collection of vintage mopeds which have kinda brought me partly back around to my wheeled transportation mania.  Why mopeds?  Great question.  More on that in later editions of the Chronicles.

What's the most unlikely thing you currently have aboard?

     One thing about summering aboard a smallish boat that is relatively new (to us), is that we try to keep our payload aboard fairly stripped down.  The most unlikely thing aboard?  The liftgate  net from a 1997 Ford Aerostar, which makes a decent low-buck gear hammock.

    Tell us about your first night at anchor.

     Confession time- it was actually this season.  While we are seasonal liveaboards, we largely day sail.

     (Insert horrified gasps here)

      Due to work obligations, in the past we simply haven’t had the schedule flexibility to cruise extensively.  This season we decided to simply sail across the bay and anchor out at the end of Long Point. 
     The night was largely uneventful.  

     The morning after- not so much. 

      It was a relatively short passage, and the anchorage, as always, was pleasant and attractive.  There was the typical Lake Erie square 2-4’ chop, not uncomfortable with enough scope, but  a little unpredictable.  It took a while before I stopped obsessing over the depth finder and chart plotter, and shoresighting to ensure we weren’t dragging.  We swam, explored the beach,  ate a wonderful dinner (as dinners always are aboard) saluted the sunset with tumblers of rum-based beverages, read and retired.  SWMBO and I lay in the aft cabin admiring the stars through the overhead hatch, drowsing to the sound of the breeze in the standing rigging, and attempting to ignore the random *ting* of the shackle on the small Danforth hanging on the sternrail.

     About oh dark thirty, the rolling stopped.  The absence of motion roused me from my slumber and I climbed into the cockpit.   

    The wind had clocked halfway around, and the anchorage was now baby’s- bottom smooth.   We hadn’t dragged, (good)  but the sky was becoming overcast to the west (not so good).  I made the decision to relax in the cockpit and watch the dawn.    I took in a reef on our main, figuring we might need it come morning. 

    We did. 
   Dawn broke beautifully in the east, but dark skies and heavy wind gusts from the west weren’t bringing good news.   I made the decision to rouse SWMBO and we opted for a hasty departure.  

   Then things got interesting. More later.

If money were no object, what addition/change would you make to your present boat?

   SWMBO and I are lucky- we are satisfied with a simple “low wake” life aboard, and have been lucky enough to have hit the boat ownership lottery with NextBoat- there is very little that we feel a desperate need to change, or  a want for gear  which would be hugely expensive to either fix, modify or add.  One chore on the winter refit list is to add a larger holding tank and rework the head layout to make it more usable. An autopilot and diesel heater may be on the 2015 installation list- more detail later, as it happens.

Aside from finances (we all have that issue), how has boat life changed you?

     It has taught us new skills and refined skills we already had.   Our small life has brought SWMBO and I closer together, and at the same time made us more independent. 

Most bloggers have a story about someone they met through their blog, or an amusing connection or opportunity that happened because of their blogging ... what's yours?

I have met some interesting people and created some great friendships through my scribblings, and the wonderful band of fellow reprobates who read it.  Last season SWMBO and I tied up on the pier for Friday the 13th,  and soon the pier , and the town, were packed with upwards of 100 000 people.  Throughout the day we had been trading nods and waves with  the hordes of folks  walking along the pier, and late in the morning one couple walks past the boat , dude does a doubletake,  stops and says , “Hey,  you’re Dock Six!  I recognize half your face!  We just bought a boat!’  We talk a little and they move on.  Flash forward to early November:  NextBoat is on the hard in the Bridge Yards yard, and SWMBO and I take a Sunday afternoon to offload gear and winterize.  We step into the cockpit and I look over to the boat beside us, Where another couple is also doing last minute boatwork, and this time it is my turn to do a double take- it is the same couple we met on Friday the 13th.

Give us a link to your most popular blog post.

And to one that you think deserves a wider audience.

and now, here's our call out:

and last but never least, Wally at LiveBloggin' the ICW

Here's your interview questions:

What cruising destinations are on your sailing bucket list?

What piece of gear onboard did you purchase in the belief it would be essential, yet has hardly been used?

What was your longest passage?

What has been your scariest, "I'm gonna die!"  moment?

What tools do you keep aboard?

What has been your most satisfying sailing accomplishment?

How has your sailing life changed you?

Are you sailing your perfect boat?  if not, what would you change?

Link your most popular blog post.

Link your personal favourite blog post.

Thanks again, for taking time to spend some time with us, down here on the Dock.

and remember,
"Talk the Dock!"