Posts Tagged ‘sail and oar’

The first issue of Wooden Boat Magazine that I ever bought was a special edition they published in 1994 called Beautiful Boats. It was a selection of previously published articles that had appeared in the magazine and among those articles was one titled “What More Could the Commodor Ask.” The article features an Egret type Sharpie built by a man to cruise the shallow water in southern Florida. Pictures of the man standing on the stern of his boat, poling along in the light evening breeze or sailing in the light blue water have haunted me ever since.

His quiet way of traveling: sailing when there was wind and either using a sculling oar or poling when there wasn’t that immediately appealed to me then, and continues to appeal to me now. There was a sense of freedom communicated through those pictures which I think influenced my own aspirations for how I wanted to travel by boat. In the images within the article it is always a solitary man represented on his boat. Below is an image from that article named “What More Could the Commodore Ask?” (First published in Wooden Boat Magazine, Issue 56, January/ February 1984, page 85).


In the years since I first read that article, I read and admired the accomplishments of many sailors who have undertaken difficult journeys including circumnavigations alone. I’ve read accounts by Joshua Slocum of sailing Spray. I read and enjoyed Bernard Moitessior’s account and eventual abandonment of the initial arround the world race. I read Robin Knox-Johnston’s account of his victory in the same race. My grandparents gave me a copy of “North to the Night” by Alvah Simon, the incredible story of his winter spent frozen into the ice near the north end of Baffin Island. Another story that impressed my is by a woman who tells the story of how she kayaked the Northwest Passage over the course of 4 seasons. The book is called “Kabloona in a Yellow Kayak,” and was also given to me by my grandparents. I have long been drawn to these stories of solitary adventurers facing the mental, physical and technical challenges which they had to surmount during their respective journeys.

Many of my own outdoor pursuits have paralleled this fairly solitary approach. At times I pursued outdoor activities on my own because it was difficult to find people with similar goals and interests, and sometimes it was a choice based on what I wanted to gain from the experience. When I was in college and decided to begin racing in triathlons, I did considerable research and trained almost entirely on my own. At the time almost all of my bike rides were done alone, including my first century ride during the spring of my sophomore year of college. After graduating college I set out on a bike tour, starting near Jasper, Alberta with the idea that I would find some clarity about what I wanted to do after college. I wouldn’t say I gained much clarity in that regard from the trip, but I did have an incredible experience covering nearly 1300 miles touring through some remote parts of British Columbia over 22 days. I remember the experience fondly, and remember talking to people where ever I went and learning about each of the places I traveled through. Even so, I remember struggling at times with feels of loneliness.

Though I am often quiet, sharing the experiences I seek out is hugely important to me. Just as sharing my woodworking is a way for me to express myself in subtle ways, and at its heart woodworking truly is all about relationships, my outdoor pursuits are also a way to explore my relationship with the world around me, and to learn more about the places I travel through. At times it can be a way to learn about the natural environment, the history of an area, or about ourselves. Over the years I have come to have a greater and greater sense that exploring and learning in a variety of ways is best done and shared with other people.

Changes in how I enjoy boating have paralleled changes in how I pursue my personal woodworking. Much of my woodworking is now done at ADX where I have enjoyed becoming part of the community of makers that use that space. I have enjoyed sharing what I know about woodworking as well as learning from others. Recently, more and more of my boating has also been done with others, and it is something I am grateful for. Over the past year I have been spending more time going out with others in their boats, taking other people out in my boats or simply going out in one of my boats and traveling with other boats. Regardless of the manner, I’ve enjoyed being able to share my experiences in boats in a variety of ways, and I’ve enjoyed learning from others.

After so many years of pursuing many of my outdoor activities on my own, I’d be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest at planning ahead and reaching out to organizing folks for outings. My friend Bruce recently started a new listserv to make it easier for those of us in the Portland area who are interested in sail and oar boating to quickly get in touch when we are going out, and to support the growth of this community. I am grateful for his efforts.

While I continue to admire those who have undertaken extended single-handed or solo adventures, I don’t find myself fantasizing about pursuing similar adventures the way I used to. Perhaps some day some series of events will cause me to revisit this more solitary method of travel to gain what can be gained from it. My dad is about to set off to hike the Oregon section of the PCT. I am excited for him, proud of the work he has done to be ready for it, and excited to hear about the experience he is going to have, but at the moment I’m looking forward to spending more of my time out on the water with friends.

So much of sail and oar cruising is about how we relate to the natural world around us, that it would be a shame not to share how we experience that relationship with others.

If you are in the Portland area, and are interested in becoming a greater part of the local sail and oar community you should visit Bruce’s blog and join us.



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Tomorrow morning, at 5am, a race of unreasonable proportions will begin. Participants will begin in Port Townsend, Washington and travel by boat to Ketchikan, Alaska, 750 treacherous miles, and basically the only rule is no engines are allowed. These boats will be powered by the wind or by paddles and oars exclusively.

Tonight I am toasting them, and all the work they have put into their preparations. Entering this race is a bold choice, and as Gothe suggests this boldness has genius, though I also think they are all a bit nuts. That being said I am more than a bit jealous of all those who have entered into this endeavor. That statement might reflect my own level of sanity, and I’m ok with that. Its going to be one hell of a journey for everyone involved, and I wish them a safe passage, whether it is enjoyable or not.

Over the coming weeks I plan to have my Race to Alaska flask with me at all times. I’ll be keeping close track of the competitors and want to be prepared to toast the victor whenever they arrive at the finish line. I will likely also toast second place and their proud acquisition of what I’m sure is a fine set of steak knives.

To learn more about the race and to see how you can also follow the progress of these stalwart individuals, follow the link below:


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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.


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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