Well, it happened. My little boat and I finally went to work! We didn't seek
it, it found us. We did not want to have this kind of relationship. Our
original intention was to share a purely pleasure-oriented affair. Recreation and
relaxation was our theme. But yesterday we were called to lay down our self
indulgent lethargy and pick up social responsibility. It happened like this;
I was out on the lake unwinding after a stressful day "at the office." I
had put her through her paces just to see if I could. First, I tacked her nose
through the wind. No problem with this most basic maneuver. Next, I very carefully
jybed her tail through the wind, for fun, no harm done. I put her in irons just to
watch her sail herself with slackened sheet. She is truly
a delight in light air.
Effortless sailing, to be sure. The more time I spend with her, the more
impressed I am with the simplicity of our relationship. Put the board up, or leave
it down. It's okay. Shift your weight to tack or use the oar. Your
choice. As she was dancing around the lake I was laying in the bottom looking
at the sky above the masthead. I noticed I had carelessly hanked the halyard around
the mast in a most unsalty manner. So, after thirty minutes contemplating the pros
and cons of interrupting our dance to fix it, I aimed her for a remote stretch of the
beach to make repairs. We made our landfall so quietly that we did not even disturb
the mud minnows. The bow just barely nudged the beach as the board pivoted itself to
the up position. It was such a delightful landing that I forgot the purpose for it
and instead of climbing out to straighten the halyard I just laid there smiling
contentedly, thinking "can unwinding after a hard day really be this
simple?" I felt like I was nine years old again. You know, when you're
nine and you're playing around the water in your little fantasy, all is right with the
world. I wish "techno-progress" hadn't taken away our children's desire
to "make believe." I was reveling in my reverie when I heard the voices of
two small boys. They were behind me and talking excitedly about some important
subject. As I listened, their voices grew more excited and appeared to be getting
closer to me. So, I sat up and looked around. There they were, age four and
five walking through waist deep water near the shore and pointing out into the lake.
Then I saw the subject of their jabbering. A large green sea serpent
was swimming away from them. The monster had to be at least
five feet long and it's
fire breathing head rose menacingly high above the surface of the lake. The father
of the boys looked forlornly in my direction with that "please help me kind sir"
expression on his face. Figuring the runaway serpent was from their stable I asked
if I could assist them in any way. "Yes!" was the emphatic and unanimous
cry. So, off we went, my little boat and I, to lasso our first sea serpent. He was
heading downwind at a steady gallop. Of course, down wind is one of our fastest
points of sail, so it was only a minute or two before we had overtaken the ferocious
beast. I expected a fight to get the lasso around it's curved green tail, but the
hard swimming needed to outrun my little boat had taken it's toll on the beast. It
was a simple matter of untying the downhaul from the mast partner and clove hitching the
serpent to our stern. Sailing to windward towing a monster almost as big as the
boat, in a dying evening breeze was the toughest part of the adventure. I imagined
myself to be Hemingway's old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, hauling my enormous catch back to
the beach. It was tedious work keeping the sharks at bay and coaxing every possible
knot out of my little craft. The oar helped. Soon, we were back alongside the boys
who were jumping up and down with delight. Their father simply smiled with gratitude
as he untied the serpent, and as I tried not to run over him with my boat. The
rescue was considered a success by all those witnessing it. I was exhausted more
from the anxiety of having my heroics witnessed by the throng that had gathered to view
the exciting event, than I was from sailing my boat! But my efforts were successful
and that's the main thing. Our hard work finished, I turned her bow for home. As we
ghosted along in the fading light of late evening I heard a Kingfisher rattle approval
from his perch in a pine tree and a school of menhaden shattered the quiet water in front
of the bow. I remembered the lines from the pen of Rabindraneth Tagore.
I slept and dreamed that life was joy.
I awoke and saw life was duty.
I acted and behold duty was joy.
I never would have thought of my little boat as a work boat, but rescue is such noble work
maybe it's not work at all.
Hey there John
Well, summer is here! Boy, is it hot. On yesterday's evening sail, I saw a
fish sweating! Yeh, it's hot. If it keeps this up, by August we'll be begging
for winter. Hey, guess what? I'm considering naming the boat. It's kinda
scary though. I always equate naming something with taking responsibility for it.
Especially if it can't take responsibility for itself. Like Adam did when he
named the animals. Yeh, there's something safely impersonal about strays. Take
a stray cat for instance. We had one once. Kept showing up around here late in
the evening or first thing in the morning. It was cute but it didn't make any
demands. It took what you gave it and seemed to be happy with it. My
daughter's cat is not a bit like that stray. He's allowed us to live with him for
the past three years. He's real nice to us. Let's us feed him and trim his
claws, clean his litter box. Nice cat. But doggone if you don't get attached
to the things. Speaking of my daughter, she's the reason I'm thinking about naming
the boat. I took her sailing the other day. She loved it. The boat
handled the two of us just fine. We were in quiet water and the breeze was just a
zephyr. As we sailed, I answered her questions about port and starboard, tacking,
and why we can't just go in a straight line to our destination. She understood it.
But I kept refering to the boat as, "the boat." Finally she
corrected me and said, "you mean, Lilly." I had mentioned years ago that
if I had a small boat I would call it Lilly because it would be pretty, and dainty, and
would spend it's days decorating the lake. She reminded me that her name is
"Lilly." She said when I build her boat she will give it a graceful name.
But I don't know. Do I want to domesticate the boat? Do I really want to personify
it? Won't I get attached to it? And what will happen if I don't take care of
it? My wife just reminded me that I went out in the midst of a thunderstorm at
2:30am a couple days ago to check on the boat. So maybe I have already become
emotionally attached. Oh well, I guess it was inevitable. I'll let you know
what I decide.
Hey there, John
Here's the latest in the adventures of me and my boat. Let me share the latest
incident from the pirogue rescue log. Yeh, my boat and I were involved in another
rescue. Unlike the last time, this time there was a real life in danger.
His name is Sam. He is my neighbor here on the lake. He's
been here a lot longer than me. His family has owned property here for close to a
hundred years. I can only imagine how beautiful this place was so long ago. I
mean, it's breath taking now, especially in the early morning when the sun is just
starting to peek it's smiling face over the eastern shore. But boy to have been the only
person here. Can you spell, peaceful? Any way, Sam's family has been enjoying
the lake for quite a while. And Sam is certainly keeping the tradition. He's
about the only one who beats me out there in the morning. I see him from my deck. He
sometimes sits motionless and stares at the water for hours. I guess he is drinking
it all in. And probably recalling days he hunted or fished
with his pals. He swims real well too. Even though he's getting on in years he
still romps with the young pups, splashing and chasing. Even though he's not a busy
body and seems to pick his friends carefully, during my year and a half here on the lake,
I've gotten to know him and to savor our casual camaraderie. Oh yeh, I was going to
tell you about the rescue. Well, Sam has had family in for the holiday, as is his custom.
You know, everybody wants to visit you if you live on the water. And usually
there are several in laws that show up at his place on holidays. They all like to
water ski. So does Sam. He doesn't actually go so far as to get on the skis,
but he uses any excuse necessary to get out on the water in a boat. Well, the other day,
late in the day, as the breeze was getting toward supper time, a couple of his friends
went out in one of the boats while he was having his afternoon nap. I know because I
was out in my pirogue trying to safely negotiate their three foot wake every time they
zoomed by! When Sam woke up he must have decided to join them. And being the
adventuring fella he is, he just jumped in the lake to swim out to where they were
terrorizing me. He's a pretty good swimmer for one his age. You know, slow and
steady. Well, they didn't see him swimming to them and they sped away down toward
the far end of the lake. Now, Sam's eyesight has been better than it is now and he
must have confused his friend's boat with another one of the same color because he started
swimming after it. I watched and was more concerned as he got further from shore.
By the time he got to the middle of the lake he was running out of steam.
Having been trained as an ocean lifeguard I know well the signs of an exhausted
swimmer. So, I turned the boat downwind and headed for him. I could tell he
was getting confused because his friend's were not coming back for him. The people in the
other boat appeared ignorant of his plight. They just pointed at his bobbing head and
exchanged quizzical looks with each other. As I got within ear shot of him, I called,
"Sam, over here!" He turned and saw me sailing toward him. The
expression on his troubled face said, "I'm pooped pal." I rounded up and
let him swim over to the boat. I greeted him again, "Hey, buddy, c'mon, I got
ya." He didn't say a word. He just wagged his tail and clambered aboard
over the rail. He stood there looking at me and panting. And I noticed how gray
muzzle was getting. He didn't make a sound but his deep brown eyes spoke volumes.
I imagined him to say something like, "Boy, that was not fun, thanks for being
there." We sailed home on the gentle evening breeze. My daughter greeted
us at the dock with applause. "C'mon, Sam." she called. And he
jumped over the rail and shook the water from his black and tan coat. Then in
typical Sam nonchalance, he smiled and loped off toward home. As I reflected on what had
transpired I wondered what might have happened if the pirogue and I hadn't been there.
I don't want to think about it.
Thanks John. Your boat is a real life saver!
I thought it might be a good idea to bring you up to date on the condition of the pirogue.
It was last November that the boat was birthed on my upstairs porch and it has been in the
water on more days than it has been on shore. For me, the most important thing to
consider in determining a wood boat's practicality is it's serviceability. And
considering I built my boat out of 1/8" luan door skins I am very happy with her
condition after nine months of constant use. Remember also I have a
"sailing" pirogue. That means her seams and joints have been stressed much
more than could ever happen when paddling or rowing. I have also had the
unfortunate, but fun, experience of sinking her twice! Yep, totally submerged and
filled to the gunnel with salt water. Consider too, I am a big guy, just under six
feet tall and over two hundred pounds! I can stress her seams and joints just
getting in and out of the boat. So far the joints are still strong and dry. Remember, my
scarf joints were embarrassing. It was the first time I tried scarfing and doing it
with 1/8" luan required more finesse than I could muster at the time. But even though
they look crude, they have held up well. The non stainless screws I used are
starting to rust. This isn't surprising. I knew they would but I wanted to
build as economically as I could. Some folks might be put off by rust stains on
their boat. But the rust stains on the white hull of my boat take me back to a time
when I first began noticing boats. It was on the docks at the old Port of Palm Beach
which was located on the border between West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach. My
grandfather owned a small tavern right at the end of the road, where you could catch the
auto ferry to Havana, Cuba. My family would visit him and I would drink Grapette or
Orange Crush and listen to the sailors, both American and Cuban, tell their stories. And I
would walk the docks with my siblings, smelling the pungent aroma of salt water and the
rocks at low tide and listening to the song of the creaking mooring lines against the big
wooden pilings. Seagulls would wheel and cry out for bits of bread. Pelicans would
stand around the fish cleaning sinks hoping for a handout. I loved to watch the Coast
Guard launches motor over from Peanut Island. It was great! I was totally
taken with the whole salty scene. But, I digress. So the screws are staining
the hull. The inside of the hull is virtually as good as when I finished it. The
reason is that I use a 1/2" floor when sailing, and a 5/8" floor when sitting in
my paddling seat. The rubrail is certainly rubbed1 But again, thats what it's for
and it isn't any less serviceable.
All this service for such little maintenance. I might add, the boat is stored
outside, bottom side up, on a rack I built from old 2x4's. The sailing gear, paddles,
seats, etc., have their own rack beneath the boat, so they're protected from the sun and
bird droppings! I would guess the boat is used at least twenty days a month. And this time
of year it is sailed every time it's used. Nothing has broken, or been replaced for any
reason. So, I guess the boat is holding up very well. Remember, I have less than
150.00 invested! That means, if the boat stays servicable for three more months it
will have cost me 12.50 per month! C'mon, what can you do, where can you go, to have
this much fun for 12.50 a month? Robinson Crusoe said, "abused prosperity is
very often the means of our greatest adversity." I reckon you could spend
more, but I really do not think you could have this much fun for so little money. I know
folks who spend thousands every year to go on vacation. They return from their trip
exhausted from all the fun they had traveling to and from "Magic Land." And they
spend the next year paying off the credit cards, and planning
their next vacation. Do
you think they'd be interested in renting my boat, John? Probably not.
Thanx again for your little boat, John!
Hurricane Earl (shouldn't it be Earline?) slammed into our quaint coastal community last
night disrupting our summer time routine and creating some anxious moments for Lily's
skipper. It was Lily's first encounter with the brutal reality of howling 70 mph
winds and driving sheets of rain. I was pretty nervous tying her to her mooring
stand in the yard. I considered carrying her into the living room, but my wife was
filling that up with all manner of potted plants from the porch. For a few moments
while I pondered the best way to lash Lily to the stand, I practiced
a heart felt
monologue designed to stir my wife's compassion. However, I knew in my heart of
hearts it was all for naught. Boats belong outside. And they are designed to
get wet. So, I finished lashing her down for a long dangerous night and threw my
pleading words into the increasing wail of the wind.
Throughout the evening hours the wind increased steadily. The waves on the lake
built rapidly and took on the appearance of knife edged corduroy
trimmed with white
lace. The bamboo flag pole at the dock bent further by the hour until I thought it
might just give up and lay down on the rain soaked lawn. The Stars and Stripes held
fast. The water level in the lake increased minute by minute and was past the
stately old pine tree by ten pm.
The waves in the Gulf were whipped into an insane frenzy by the banshee wind. They
threatened to free themselves from their shoreline fetters and erase the dunes with their
maniacal raving. There is a surreal beauty displayed by the power of nature gone
mad. It's frightening and overwhelming. Yet it's enjoyable to witness this
awesome impersonal force. It rebukes the clever power of mankind's technology.
He seems so small and insignificant compared to the scream of wind and exploding
waves. How sickeningly puny he becomes when the nature goes on a rampage.
This particular storm was really only half of a storm. The real fury was limited to
the north and east of the center. So, when the center finally overtook our position
the wind began to abate quickly. It was as if we were entering into the eye of the
storm. The quieting of the wind was welcomed but not trusted. Having
previously experienced several hurricanes I knew the quiet of the eye was usually short
lived. But thankfully, Earl was different. And almost too soon, he had pressed
on ahead leaving us to pick up the pieces left in his wake. I relaxed slowly but
twitched every time the wind gusted again.
By dawn's early light I could see the familiar shape of Lily's streamlined hull. She
was still there, right where I left her. The beach was littered with tree limbs and
pine straw, plastic cups, and beer bottles, an old frisbee, and sections of dune fence.
But there was no damage to Lily. She had survived her biggest challenge.
Hurricane Earl. I slipped into my rubber boots and hurried down to free my
dainty little friend. As the breeze was still a bit too fresh I selected the
paddling seat and double paddle rather than the sail rig. Lifting her off her
mooring stand I slipped her into the lake. We glided silently across the lake to the
creek and drifted down the creek to the raging Gulf. Except for the pounding waves, it was
a peaceful morning. The calm after the storm. The air had been rinsed by the
rain and smelled fresh and clean. The anxiety of the night had been washed away too.
Peace had returned. I was glad it was over. And thankful that it hadn't
Hi there John
I had some fun with Lilly this weekend. Saturday it was too cold to apply more epoxy
to Guppie's bottom so Lilly beckoned and we went for a sail. Well, it was more like
a death defying test of my somewhat questionable helmsmanship. The main problem was
the blustery compass swinging wind. At one point I was hoping the mast would break
so I could slow the little craft! I believe I could have pulled a skier! And
on one beam reach I could not keep the lee rail above the surface of the lake. The
solution was simple. I had to bail the water out faster than it came in. I
envisioned the little girl filling up with water and going straight down. I kept
imagining Lilly sitting on the bottom of the lake with nothing but the top of her mast
sticking up, ensign waving bravely in the breeze. I finally gave in and did the
smart thing. Brought her home. Whew! But I will say for a plywood boat
that has spent 15 months outside in the elements, she is holding up remarkable well.
And I know I have said it before but I don't' mind saying it again. For the money, I
don't think one can do any better.
Sunday was different. The wind had slowed to a very gentle breeze. As we left
the dock, it was continuing to dwindle. But the sun was out and radiant, there
wasn't a cloud in the sky, or a boat on the lake. It was glorious. Lilly loved
it! As I rounded the bend in the northwest shore a small motor boat put out from the
shore. The guy at the helm was trolling in the shallows casting a light
30 minutes or so we crossed courses and he spoke. "Great day,
"You betcha." I replied. "Did you build it?" he asked nodding in
Lilly's direction. "Yep." I returned. "A friend of mine just
bought a kit and is going to build one." "Oh yeh? Where'd he get the
kit?" "Off the internet I think. Although I don't remember the name
of the manufacturer." "Uncle Johns?" "Yeh, thats it.
Uncle Johns." To which I just smiled. "Hey," he
continued, "is that one of those boats." "Yep."
"Wow, I'll tell him." By then we had drifted apart and he resumed
casting and I just laid back in the sun and smiled. UncleJohns' gettin' popular.
Later, after the wind died completely, I returned to the dock and removed the sail rig.
I grabbed my double paddle and headed into the quietest part of the lake up past
the last house. The lake begins as a stream about a mile from my house.
It gets shallow and narrow as it winds and twists through the saw grass.
There are spots where the water is no more than three or four inches deep. Lilly is
light enough to handle it though. Back in there the world is different. And
today it was incredible! It was as if the whole of nature had stopped. There
wasn't a ripple, not a scratch, on the surface of the lake. The pine trees that line
the bank were motionless. Even the very tips of their needles refused to move.
It was like moving across an artist's painting. I was the only object that
had motion. For a moment I felt awkwardly intrusive and out of place. Like I
intruding on a very special meeting between the trees, grass, and water. Before I
could cover my embarrassment by making a silent retreat, all of the participants noticed
me. But rather than scolding me for interrupting them, they smiled and invited me
in. I felt very privileged. And I said nothing, not wanting to risk
spoiling the magic of the moment. Lilly smiled too as if she knew all along where we
were going. Just for a second I wondered if maybe she had been invited and just
needed me to get her there. As we crept carefully around the twisting path through the
shallows not a living thing was seen or heard. At one point the stream turned
sharply to the right and I saw hundreds of mosquitoes skating on the surface of the water.
As we moved through them they didn't seem to notice but kept skating and and
jumping up off the water. I watched them jump up and then fly their zigzag patterns
and then land again. They were so weightless they didn't disturb the mirroed surface
of the stream. I was but inches from them and watched with fascination as
their lithe little bodies, fragile legs and transparent wings were reflected on the
surface of the water. Amazing. Oh, the incredible variety of life that
surrounds us. I let Lilly glide to full stop. Together we sat there on the
water and joined the painting. The silence was shattered by the whining bark of what
might have been a small bear cub. At first it sounded like the squawk
of a Great Blue
Heron. But as I listened more closely and my ears adjusted to the noise, it sounded
more and more like a bear cub. It bawled intermittently
for several minutes. The
only sound in the otherwise deafening silence. Then as suddenly as it had begun, it
stopped. And once again the silence settled in. The sun was moving slowly lower over
the tree tops. The air was beginning to get chilly. I dipped my paddle back
into the water, disturbing some water bugs, and turned Lilly around. We moved slowly
and silently back toward the hum of humanity.
I reflected as I paddled. As busy as life can get, there still is time for quiet.
We just have to take it. And there are still places to go that don't cost
money, aren't hard to get to, and don't include crowds of participants or spectators.
And, for me, at those times and in those places, as brief as the encounter must be,
there is peace. That peace is the glue that holds life together and gives it
meaning. I see that I am involved in a much bigger world. A world that was
designed and created by someone infinitely more creative and powerful than me. It's
not the world that is "out there" as seen on TV, that's
man's world. It is
the world of nature seen up close. And to enjoy it, I must go there and immerse
myself in it. It is then that I see myself as a part of it. And it is good.