Footloose

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It all started when I was in the city learning how to scuba dive. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to learn and I was just about done. Since my car at the time was ‘a bit dodgy’ my partner brought me in hers, then went off with her mum on a road trip.

By the time I had gotten back to the surface, she had bought a boat.

The news hadn’t surprised me in itself, she loves boats, big boats, power boats. Her father always had a big cruiser that he’d take family and friends out on. The surprise was that she’d bought a sail boat.

The price was right, it was a ‘fixer-upper’, but floating (mostly) at the time. There was a foot of ‘seepage’ (as the owner called it) in the cabin, but overall it was on the right side of the water. Then she confided, she’d never been on a sailboat before.

Uh-oh, that meant I was the expert! When I was a teenager I used to sail my grandfather’s cedar canoe. It had two bamboo masts with 100 year-old canvas sails. Even at that age I had a healthy respect for the winds ability to knock a boat over, especially one without a keel! So I had fashioned outriggers and learned how to sail. I knew she knew this because I had told her my great tale about learning the importance of balancing two sails as I came about and frantically tried to unlash the rudder while barreling straight towards the rocks.

Then when I was in college my father had picked up a secondhand sloop. A lovely wooden 29-footer he called ‘Memories’. I would go out with him on fine Sundays when I was home, hank on the jib and raise the sails. We’d do the run around the Spectacle Islands and back to where he kept it moored.

So, my expert status confirmed in her mind she dove in to boat ownership.

The boat in question is 20 feet long and has a little cabin with a sink, galley and toilet. For someone who grew up with backwoods camping in a little two-man tent, it was Shangri-la! The first I saw of it was after getting back home from the checkout dives to find it up on blocks in the backyard.

Having bought the boat in late September, and discovering that it needed some work done before we dared the water with it, there was a long winter of daydreams and even repairs. Over the course of 9 months we worked on the boat, getting a new sail made, sanding, scraping and painting, reseating the keel, ripping out and replacing the electrical.

The first realisation that boating had changed since my days dodging rocks in a sailing canoe or crewing for my Sunday Sailor dad, was when the brand new main sail arrived. The original was in tatters and we solicited quotes from a variety of local sail lofts for its replacement. We quickly learned that the new main was going to cost over half what had been paid for the boat! We also learned that sail lofts speak a funny language and any time I emailed him I usually had to spend an hour researching on the Internet…

“What’s your boats P and E?”

“Eh?” was my carefully considered response.

“P is from the tack to the head, E is the boom length”

“Eh?”

“What’s the model, I’ll look it up in our database.”

Even though we had a boat from an Ontario yard built in 1979 that from all accounts had gone out of business before the Internet era began, he was able to locate it. Some emailed photo’s of key components and sending the ragged remains sealed the deal.

The shiny new sail arrived and Lisa thought we should try setting it up on the mast and boom (which were lying on sawhorses in the backyard) to see if it ‘fit’. So we dragged all the gear out.

“Hmmm” I said.

“What?”

“Oh, probably nothing….”

“What!”

“Well, on my Dad’s boat, the bottom of the main sail fit in a slot on the top of the boom. I see the slot on our boom, but this sail doesn’t have anything on the bottom edge but two big rings.”

“WHAT!”

I was puzzled, and Lisa was starting to fret. A sizable chunk of pay had gone into the new sail and it wasn’t going to go on! I spoke soothing words and hit the email. First a little research, I discovered the ‘bolt-rope’ was what would fit through the slot, so I used that word when I asked the sail loft if we had everything.

The reply was quick and informative. Basically he said they had been making ‘loose-footed’ mains since the 20th century, and he included some helpful links about their merits.

So all we needed was a way to connect the rings (the ‘cringles’) to the thingys on the two ends of the boom.

At this point Lisa was questioning whether buying a boat that required a whole new language was the best idea. She had been reading one of the many sailing books I had accumulated over the years (all written in the ‘tight footed’ main sail era).

“I’ve been around boats all my life, I thought I knew all the terms I needed to know. But what the hell is a shroud?”

“One of the wires that holds the mast in place”

“I thought that was a stay”

“Well, the stays are fore and aft, the shrouds are port and starboard.” I said, simplifying and trying hard not to mention that there were inner and outer shrouds….

Usually at this point there would be some expletives directed towards sailors and their arcane terms…

More later, but first a photo!

at-anchor.jpg

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Obsession

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Sunset sail

Well if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about provocative keywords, it brings in the views from google! But this post really is about ‘obsession’.

I’ve been absent for months now from the virtual world and it relates to the topic. Something clicked, some tuning fork in my head rang sympathetically to a sequence of events and I became ‘obsessed’. It all started as I tried to wrap a story around a series of images I created called the ‘Hapless Photographer’. That story starts with ‘Hap’ going for a sail. As I immersed myself in the character I recalled how much I loved sailing my canoe when I was a teen, then sailing with my dad in his sloop during university. All of it came to a head as I breathed life into this characters motivations for the trip that causes him to be marooned (and thus ‘Hapless’) in the first place. But then my significant other, who has also been vicariously around other peoples boats all her life, lit the fuse with an offhand comment like ‘we should get a boat’.

It turns out my library has a LOT of books about boats. Not to mention that the dormant salty virus had ensured I’d picked up a few myself over the years. So I’ve spent a good portion of the last two months reading everything I could lay my hands on. I now know the difference between a lazy-jack and a spreader, between gunk-holing and ocean-passage… Didn’t get my feet any wetter, but I’ve found an undiscovered country in my head that I didn’t even realise I’d been living in. It’s like you wake up and there’s suddenly a whole new room in your house.

When I was young I always imagined myself as an explorer. When I look back at the things I really enjoy, they always have an element of exploration. Museum’s and bookstores, travel, biking, hiking, camping, photography, I’ve always enjoyed them when approached as facets of exploration, making the unknown world a little more known.

So, while I was getting PADI certified as an open water recreational diver, my partner in craziness Lisa went out and bought a little boat. It’s an old 20 foot sailboat, when you look at the hull from the inside you can see a couple of patches where it was probably bashed on the rocks in its time, and even signs the mast once went overboard. But it was floating and the price was right! Now it sits in our backyard on a makeshift cradle while we strip it down, replace all the rusting bolts with stainless steel, clean off the accumulations of previous owners and make it ours.

There is something satisfying about getting something ‘used’. Like a fine violin gets better over time as it’s played, I get a sense of its history. That’s why I love old houses and used boats. This boat could have been Hap’s, somebody found it, patched it up and used it for awhile before it moved along the chain to us.

Over our heads!