Saturday, December 8, 2012

Arctic Tern x 2

Though you will find a building library of small boat designs profiled here, the Voyage Ethereal is as much about the people as the boats. Through the years of writing these pages, I've had the pleasure of meeting many interesting folks from all over the world, who have enriched my life more than they will ever know.

I wish I could meet all of you, face to face. Maybe someday.

Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting first Bruce, then Andy, who were new friends to each other. We three had a common thread running through our lives, a quiet yet powerful vortex, on the Southern Salish Sea.
The thread became a quilt...

The friendship of these two men developed over time and distance, for the love of the Arctic Tern, a design from the board of Iain Oughtred. I've not had the pleasure of sailing a Tern, but have sailed in company with one, enough to know that Iain's description of this design as a "double ended flyer" is so true.

The story of how Bruce and Andy meet on a remote beach, a meeting which culminates in Andy building two Arctic Terns, intrigued me. So I petitioned them to tell the tale.

At a point in the first build, Andy amuses himself by naming the two identical boats Ted and Alice. Andy is a philosophical sort, a state of mind I appreciate, but the reference to the old Paul Mazursky film still eludes me. If I understand Andy, elusion frames his amusement.

So then, let's hear their story!...


BRUCE: I’m not normally a very trusting person, but it didn’t take me long to let down my guard with Andy. After rowing together for a day and exchanging e-mails about small boats over the course of a few months, I found his sincerity disarming. Even with Andy, the King of Craigslist, sending me "for sale" links to boat after boat, I didn’t find one that met my criteria. Soon an idea was hatched: Andy would build me an Arctic Tern, and while he was at it, he’d build himself one too.

ANDY: The Arctic Tern is a pretty ideal choice for a sail and oar vessel. Good rower, good sailing qualities, attractive and pointy at both ends. However, I needed another boat like I needed... I think everyone knows how that ends. But, what do needs have to do with it? Wooden boat enthusiasts occupy a highly delusional plane where needs and wants are barely distinguishable from one another. And this was a wonderful opportunity due to the combination of an interesting co-conspirator, the economy of scale and a pretty open schedule to build a couple of really cool boats.

BRUCE: I varied between feeling giddy with delight as I watched Andy's construction photos come in and feeling completely paranoid that this was all some strange dream or scam. My wife, with her usual practicality, convinced me to get over it. Those pictures were of my boat and soon I did start to feel like a conspirator. The only thing missing was a secret code for this project and it didn't take long for Andy to create one.

ANDY: There were quite a few moments during the first stages of the build when I would find myself giggling due to the fact that I was building a boat for money. Ted and Alice, the provisional working names for the two boats, would be my eighth and ninth boats and during each previous build I always, always thought about building boats professionally. There is certainly an aura of romance to boat building, just as an aura exists around painting and sculpting... but, as with other artistic pursuits, the pot of money ain't so full.

"He's calling them Ted and Alice," I said to my wife. "What do you suppose that means?"

"Ooh-ooh it's from a movie," she replied, half questioning herself. Turns it out was from a 1969 movie that had a sense of humor. As we worked through the project, Andy indeed showed his humor, perhaps that's why he found getting paid to do it somewhat funny.

I kept wondering which boat I'd get Ted or Alice? My friends all said to ask him for the one he was keeping for himself. How I could figure that out was beyond me...

From the beginning my thought was to let Bruce have the first boat off the molds - Ted - unless of course that one turned out poorly.

Being a carpenter and knowing many other carpenters and going to their houses exposes a common carpenter gift/flaw/whatever. Carpenters can’t finish things that are to be for themselves. Their houses are full of unfinished trim, missing cabinet doors, alarmingly large sections of tarp roofing… To let Bruce have my boat would likely have meant a boat with only one gunwale, half a tiller, missing hatches and any other number of incomplete tasks.

With it established that Ted was mine and it coming rapidly to completion, I had to find a real name for the boat and a place to do the finish work on her. Finding the work space was easier than expected. My neighbor's dusty garage was commandeered, junk removed, and transformed into a varnishing studio, sanding zone, and paint shed. Now as, for a name. Code name Ted was funny, but in the long run, I wanted something with a little more personal meaning. A long list of names was considered (Lutra, Gator, Lookfar), but none of them stuck. Fortunately, I had some time before the boat was to arrive, and many hours of sanding, painting, and sanding again, to contemplate the right name.

The beauty of a boat designed for sail and oar is the inherent simplicity- wind and muscle, food and barometric disagreements. No mechanical gizmos to rely upon or to curse at when they fail to operate correctly. And so, after a herculean final push of spar making, painting and finishing touches, whilst attempting to deliver Ted, my journey was cut short by the failure of a mechanical whatsit.

It’s around four hundred miles from my home to Portland where Bruce lives. After a hundred or so miles my vehicle decided it didn’t care to part with Ted and chose to not proceed any further south.

Traveling toward the headwaters of the Columbia River from it's lush lowlands is a mind warp. Everything you see gets browner, drier and rockier, except for the massive river. It's a beautiful, but long and slow drive. Gives a fellow a lot of time to think. I've always thought sailboats look like some strange kind of bird and since this one rowed too, the name Row Bird got stuck in my mind, and soon in my son's mind too. When it came time to officially name her, I started to think of other names, but my son looked at me like I was crazy, so Row Bird it was.

And that's how Ted became Row Bird.

With any luck you can meet Ted and Alice (Row Bird and Sigmund) as well as Bruce and Andy at the 2013 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival!

In case you missed the links above, Bruce and Row Bird can be found sailing through Terrapin Tales and Andy strives steadily on Sigmund in Sage and Sea.

Thank you, gentlemen, for visiting Doryman!

Arctic Tern

Iain Oughtred
Length     Beam
Weight (kg)        Sail Area
18' 2" - 5.52m     5' 5" - 1.64m         110 102 sq ft - 9.48 sq m


Unknown said...

2576Great post
I love sailing my arctic tern in st.Augustine I built mine last year using just the single lug goes to windward just fine often i need to put in a reef I have a 16' cat boat (wood) nine times out of ten the Arctic tern goes sailing

doryman said...

Hey Tim!
We'd like to see some pictures of your boat... please send me a note.
mbogoger (at)

Bursledon Blogger said...

lovely boat I've been following terrapin tales for a while now - and what a cruising area!!

doryman said...

Bruce writes for a local audience, so it might not be apparent that some of his water activities are on the Willamette River which runs through Portland, Oregon, his home (and my old hometown).
His recent adventure, in his Adirondack Guide Boat, was on the Puget Sound (recently renamed the Salish Sea, after a local First People tribe), which is in Washington State, to the north.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know one more of my readers! Most of them don't leave comments- they just lurk...

My Tern has one tack that seems to perform a little better than the other, but does just fine to windward. It flies downwind.