The burning of the socks and a stitch in time saves, well, boat dollars.

Well, it’s getting a lot warmer and I am feeling even more pressure to get Pandora ready for the water.    Just a quick look out of my office window, now green and sunny, suggests that it’s time.Not too long ago, it looked like this and I felt like there was no need to rush. And, speaking of spring, I participated in another tradition at the Essex Yacht Club a few weeks ago, the burning of the socks.  The idea is to get rid of those old socks, the ones you won’t need when it’s warm outside.

Spring or not, it’s not quite warm enough to shed my socks just yet.  Well, at least compared to the last six winters in the tropics where sandals were my footwear of choice.

However, being a “joiner” I had to be part of the fun and true to my “Yankee” upbringing, I only tossed “widowed” socks.  You know, the ones without a mate.  I also made sure that they were “environmentally responsible” socks, cotton only please.   It’s a fun tradition but one that happens in the early spring when I should really be in Antigua, not New England.  Next spring I plan to miss this particular rite of spring.

I understand that this tradition was cribbed from a similar practice that is followed in the sailing hub of Annapolis MD.  So, here I am, nearly in the second half of May and there’s plenty still to do to get Pandora ready.

“So Bob, tell us more.  How are those myriad projects going anyway?”

Well, some well and some not so well.  That pesky mast step, well, it is defying me and I am running out of ideas on how to remove the bolts.  Last week I was finally able to grind off the heads of the two that were more exposed but the two in the back corners are so tight that they are proving to be very tough to get at.  Oh, how I wish I had never gotten into that…

This is an old photo of the step.  Now the two on bolts the left have had their heads removed but the two tucked in the corners are defying me.  Bit after drill bit have broken and still, they won’t budge.   My friend Paul, at the local machine shop, lent me a burr to grind the heads off, when attached to an air powered grinder.  I purchased a  grinder along with a long extension hose for my compressor and loaded it into the back of my tiny truck.   I’ll snake the hose down below and let you know how it goes.  I don’t have much experience with air tools so caution and patience will prevail…  Details to come. And speaking of air tools, I was exposed to some of these metal working gizmos on Friday when I drove to a machine shop near Hartford to pick up the engine head from my 1962 MGA MkII.  Yes, I realize that this blog is supposed to be about boats and not cars but hey, it’s actually pretty interesting.  Well, to me anyway.  I guess you’ll have to be the judge.

Anyway, when we purchased our little red car shortly after moving to CT I knew that the syncro for second gear was shot and after grinding my way into second gear for six years, I decided that it was time to have the transmission rebuilt. That didn’t seem to be a terribly daunting project except that the entire engine needed to be removed to get at the gear box.   It’s all rebuilt now and looks as good as new. That circa 1962 engine, well it didn’t turn out to be very happy and that it’s issues went way beyond the gear problem.  Indeed, it gets worse.  “While we’re at it and the engine is out of the car, let’s check everything and see what else needs attention”, says the mechanic.   And, he did and found that the cam shaft was worn and it also needed a valve job.   Ugg…

Anyway, this has absolutely nothing to do with boats except that I learned something really interesting about fixing engines which matters unless you are one of those rare ones that believes that sailboats should ALWAYS be sailed, so read on…The head, now removed as you can see from the photo above, turned out to need love so off to a machine shop it went for a valve job.  As luck would have it, they discovered that the head had a number of cracks.  Not good, I thought, wondering how many “boat dollars” would be siphoned off to the MG.

I had always heard that a crack in cast iron was a death sentence but now know that may not be the case at all.   It turns out that there are folks out in the world that can fix this sort of problem.   Complicating all of this is the fact that my MG is an hour away at the repair shop, the head an hour away in a different direction at a machine shop and the head needed to go to yet another shop and a guy that fixes same, two hours farther away.  This guy Frank, it seems, does nothing but repair cracks in old cast iron engine parts.

Beyond wondering how much that repair was going to cost me, I also wondered how much it was going to cost to have someone deliver the cracked head to the specialist and then drive back and pick it up.  So, being a good boat dollar pinching Yankee, I decided to devote Friday to being a “cracked MG head delivery service” and resigned myself to spending the entire day in the car.

Anyway, not to get too much deeper into the weeds about all this, but it turned out to be a really fascinating day.   First I drove the hour to the machine shop tucked inside an old brick mill building on the edge of a waterfall.  While all of his equipment is powered by electricity, some of the machines in his shop looked like they were made only shortly after water power was replaced by electric.

It was really a cool place, greasy and dirty and the beaming smile on the face of the owner Mark made it clear that he was thinking about how much he’s making fixing all of those old engines.  There were engines everywhere I looked, in various states of disassembly along  with some really shiny newly rebuilt engines.  Perhaps my favorite, all ready for the owner to pick it up, was a beautiful 12 cylinder red monster, on the right, from an antique fire engine.   Awesome! So, I loaded my sad little cracked MG engine head into the car and off I went to that special place that heals sick engine heads in MA.

There I met Frank Casey, a guy that does nothing else but fix cracks in cast iron parts.  His shop was tucked away in the basement of this little tiny house at the end of a road in a residential neighborhood.  There was a button on the jam of the garage door that said “push button and hold”, so I did and a moment later I was greeted by Frank who reminded me of Giuseppe of Pinocchio fame, leather apron and all.

His business card says that he does “metal stitching of cast iron”.   That’s it, the only thing that he does, aside from finding cracks that need stitching, of course.

His shop, impossibly crammed with tools and engine parts, had a wood burning stove happily chugging away only adding to the Giuseppe image I had in my head.  Notice the temperature gauge on the smoke pipe for the stove.  This was clearly the workshop of a very precise guy. Amazingly, he agreed to fix the head in a few hours and instructed me to head to a local mall for lunch and to return at 12:30.   I did and returned just in time to watch him finish up the repair.

The key point, I learned, is that you can’t apply heat to fix a crack in cast iron, it needs to be fixed by a cold process using a mix of threaded rods and heat-proof adhesive.   First he confirmed the location of the cracks, all located in the number 1 cylinder, and set to work.

This involved drilling into the crack, first at the inside or terminus of the crack.  It was important to stabilize the crack and keep it from getting any longer, something that he says is inevitable once a crack begins.  Frank carefully drilled, threaded in some sort of special metal rod and then filed off the remainder flush to the surface of the head.  He then followed with additional holes and plugs that overlapped and connected to the prior threaded insert.  After filing the inserts flush, he used a pneumatic “tapper” to peen the metal in even more securely.  I was exacting work.
And, all of this very precise work was in great contrast to a chaotic riot of stuff everywhere I looked. In his “operating theater” a wall of tools in perfect order.  Interestingly, he doesn’t bother to switch bits or grinding heads as that takes too long.  Instead, he has every tool dedicated to it’s own pneumatic drill or hammer.  It’s the picture of efficiency, in every way.   Frank is the picture of precise time and motion. 
When he was confident that the cracks were filled and secure, he took multiple clamps, metal wedges and temporary gaskets to cover each of the cooling chamber openings in the head so that he could pressure test the casting and be absolutely certain that his repairs were perfect.   It was hard to follow with his quick movements but it was clear that he knew exactly what he was doing.He turned up the pressure to see if it held.  While the head was pressurized, he applied a liberal coating of WD40 to check for bubbles of escaping air from problems in the head casting.  There were none.  As expected…The whole process took about an hour and was fascinating.  It surely demonstrated that it pays to have work done by someone that does this sort of thing every day and in Frank’s case, all day, every day.

Fortunately the cracks the head were very short, about a half inch long so the repair was simple, well simple for Frank.  He’s fixed a lot worse and proudly showed me a photo of a repair that was huge on what he labeled as a “409 blk”.   The repairs show up like a nasty scar on Frankenstein.   Pretty impressive. Frank is a remarkable craftsman, clearly knows what he’s doing and is proud of his work.  He told me that parts are shipped to him from all over including many from cars that are worth a fortune, the sort shown at Pebble Beach.   I’d put a link to the guy but he doesn’t have email and certainly nothing like a newfangled website.   

You have to know the right people to find him and I guess that I do.  I called Frank yesterday to tell him that I’d be writing about him and would like to send a link but, he doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone, much less e-mail.   I am here to say that if you find yourself needing a “stitch” Frank’s you’re guy.  He’s located in Millbury, MA, and can be reached at 508-865-6613.

As fascinating as this was, the day did absolutely nothing to move Pandora closer to launch but now I know that if somehow we end up with a crack in her engine, perish the thought, well, Frank is standing by and ready to fix it.

As they say, “a stitch in time” saves, well I expect that it saved me at least one boat dollar”, and that’s a good thing as, with Pandora, they keep piling up.

Or, put it another way, unlike my socks, I don’t want to see to many “boat dollars” go up in smoke.



Finally, putting it back together.

It’s been a very long winter, for me anyway, having to wear closed toe shoes for months now.  Can you imagine?  Well, it’s getting warmer now and happily, yesterday was a first of the season and Brenda and I were able to sit outside on the deck.  What a welcome change.  Things are looking up even if it wasn’t warm enough for sandals.   Even the hummingbirds have returned from their winter in the tropics.

After months of tearing things apart on Pandora I am happy to say that I am now beginning to put things back together, bit by bit.

I finished the installation of the cabin heater and was pleased to find that I had done everything right after it was checked by the mechanic at the marina.  He also pressure tested the engine and found that the source of the anti-freeze leak was limited to a single loose hose clamp.  I had feared the worse, perhaps a bad water pump.

As I have mentioned before, the basic plumbing for an auxiliary heater was installed when the boat was built but I was a bit unclear as to whether it was installed on the boats’ cooling system in the correct way.   Fortunately, it was.

Here’s a shot of the system in place.  It looks pretty tidy but getting it there was a bit of a knuckle buster given the tight confines.   To keep fluid flow even, they recommend that I make the bends in the cooling hoses as gentle as possible.   There’s the heater itself, on the right.  And, the starter battery on the left.  I wonder if it’s time to replace that too?This is the switch to control the heater fan.  There are three fan speeds and two vents.    It’s located on the front of the settee in the main salon so it will offer easy access.  I hope that it won’t be “easy breaking” as well.   I am hopeful that the cushion, right above it, will keep it out of harm’s way.   That’s also the vent, right below it.  It can be opened and rotated to direct the, hopefully, hot air. As I have mentioned in prior posts, a lot of the overhead panels were badly damaged from dripping water coming from badly bedded fittings on deck.  The granny bars, near the mast were particularly bad offenders.  Here’s quite a stack of panels that needed recovering, about a dozen.The vinyl on each panel was held in place by hundreds of staples, something like 500 per panel, many rusted beyond hope.  I had to pry each one loose with a screwdriver and then pull it out with a pair of pliers.  Talk about repetitive motion injury.

I ended up with some blisters after two days tedious prying and pulling.   There were staples literally every half inch in the velcro and many more under that holding the vinyl.   This was one of the better panels.  Others were so badly rusted that the velcro just pulled off.   Of course, that left a mess of bent rusted staples behind. Many of the panels are scored to allow them to bend to follow the curves of the ceiling.  In many cases, they were cracked so I had to reinforce them with even more staples, stainless steel now. All of the panels are cleaned up now and out for recovering.   I was going to recover them myself at the canvas shop but Chad decided that he didn’t have room for me to spread out and is going to handle this himself.   Oh boy, this process is going to get even more expensive.  Let’s hope he can finish them fast, really fast.

After he’s done I’ll take them to Pandora and decide how to affix the new LED lighting fixtures.  Oh yeah, I had to remove all of the puck lights from the panels.  Not a great move so now I get to add even more new lighting to the list of purchases.   I hope it’s not too obvious that the new ones don’t match the others.  I am hoping that if I put the new fixtures in the forward cabin that will minimize the difference.

The main reason that these panels were damaged was because of leaking from deck fittings, the traveler and granny bars, as I have mentioned previously.    I was fearful that the traveler would prove to be a challenge to remove and fortunately, it came off fairly easily.    It was alarming to see what it looked like when I was in the thick of it.  I was also surprised with how little bedding compound there was under each fitting.  Also, the traveler is held on by a dozen fastenings.   That nasty leak over the galley should be gone, for now anyway.

All better now. The list is still long and winding but at least I am moving forward instead of two steps back.

Oh yeah, remember that mast step problem?  The corroded bolt heads?  Oh, how I wish I had never started that project and left well enough alone.  I really don’t think that the corrosion was particularly problematic and now I am weeks into messing with them and still can’t get them out.   Yesterday I tried using a much larger $18 extra hard drill bit to just remove the head of the bolt.  No luck, the bit bound in the hole that I had already drilled broke off after less than a minute.  I’ll bet that I have trashed nearly $100 in bits so far.

Next step, a grinder or some other type of cutter.  Details to come, I guess.  This is a great example of where hiring it out might have actually saved money.  It would surely have saved anxiety.

I think that I now know that they may be fastened from the underside of the mast step with nuts and washers.  Unfortunately, to get at that would mean pulling up the floor in the forward cabin, a big job to say the least.   I had hoped that they were lag bolts.

Now, I’ll need to determine next steps and purchased a nifty video scope that will allow me to look through a small hole and see what it looks like on the underside of the step.   I fear that I will find bolts and washers, not doubt, nasty and corroded.   If so, how to get them out?

I purchased this nifty video scope on Amazon from one of the Chinese sellers for a remarkable $35.99 and free shipping.  The instructions were obviously written by someone who’s first language wasn’t English.  I expect that they just loaded the Chinese instructions into Google Translate, Chinese in, garbage out.

Fortunately, the iPhone app worked immediately.  I couldn’t believe it was that easy.

The instructions, such as they are, included this enlightening segment…

“Note 1:  if not necessary, we do not advise our customers to change the original WiFi SSID and WiFi password for stabler using experience.  if you forgot the modified password, pls use a clip to press the resent hole and restart the endoscope and re-join its WiFi.    When connected well, the blue wifi signal LED will flick, if not, it means it failed in connection, please charge wifi box through DC5v 2A portable battery or computer USB, or the box battery will be burned.”

Burned!  Yikes!  That did not sound promising at all.

Alas, it worked so the instructions, such as they are, weren’t needed.  And, no battery burning at all or should I say, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  It even illuminates what you are trying to look at with a very bright but dim-able LED.  Note:  I did not come complete with a gold fishy.  I guess that means it’s waterproof too.

Believe me, you need one of these too.  And it even came with some nifty attachments, including one that looks around corners.  Wouldn’t it be fun to drill into an adjacent hotel room wall with this?  So, this afternoon I will “scope” out the mast step situation and see what I have to do to get those bolts out.  Wish me luck.

Well, there’s still plenty to do and it’s nice to see at least a glimmer of light as I begin to put it all back to together.

I sure hope that isn’t the headlight of a train racing toward me.  No,  I’m hoping that it’s just the light on the end of my new nifty scope.


Two steps forward. Three steps back?

It’s finally beginning to get warm here in CT and I am becoming more than a little anxious about what’s left to do as I prepare Pandora for launch.  As I don’t expect (wish? pray? plan?) to put her up for another winter anytime soon, I have decided to tackle as many projects as possible while she’s covered and on the hard, so the list continues to grow even as I finish each project.  This year the “getting ready for launch” has turned out to be more of a “refit” but the good news is that when she hits the water, she should be in great shape indeed.

When a boat isn’t fully covered, with protection from the weather, many of those need-to-do projects, the ones that might allow rain to get down below, somehow get put off.   A good example is the Plexiglas companionway, a sliding hatch and three “boards” that secure the boat from intruders, people and water.   Over the years they had all gotten very scratched and dull with use.    They looked downright shabby. A while back I purchased an automotive buffer to bring back the shine to the paint and headlights on my little Suzuki truck and it worked really well.   I needed it to make the truck look better, which it did but, frankly, I never thought that I would use it again.  BTW, this is a link to the buffer I selected.  It’s a much better unit, and more expensive, than one of the cheap ones available from Walmart or West Marine.  It’s variable speed and random orbital which minimizes swirl marks or burns in the finish, which is vital to getting a good outcome.  It also works with higher quality pads,  the same ones that the pros use.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that it might be effective in polishing the scratched Plexiglas companionway boards so I pulled one off of the boat and gave it a try.  Along with the buffer, I had purchased a set of three 3M polishing compounds that are progressively finer.   The first in the series, and most aggressive, is labeled “compound” with the next two finer still, and when used in series, they are designed to bring a high shine to car paint.   In this instance, I decided to skip the middle grade and went from the most aggressive compound to super fine, on both sides of the panels.  The whole process didn’t take long at all, less than an hour, and the difference is striking.  I also used the compound to shine the stainless, with a rag.   I am really happy with the result and it was surprisingly easy to do. I have mentioned in a prior post that I was replacing all of the old, inefficient fluorescent fixtures with LED.  Yesterday I installed the new fixtures in the cockpit.  I decided to use a version that is smaller than the ones I selected for use below decks as I am hoping that they will not be too bright.    I had a hard time identifying a model that would work on 24v but these are good for both 12v and 24v.   Only a few years ago it was very difficult to find dual voltage fixtures and bulbs but they have become much more affordable and now are available in a nice warm white, 3,000k, which looks great.

All of the new bulbs and fixtures i am using are from DR LED.  They have an extensive selection of LEDs for nearly any marine application.  Their site looks like some kid set it up but, never the less, they have very broad range of great products.   I do fear that even in red mode, and these fixtures are both red and warm white, may be too bright to use when on passage at night but I guess I’ll have to see how it goes.    However, they should come in handy on buggy nights in Maine this summer.  Fortunately, when we are in the Caribbean, there isn’t much of a problem with bugs unless we anchor too close to shore.  It’s probably because it’s always blowing at least 20kts and there aren’t too many no-see-ums that can fly against a gale.

The old fixtures that I pulled out are a lot larger and I didn’t know what to do about the holes from the old fixtures so I just put in round head screws.    I have struggled to find LED replacement bulbs for the many halogen fixtures in the cabin that fit as most G4 LED replacement bulbs are not designed for use with a dimmer or are too big.   Fortunately,  Dr LED also makes a terrific little bulb that is small enough to fit in most any fixture, is very bright and yet dims well.  These tiny bulbs are not cheap but they are a lot less expensive than replacing the entire light unit. Well, there’s still plenty to do to get Pandora ready as I work my way through the list, one step at a time.  Unfortunately, the list is long and it continues to grow at least as fast as I check items off.

I expect that my new cabin heater will arrive this week so I can begin that installation.  It’s the type that uses waste engine heat, much like a car heater, to warm the cabin.  This will come in handy when we are in Maine or when I am motor sailing in the fall or on rainy days.  I already have a diesel heater that operates independent of the engine, but I thought it would be nice to have an engine driven option as well.  In addition, it is higher output, 30,000 btu,  so it should warm things up quickly.

As an added bonus, the engine was set up for this type of heater when the boat was built so I don’t have to worry about any plumbing, just a simple extension of the engine heater hoses and electrical hookups.  Also, as a special bonus, this particular style of heater isn’t terribly expensive as they are designed for use in trucks and commercial fishing boats.   For sure, if they were built for marine use… well, they’d be twice, no make that three times as expensive.    This is the unit I selected from Summit Racing but in 24v. I also purchased a length of 3″ duct work and two outlets.  I’ll be installing the unit and vents under the settees in the main cabin forward of the galley, hopefully, this week. It’s always challenging to tackle projects on Pandora as the process, more often than not,  feels more like a scavenger hunt, trying to find the right parts and not knowing where to get them.  It is especially complicated when the parts are electrical as the boat is wired for 24v which usually means special order.  As there were only three Aerodyne 47s built, I can’t just contact another owner to see how they might have solved a similar problem.  For my last boat, a SAGA 43, there were more than 50 built and there was a very active owner’s forum with a number of owners who knew their boats inside and out and always had a quick answer to most any question.

Still to come will be re-bedding some of the deck hardware and yesterday I finally opened up all of the headliner under the traveler for the boom, so I now know exactly where the bolts are located and they appear to be easy to reach.  The traveler has been the source of a persistent leak so now I know how to solve that problem, if I can only get the traveler off.  Now I know that it will be easy to get at all the bolts but will it be easy to remove after all these years?  Wish me luck.

I’ll also be continuing to work on the job of re-covering much of the headliner, some I’ll do myself, and the rest I’ll be hiring out.

So, here I am, May is only a little more than a week away and I still have tons to do.   I’ll admit that the process to date has felt like two steps forward and one step back.   I guess that’s what working on boats is all about.  Perhaps my best wish will be that it not be two steps forward and three, or worse, steps back.

Well, it’s been a long cold winter, well at least compared to the Caribbean, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

However, don’t ask me about that pesky mast “step”.  Talk about steps backward…

But hey, the companionway is looking great and there are two new lights in the cockpit.  That’s progress, right?

Dog-hole ports and the Pacific Coast lumber trade.

For the last two days we have been staying in Mendocino, on the coast, with our son Christoper and his girlfriend Melody.   This is the view that greeted us this morning from the kitchen.  It’s been a real treat to spend a week with them, here and near their home in Oakland.  They live in a lovely little studio apartment with their dog Mila.  It’s way to small for us to stay with them, so off to an Air B&B for us.  It’s an expensive area so I won’t comment on where we’ve been staying. Let’s just say that today’s view, well, it’s better.

So, here we are, and it’s great.  Chris and Melody set this up and are treating us to a stay with them high on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The place, and you can’t see another building from here, is located on 85 acres.   Its  a compound or tiny village with an eclectic mix of buildings.  There’s even a root cellar, or is it a Hobbit House?  The view from the deck on the main house, where we are staying, is pretty spectacular.  From the northern part of the property you get a pretty good feel for the scale of the place.  You can barely see the main house peaking out from the trees on the left. These trees to the left on the above photo look like they have had to work hard to grow here.  Craggy and I expect very old. Out on the point, near the edge of the cliff, there are some wonderful spring flowers.   These low lying fleshy plants grow everywhere. Love the dwarf iris, not more than 6″ tall.  Near the northern property line, is a government survey mark placed here in 1930.  It says that to disturb or remove it will subject me to a fine of $250 and imprisonment.   $250 sounds like a pretty good deal for what would be a very nice souvenir.  I wonder if they would calculate inflation from 1930 into account if I take it?   Not sure about the “imprisonment” part.   On second thought, I’ll leave it.Anyway, back to the flowers.  I have no idea what this is but it is impressive with a flower stalk that is over 4′ tall. These clusters are on a bush along with dozens more make for quite a show. For lunch yesterday we stopped at a tiny deli in nearby Elk, population 250.  There was a lovely picnic area across the street, overlooking a beach. 
Nice spot.  Mila waiting for lunch to arrive.  Melody in a lovely hat.  I just love hats. The Pacific coastline is remarkably rugged, with many miles between ports.  By the mid 1800s, this area was a major source of lumber, shipped all over the world and a major source for the wood used to rebuild San Francisco following the devastating earthquake of 1906.  This photo does suggest that they needed a lot of lumber.Lumber schooners, mostly with two to three masts and easily maneuvered, were able to pull into just about any spot in the coastline that offered even a small amount of protection from the ocean swells.  These harbors, such as they were, were known as “Dog-Hole Ports“, so named by the captains that used them because they were just large enough for a dog to get in and out of.  There were some 400 sawmills along the northern California coastline serving these tiny ports.    It’s hard to imagine bringing a ship near a rocky coastline like this, but they did.

This photo, BTW, was taken from the deck where we are staying.   Amazing.  As close as we are to SF, about 3 hours by car, this areas once felt a lot more remote when it was only accessible by boat or stagecoach.  In many ways, it still feels far away and very primitive.  Well, primitive perhaps but with some really nice places to eat out and don’t forget about those wonderful wineries that are so close.

Yesterday evening we visited the nearby town of Mendocino for dinner.   Before dinner we had drinks at a beautiful old inn from the late 1800s.  I expect that our bar tab would have put us all up for a month, meals included, in the olden days.  I also expect that the crowd would have been a bit rougher.    “Hey you, yeah you dog face, get me another whisky and make it right quick or I’ll blow yer frigging head off!   On second thought, a chardonnay if it’s not too much trouble.”

The trip here from San Francisco takes you through the major wine regions and finally winds through the redwood forest just north of the Anderson Valley, our favorite, and one area that Brenda and I have been visiting for over 30 years.  It was a bit surreal for us to sit in the back seat on the way here as Chris drove us along those familiar roads.    It wasn’t that long ago, well it doesn’t seem that long ago, since Brenda and I were in the area while Chris and his brother Rob were toddlers, home with their grandparents.

Melody and Chris just love it here.   About 100 yards from the main house, there is a small deck that overlooks the very edge of the cliff.  The wind off of the ocean is so strong that the chairs on the deck have to be tied with a rope to keep from being blown over the edge of the cliff.  Not the most relaxing place to sit and sip wine.  However, after a glass or so, the risk of falling to certain death somehow seems less of a problem.   Their dog Mila loves surveying all that she can see.  “Hey mom and dad, I’ll bet that cove is one of those Dog-Hole Ports.  Am I right?” This area is very close too the dense redwood forest of the Navarro valley to the east, one of the areas that were heavily logged.   As the coastline is so rugged, with safe harbors so far apart, transporting the lumber to anchored schooners involved a huge effort.    Some spots, but not many,  were sheltered enough to allow for the construction of a wharf that went far out into the water.   Note the many lines strung from the bow of this steamer, no doubt to hold her off of the wharf in the ocean surge.  
I expect that these structures did not last very long with the relentless pounding of ocean waves.    However, with low cost labor along with cheap and abundant building materials, I doubt that it mattered.

The often precipitous drop off from cliff to the water posed unique challenges in getting lumber down to the ship. The only way, in those areas, to get materials down from high on the cliffs, was to use long lines strung from the top of the cliff or lumber shoots designed to slide boards down to the waiting schooner far below. As technology improved, schooners made way for steam powered freighters but creativity was still needed to board freight and passengers.  “Don’t worry little lady, I’ve done this hundreds of times.”
The schooners that served this area had to be very maneuverable in order to safely make their way in and out of the tiny harbors along this exposed coastline.  It was easier to load the ships from high cliffs than to try and transport lumber any distance over rough dirt roads to better harbors.

The last remaining lumber schooner from that era is the C.A. Thayer, launched in 1895 in Eureka CA, not far from here.  She is now preserved at the San Francisco Maritime museum.     Over the years, she, along with a number of other vessels in the museums large collection, fell into an unfortunate state of disrepair but recently she has been fully restored.

We visited her in 2017, on our last trip to SF, as they were just finishing the restoration and enjoyed a tour.   She’s in great shape now. Her stern was designed with openings that allowed the loading of long pieces of lumber below decks. In order to fit the maximum amount of cargo, she was designed with no bulkheads below decks.  There were once hundreds of these schooners moving lumber down the coast to San Francisco but she is now the last remaining one and it was nice to see her restored to better than new condition.

So, here we are, in an area with so much history and along with is us Mila, who must particularly appreciate the history behind these out of the way, “Dog-Hole ports” that played such an important part of area history.



A race to the finish line. And, it’s Deja Vu…

It’s the beginning of April and I find myself completely focused on something that hasn’t been on my mind for the last seven years.  Spring launch.  It’s not news to anyone that follows the blog that Pandora’s been on the hard over this winter, her first since being launched in 2007 and that this winter was the first in Pandora’s decade long life when she was “decommissioned” for any reason, b beyond a few months, much less and entire winter.    Not to put too fine a point on it but the last time I did any real sailing was a year ago May when I returned from Antigua.

So, here I am, recalling so many spring commissioning sprints trying to getting the boat ready for the water in time for the long Memorial Day Weekend.   Well,  not actually, as in my retirement it’s a bit different as I am no longer focused on a single long weekend but the whole year and months aboard.  However, with Pandora about to emerge from nearly a year out of the water, I’ll be in the boat yard working hard to get the boat ready in time to enjoy the season.

After an ill fated attempt to prepare her for a run south last fall resulting from a long delay from some work that I had commissioned last summer, I came to the painful realization that we’d be staying home for the season.   It turned out to be OK,  I guess, as I got a lot done around the house and we also spent more time with our growing troupe of grandchildren.  That was good but, and there’s always a “but” I am anxious about being afloat again.

Being home-bound for the winter did allow me to get many projects done around the house, especially for Brenda, that I am hoping that she will take pity on my and not grouse too much when we head south next winter.

So, soon enough Pandora will be back in the water where she belongs.  The bad news is that shortly after she is launched, she will be hauled yet again to address a problem with the waterline resulting from last summers paint job.

Regarding that bit of news, when Pandora was being painted, I asked to have the aft portion of the waterline raised but somehow the port and starboard lines ended up being a few inches off from each other.  I noticed that last fall, shortly after she was relaunched.  At first I thought that she had developed a list to port, but when I put a ruler on the waterline I realized that port was two inches lower than the other side.

So, in order to fix the problem and get a good feel for exactly where the waterline should be, she has to be fully rigged with mast up, sails on and dink in the davits.  After launch, measurements will be taken and she will be marked for fore and aft trim.   The key in all of this is the “after rigging” part as that means that she will then have her mast and all that rigging in place which means she will be tall, a lot taller than the door of the shed where she was painted.   The good news is that the painter has access to a building in Bridgeport with a door that is tall enough to accommodate her inside, even with her mast up.   While Pandora’s mast is tall and the door to the shed is taller, something like 75′.

That’s a really big door and an even bigger shed.  Actually, it was the building where the yacht Cake Walk was constructed in a few years ago.  She was, I am told, the largest displacement yacht ever built in the US at over 250′ long.  Longer yachts have been built in the US but none with greater displacement. She’s now named Aquila but she’s still huge.   If the shed could fit her, Pandora should fit too.  Actually, the building can fit many Pandoras.

Here’s Aquila.  Pandora could be her dink.   So, here I sit.  It’s early April and I have a growing list of what has to happen to get her ready for the water.  It’s like the old days before I retired but at least I don’t have to get up on a Monday morning and head to the office.

Well, I am in my “office” but at least I am writing a blog post and not a business plan .  Well, I guess it is a business plan of sorts, a plan to get Pandora back in the water.

The biggest thing standing between me and the launch of Pandora is the collapsed headliner that was sagging badly in, well in just about every part of the boat, the main cabin, aft and forward compartments.    About a year ago the foam backing on the headliner had deteriorated to a point where it separated from the cabin sides and fell down.   At first I thought that the problem was limited to a few areas.  No such luck.So, I decided to take nearly all of it down.   It was a huge job and very messy.  I consulted with Chad, the canvas maker that did a great job on my cockpit enclosure, to get advice on what to do.  He suggested that I pull the vinyl down and then, with a wire brush on a drill, have at it.   This is a view of the aft cabin, where I pulled down all of the vinyl.  Then the drill…The main cabin, post wire brush.  Looks like a derelict boat.   Depressing.  And such a mess…Over the weekend, I went to a sale at Defender, a discount marine supply company nearby.  They have a once a year warehouse sale and it was mobbed.    I purchased most of the lights I needed, along with a new EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.   Say that three times fast.   As the name suggests, it is a transmitter that I can activate to call for help if I get into trouble while at sea.   I have two on the boat already but they are both out of date and it makes more sense to get a new one instead of having the older one re-certified.  All this, lights and EPIRB, and it wasn’t quite one “boat dollar”.   And, speaking of lights, I’ll also be replacing all of the inefficient fluorescent fixtures in the cabin and cockpit, along with all of the halogen bulbs in the overhead with LED bulbs and fixtures.  The bad news is that the “footprint” of the old fixtures, and there are 9 of them, is larger than the new ones so that means that I’ll have to replace all the vinyl on other areas of the headliner that are basically fine to eliminate the old screw holes and stained vinyl in the areas around the old headliner.  There are a LOT of fixtures to deal with.    Fortunately, vinyl comes in many colors of “white” so we should be able to match the new to the old.  Fingers crossed.

Also, in going from halogen to LED in some areas so I have to replace the dimmers, three of them with a type made for LEDs.  This is what the old, non compliant, dimmers looked like.  In spite of my best efforts, I could not locate new dimmers that look anything like these and would fit in the same 2″ hole.  So, I decided to just “remodel” and use the same dimmer casing.  So, I made up wooden inserts from scrap plywood that matched the interior.  The plan will be to glue the new touch dimmer into the old housing and it will look like this.  Pretty neat, right? I’m pretty pleased with myself, frankly.  An elegant solution that will minimize effort in matching the current holes.

I am doing, have done, all of the demo but I am hiring Chad to put the new headliner in place and it’s a LOT of work so it’s going to be several boat dollars, I expect.   Brenda will be so pleased.

Add to this project myriad other issues, like re-bedding deck fittings, general cleanup and a number of other upgrades and there is a LOT to do to get Pandora ready to splash.

Oh yeah, and with all the time I save in making my own dimmers, I’ll be spending plenty of time trying to pull out the bolts that hold in the mast step as the heads of the bolts had become corroded and suspect.  So far, not a lot of luck in getting them out.   Yes, that’s a bolt extractor in the lower left.  Wish me luck. Oh yeah, one more thing.  Pandora has electric toilets.  Can you imagine, electric?  And mixing electricity with, well, you know what, is a messy business.  The toilet, head, has three electric motors and one failed on the aft head so I had to put in another.  If you think that this looks expensive, it is.  Fortunately, I was able to get it replaced under warranted.  Let’s hope that if it decides to “poop out” it does so before a year.  Motors on a head?  Who knew?  So, after a winter spent waiting for the weather to get warm enough to work on Pandora and time spent focusing on my “honey do list”, it’s time to get cracking and find a way to get Pandora back in the water and ready to cruise.

I never imagined that I’d be back in the grind of spring commissioning, but now I am.  And, when I get her up and running again in a few weeks, I’ll learn if I missed anything when I was winterizing her systems.

So, if I can only get her ready by Memorial Day.  Wow, a deja vu moment.  At least I don’t have to go to work the following Tuesday.  No wait, perhaps I’ll wait and not even use the boat as everywhere will be jammed that weekend.   Ah, the luxury of being of a “certain age”.   Now don’t go telling me that I am in my “twilight years” and that it’s “all down hill from here”.

And speaking of “down hill” I guess that it is a race to the finish line.  Yes, I guess it is and time’s a-wasting so I’d better get cracking.

“Brenda, anything you need me to do before I head to Pandora today?”

This year, the season won’t end in the fall, I hope but I’m still racing to get her in the water.

Did someone say deja vos, again?



Nelson’s Dockyard and the spark that made it a national treasure.

So often it is the work of one person or a single family whose actions and vision can be the spark that changes the course of history.   For Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor, Antigua it was the Nicholson family.

In 1948 the Nicholsons left Ireland beginning what was to be an around the world voyage aboard their 70′ schooner Mollihawk.  Aboard were “Commander V.E.B” Nicholson his wife Emma and their two young sons who arrived in English Harbor, the site of the then derelict Nelson’s Dockyard where they decided to make a home.Over time, their older son, Desmond and his wife Lisa also became passionate about the historic Dockyard, looking beyond the caved in roofs and crumbling walls to envision what is today a national treasure, UNESCO world heritage site and the only operating Georgian Dockyard in the world

It was their hard work, the enthusiasm of the family and certainly others that galvanized support to rebuild the iconic Dockyard that was once the center of British naval power in the Caribbean.

At the time of their arrival, only a few years after the end of WWII, Antigua was not the tourist destination that it is today and the yacht charter business in the Caribbean was not yet born.  Soon after their arrival, the family was approached by John Archbold, a wealthy landowner from nearby Dominica with a request to charter Mollihawk.  This event proved to be the beginning of the first charter business in Antigua, that lives on today as Nicholson Yachts Charter & Services.

Desmond was an enthusiastic photographer and when I was in Antigua last November I visited his daughter Nancy’s art gallery, saw a charming book of his photography and purchased a copy.   All of the black and white photos in this post are from that book and are posted compliments of Nancy.

There were only a few cruising boats visiting Antigua in those early days.   The building in ruins to the right in this photo, without a roof or windows,  is where the customs office is now located. Today the grounds and customs office are fully restored. Nearly every inch of dock space in English Harbor and nearby Falmouth Harbor are crammed with all manner of mega-yachts and cruisers.  Some of these behemoths look more like ocean liners than private yachts.   I was told that in January there were some 80 mega-yachts in residence between English and Falmouth harbors. Shortly after arriving in Antigua, the Nicholson family received permission to take up residence in the abandoned Dockyard and set about doing what they could to improve the facility.   No drones in those days.  These photos were taken after much of the rebuilding was done, replacing missing roofs and walls. Today the look of the Dockyard is true to it’s roots and looks much like it did when it was the Caribbean base for the British Navy with all of the buildings beautifully restored.  In 2016 the Dockyard was designated as a  World Heritage site by UNESCO.

As a point of interest, this next photo was taken about a week after back to back hurricanes ravaged nearby Barbuda and other islands in the Caribbean two years ago.   By a quirk of geography and the storms path, the island and Dockyard were spared.    That same year the Salty Dawg Rally decided to head to Antigua with 55 boats making landfall on the island. The Dockyard doesn’t look all that different these days than it did when Desmond took this photo. Well, one thing that is different is that there are a LOT more boats.  This is a photo of boats participating in the Oyster round the world rally from a few years ago.  I have a friend who had hoped to meet me there this April as they return, having completed a circumnavigation themselves as part of the rally.  I wish that I could be there.  Next year…There are still remnants of the careening dock that was used to pull over navy ships for bottom work.  The Nicholson family used similar equipment to restore yachts in the early years.  Nowadays, right across the harbor, there is a full service yard with a railway servicing yachts of all sizes. Most everyone visiting the island makes the pilgrimage up to the British Navy era Shirley Heights fort overlooking the harbor.  Here’s Desmond and his young bride Lisa, C1958.The Lookout is still a tremendously popular spot to watch the sunset for locals and visitors alike with barbecues and bands performing at sunset every week. Crowds or not, this view will never be beat and no less lovely than it was when the Nicholson family first made landfall.  It’s no wonder that they decided to stay and make a life for themselves on the island.
Sail making has always been a part of the Dockyard, including during Desmond’s time.  I’ll bet that the figurehead in the corner has an interesting story to tell.
And that craft remains a vital part of the Dockyard today.  A&F Sails is located in the Dockyard, owned and operated by the Commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club, Franklyn Braithwaite.  He’s a great guy and has been tremendously supportive of the Salty Dawg Rally. In addition to Franklyn’s loft, the Dockyard is home to many marine related businesses.   These stone pillars, now part of the Admiral’s Inn, were once the base of the loft that took care of the sails for naval ships.    In Nelson’s day, the channel between the columns allowed ships’ gigs to row under the building and have sails lifted into the loft for service. Today they serve as an iconic backdrop for the Admiral’s Inn, run by siblings Astrid and Paul Deeth.  Their parents founded one of the earliest resorts in English Harbor.   These columns are quite a sight as is the rest of the property, especially in the evening.  Astrid and Paul have been tremendously supportive in helping me organize events in celebration of the arrival of the rally for the last few years. The Dockyard plays a big role in the arrival of the Salty Dawg fleet.  We have a number of events in the Dockyard and cap our week of celebration with a dinner by the pool at Boom, part of the Admiral’s Inn. The view of the dockyard from that spot is really impressive. Across the harbor from the Dockyard, is Clarence House, built in the early 17th century as the residence for the Duke of Clarence, Prince William IV.  The restoration of the building was made possible by a grant from Sir Peter Harrison, who now keeps his yacht Sojana, in the Dockyard during the winter season.   When the refurbished Clarence House was officially dedicated in 2016, Prince Harry was on hand.   His appearance in Antigua was chronicled in the Daily Mail of UK. 

This shot shows Clarence House on the hill.
Today English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard remain a vital harbor for cruising and charter yachts alike and it all began with the arrival of Commander Nicholson and his family so many years ago.

Every cruiser or yachtsman who arrives in the harbor owes a debt to the Nicholson family that had the vision to help remake English Harbor into what it is  today, perhaps the most wonderful place to make landfall in the Caribbean.

As part of the arrival events for the Salty Dawg fleet last November, Nancy Nicholson, daughter of Desmond and Lisa, hosted an arrival event in conjunction with the season opening of her gallery, Rhythm of Blue art gallery.

It was nice to meet her mother Lisa at the event with Nancy.   I for one, would love to sit down with Lisa to hear more about what it was like in the Dockyard during those early years. So many years have come and gone since Mollihawk arrived in English Harbor but the legacy remains, a good example of how important the vision and work of even a single family can be.

In addition to his work revitalizing the Dockyard, Desmond was instrumental in helping to develop the original website for the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda,  That site along with his many books and articles ensure that Desmond’s legacy in Antigua is secure and the results of his work will continue to benefit the island for decades to come.   Read his obituary here as it lists many of his impressive achievements.

Those who spend time in the Dockyard and, for that matter, all of Antigua surely owes a debt of gratitude to the Nicholson family who helped spark the revitalization of what has become a jewel in the crown of Antigua, Nelson’s Dockyard.

I look forward to joining the Salty Dawg fleet in the Dockyard this coming November and will raise a glass to those who made it possible.

The case for making Landfall in Antigua.

Ok, here’s the deal.  If you are heading to the Caribbean next season I’m here to tell you that the best place to make landfall is Antigua.  So, feast your eyes on this beautiful sunset that could be yours and read on.  There are a number of options for heading to the Caribbean from the US east coast.   Beyond where to make landfall, a key question is about how convenient it is to explore the rest of the islands once you arrive.

Several years ago, when I was planning for Pandora’s first run to the eastern Caribbean, I asked around about where would be the best island to head for.   Many skippers, heading south for the first time, default to the British Virgin Islands as they are familiar with the area from years of chartering.  And while it’s a wonderful place to charter for a week, it’s tough for cruisers to get further south without slogging to weather.  The bad news is that there just isn’t a lot of information easily available regarding the islands to the south.

Cruisers wishing to continue south from the BVIs to the next island, St Martin, must make a run of nearly 100 miles due east, directly into the trade winds.   Some will say that this trip is “easy if you wait for a cold front”.  However, that may take a long time according to weather router Chris Parker who says that you are likely to wait weeks or worse, especially during mid-December through March for a more northerly wind shift. Several years ago, Brenda and I made the run between the British Virgin Islands and St Martin and in spite of light easterlies of only 10kts, it was quite an unpleasant trip, very bumpy motor sailing directly into the wind and waves that made for a VERY LONG DAY that began before sunrise and lasted until long after dark.

It was not a great way to begin our run south after the holidays.  Brenda hated it.  Unfortunately, our experience was not unique and for us it wasn’t a great way to begin our winter season aboard Pandora.   As they say “gentlemen do not go to weather”.

For years now, we have worked with Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center, as our preferred weather router and have relied on him for guidance for local weather forecasting as well as advice on where to cruise based on the type of sailing conditions that Brenda and I prefer.  And, when I asked him about cruising the eastern Caribbean, his recommendation was to head directly to Antigua from the US and begin our winter cruising from there.

From the Hampton, VA, the starting point for the Salty Dawg Rally, the run to Antigua is only about 100 miles further than the BVIs and by the time you get there you have made all of the easting required to begin your sailing season.  Once you’re in Antigua, you can sail just about anywhere on a reach or down wind.

Chris also notes that Antigua is well protected from the large winter north swells produced by the all to common north Atlantic storms.  These swells, that grow out of major lows in the North Atlantic, make anchorages farther north and on the smaller islands untenable for much of the winter.

Stronger winds, known as the “Christmas winds” pipe up in the Caribbean in the second half of December through mid-March.  However, it is easy to ride them out with good holding in the protected harbors of Antigua.  With so many cruisers in the harbor, there is plenty to do on the island if you opt to spend several weeks there before heading further south.If you need a place to keep your boat when you head home for the holidays, dockage, moorings and marina storage in Antigua are a lot less expensive than you might think and flights home for the holidays are convenient and reasonably priced.

Of course, on any long voyage, stuff always breaks and Antigua has extensive services available so you can get just about anything fixed.    And, while equipment is somewhat more expensive than in the US, most anything can be brought in quickly and installed by those who know how to do it.   It’s no surprise that many skippers of megayachts have work done in Antigua.  Need paint work or varnishing?  Antigua is a great place to have that done too and it won’t drain your cruising kitty, well, now compared to some other areas at least.

When heading further south, you’ll be sailing on a reach, the distances between islands are short line of sight sailing and the longest distance you’ll have to cover between harbors is only about 50 miles with most islands closer together than that.

To the south, there is great variety in the islands that you will visit, with each stop offering their own unique cultures, especially the French islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique and the very quaint Le Saintes archipelago just south of Guadaloupe.  

Dominica, the “nature island” is very popular with cruisers given its’ rustic nature and extensive hiking trails through the rainforest.Love waterfalls?   Dominica’s got that…There are often questions about safety and crime in the Caribbean and while it’s always a good idea to keep your dink locked when on shore and tied to the boat at night, crime is mostly concentrated in certain areas of St Lucia and much of St Vincent.  A bit farther south, Bequia and the Grenadines are wonderful and safe.

Antigua has some crime but it’s generally centered in the largest city, St John, where the cruise ships dock, far from Falmouth and English Harbor.   Actually, there is a police station right near the entrance of Nelson’s Dockyard.   You will feel safe when walking around the area, even at night.

It was no accident that the British Navy chose English Harbor and Antigua as their base of their naval operations in the Caribbean for several hundred years as these harbors are very well protected and offer consistent trade wind sailing on a reach to just about every area of the Caribbean.It’s a truly beautiful place. And loaded with fabulous yachts of all sizes.  Yes, Antigua is the ideal place to begin your season and from there you can head further south without beating into the trade winds.   And, as the season winds down you may choose, as many do, to leave your boat south in Grenada or Trinidad where you’ll be safe from the seasonal hurricanes.

And, for those returning to the US, sailing back to the Virgins is an easy run, off the wind, and there you can join up for the Salty Dawg Rally back to the US and home.  Along the way you’ll want to be sure and stop in St Barths and St Martin as well as some of the smaller islands if the north swell is not a problem.

Antigua is very simply the sailing capital of the Caribbean and very cruiser friendly.  And, as rally port captain, I have seen first-hand, that they have been extremely welcoming to the Salty Dawg Rally and have gone out of their way to help us.  The Antigua Yacht Club even throws the Dawgs a free party, with food and drink for all.  It doesn’t get more welcoming than that, if you ask me.If you’ve been to Antigua in the past you know that what I am saying is true and I am sure that you won’t be disappointed by your next trip.  If you are new to cruising the area, trust me, making landfall in Antigua and tying up in historic Nelson’s Dockyard for the first time will give you and your crew a thrill to be in a magical place that has hosted sailing vessels for hundreds of years, a UNESCO world heritage site and the only operating Georgian boatyard in the world.How about this view of the Dockyard from aboard Pandora?Still need convincing?  Contact me, Antigua Port Captain for the Salty Dawg Rally, SDSA board member and I’ll answer your questions.   Believe me, if Antigua wasn’t such a great spot, I wouldn’t be spending so much of my time working to make your arrival a great experience.

And, speaking of plans, when the Dawgs arrive in Antigua in November there will be quite a lineup of events to please skipper and crew alike.   So, I hope that you will join me and the rest of the fleet in English Harbor for our arrival and more than a week of events, some free and all reasonably priced.  Click here to see the details of what’s planned.

Can’t bring your boat?  Not a problem, there are really special, super great rates at the Admiral’s Inn, in the heart of the Dockyard, just for Dawgs and their friends during our arrival time.   How about this as a perfect spot to begin your day with a cup of coffee at the Inn?  The place is beautiful. Or perhaps for a glass of wine as the sun goes down.  Pandora will be in the Dockyard waiting for you.  Well, that’s assuming that you don’t get there first.

So, there you have it.   The case for making landfall in Antigua.  And, with so many Dawgs together, it’s going to be awesome.

Oh yeah, we even do dinghy drifts and pass around snacks to share or should I say “Dawg Food”. So, why would you miss out on this?

Waiting for the crocus to come up. A sign. Anything…

Well, it’s been two weeks since I last posted and that’s way too long.  Along with visiting our son and grandchildren, I have been busy building two looms for Brenda, perhaps as penance for keeping her away from home for the last six winters voyaging here there.

It’s just beginning to get light outside and this is the view from my office window.   Not looking too good for an early spring.Beautiful yes, in a wintry sort of way.  Me, I prefer this instead.   Soon enough.    It’l get better in May.Yes, it’s been tough for me to be here in CT with the sub-freezing weather for months now but at least I have been spending a lot of time in the the shop with no windows so I can’t see outside, the bare trees and… well, you get the picture.  Actually, I already showed you the picture.

Speaking of picture, this is one of the two Takadai looms that I built while hanging out in that windowless shop.   Takawhat! you say.  Check this link to learn more about this obscure fiddly technique.  Trust me, I won’t be ditching Pandora to make ancient Japanese braids any time soon.  However, now Brenda has one of these arcane gizmos of her own…The loom looks deceptively simple, but, trust me, it’s not simple to make at all.   I used some exotic materials including zebra wood.  I have had a single board on hand in the shop for a decade waiting for the right project to come along. I also had to make 40 of these.  They are called Koma and each one has 9 pins inserted into fiddly little holes.  Yikes, talk about repetitive motion…And, there are SO MANY OF THEM.  And that’s just one of the two looms I made.   To set up jigs to make all the parts took plenty of time so I decided to go ahead and make two of everything.  Brenda plans on selling one of them to another weaver. 

Interestingly, there is only one guy in the US that makes these looms and there is a 2.5 year long wait to get one.  From me, Brenda got hers in only two months.  Go me!  However, we won’t talk about the fact that she purchased the plans over seven years ago.    Well, I did have to think about it long enough to get it right.  Right?

Anyway, the looms are nearly done and I can soon turn my attention to getting Pandora ready for spring.    There’s still plenty to do and I’ll be spending days aboard Pandora scraping old glue off of the overhead so I can put in a new head-liner.  I’ve decided to hire the guy who did my cockpit enclosure to install the new material.   That way I can be sure that it will turn out perfectly and I HAVE to have PERFECT.

I’ll also be taking out the last of the less efficient lighting and replacing it with LEDs so I won’t have to be quite so stingy with cabin lighting when we are on the hook.   Pandora’s cabin lighting has been mostly upgraded but there are still the overhead halogen puck lights that need attention plus a number of high pressure fluorescent fixtures that aren’t very efficient either.

And, well, there’s always the quest of trying to fix those small if persistent leaks coming through that bolt hole on the traveler, under a line clutch and one of the granny bars that drip down below from time too time.  Annoying, but a bit of proper bedding should do the trick.   Of course that all sounds easy enough but to get things sorted out and ready for that “bit of proper bedding” will take hours or days.

And, remember my last post?  The one about our visiting the UK and renting a Narrow Boat?  Well, NEVER MIND…

Brenda and I both decided that being away for a month wasn’t all that great an idea after all and we’ve decided to put that trip off and go to CA instead for a week to see our son Chris and his girlfriend Melody.    We’ve been looking forward to seeing them again so that’s the plan.

So, it’s UK out and CA in…  Best laid plans? Right?

We’ve also been visiting with our son’s growing family.   They are getting bigger and louder by the day.  It’s fun to be with them but just about everything that gets done all day long involves bathing, bouncing, playing, feeding or changing diapers along with putting them down for a nap and then getting them up  again.  Really adorable but what a handful…Feed me, FEED ME “Tepe”!!!  That’s Tori’s name for me, Grandpa.   Double adorable.  The best thing about being the oldest is that you get “naming rights”. The morning after we returned home from our visit, Brenda and I both were struck by how peaceful it was to have coffee and read the paper in ABSOLUTE SILENCE.  We miss them but not until after that second cup of coffee and an hour spent reading the paper.   Such are the joys of being a grandparent.

So, back to sailing.   We still plan on going to Maine this summer and I hope for a brief visit up the St John river in Canada.   I’ll be running Pandora to Annapolis for the sailboat show in October.  After that, on to Hampton VA and the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean and my “home island”,  Antigua.

I should mention that there is a load of activities planned for our arrival in Antigua in November and I sure hope that at least one of you will decide to go there too.   The events are great and I should know as I’m port captain and set them all up.   Check out what’s planned for our arrival.   The page is still a bit rudimentary but it will be fleshed out more soon.   While you’re at it, why not sign up for the rally now.  And, of course, make it Antigua, I will.   Everyone I’ve been working with in Antigua has been so supportive and the government is even taking a booth at the Annapolis boat show as a result of my prodding.

And speaking of signing up.  Put the “Open Boat Blue Water Weekend” on your calendar too.  In my “spare time” I have been working on this meeting at the Essex Yacht Club beginning June 21st for three days focused on preparing skippers, boats and crew for safe and fun, well mostly fun, blue water passages.  And yes, you can sign up for that too. But wait, there’s more…  I’ve been asked to give a talk on July 23rd as part of the Camden Yacht Club’s Summer Speakers’ Sunset Series.   I’ll be speaking on behalf of the rally and about cruising the Windward Islands, south of Antigua, an area that I just love.    The event is also a rendezvous of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association and they have a signup page if you’re interested.  It’s free.

The Camden Yacht Club is a beautiful spot with a view of the Camden Hills from the clubhouse.  Other than that, I’m just hanging around waiting for the crocus to come up hinting that spring is just around the corner.   And, now that the “takawhatervers” are nearly done, I can turn my attention back to Pandora so that I’ll be ready in time for some summer cruising.

Oh yeah, and Brenda wants some bar stools for the kitchen so I’ll have to somehow fit that in too.  And, the passerelle (boarding ramp) for Pandora, almost forgot that.

So, there you have it.   Nothing to do except to wait for spring except, well, except just about everything.    A sign, please, at least give me a sign…

But, you know they say, “busy people are happy people”.  Than I must be about the happiest guy around.  Well, the happiest one with dry feet at least.

The Narrow Boats of England and the power of hope.

The Narrow Boats of England’s inland canal waterways have always captured my imagination.  To me these distinctive boats are a pinnacle of “form follows function” as they all look very similar being designed within a strict standard that will fit with the locks on the canal system throughout the UK.

A Narrow Boat must be under 7′ wide and most are kept to a maximum of 6′ 10″ and to a maximum length of 72′ and sometimes a bit smaller as there are some locks on the system that can not accommodate anything longer than 57′. Originally these boats were more like simple barges with horses pulling them along with a rope on a tow path.   With the development of compact steam engines,  many became self powered and ultimately converted to diesel engines. The canal system of the UK and the iconic narrow boats played a key role in the industrial revolution in England making it possible to cheaply move material throughout  the country before the development of the railway system.  As canal traffic became the standard way to transport heavy cargo, shipping prices dropped precipitously with the cost to move coal dropping by 75%.   However, by the mid 20th century the canal system was all but abandoned in favor of train transport.

While the decline was years in the making, the winter of 1962/63 sounded the final death knell of commercial canal traffic when the canals completely froze the system, locking traffic in place for three months.  Shippers made the final shift to the railroads and never turned back.  Even the trains struggled with the unusually cold and snowy winter but they got through. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long until much of the canal system fell into total disrepair.
As is so often a basic truth, if you don’t use it, you loose it.
Today the system is thriving, thanks to a small group of enthusiasts that campaigned to repair the waterway.  A particularly seminal moment in this reversal of fortune was the publication of the book Narrow Boat by L.T.C. Rolt, originally published in 1944.  The author, Tom Rolt, brought attention to the decaying system.  Many give credit to this book as being the catalyst that lead to the renewal of the canal system as it exists today.   This book is still in print, after all these years, providing evidence of the enduring importance of his words.

Here’s Tom on his beloved narrow boat, Cressy.  He toured what remained of the the then decrepit canal system and founded the Inland Waterway Association in 1946 with a friend, Robert Aickman.   This group remains a major force to this day in restoring and maintaining the canal system.   Robert Aickman aboard a narrow boat.  He was a successful author of what is described as “supernatural fiction” whatever that is.  Remarkably, today there is in the neighborhood of 4,700 miles of navigable waterways in the UK with some 2,500 miles of those waterways primarily accessible by narrow boat.   If you ever wonder about what can be accomplished by a single individual, consider the impact that both Rolt and Aickman had on what is now a thriving canal system with over 30,000 registered vessels in the UK alone.

I am focused on all of this, beyond the obvious is this is all about boats, because, as I announced in a recent post, Brenda and I are planning a holiday to the UK in April, beginning with the annual meeting of the Ocean Cruising Club in Wales (I wrote about our plans and a few other random thoughts in this post).  After that we plan to tour other areas and are considering renting a canal boat or should I say Narrow Boat.

The particular segment of the canal system that we are interested in is often described as the most popular one, crossing from England to Wales, the Llangollen Canal.   This area of the canal system, under 50 miles, offers spectacular scenery along with a number of remarkable aqueducts and tunnels and is quite manageable for a week long holiday.   When you think of the fact that this canal was built in the early 1800s, it’s an all the more impressive feat.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the journey on the Llangollen is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a specatular bit of Victorian engineering.   Named a world heritage site, it is lovingly maintained to this day.  Check out this short tour.  We’ve been watching a number of shows recently about the canal system and have particularly enjoyed a series highlighting various areas of the system, hosted by two British actors, Timothy West and his wife of 50 years Prunella Scales.  Sadly, Prunella has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her condition plays into the touching narrative.  I urge you to view this 45 minute piece.Timothy West is a well know stage and film actor and, in addition to the above episode, made many others with his wife, covering other areas of the canals of Europe.   It’s an impressive list and the number of episodes alone highlights the historic importance of canals in the history of Europe.

Prunella Scales, is someone who you will probably remember as playing opposite John Cleese, in the television series, Faulty Towers or perhaps in Monty Python skits over the years.  Anyway, West and Scales, who clearly have a love of canals and Narrow Boats,  bring this wonderful lifestyle to life and I am hopeful that Brenda and I can find a way to fit a canal boat holiday into our trip in April.

Perhaps the most impressive part of all of this is how the rebirth of the now thriving canal system in the UK was catalyzed by one man and the publication of a book shortly after the end of WWII and how that has grown into a thriving economy that attracts boaters from around the world.  If the sheer number of videos on YouTube is any measure, the canals indeed mean a great deal to many people.

For me, the chance to visit the UK and spend time aboard a boat, now that would be very special indeed.  Oh yeah, there’s one rub, we have to find someone to come along with us as Brenda’s freaking out about those pesky locks and don’t get her started about those scary aqueducts……and long dark tunnels. So, will we go?  As Brenda once said, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful.” 

Way back in the 40s, Rolt and Aickman had hope when they had the bold idea of reviving the entire canal system.  Me, my hope is a lot less ambitious.  All I want to do is to go for a boat ride.

That’s me!  Fingers crossed and, oh yes, the power of hope.

To the ones that didn’t get away.

My memories of my Grandfather Wallace, on my father’s side, are faint as he died when I was very young.  I do have one memory of him with my grandmother and parents in their kitchen but that’s about it.  

He became a successful business man, publisher of a trade magazine in the building trade, American Artisan, which is long gone.   I expect this photo predates that part of his life. My father did not speak much of his childhood but I do recall hearing that his parents, Wallace (Wally) and my Grandmother, Wilhelmina (Willy) Wilhelm, a good German Girl, ran a pretty tight ship and were stern with their boys, my father and his two brothers.

My memories of my Grandfather, such as they are, were mostly formed by what I heard after he was gone.  I guess that most of my memories were formed by the “things” that he surrounded himself with.  The stuff that he left behind.  When I was a bit older, I would sneak up to the attic, to gaze longingly at his enormous stash of fishing gear that was stored in a special climate controlled room.   Part of the allure for me was that I wasn’t really supposed to be up there in the first place but I did it anyway, and it was, surely, the most amazing place that I had ever been.

The room, tucked away in the corner of the walk-up attic, was lined with all sorts of outdoor gear, everything from winter jackets, snow shoes and all manner of fishing gear.  My Grandfather was a fisherman and a hunter but a fisherman first, and not one who’d “beat the water” with casting gear but a firm believer that the only proper way to catch a fish was with a rod and fly. 

And, for proper fishing gear, THE place he shopped was Orvis and Family legend had it that my Grandfather had one of nearly everything that Orvis sold, and I believed it.   I was entranced by what I saw in that secret room and imagined what it must have been like for my grandparents to trek deep into the wilderness, wading out in a cold running stream,  looking for the big one that I imagined never got away.  

Recently, I have been sorting through boxes of old family photos that Brenda and I have taken over the last forty years, and have come upon some real gems, some of which have appeared in recent posts.   I am nearing the end of the boxes of photos and today I came upon a small envelope with some remarkable pictures. Tiny black and white photos of my Grandparents taken while they were on several of their legendary wilderness fishing trips in the 1920s and later in the 40s, in Maine and Canada including Newfoundland.

Prior to today’s remarkable find, the only photo that I had of my grandfather, was this one, that I keep on my desk of him dressed as I always imagined he must have been when he was out exploring the wilderness.  There he is wearing his waders for trout fishing in a river and I can still remember how they smelled when I handled the old rubber in that forbidden place. 

I also have this photo of me and my late dad fishing on what I believe is a reservoir near our home, at the time, in Fairfield CT.   I’m not sure if Dad really enjoyed fishing so perhaps he was just doing his “good daddy” thing.  I wish I remembered that day.  I am sure it was awesome. So, back to the travels of  my grandparents, Wally and Willy.   Over the years I heard bits and pieces of the many trips that they took to Maine and Canada to fish and hunt but  mostly to fish. 

I can only imagine what it must have been like to head out into the wild back in the early part of the 20th century and it was surely very primitive by today’s standards.  Legend has it that on one of their visits to Newfoundland, my grandmother was confronted by a bull moose that towered over her head.  I remember her as being pretty tough so I expect that she stood her ground, no doubt, having been told that to run away was a decidedly bad idea. 

They were really on their own, guide or not.  No cell phones or GPS transponders with little red “help” buttons to push if you got into trouble back then.  Cars were even a fairly new thing and most transportation in the back country, at that time, was certainly by horse.  This photo was captioned on the back in neat printing as “Lori Pond Maine”.   I couldn’t find it on a map.Here they are, fording a stream, clearly in the same area, labeled  “Katahadin Maine” which I learned is the highest mountain in the state.  Located in the remote center of the state and I can only imagine how tough it was to get there in 1922 when this photo was taken as it was years prior to the interstate highway system. 

Perhaps they took a train from New York or took the long drive up route 1.  It’s hard to imagine them making the trip on their own as cars of that era were pretty primitive with running boards and brass headlamps.  One way or the other, it must have been a days long journey from their home in Fairfield CT.In his later years, I heard that my grandfather flew to fish in the Pacific Northwest to fish for salmon but back in the 1920s this was the sort of plane that was used commercially and I doubt that there were many airports, if any at all, in that part of Maine.   Well, this photo isn’t actually a commercial airplane and has nothing to do with my grandparents but I love the image and all that it conjures up.  You’ll get the point that air travel wasn’t quite the same then as today.  Not sure what this photo is all about but it’s labeled as “Maine Woods 1922”.  Yep, looks like the woods.  I wonder if they ever visited when there was snow on the ground.  Perhaps the trails were to rough for wheels so this was the only way to carry their camping gear. 
Roughing it or not, this photo, taken that same year, shows grandfather looking right at home in the backwoods, especially for a city guy.   Adventuring of the sort that they did was probably not all that common at that time. 
My grandmother was no shrinking violet.  And here she is “packing”.  Notice the sidearm.  I wonder if that was before or after her encounter with that moose?  Of course, as you’d expect for a proper rusticator, a skirt, appropriately below the knee, of course. Wally packed too.   It’s photo was taken some years later, in 1937, again in Newfoundland.  And, of course, complete with his ever present cigarette. And out by the cookhouse in Newfoundland in 1940.  I would imagine that they flew there as I can’t imagine having the time to get there by train, car or ship. 
My grandmother did plenty of fishing in those years too.   I remember her as pretty stern but with a great smile.   When she was much older and saw me she’d say in a high pitched voice with a jaunty lilt, “little lamb, little lamb, little lamb chop, chop” and poke me in the ribs.   I loved that. And, our Willy could handle a gun as well as a rod and reel.   Love the feather in her hat. Looks like lunchtime with their guide.  In those areas I doubt it was a good idea to go it alone.   And, I expect that there was plenty of critters, large and small, that “went bump in the night” to keep an eye out for. I’d love to know the story behind this moment.  Willy could fish with the best of them it seems although she never spoke of it with me. 
This photo, labeled only as “Maine” appears to be some sort of ferry.  Imagine being out in a remote area and wearing a tie and hat these days?   Heck, I even get comments at our yacht club when I show up in a bow tie. 
This photo carried an interesting caption on the back, “Dashing Youth, Wrecked City, Canada”.  I tried but couldn’t find any reference to such an event in the 20s when I guess the photo was taken. 
Along the way they did the tourist thing.  This was taken along the Mohawk Trail in western MA.   The name comes from it’s origins as a trade route for native Americans.   Some of the photos show my grandfather in what looks like really remote areas, like this one on a rocky riverbank, also from the early 20s.   I guess that is an Atlantic Salmon.   Come to think of it, all the photos look pretty remote. Legend has it that in his later years he had a standing order from a guide in the Pacific Northwest to contact him when the salmon were running and he’d hop on a plane and fly out.  In those days that was a very long way as planes didn’t have nearly the range of today’s jets and had to stop every few hundred miles for fuel as they made their way from coast to coast, across the continent.   

I never knew much about my grandfather and although my grandmother was with us until after Brenda and I were married, I still don’t know much about their earlier years.  However, their memory lives on, if perhaps more in my imagination, as I conjure up the adventures that they must have had as they fished and hunted in the wilderness, areas that seem impossibly remote even by by today’s adventure travel standards. 

I expect that it was the allure of fishing pristine streams and rivers and the promise of catching that big one, that drew my grandfather to the remote north country.   

And he, I expect, like me so many years later, was surely drawn to all the wonderful fishing gear, as he dreamed of the promise of what he’d catch and the big ones that, it seems, didn’t get a way.   Particularly the lures that he said, I am told, were designed to “catch more fisherman than fish”.   In his case, I expect that it was the other way around. 

I wish I’d been there with him.   Now, that would have been awesome.   And even though I wasn’t, discovering these photos has brought us just a bit closer after all these years.