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Archive for May, 2015

Several weeks ago I wrote a post in favor of exploring new places. Sunday reinforced my opinion that when you go out to a new spot in your boat, you never know what you’ll find, and that’s where a lot of fun can be had.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, Bruce called and we started talking about where to go. We had talked earlier in the weekend and decided to go out, but we hadn’t decided where to go or even which boats to take. After chatting and weighing the options we decided to go check out Caterpillar island. Neither of us had been around it before, though Bruce had sailed past it last summer. The island lies on the north side of the river, across and a few river miles down river from Kelly Point Park where the Willamette meets the Columbia. I would take my skin on frame kayak, and Bruce would be in his Guide Boat.

We put in on the Columbia Slough, headed out to the Willamette and across the Columbia. As we traveled we talked about different experiences we’ve had on the Columbia and different options for quick overnight getaways. We reached the entrance to the channel that goes behind the island, and turned into it.

What a fantastic little backwater. The range of craft we found was broad to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more unusual mix of old work boats and various types of pleasure craft in one place. There was an old barge that looked like it might have had an earlier life as some sort of small WWII era ship that was latter cut down to use as some sort of barge. Then we encountered the catamaran below. I suppose I would describe it as looking like one of the shuttles from Star Trek. It had this really interesting frame for an awning built up on top, but it looked like it would have had masts and sails at one point. Now it sounds like it may have birds living in it, but restored I think it would still turn heads on a waterfront, even if mostly from novelty.  As we continued our water borne mosey down the channel we encountered a variety of old work boats including this small tug.  Then we came across this pair. At first I thought they were just some sort of random shanty boat, but then I got a better look at their profile, and immediately recognized the shape.  The name on the back of the second one confirmed my suspicion. The design was almost certainly influenced by the work of Sam McKinney or even built by him. The name is a reference to both how far the tides reach back in the Columbia and to the title of a book Sam wrote called “Reach of Tide, Ring of History.” It is a lovely book which would be of particular interest to anyone interested in the history of the northwest and of the Columbia River. In it he tracks a journey in a small boat with a cabin from the Columbia Bar upriver. That journey might have been taken on one of these boats. Through the journey he recounts he weaves in a mixture of history related to the dangers of the Columbia Bar, and of the various fishing, canning and logging villages which popped up on the river once European settlers arrived and most of which dissapeared just as quickly. He relates different parts of the Lewis and Clark exploration as he is passing the locations where parts of their journey took place including a particularly miserable 4 days spent pinned to the base of a cliff on the lower Columbia with weather too foul to move and not enough land to pull all the boats ashore. He weaves in history of the native people in the area as well as his own memories being sent by his mother down to a fishing village for a summer to live with his grandmother and to work on a fishing boat. Its a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. What an incredible surprise to come across two boats which might have been the vehicle featured in this book!  The channel fit the definition of backwater to me. It was quiet and seemed like the sort of place where many sorts of people were pursuing a wide variety of dreams and where they were coexisting quietly. There wasn’t the sense of affluence you find in some marinas, but with the variety of odd craft, many old and many well kept, I had the sense that many peoples dreams were represented by the various craft we were passing. These old tugboats, fishing boats, sailboats and pleasure craft and the various floating homes were all owned by people with aspirations to whichever lifestyle fit their demeanor. The fact that some were in wonderful shape while some were clearly in need of some attention spoke to the frailty of those dreams. Regardless though, it seemed like a delightfully peaceful backwater to pursue those dreams. Those thoughts were reinforced by the raccoon I saw washing his hands in the water on the shore opposite the boats and also by the turtle we saw sunning itself on a log. Bruce described the turtle as doubly surprising because we were able to get close enough to get a good look without it spooking and dissapearing into the water, and also because it appeared to be a relatively uncommon native variety.  As we paddled and rowed out of the channel on the north end of the island we were greeted by another surprise: This big old wooden rudder sticking out of the sand and mud. Check out the size of that pintle and gudgeon. What at first appeared to be a row of pilings, perhaps to tie up a large raft of logs to transport to a mill when that was still common practice, turned into the remains of a large wooden ship. The diagonal boards were the planks at the up-turned ends of the ship. The large gap between the stern post and rudder post must have housed a large propeller at one point.    We decided it was a good moment to get out of our respective craft and investigate. I found the bow pointed into the channel and barely poking above water. Clearly it has been there for quite a while.  I climbed up on what remained of the stern to get a better perspective looking down at the rudder and to get a sense of the size the ship had been. You can see Bruce standing off to the right below for a better sense of scale.  Currently I’ve been unable to find any information online about what this ship was or how it ended up embedded in the sand on the end of a small island in the Columbia River. I’ll be sending e-mails to some folks I know to see if they know anything. With a little luck I’ll be able to learn a little more about what this ship was, but regardless, it was an amazing thing to come across unexpectedly.

I’ve long felt that there is something about islands that promises a sense of adventure. There seems to be some sense with islands that fantastic discoveries are possible. I know that Sam McKinney would have agreed with me. Maybe I just heard too many pirate stories as a kid, but this afternoon of paddling close to home seems to suggest that its a feeling which is well founded. 

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Though this holiday weekend may be popular for getting out of town, I’m chilling near home after two fantastic weekends on and near the water. There might have been an awful lot of driving between these two weekends (around 1,000 or 1,100 miles), but it was totally worth it. Let me explain.

For Christmas I got my girlfriend a gift certificate to the Tucker House in Friday Harbor, Wa. I was able to snag a pretty sweet deal off of Groupon, which helped make it possible, for two nights at the bed an breakfast. It started off with a drive up to Seattle where we spent Thursday night, and then catching the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on Friday morning. With good weather in the forecast we were able to continue keeping the cost down by leaving my car in Anacortes and just taking bikes on the ferry. Bikes on a ferry seems like a good way to start off just about any weekend.

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We arrived in Anacortes early in the day, so we dropped our extra stuff at the bed and breakfast, and rode our bikes out to Roche Harbor. Clearly, life is rough in Roche Harbor. In other news if you see a Llama, and call out “Llama” on San Juan island, because Llamas are kinda funny, and your girlfriend calls our “Camel” in response, its not some sort of “Llama, Llama, Camel” joke that you’ve never heard before, there really is a camel.   From the dock in Roche Harbor:  Yup, Tucker House is pretty sweet. A cheese platter, fresh cookies and chilled champaigne greeted us when we made it back to the Bed and Breakfast that afternoon. The large Jaccuzi tub wasn’t bad after all that riding either.  Pleasant evenings of dock-walking were had:  Saturday we took one of their complimentary kayaks out. We caught the local taxi which happens to have kayak racks on top out to Jackson Beach and poked around, paddling close to shorelines looking for starfish, crabs and anything else that we might see in the calm, clear water. We also saw dozens of harbor seals, which were great fun to watch. There is something so dog like about their inquisitiveness, I’d almost be tempted to bring a tennis ball out to throw for them, just to see what they would do. Terrible idea, I know.   We took the inter island ferry back to Anacortes on Sunday to see more of the islands. We both marveled at how nice everyone was. Drivers gave us lots of space on our bikes, the taxi driver was super nice, the other folks we met during breakfasts at the Tucker house, and the folks working at the Tucker house were all nice as can be. It was a really wonderful weekend. I would gladly go back again.

Less than a week later, I packed up for a very different sort of weekend, though it also involved a stay in Seattle and leaving the car in Anacortes. This time I was headed to the Pull And Be Damned messabout. I’d hear about it last year, but didn’t have my boat ready. This year I took the time to revarnish my oars, sew on the leathers, and head up (thanks to Paul Gartside for the oar leathering instructions on his website: http://www.gartsideboats.com/faq/oar-leathers.html)

  My car all loaded up! As my dad said, its a good car to boat ratio.   We arrived a bit late, at around 11:30 for the messabout and as a consequence had to wait a little while to lift my boat off the trailer and into the water. For some reason they don’t have a boat ramp. With our boats in the water and loaded up we headed over to the dock. I don’t have pictures of the dock, but let me describe it a bit. The event took place on the lawn and small straight dock at the Seafarers Memorial Park in one corner of a larger marina. The event was pretty much a social gathering, with folks tying up their boats sometimes up to three deep from the dock to make space, folks taking each others boats our for a row and coming and going for short sails while folks chatted on the dock. It was low key and fun to catch up with folks I’ve met before and meeting new folks. It was a beautiful collection of boats. The after party was a night of camping on Saddlebag Island, a little over 3 miles from the marina.

The water was just a bit choppy on the way out and the winds were light. After my brother quite literally paddled a large circle around me I decided to drop my sail and rowed the rest of the way to the island. As we neared the island we passed the Sea Pearl 21, caught up with a pair of Scamps, and saw our first Porpoises. We paused for a few minutes to watch the Porpoises, usually in pairs or maybe threes come up to breath and to watch their backs arc back into the water. We pulled into the north facing bay, and were greeted by the boats which had already arrived.    It was a beautiful evening, with the light getting better and better as the day wore on. It was a wonderful group of folks to hang out with. There were around 20 or 25 boats total that night.  My boat with Rowan behind it:    The following morning my brother and I got up early to join the after-after party: A circumnavigation of Guemes Island. We knew it would be about 14 miles around, the winds were predicted to be light. We would be catching the ebb tide as we left Saddlebag Island, Slack would occur while we were in between Cypress and Guemes, and we would catch the start of the flood as we came back into Anacortes.

As we left, winds were light, but within a short while sails were set and we started ghosting along to the north west. I found that through some combination of shorter waterline length, and a smaller shorter sail that I was losing ground to the other boats, and I switched back to oars. Under oars I was able to easily catch up with any of the boats and ended up having a nice conversation with Erik Hvalsoe in his HV-16. I was able to take easy strokes with a moment of rest between each stroke while he sailed along lazily. It was a very relaxing way to start the day.    As we neared the northwest corner of the island Joseph in his Pygmy Coho and I were near the front of the fleet. We slowed down before heading out into the channel between Guemes and Cypress. The winds had slackened enough that most boats had switched to oars at this point. James warned us again that there might be a tide rip extending out from a headlands on cypress towards the middle of the channel that we should watch out for.

As we rounded the corner of Guemes we encountered some moderately chaotic water with a strong current. There must have been fish or something in the water because in addition to the harbor seals there must have been dozens of Porpoises. It seemed like everywhere you looked you would see their backs and dorsal fins rolling over in the water. The Shearwater took all of the rough water in stride and as we traveled south and the wind from the south picked up a bit the water calmed down.

  There were some interesting eddies near the headlands extending into the channel from Cypress, but nothing particularly noteworthy. The other boats switched back to sails and for a period of time as we neared the southwest corner of the island and the winds shifted to the south west I set sail as well. Once again, I found that I was losing ground to most of the boats and switched back to oars. In the channel between Anacortes and Guemes the wind seemed to pick up some along with the waves. I considered switching back to sail here, but felt confident and safe continuing under oars. It was a fast run as I made the most of the following waved and the Shearwaters slippery shape. I thoroughly enjoyed it as I was able to hold my ground while the other boats sailed. As we rounded the corner towards the marina and the winds died I caught up with and passed the boats which had been sailing in front of me and continued to the marina. We finished the circumnavigation and pulled our boats out of the water around 1pm, leaving me plenty of time to get back to Portland before it got too late.

It was a wonderful way to spend a weekend, and a great introduction to sail and oar cruising in the Salish Sea. The trip helped build my confidence in my boat under oars, and has left me looking forward to more trips of the type. I look forward to seeing all of the folks I met over the weekend again, and I imagine that if the event is held again next year, I’ll be there.

Joseph in his Pygmy Coho: These two weekends were quite different: One spent staying in a posh bed and breakfast, while the second weekend I found myself sleeping in a tent pitched on what could be best described as a flatter patch of ground than the ground around it. They also had many important similarities which included two items which are particularly important in my mind; lots of time spent exerting myself outside, and time spent with lots of good people. Between weekends like that and all the time I’ve been spending woodworking during the week, life feels pretty good right now.

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Several weeks ago I first wrote about gender in woodworking, and its a subject I’ve continued thinking about.

Soon after my post several weeks ago I found myself talking with an teacher I had in middle school. I’ve been substitute teaching for the woodshop teacher I had as a kid for a couple of years, and it’s always fun to reconnect with my old teachers. This teacher in particular started off teaching computer science and had many of the same difficulties that are present in shop classes: a lack of women. When he first started teaching, even when he explicitly worked to recruit young women for computer science or shop classes, through some set of forces they are still choosing not to take them. Perhaps their parents are not encouraging them to take these classes, or perhaps stereotypes surrounding gender roles are playing their part, or perhaps there are simply fewer role models in these fields for them to look up to. He had some success at increasing the number of female student through actively polling female students for what sorts of classes they were interested in taking, and he was able to increase the number of female students by offering courses that focused more on applications and graphic design. Thinking about polling female students may have its own set of issues related to some classes potentially being viewed as the female offerings, versus male offerings, but it is at least a step in the right direction as far as creating more balance withing the field and creating a path for people to test the waters in a field the might discover they really like, and might continue in. Regardless, the high school shop classes that I was teaching that week were exclusively male, and I haven’t had a female woodworking teacher since I was very young. It left me wondering if polling female students for what sort of woodworking class they might be interested in taking could be a strategy to increase the number of female woodworkers.

I suppose one of the reasons this issue is so important to me is that woodworking has been such an empowering and positive force in my life. Its hard to imagine that if I had been born a woman there would have been forces working against my having it become such an important part of who I am. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly. There is the pride in being able to fix things which is important, but there is also something incredibly fulfilling about walking past and using furniture I have built on a daily basis. There is also something gratifying about being able to the things I have poured my creativity into with others. Building practical objects, and striving for the highest level of perfection while working with a material that is organic and imperfect while it also has so much warmth makes it a really unique craft. Its hard to imagine it not being open to all, without barriers or stereotypes to contend with.

As I started thinking about the woodworkers who have been most influential to my own work, they were all male. Perhaps foremost among those figures is the shop teacher I had from 4th grade through high school, a man named Tom Tucker. In furniture Hans Wegner, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Sam Maloof, and Carlo Mollino immediately come to mind. Even the current woodworkers whose blogs I follow are almost all male: Christopher Shwarz, Peter Follansbee, Gary Rogowski, Chris Wong. At ADX, where the boat school is based out of and where I now rent a small amount of space for my personal woodworking, all spaces on the factory floor are rented by men despite the presence of many capable female woodworkers who use the space.

Its a small gesture, but one of my goals is to pay more attention to the female woodworkers I encounter and to share their work on this blog. Perhaps there may be a budding female woodworker who can find someone they can look up to through these efforts.

One story that seems particularly pertinent with the recent coming out of Bruce Jenner is that of Jennie Alexander, who was born John Alexander and transitioned several years ago. Her work can be seen at http://www.greenwoodworking.com/. Thanks to Marilyn over at She Works Wood for pointing me towards her work.

A local woodworker whose name came up in a conversation I had recently is Amanda Wall-Graf. I couldn’t say I know much about her, but looking at her website, it is clear that she does wonderful work. The craftsmanship (potentially problematic term. Is there an un-gendered alternative which isn’t overly combersome?) looks to be top-notch. Her aesthetic is modern, clean and elegant. Especially as someone with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, I really appreciate her use of local materials. You can check out her work online at http://www.henoshop.com/products.

A broader resource to support the effort to support female woodworkers is the Women in Woodworking website. I haven’t perused all the resources they have available, but they have links to the websites of women doing everything from building medieval crossbows to relief carving to making fine furniture. There is a lot of high quality work represented on the site. Its worth a look-through.

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