Thursday, March 6, 2014

Boats and Boards

The bulk of my knowledge of boats and sailing comes from reading Robb White III books as a kid. I hope I got all my terminology right as I wrote these blog entries. I spent a lot of time in boats when I was little, but as the youngest of four kids who always did stuff together, and the only girl, I was never allowed to drive the boat. Nobody ever taught me to back up the trailer. I trusted my brother and cousins to handle things safely, same as I trusted my father and my uncle. I did what I was told, stayed out of the way, and concentrated on bracing myself against what seemed to be constant pounding in a timeline of aluminum skiffs and fiberglass boats with outboard motors. In college I had a friend whose family had a enormous ski boat on Lake Lanier. He was a typical mechanically-competent Tech student. I trusted him too. That had an inboard motor. Fancy.

When I changed careers in 2005 from electronics to coastal engineering I was made to go in boats with people I didn't even know. I found that incredibly disconcerting. I also finally realized what a giant disadvantage it was that I was terrible at backing up a trailer and was not experienced at operating a motor boat. But I sure as hell knew when somebody was doing it wrong.

But there was nothing I could do but be tough and concentrate on never needing to pee. This is one of the main reasons I gave up that career too. Mixed crews of strangers on small boats is hell on professional women. The men would just stand at the back and pee off the stern. When I asked Harry how he pees when he's sailing along (after he hadn't slept in 36 hours) he said, "I just roll out the hose and throw it over the side. Just kidding. I pee in the bailer."

I suppose I could do that too on a boat by myself. But what am I supposed to do when I'm working on a boat full of men I just met that morning? Well, during the BP Oil Spill work I held it and got dehydration migraines every day. Also I got an allergic reaction to that much ultraviolet radiation. I am just very sensitive.

Typical workboat, BP oil spill 2010. I was in an airboat behind them. I rode on this boat the next day.
Another oil spill work boat putting out boom. Most of the women were on the science boats, not doing the physical work.
But I digress. This is the kind of boat I've grown to loathe. Let's talk about the boats I like.

In the '90s my uncle, Robb White IV, started building wooden boats exclusive of anything else. In 1996 I bought a Honda Accord station wagon with a roof rack. I took it to him and ordered a boat to be built to fit on it. I used my massive windfall from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to pay for it. At the time my cousin Wes was building boats full time too. He went back to being a band director when he started having too many children to support. He still builds boats in his free time.

My first boat. The wonderful pea pod.
My first boat weighed 25 pounds. It was 12 feet long. It was lapstrake poplar, glassed and epoxied. I could put it on the roof of my car by myself easily. I took it all the way to California with me in 1997. It made my gas mileage amazing.

Floorboards and seat
The seat slid back and forth in the floorboards so you could move it to balance the boat depending on how heavy the occupant happened to be.

My uncle made a stand for it. I kept it in my living room in my house in Atlanta like furniture. Wouldn't you?
My boat in the living room on the stand.
This boat was amazing. I went to Dog Island with my uncle and the family after I got it and we towed it behind the whale boat. It lifted up and planed under tow. My uncle beamed. "I thought it might do that!"
Robb White in my pea-pod
The tech recession in Atlanta in 2003 hit me hard and I had to sell everything of value and get out of Atlanta. My uncle found somebody that wanted my boat. He was a chef at a restaurant down in Naples. I took my boat down to my brother's house in Boca Raton. The man drove over from Naples and met us at the park on the Spanish River.

It looks so small on my brother's old Sienna van
He gave me a check and left with my boat. It was going to a good home. He wouldn't use it like furniture, I hoped. He would paddle it all the time. He went out on the water by himself all the time.

That was basically my problem. I didn't like to go out there on the water alone. It seemed dangerous and just not as much fun as sharing. But I didn't know anybody with a boat in Atlanta. I was close to the Chatahoochee River. I went there once.

When I got settled in Beachton I went looking for somebody to go with me on the local rivers. I found somebody in graduate school at FSU who agreed to go kayaking with me, so I went to the store and bought an Old Town day touring kayak. We went kayaking once and he lost his grant and moved away.

I decided what I needed was a way to have TWO boats so all I had to do was find a friend and make them go with me instead of needing to find a friend who already had a boat. I found another Old Town 13' kayak on Craigslist in Tallahassee. This nice woman had moved from Maine and hadn't used it. I snapped it up. I got two pairs of kayak cradles for my car and I was set. I got my friend Ronnie to come from Jacksonville to go paddling with me on the Wakulla River once, and made a friend in Tallahassee go to the Ichetucknee once when he was on his way to Gainesville anyway. But mostly the kayaks languished in the shed.

When I went to Austin after the oil spill I came back and got my kayaks. I used them a lot. That was the ideal situation, just like I imagined. I put on my okcupid profile that I had two boats but hadn't been out on the water yet. This guy responded right away. "That's a shame! Let's go!" I got a boat buddy and free legal advice.

Town Lake in Austin was really easy for going kayaking. 4 miles from my house. 
I still kept my boats in the living room. It's a hard habit to break.

I even made people go with me who had never been kayaking before. My friend Daniel was a video game programmer and all his friends were strictly indoor people. He appreciated me making him go outside. I tried to make him stop wearing black shirts in the sun but he didn't have any white ones.

Video game programmers can go outside too.
Austin was a good place for me and my boats. Alas, I had to leave. I brought my boats back with me and put them back in the shed on the kayak cradles on a pair of Harbor Freight sawhorses. While I was busy fixing the Spartan and having terrible back pain the legs of the plastic sawhorses gradually splayed out and left my kayaks on a pile against the other Spartan in the shed.

Following the Everglades Challenge has made me feel pretty bad about this. If my back is never going to let me paddle again I need to find them a good home and quit kidding myself.

This week while I was waiting for the tracker to update to see what my brother was doing I've been looking up the other kinds of boats in the Everglades Challenge. Here are my favorites.

I forget who it is, but somebody is in the roster as having a Folbot Greenland II. I found the website with an assembly video. I watched the whole thing; it's about 20 minutes long. I couldn't help it. The man unzipped two satchels, got out a big piece of fabric out of one, a lot of aluminum tent pole looking things, put together an aluminum frame, stuck it inside the fabric, twiddled a lot of star nuts and called it a boat! I kept waiting for him to put some floorboards in like in my pea pod. It got nothing. Nothing between your feet and the water but some canvas. There are two people and about 100 lbs of gear going 300 miles in a reinforced duffle bag! It staggers me. I mean, I think it's a beautiful design and I was impressed by the assembly, but damn! It's a reinforced duffle bag!

From the Folbot website.
I was kind of proud of myself that I knew what sponsons were when he said it in the video. I'd already looked that up when I read that they were allowed. It's air bladders around the top edge.

Then I looked up the first kayak to arrive at the finish. It's this hard core father/son team from Lake Mead, Nevada. The father, Robert Finlay, runs Kayak Lake Mead. I've been to Lake Mead. I don't remember it looking like their website. They have a special website about the Everglades Challenge. They paddle a three man kayak but only with two men. Here's how they pack it up. 

From 2011 Everglades Challenge Race Report
TheJuice paddling in the Everglades Challenge 2013
When he's wearing the spray skirt like that it makes this whole thing look like some kind of weaponized hand puppet.

They finished this year in 3 days, 17 hours, and 1 minute. They paddle about twice as fast as Harry's bufflehead sailing canoe was sailing most of the time. And they never stop paddling.

Then there were people in things that aren't even BOATS! And they weren't IN them, just sort of ON there. Just a board. A man on a paddleboard finished yesterday in 4 days, 20 hours, 21 minutes. He just stands on a board and paddles. 300 miles. For real. His name is Justin Schaay and he runs a surf school near Charleston. I googled him and found his blog
Like this, 300 miles. Photo from his blog.
Then there's another guy that's doing it on a sailboard, Sean Hayes (SeadogRocket). There's a training video on YouTube. (Turn down the sound. Lots of crackles from the camera mic.) He got to the third checkpoint about the same time as Harry. I looked at his icon on the tracker as that storm was coming in and he was flying along at over 10 knots. 10 knots, y'all. Harry got up to about 4.5 knots at best in his bufflehead.

I think my point is that there are people who are just trying to push themselves to do the most uncomfortable thing possible. I admire their stamina, but I do not understand them. I do not at all. I am more in the camp with Gokey where it's fun to build something. In my case I want to build something I can live in, or sit in to write this blog. He likes to build things that go.

Meade Gougeon, of West Epoxy fame, did this race for the second time this year, the first time solo in a sailing canoe. He finished in 4 days 8 hours 26 minutes. His boat is similar to Harry's, but his experience racing sail boats is tremendous. Also his experience period is 28 years more than Harry because he's 76 years old.

I tried to remember any time Harry has ever been in a race. All I could think of was when he was on the swim team at the YMCA. He only did it for one year when he was about 10. He has never been interested in racing before. I think he really took this event on as a challenge, not a race. Wes said he doesn't think of it as a race either. But others? They were racing.

I found this picture on a gallery of pics from April 2013 Sarasota Sailing Squadron of Hugh Horton, the Bufflehead designer, and Meade Gougeon with his sailing canoe. I'm not sure if this is the one he used in the Everglades Challenge, but it's probably close.

Photographer unknown. I hate to borrow your photo without attribution :( All these link to the original.
My brother and cousin Wes like to go to the Woodenboat meet-up in Cedar Key. The emphasis there is talking about making boats, not racing or anything. I went one time with Wes and my pea pod boat. For a person with a good memory I recall nothing about it except there was a man with a plywood boat named 60 Grit and I thought that was hilarious. Here's some photos from the recent ones. (I don't know who took the photos. The site says photos by Ron Hoddinott, Steve Kingery, Eric DeVoe, Dennis Marshall, Larry Whited and Dave Lucas. All photos link to original.)

Harry (l) and Wes (r) standing on the Pacific Proa. 
This is a boat Wes built. It's like what the polynesians used to spread out all over the Pacific. See how tall Harry is? I think he's just plain bigger than the typical small boat person. He didn't have much choice but to build his own boat. I took him to the Wacissa river with me once and let him use my red kayak and he almost kicked out the bulkhead and he couldn't fit his feet in straight up and down.

Here's another picture of Harry with his own boat, the one in the Everglades Challenge. I found it on a blog written by a cat named Simon, apparently.
Wes on the left in front of another one of his boats he made.
Or maybe his father made that one. I am not familiar with it.
Harry is in the white shirt and the white boat is his white cedar strip plank Bufflehead.
The one in between is Hugh Horton (I think) and I know that's his Bufflehead.
I like the pretty boats the best.

I understand pushing yourself to your limits. I do it all the time. I wanted to get up off this blue yoga ball and get back in bed hours ago because my back is screaming in pain. I can't really wrap my head around people who are so tough they can push themselves to do something like that paddleboard or sailboard trip. It's like we aren't even the same species. It's like there's as much variation in the capabilities of humans as there is variety of objects they can float in and on.

One of my favorite stories from family trips to Dog Island where Harry's kids and Wes's kids play together is about my niece Kate getting a sand spur in her foot. She cried in pain. My aunt Jano told her, "Rebecca Jane just pulled one out of her foot and she didn't cry like that."

Kate said, "Well (sob) is (sob) RebeccaJane (sob) TOUGH?! (sob) Because (sob) I am (sob) NOT TOUGH (sob) AT ALL!"

Me either, Kate. Me either.

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