Monthly Archives: May 2009

Dictator Humor

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Long Trip in a Small Boat

I am a big fan of people who make long trips in small boats. I am also a big fan of  classic working watercraft. I stumbled across this series of videos by Englishman Dylan Winter the other night and will share them over the next weeks.

In this series Dylan takes his 19 foot sailboat on a circumnavigation of his home island and along the way he encounters and films a wide variety of sailing vessels. In this first video there are some great shots of the Thames sailing barges.Thames_Barges-Canthusus

These boats of the 19th century were used in the Thames Estuary. They were in the 80′ to 90′ range with a beam of around 20′, flat bottomed with a shallow draft of about 3′ and sported huge sprit sails on two masts. They normally were worked with only a two-man crew. They were fitted with lee board to work in the shallow waters. There are some excellent views of these barges in Dillon’s first video.

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I could to this stuff, too…

I just don’t feel like it right now, though…

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#5 on Google Search

Looking for ideas for my second blog, http://houseboatshantyboatbuilders.wordpress.com/, I did a Google Search using the word SHANTYBOAT Building (Shantyboat-one word). MY blog came in #5 on the list of 1,960 links! THIS blog came in at #19 (second page)

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Bringing People Together

My last post mentioned two old friends that I haven’t been in contact with for years. In one case it has been 4 decades. Within hours I heard from both of them and through a comment in Skip Williamson’s blog (http://skipwilliamson.blogspot.com/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/snappy_sam)I got in touch with an old roommate from college.

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Back in the hippy-dippy days of 1968 when I was living in Chicago I was good friends with two underground cartoonists; Skip Williamson and Jay Lynch. Jay used to have a fantasy of hybridizing and miniaturizing cattle until they were the size of mice. Then he’d be able to have a whole herd of them in his apartment. He used to talk about how he could stampede them from one room to another.

Of course, with a miniature herd like that you’d need to have a miniature range to graze them on. Today I ran across the answer. It’s called “Grass for your home or office desk: http://www.inhabitat.com/2009/05/16/grass-for-your-home-or-office-desk/

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Do you need a little extra feng-shui in your home or your office? Why not try a grass square to brighten up your desk and give it a little something extra. These grass squares were designed at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Israel, by Uri Romano and Assaf Yogev of nine99 Design as a way to combine nature and architecture. By bringing some nature indoors like these moss mats, the designers hoped to provide a grounding piece of nature.

The squares of grass were originally inspired by Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater and how Wright continually strove to connect architecture and nature. All of the packaging for the squares is made completely from recycled materials. Openings on the corners of the package let the grass breathe and help give it a longer shelf life.

You can place these squares anywhere, or if you’re into feng-shui, place it in the right spot to balance your place of work or home. Grass is fairly easy to grow, just needs just a little water and sun. You might even find cutting the grass with scissors provides you a bit of therapy. For apartment dwellers, this may be a perfect way to get your outdoor fix and you don’t even need a lawnmower. Unfortunately, we don’t know if these are really for sale anywhere, but it would make for an easy DIY project.

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Just For Fun

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Boats I’ve Bought Plans For

Over the years I’ve bought plans for three different boats I was thinking of building. None, so far, have been built.

The first set I bought came from Glen-L, one of the biggest outlet for boat plans around: http://www.boatdesigns.com/

I shelled out the money for the 32′ Mark Twain pontoon boat. The plans had full-sized patterns for building the frames and detailed plans for construction of the house and interior.

Mark twain

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The project was abandoned when I bought my shantyboat. I kept the plans for years, but they disappeared somewhere in the two decade saga that followed which included a three year stint living on the French Riviera.

When I decided to retire to Panama and was interested in the possibility of settling in the Bocas del Toro archepeligo on a boat I bought another set. This came from: http://www.bateau.com/ I opted for something a bit smaller at 27 feet and a mono-hull rather than a pontoon model. I chose the GT Cruiser 27 which looks like a pram on steroids. It is 27-1/2 feet long with an 8’9″ beam. Only slightly bigger than my Nancy Dawson. The GT Cruiser 27 has a six inch draft which means it can tuck into really skinny water. You could easily beach her and step ashore with dry feet. Nancy, on the other hand needed at least an additional 4 feet of water.

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Not only do I like the looks of this boat, it is built with stitch-and-glue methods. Having done a lot of expoy work in my years of repairing boats I feel confident that I could easily put this together.

While this boat is still a possibility, I am strongly drawn to the barge-hulled shantyboat. I also purchased the plans for the Brandy Bar

Brandy Bar

This is probably be the direction I take in the end. The reasons are rather simple. Building the barge is essentially nothing more than building a big box. Simple as that. The house, though, probably won’t look anything like that above. My windows probably won’t be glazed. More likely they will be something like this:

Window

On Nancy Dawson I had screens that could be rolled up and were attached to the open frames of the hatches with Velcro. Screens will be essential down in Panama.

No matter what gets build it will be One More Good Adventure.

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French Rower’s 2nd Attempt to Cross Atlantic

I grew up in the small town of Orleans, Massachusetts. Orleans is thrust out into the Atlantic Ocean where the forearm of Cape Cod turns to the north and is the first town on the Cape to have water on two of its borders. Small as it is, Orleans has some historic  distinctions. The townspeople succesfully repelled an attempted British landing during the War of 1812. It was the western terminus of the first trans-Atlantic Telegraph cable and is the only place in the continental United States to have been hit by enemy shells during WWII.

Since it is one of the eastern-most points in the country it has also been the jumping off point for many maritime adventures. John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth departed from Orleans June 4th, 1966 and made it to Ireland in 92 days. Others, sadly, left Orleans’s shores and were never heard from again.

On May 19th, 2009, Charlie Girard, a Frenchman, launched his second attempt to row across The Pond and break the record of 62 days set two years ago by another Frenchman, Emmanuel Coindre in 2004. (For those of you who don’t know, the French believe that they invented wind, water and waves.) Girard tried the stunt in 2007 only to be rescued by the Coast Guard less than two days after his departure.

We can only wish him well.

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Shantyboat Living

Back in the mid 1980s I bought a shantyboat that was tied up to a tree on a river on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Essentially it was little more than a shack on pontoons. The pontoons had been made out of oil well casing and were about 35 feet overall and the boat had a 12 foot beam. An old 25 hp Johnson outboard pushed it along at a sedate pace. I only moved it three times. Once from where I found it down to the Gulf Outlet Marina on Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, and once too and from the boat yard I worked at to do some repairs when the starboard pontoon developed a leak. I lived on the boat for almost two and a half years but after losing my fifth job in three years (in 1986 the official unemployment rate in the New Orleans area was 18%!) I put a For Sale sign on it and left three weeks later.

I enjoyed that boat. Actually, owning that boat kept me in Louisiana for a couple of years longer than I should have stayed there.

Houseboat trimmed

In 1985 when I got laid off at the boat yard I was only eligible for $55 a week in unemployment. When I found that out my next stop was to the Food Stamp Office. (Hey! For all of you who would say you’d never stoop so low…well, you’ve never been there. And when the official unemployment rate is 18% the real rate is closer to 25% so there are no jobs around and you sort of get accustomed to eating on a regular basis.) I received $80 a month in food stamps. My dock rent was $97 a month and I paid the minimum amount demanded to have electrical hookup which was $7 a month so my first two weeks of unemployment left me with $6 in my pocket. You can do the rest of the math and see that I was supposed to survive on less than $30 a week. When your income is restricted to less than $30 a week and you have no savings, you aren’t able to pick up and move away to somewhere where your prospects might be better.

So, how was I able to survive? Well, I lived on a houseboat on the water. At the first of each month when I received my food stamps I’d go to Schwegmann’s Supermarket and buy my staples, rice, beans, ground beef, etc. Next I’d pass by Little Red’s Fish Market. They sold heads-on, unsorted shrimp for $1 a pound and they accepted food stamps. I’d buy five pounds of shrimp each month. (Now, I only did this for a little more than three months and then the yard got busy again and I went back to work.)

Out of that five pounds of shrimp there’d be enough big sized shrimp to make up one decent meal. On my birthday that July of 1985 I literally didn’t have a dollar bill to my name, but I had shrimp newburg for supper which is pretty good for a broke guy. Anyway, what I would do after I’d picked out the big shrimp was to divide the remaining shrimp into four piles and freeze them. Now, since I wasn’t working and there was no work to be had, I’d take one of those piles of shrimp and sit out on the back of my shantyboat and fish. I’d catch croakers, speckled sea trout and the occasional red fish. I’d fillet them up and pop them in the freezer. I’d then put the heads, guts and filleted bodies into the six commercial crab traps I’d bought well before I’d been laid off. I’d string the traps along the dock and let them soak overnight. The next day they’d be filled with delicious blue crabs and I’d spend the day cooking and picking crabs. My refrigerator rarely had less than a couple of pounds of picked crab meat.

When you hauled up the traps there were sometimes a pair of crabs “doubled up.” A male and a female getting ready to do the big nasty. The only time a female crab is able to mate is when she molts, comes out of her shell, and the male crab is holding on to her ready to get his jollys as well as protecting her until her new shell starts to harden. You knock him off her and plop her in a five gallon bucket of seawater and wait for her to come out of her shell. When she does, you take her out of the water and pop her in the fridge where she’ll stay, nice and soft for several days until you’re ready to cook her up and eat her.

It’s against the law to take egg-bearing female crabs (lobsters, too) but since she hadn’t mated there were no eggs and she was legal. However, if all you take are females you eventually hurt the breeding population. But how do you know when a male crab is ready to molt? Crabbers know how to read the signs on the rear swimming legs of a crab and can tell. There’s an excellent description of how this is done in the book Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner and available on Amazon.com and other book sellers.

I never was able to figure out this esoteric art of discovering when male crabs were going to molt, but an old Cajun I got to know when I was working out on Breton Island in the Kerr-McGee oil field told me how to do it. You see, the female has nothing to worry about because the male crab is going to protect her when she’s in that vulnerable “soft” state. But the male crab has to hide somewhere to protect himself.

What you do is to gather a bunch of willow branches. And they have to be willow branches. Others won’t work. You take three or four branches and bundle them together and lay them along the edge of the bayou. The ready to molt males seek out these branches to hide in, so you “run” them a couple of times a day like lobstermen and crab fishermen do with their traps. I’d hop in my dinghy and row down Bayou Bienvenue, pick up the bundles and shake them into the bottom of the boat. The crabs that fell out were invariably males and I’d go back to my shanty and pop each one into an individual five gallon bucket of water and wait for the inevitable to happen.

So, in addition to a freezer full of fresh fish fillets and a pound or two of picked lump crab meat I’d often have a half dozen or so soft shell crabs in my fridge as well. When you’re eating as good as I did it dulls your incentive to move.

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