Sunday, April 19, 2020

Confessions of a Disabled Sailor

The world pandemic has found me under my own forced convalescence. As some of you know, I was near fatally injured in a car accident forty years ago. Prosthetics and orthotics have made it possible for me to live a full, eventful life regardless, some of which we've all shared here in these pages for almost thirteen years(!).

Two years ago I suffered a stoke, which impaired my balance enough that eventually a dramatic fall last October began an extended period of convalescence, from then until now. Growing old is not for the faint of heart.

But, determined to carry on, I fully intend to come out the other side stronger, despite being the target age of this debilitating world disease. With that in mind, I'd like to share with you some projects underway in the Doryman boatyard.
The last post found Doryman floundering under a capsize in the worthy faering, Saga. Although she saw service through the rest of last summer, she'd been abused and misused, much the same as her skipper. Some parts and pieces were lost in the capsize and her finishes suffered. Though no lasting damage resulted, she is in need of love, which comes apace. I love this little boat. We've been through a lot together, most of which was pure joy. She's a challenge to sail, the older I get, but I'm not ready to give up yet, we have more time to share.

Here's a shot of a debilitated Doryman at the helm, after the capsize last summer. That timid posture is the result of doing more than I should with a recent spinal injury from the fall I mentioned earlier. Hurts my back just to look at it.


Right now, there are no restrictions on sailing from the marina I live in so the plan is to launch Saga by May Day, in the Puget Sound, Salish Sea.

Travel is pretty restricted here, since the Canadian border to the north is closed to boaters and most marinas are closed. But for me it's all one ocean, as my friend Webb is wont to point out from time to time.

Restrictions imply impermanence, which brings us to some exciting news;


Back in 2009 I had the pleasure of a cruise in Chuck's self-built Chebacco Full Gallop. Nice boat.
About that time, I came upon the same design, but with lapstake planking. Unfortunately the price was too steep for me, which was a shame, since I'd come to love the boat by then.

Fast forward to last month. The same boat is still for sale. Well, no longer, because my friend, Doug and I went and picked it up. 

The Chebacco is a Phil Bolger design in a minimalist shallow water cruiser. Repairs are underway as we speak. When the Canadian border opens up, I know where I'm going. 

Disabilities be damned.

More anon...

Monday, June 17, 2019


I capsized last week for the first time. Ever. 

Those who have been here for a while will recognize the eighteen foot long Saga, a design based on the Norwegian faering. She has taken me hundreds of nautical miles and though she's a vulnerable open vessel, I have complete confidence in her.

We had some lively seas that day and had weathered them fine for several hours. The journey nearly at an end, we found ourselves in a protected bight with no breeze, sitting very still.

A surprise gust of wind hit and before I could release the mainsheet, water was cascading over the coaming . I forgot how fluky the South Puget Sound winds can be. A fellow named Dave up on the bank heard me from where he was working in his garage and came out in his skiff. (I'd lost both cell phone and VHF radio, was cursing my predicament and yelling for help. I have very healthy lungs.).

In the meantime, a Coast Guard helicopter, two fire departments, a local first-responder group on jet skis and a fire-boat showed up. I was in the water about an hour and had hypothermia.

When Dave showed up, I was focused solely on getting Saga righted, and bless him, against his better judgment, tried to help. We did get the boat upright but she was awash and we had to abandon her to get me to shore. He was shocked that I could pull myself up on his swim platform, but that's what adrenaline is for.

A fire department first aid truck group brought my body temperature back up, blood pressure down, so there was no trip to the hospital. The fire-boat brought Saga into Boston Harbor and pumped her out. Lost some stuff, but got my boat back. And lived to tell the story.

I am in debt to a small army of highly trained people and one savvy local mariner. That's what this epistle is about. A big shout-out to all those who protect us against ourselves.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

You Must Be the Change You Want to See in the World

So said Mahatma Gandhi, a very wise man.
A couple days ago, during a wild winter storm here in the Pacific Northwest, a tornado touched down in a small local town and selectively destroyed a block of homes. Tornadoes are very rare around here, so the usual discussion about climate change erupted.

Suffice to say, I have no doubt that humans have contributed to the drastic changes we now experience in our environment. Perhaps it is too late to return to a more innocent age ecologically, but it is dangerously naive to believe we can continue with business as usual and expect to not suffer.

In a recent post on his excellent blog Ecosophia , John Michael Greer makes the salient point that we have distanced ourselves too much from nature. If anthropogenic climate change is real (and it's suicidal to believe it's not) then, it's past time for us to take our contribution seriously and reduce our carbon footprint in our daily lives. Literally, walk the walk.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


We've experienced so much damage from fire this year in the US! For two good friends of mine (and yours) the pain just hit home two days ago. Barry and Terri Long suffered the loss of their home in Virginia and though I can't offer much detail, I can pass on the news to our community, to which Barry has given so much through his fine website, Marginalia

Image may contain: night and outdoor

Friends and neighbors of the Longs have started a fundraiser to help them out. I thought possibly some of you might be interested.

Thank you and please remember those who have been displaced from their homes this holiday season - for whatever reason.

Monday, September 10, 2018


For those who've already seen this photo on social media, I apologize. Still, may I have a word?
The word used most often to describe this scene was serenity. While that might be so, serenity in this case is married to intensity. Concentration coupled with calculation. All senses tuned to the moment, in perfect harmony.

It's been a difficult year, ruled by Saturn. But like many mariners, DoryMan turns to the water to soothe his soul.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Rowing in Style

The Michael Storer Skiff wasn't finished in time for Seventy48 but thankfully that's OK with Randy. He wasn't going to race in the warm-up event to the Race to Alaska anyway. Speaking of the Race to Alaska, what about those women?!

Sail Like a Girl, with a team of seven women won the 750 mile race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. It seems they peddled-powered their Melges 32 half the way on this motor-less event. Congratulations to those hard working women.

Here at home, a slightly less exciting victory - the MSD skiff is complete and ready for her first splash. Randy Jones, her proud owner will announce a launch date soon and I'll be sure to pass it on.

There have been a few setbacks during this build and no one is happier to see it finished than I. We have the highest expectations for this simple, elegant design. She came in at just around 100 pounds, not bad for a sixteen foot boat built to carry half a ton.

Randy says:
"Her first launch is set for noon on Saturday, July 7th at Mystery Bay State Park, Nordland WA. The curious are welcome and encouraged to bring their own boats. I'll noodle around for a few hours and let everyone take a test row."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

MSD Rowing Skiff

As promised, here's the latest on the rowing skiff from Michael Storer. I like this little flash rowing design very much. She is sleek and light, undoubtedly fast.

The first coat of primer goes on the hull.

Turn upright and the true shape starts to show.

Very simple design, graceful lines. The bulkheads installed will become sealed floatation.

We must always have a shot of clamps. The spacers set the inwale off the hull, a useful detail allowing for tying on fenders.

The flotation seats will provide almost 600 pounds of safety.

Same shot, different view.

To be continued...........

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Dory By Any Other Name

Out in the boatyard, we have a conundrum.

The famous Australian boat designer, Michael Storer was requested to design a boat for comfortable rowing in protected waters. What first came to mind?
"Of the modern, shorter, lightweight dories, the better ones of the modern kind paddle very easily but are tender until you have a load aboard and their speed is limited by the short waterline. The worse ones are so twitchy as to be almost useless."
And so the story goes. Dories can't handle rough seas. Dories are twitchy, hard to handle. Never own a flat-bottomed boat. Almost useless.

But when all is said and done, what emerges from Mr Storer's drawing board? I'll let you be the judge.
To be on the safe side, Michael has called his creation the MSD Rowing Skiff and Doryman has been commissioned to build one. From start to finish, I know well what it is, though I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

The MSD Rowing Skiff is a simple design with all the power and versatility of it's long heritage. Michael tells us this rowboat evolved from his Goat Island Skiff, which is also a time-honored sea-kindly vessel of a certain kind, well loved in these pages. Caution has been taken to be sure the MSD Rowing Skiff is not twitchy, is easy to handle, can hold up to a violent sea and goes like a yearling seal.

I'm not well versed in metric measurements, so the boat plans and I hit a hard spot right off. Rather than purchase a metric tape measure, I decided to struggle with conversions. Those of you with multi-amplitude will understand me completely when I say, metric measurements and the U.S. customary system are not compatible. What is a simple boatbuilder to do when 1 foot = 12003937 meters? Regardless, a fine rowing vessel has emerged, in the rough. We'll be following the progress of this worthy dory in the days and weeks to come.

Please stay tuned.....

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Belle Starr in Racing Form?

Seriously? Can you imagine a full keel cruising design in a field of hard core racers? Neither can I. But there she was, out spreading her wings during the annual Shipwrights' Regatta, in Port Townsend Bay.

Yesterday dawned under heavy clouds, pouring down rain, with thunder and lightning crashing all around. It does Doryman credit that he turned over and went back to sleep.
...not for long...
The plan had been to go sailing, rain or shine. Fortunately the storm melted away with the morning and by noon, in time for the start of the Shipwrights' Regatta, the clouds peeled away to reveal a brilliant sun. The Stone Horse, Belle Starr was as delighted as her skipper. Sporting her new mainsail, she was lovely in tanbark.

And no, she did not race, sorry to disappoint. You supposed she took honors? Only points for grace and beauty. While the field duked it out in the first race of the 2018 season here in Port Townsend, we kept clear of the marks and enjoyed the break in the weather. There is more than one way to win.

Monday, January 15, 2018


70 miles in 48 hours.
The rules are simple - no motors, no sails, no support. Human power only. Pedal, paddle, or row.

Seventy 48 begins in Tacoma, Washington, at the head of the Thea Foss Waterway, near the Museum of Glass
Port Townsend, to the north is the finish. Two checkpoints are required: A boat off the beach at Point Defiance and the bridge over Port Townsend Canal. The route is up to you.
The race starts June 11, 2018 at 5:30 PM, and teams have 30 minutes to cross the start line
Application deadline: April 15, 2018

An Old Town canoe converted for rowing should do the trick. Please stay tuned.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New Sail for the New Year

Salutations from the great Pacific Northwest to all my friends the world over.
Calendars confuse me. Where I live we call this the first days of winter. Some people never see winter and today my good friends far south of the equator celebrate high summer. I prefer to look to the sky and see the axis turn on our lonely planet and contemplate the millenniums of our universe. On a long night with the constellations turning slowly over my head, I can forget that I live in a country where my own government despises poor people like me.

Today was short. In the same vein as the above comment, I think of a day in terms of sunlight, which was easy on the ground today at 48 degrees latitude north, 122 longitude west.

Being an aging mariner, who still prefers to live each day outside, in nature, these short, cold days are hard on my bones. Despite natural inclination, sometimes I have to stay inside, by the fire.

Today was such a day. Fortunately, there was plenty to do. We are sewing a new mainsail for Belle Starr. The wooden Stone Horse had to sit out a sailing season due to lack of funds for moorage, but soon (I promise) she will return to her natural element and the voyage ethereal she loves will commence.

 Suddenly help arrived. (never know when she'll appear).

Belle Starr was built in the early 1980's, here on the Puget Sound. Her sails were (are) very a finely constructed cruising design executed in the early years of Hasse and Petrich Sailmakers. Carol Hasse is still in business here in Port Townsend, but I know without asking that I can't afford to have her replace her aging set. And, it goes without saying, our new sail pales in comparison, but then I probably don't have thirty-five years of sailing left in me, even if I have the good grace to live that long.

Besides, it's good experience to make your own sails. I remember well the days when I could not figure out how to drive my boat to windward, let alone understand  the physics of sail theory. Nothing brings all the elements of sailing theory together better than building a sail.

I cheated.
Belle's mainsail came in the mail, as a kit from Sailrite. Those guys are awesome. A custom, precision cut mainsail for pennies on the dollar. All the pieces you need, minus the tools. Believe me, building the sail is challenge enough without having to cut it from raw materials.

Heather is a pro with a sewing machine and we have an old Phaff made to sew through metal. (don't mean to sound too elderly, but stuff was made better back in the day.) Still, the large bits of slick fabric were a challenge and took up the entire front room of the house for days. The main body of the sail is now complete and the task of hand sewing is underway.

I learned to sew from my mother and grandmother at a very young age, but have never mastered the delicacies of the job. My sewing is strong, but able-seamen of old would blanch at the quality of my work. I'm trying very diligently to make the grade.

My bible for hand-sewing technique is Emiliano Marino's "Sailmaker's Apprentice", an exceptional book, by the way. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting Emiliano and it's likely he will one day see my handiwork.
Hopefully, he will be kind.

Love and Peace to you all.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Meditation and Transformation

It's quiet here today. I just returned from a walk with the dog. She's the offspring of a spirited Border Collie, bred with a Blue Healer. She doesn't care much for calendars or clocks, and lives from moment to moment, the all too infrequent romp in the woods. I strive to be more like her.
Heather left long before daybreak, to work at the bakery, serving the gluttonous masses. In silent meditation, I've decided to fast in contemplation. I live in a country so preposterously prosperous that being thankful for good fortune seems hypocritical.
The rain comes down in buckets, as we say, out in the boatyard, and though I spend most days out there working in all weather, it seemed appropriate to set the tools aside for awhile. In a bit, I'll go out and bail an old carvel-planked boat that is kept open to the weather, to keep her planks swollen and tight. Her other, more protected sisters will be patted down and reassured their lives will not always be spent on the hard. My neighbors see this ritual as tedious, but I do not - it is a meditation for a sailor between voyages. It is said the professional sailors of old yearned for the sea the day they returned home. I once knew an old fisherman who, while in port, would visit his boat everyday and sit at the helm, reading and listening to the marine broadcasts. I can relate.

Remember Mistral, the big live-aboard/cruising dory that inspired the moniker on the header? She is still around, though an apparent permanent resident of the backyard boatyard. We hauled her from the water a couple years ago to make the journey from the Oregon coast to my new domicile in Port Townsend. Why didn't I sail her here on her own bottom? You ask a good question. The best answer I can offer, is, a trip northbound on the Pacific coast of the US is strenuous, since a vessel must climb uphill, against prevailing weather and tide. I've done it a few times - and failed, too. It's not a voyage to be taken lightly.

A vessel must be redundantly reliable for an open ocean passage.
Mistral suffers a limitation due to poor design and it's nobody's fault but mine. (Oh how hard it is to say that...). I gave a lot of thought to accommodations, structure and sail rig, but just let the cockpit and steering happen on it's own.

Over the years (how quickly they pass), I have struggled with different steering options, going from a simple tiller, to a wheel, and when that failed, back to a tiller. The hard truth is, on a double-ended vessel, the cockpit can be pitifully tight.

So, deciding to finally do something other than going from one haphazard solution to another, Mistral's surgery has begun. First, I've taken a hardtop bimini from an older boat and covered the helm seat. Next, I sawed the old transom off. You heard me right. The languid angle of a dory transom is simply too low for a stern mounted rudder. In a tack, the rudder lifts to the surface of the water, losing purchase and the unfortunate vessel stalls. If the dory doesn't have enough weigh, it is soon in irons. I could have designed a balanced rudder, but am disinclined toward underwater holes in my boats. So now, Mistral's stern is more vertical. I really love the diminutive V shaped transom of a traditional dory, so this was a hard choice. The change is not severe, in an attempt to keep that aesthetic.

To add more seating for the helmsman, I've taken liberties suggestive of traditional Asian sampans. Since I usually sit up on a very skinny shear rail while under sail, I've added a platform, up under the bimini, which my friend Martin calls the poop deck.

I apologize for the poor quality of these photos. Like I said earlier, the winter monsoons have arrived, which means, if I'm to get any time in the boatyard, I must work under a tent.

 Meditation and transformation to keep a sailor sane, while ashore.
Photo courtesy of Mathew Atkin