Fatherhood, Childhood, and Boats

My son was late in arriving. Nine months came and went without any stirrings from him. Another week went by. Still nothing. Cindy and I had both taken leave from work and we had time on our hands, so we loaded up the lapstrake decked canoe I’d built and headed for the lake. We had paddled a mile or so and it was then that Nathan, as he would be named, made his move. Contractions had begun, and not long after putting the canoe back in the garage we were on our way to the hospital.

Treasured

Buildings like the one that looms behind the store will eventually eradicate neighborhood businesses that have been a part of Seattle's University District for many decades.

When I moved back home to Seattle and began building boats in 1978, there were three shops where I could buy new and used hardware and tools. There’s only one left now and its days are numbered. Hardwick’s Hardware was established in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression by the current owner’s grandfather. The store has been in its current location since 1938. It’s a single-story building being engulfed by the construction of new, much taller buildings all around it.

Stretcher Steering

The Gokstad faering I built for a 1,000-mile row up the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska was a very well-mannered boat, but with two of us rowing I often found myself pulling harder on one side to maintain a straight course. It’s all too easy to assume it’s the other rower that’s making the corrections necessary, but leveling accusations against a partner isn’t good for crew morale. I made a small rudder especially for rowing and connected its tiller with two lines to a footboard tiller. That kept the peace aboard the boat and allowed both of us to row each in our own way without quarreling about someone putting uneven pressure on the oars.

Imprinted

The boat was a Herreshoff Amphi-craft, designed in 1935 by Sidney Herreshoff, Captain Nat’s eldest son. Dad had always been enamored of wooden boats. He grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, and summered in Marblehead where he frequently sailed, MOLLY MAY, his father’s cutter and drove the harbor launch taking yachtsmen to and from their boats at anchor. He had also visited L. Francis Herreshoff, Sidney’s brother, in the Herreshoff Castle on the hill above the harbor. To find a Herreshoff dinghy on the West Coast must have seemed like kismet to Dad, and although he was supporting a family of five on a teacher’s salary, I think he would have paid anything to have it.

I’ve got a not-so-peaceful, uneasy feelin’

The feeling that led to me to turn tail was not new to me; I had just learned to give it the attention it deserved. Many years ago, I had set out to go kayaking on Puget Sound while there was a strong southwesterly blowing. The conditions were perfect for some exciting paddling and downwind surfing. I’d gone out many times in the same conditions, always thoroughly enjoyed them, and came back elated. This one time I was feeling a bit off as I paddled the mile and a half in the lee of West Point, just north of downtown Seattle. As I drew near the end of the point I could see the waves tumbling by just beyond the lighthouse. The conditions were perfect.

A Man of Means by No Means

To the west, 50 yards away across a flat plain of tawny salt-marsh grass, we spotted a man in a plaid shirt and a green baseball cap walking toward us. His conversation with us had apparently started well before we could hear his voice, and by the time we shook hands with him and introduced ourselves he was well into the story of his life and how he came to be here in the middle of a coastal marsh. This was Arthur Dennan. He was 61, but his weather-creased face and silvery beard made him look a decade older.

Coming in from the Cold

This year I revived the idea a sheltered helm. I put three large forward-facing windows in the front of the cabin, reinstalled the rudder and kill-switch lines, and added a pair of lines to control the throttle. A stick clamped to the outboard’s bracket holds the tiller upright, and a yoke pressed on the throttle provides some leverage and finer control. Taking out two of the sleeping platform panels and replacing them with short seats provides a footwell for comfortable upright seating.

All-Terrain Roller

Several years ago, I had toyed with the idea of using an inflatable boat fender as a roller. The type of fender with a hole down the middle makes it possible to skewer one with a steel rod for an axle. The roller cart I made worked, but I didn’t really need it because I could just as easily carry a kayak on my shoulder. If I made a cart for the canoe with a larger fender, I thought I might have an easier time launching my canoe. Fenders are quite expensive, but I’ve had the good fortune to live by a mile-long lake almost completely hemmed in by marinas and there are a lot of runaway fenders. Just this fall I found five tucked under wharves and in the brambles.

Surviving Hurricane Harvey

The damage at Farley Boat Works was extensive and restoration efforts are underway.

On August 25, Hurricane Harvey tore through Port Aransas, Texas, bringing 130 mph winds and a 9′ tidal surge. I had been corresponding with Rick Pratt, the director of Port Aransas Museum and a boat builder at Farley Boat Works, an extension of the museum. He emailed me on September 1, a week after the Category 4 hurricane. Here’s Rick’s description of the damage:The devastation of Port A is incredible; the fact that no one died is even more so. One Port Aransas resident who had stayed to ride out the storm was found dead on September 3. That has been the only reported fatality in Port Aransas. This is a storm far worse than Celia or the 1919 storm, which were on record as our worst.

A Leeboard for a Motorboat

Our canal boat, BONZO, wanders in the wind like on off-leash dog. The design, Phil Thiel’s Escargot, is intended for narrow waters that aren’t likely to be subject to breezes, but my son Nate and I often get into little skirmishes with the wind on Seattle’s Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound. The hull draws only 6″ and above the waterline there are flat sides, each measuring 70 sq ft, so when the wind’s on the beam, BONZO’s bow falls off, sometimes quite precipitously. Motoring into a headwind is like balancing a broom upside down—there’s a lot of movement at the bottom to keep the top in line.

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