Monthly Archives: January 2010

My Personal Relationship With The Printed Word

I found, and started playing, an interesting typing game on line the other day. The reason why I started playing the game will be revealed in the natural course of this article, but with the finding and playing of this game I started thinking about my personal, evolving relationship with the printed word.

That relationship started in the first years of my life when my mom and I lived with her parents while my dad was serving on the USS Logan (AP-196) an attack transport ship in the Pacific during WWII. Each evening my grandfather would tuck me in to bed and read me a chapter from one of Howard R. Garis’s  Uncle Wiggily books. While I liked the stories themselves, what I loved the most were the endings like this:

“Now, in case I see a green rose in bloom on the pink lilac bush, I’ll tell you next about Bully making a water wheel.”

“Now in case the little boy next door doesn’t take our baby carriage and make an automobile of it, I’ll tell you next about Bawly and Uncle Wiggily.”

“Now if it should happen that I don’t lose my watch down the inkwell so I can see when it’s time for my pussy cat to have his warm soup, I’ll tell you in the story after this about Bully’s and Bawly’s big jump.”

“Now in case that alligator doesn’t chase after me, and chew up my typewriter to make mincemeat of it for the wax doll, I’ll tell you in the next story about Grandpa Croaker digging a well.”

Of course the next story would be about Grandpa Croaker digging a well, or Bully’s and Bawly’s big jump or whatever the cliff-hanger ending was about.

I was so totally enthralled by these stories I vividly remember gathering up some paper and crayons determined to write my own book. Then, as I set out on this project it occurred to me that, at age four, I didn’t know how to write even a single letter let alone an entire book. No matter how brilliant my story might be, no one would ever understand the scribblings on the paper. Hell, seconds after scrawling out a line I didn’t know what it meant. So the dream was deferred.

When I started school I whizzed through Dick and Jane in about a week and started to devour just about everything I could get my hands on. I remember that in the second grade my teacher asked me how I learned to use commas. Well, DUH, if you read books you see them everywhere.

My father, back from the war, was a voracious reader. Books were everywhere and since he didn’t approve of comic books I had to read what was available. By third grade I had a library card and in the sixth grade I was tested as having the reading level of a college freshman. The only thing I thought strange about that was I thought all my classmates should be reading at that level, too. My mom, though she always said she enjoyed reading didn’t do much of it. After all, she had a husband and five boys to look after. What she did in lieu of reading was knit. She was a veritable loom. A Madam Defarge without the guillotine.

(An aside regarding my mother and her knitting. She made wonderful things. Well in to my fifties I still had sweaters she had made for me when I was in high school <and I was still of a size that they fit me>. Later in life I married a girl who only read one book <Valley of the Dolls> in the seven years we were married, but she was a seamstress. She made almost all of her own clothes. She could look at a dress in a magazine and then sit down and make one for herself. In their spare time both she and my mom created things that were useful and lasted for years while my father and I had stacks of books to show for our wasted hours.

I’ll never forget the evening when I was twelve years old and watching television sprawled out on the living room floor when she put her knitting aside, got out of her rocking chair and said, “come with me.” I followed her out to the back of the house where the laundry was located. “This is how you use the washer,” she said going through the procedure. “This is how the dryer works.” Then, setting up the ironing board she proceeded with, “This is how you iron a shirt,” and “this is how you iron a pair of pants.” And that was the last time she ever did it for me, and as each of my brothers hit the magic age of 12 they, too, learned the mysteries of the laundry room. There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of this and I firmly believe all mothers should do the same thing with their sons. It was so funny when I went away to college the first time I went to the laundromat to do my clothes. There I was putting my whites in one machine and my colored things in another while all around me were a bunch of guys reading the backs of boxes of laundry soap trying to figure things out.)

It’s a shame that boys weren’t required to take typing classes in high school. Almost all of the girls took typing and the ones destined to become “secretaries” took shorthand as well. On reflection all these years later both typing and shorthand should have been required courses for those of bound for college. The typing for the term papers we were destined to write with all their ibids and op cits, and shorthand for note taking in lectures.

I got my first typewriter, a portable Smith-Corona my senior year in high school and worked out a typing system that was to serve me for the next four decades. I didn’t learn how to “touch type.” I found it impossible to get a good, crisp impression on a sheet of paper with those keys that required the use of the little fingers. Instead what I pieced together worked this way: I used the little finger of my left hand on the Shift key and my index and middle fingers on the other left hand side of the QWERTY keyboard. My right index and middle fingers found the keys on the right side of the keyboard while my thumb worked the Space bar and my little finger hit the Shift key when a capital letter was required from the left side of the board. Even when I acquired an electric typewriter and pressing the letter “Q” no longer required brute force I  didn’t modify my typing style. Any I remember when I got a job where I got to use an IBM Selectric. Man, did I think that was tits, that little ball spinning around. State of the Art technology.

That system served me well through college, a short stint in the Public Information Office of the USS Lake Champlain (CVS 39). It worked for me as a general assignment reporter on the Cape Cod Standard-Times, as assistant editor of the Inland Printer/American Lithographer magazine, as an advertising copywriter and hospital public relations hack and a hundred or so freelance magazine articles. It is interesting to note that the reporters at the two news rooms I worked in (as a copy boy <yes, there was such a creature> at the Miami Herald and at the aforementioned Standard-Times) generally pounded out their stories with only three or four fingers. If you see old news reel footage of the likes of Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney you’ll see them typing like that. The only people I ever saw “touch typing” in a newspaper office were the secretaries.

Despite my typing style, I was fairly fast and could pound out about 30 or 35 words per minute, but I was, of course, hampered with certain work that required me to look at a book or some sort of printed material and then type out what was necessary. I had to stop typing, look at the book and then back at the keyboard when I needed to type.

About 15 years ago I bought my first computer. It was then that I decided to learn how to “touch type” since you could buy a program that would teach you how to do it. Of course I modified the learning curve by not bothering to learn the keys with the numbers and symbols since I rarely use them in writing anyway and I’ll never have a job that requires a blinding typing speed anyway. With a little practice and playing the typing games when there wasn’t anything interesting to watch on the electronic cyclops my typing speed was pretty consistently in the low 40 wpm range and I no longer needed to look at the keyboard in order to type.

Recently, being bored, I looked up some online typing games to play and one has grabbed me. It’s a lot of fun. It’s called “Type Down.” The object of the game is to prevent a rising column of 20 words from reaching the top of the page. When you finish a group of words the next group’s speed increases and three groups represent a level. When you complete a level the next group’s words are longer and the speed is reset. Quite challenging. You can find it here…

One of my favorite New Orleans piano players was James Booker. Not only was he a great piano player, but he worked for a time for the City of New Orleans and was a champion typist which shouldn’t be too surprising since the typewriter is simply another kind of keyboard.

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Reposting: Great Panama House For Sale

Ever thought about owning your own B&B in a romantic location? Here’s your perfect opportunity. This 4,000+ square foot home with 3 separate apartments in Panama City, Panama is currently for sale.

It’s recently renovated and located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Balboa in what was formerly called “The Canal Zone.” It’s just minutes away from world-class restaurants on the Amador Causeway; the Albrook Mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in the Western Hemisphere; and down town Panama City, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in world is a short, 10 minute drive away.

The house has 8 bedrooms, 5 baths and 3 kitchens and is TAX EXEMPT until 2022!!!

I know, personally, that the house is EXACTLY as described. I spent five days there this year and if I had the where with all I’d consider it for myself.

If you’re interested and contact the owner, let him know you saw it here on the Old Salt’s blog (and in the interest of full disclosure, there’s a little something in it for me if you do.)

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Expat’s Learning Spanish Prior To Moving To Panama

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Healthy is merely the slowest possible rate at which a human being can die.

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America’s Cup Gets New Look

The venerable, and oldest yacht racing trophy, America’s Cup,  gets a whole new look. Well, not the cup itself, which is the oldest active trophy in international sports predating the Modern Olympics by 45 years.

Originally the Royal Yacht Squadron Cup it became America’s Cup when the schooner America won the challenge in 1851 beating 15 yachts from the Squadron’s 53 mile race around the Isle of Wight 8 minutes ahead of the best British boat.

There have been two replicas of the America built. And I have a familial connection with the first one which was built in 1967 by Goudy and Stephen, East Boothbay, Maine. My dad’s sister, Marion, married a lumber merchant, Speed, who supplied the masts for the boat. I always had thought of Speed as sort of a noodge when I was young, but admittedly I didn’t know him well at all, but later when I found out what he had done it gave me a different perspective of the man. Speed spent a couple of months tramping around and camping in the deep forests of the Pacific northwest looking for just the right trees for the masts. When he’d found them they were so far from any roads that they were air lifted out by helicopter which was such a unique solution to the problem that it was photo documented by Life Magazine.

A second replica was built by Scarano Boat, Inc., in Albany, NY and launched in 1995.

There were no challenges for The Cup until  James Lloyd Ashbury’s  topsail schooner Cambria tried in 1871

The form that the boats contesting for the cup changed over the years. The first were, of course, schooners, and the New York Yacht Club, which became the holder of The Cup, wrote the rules and remained in possession of the trophy until 1983 when the Royal Perth Yacht Club and their Australia II ended the longest winning streak in the history of sport. In 1885-87, the rules required that the competitors arrive for the race on their own bottoms, so the British contenders first had to sail across the Atlantic.

The magnificent Volunteer tried in 1887

In 1889 the rules limited boats to a 70 foot waterline length of 70 feet but that rule was changed several times. Ten years later Thomas Lipton (yes, THAT Lipton who made tea famous once again here in the States after the party held in Boston Harbor some years before.) entered the fray with his Shamrock against Columbia.

In all, Lipton made five attempts to capture the cup, all of his boats named Shamrock which didn’t offer him good luck.

His efforts to win the cup, earned him a specially designed cup for being “the best of all losers.”

From 1914 to 1937 the boats were bound by what was known as the “Universal Rule.”  This era saw the domination of the J boats.

After WWII the super-expensive J boats gave way to the era of the 12 meter class rule that ran from 1956 to 1987. Fiddling with the rules of the class resulted in boats with an overall length of between 65 to 75 feet.

Dennis Connor lost The Cup in 1983 but in 1987  he redeemed himself in the yacht Stars & Stripes representing the San Diego Yacht club after beating 13 challengers.

In 1988 New Zealander Sir Michael Fay lodged a surprise “big boat” challenge under the original rules of the cup trust deed and came up with the gigantic 120 foot long KZI which lead to a long court battle that ended with Dennis Connor beating him with the 60 foot wing-sail catamaran Stars & Stripes US-1.

To thwart such challenges between such unlikely boats again the International America’s Cup Class was instituted for all the races from 1992 to 2007. The last winner of The Cup was Alinghi owned by pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.

This coming February the 33rd America’s Cup race will be held in Valencia, Spain, starting Feb. 10th and contested by a muti hull fleet which, with their legendary speed and hull flying should end the old saw that sailboat racing is as exciting as “watching paint dry.”

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New Dylan Winter Web Site

As readers of this blog know, I have featured quite a few of Dylan Winter’s videos of his trip around England in his 19 foot boat. I have also been fortunate to have been in sporadic email correspondence with Mr. Winter who has not only done his bit on the water, but once bought a couple of horses and trekked across much of the western part of the United States with them.

Recently he sent me an email telling me he had a new web site: and asked me for my opinion on how it worked. Well, as with everything I’ve seen from this gentleman, it’s superb, and well worth the time for any of my readers to spend their time on clicking and viewing his work.

I especially like the videos that feature the different boats found over there. So many of them reflect the long nautical tradition of England and are either restored working craft of boats patterned after long-established designs.

This is a great place to spend a cold wintry afternoon or an evening when those three hundred channels on the telly have absolutely nothing worth watching. Dylan Winter’s videos certainly are worth the time.

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Time Slips Away

Last weekend they held the 35th Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race. Thirty five years ago I was part of the crew on Rainbow, a 65-foot long Cheoy Lee ketch, taking part in the Inaugural race.

Rainbow is the biggest boat in the picture.

To this day it is still one of the most exciting things I ever did.

Rainbow was, I believe, the last all-custom built boat Choey Lee made. It had a steel hull, aluminum deck house and two beautifully varnished wood masts. It was definitely not a racing boat, but the owner, Charles Scripps of the  Scripps publishing family wanted to do the race for the fun of doing it and for the party in Key West afterwards. I was invited along as crew because the mate on the boat was the first captain I had ever worked for a couple of years earlier. The fact was that the entire crew, with the exception of Mr. Scripps and his son Charlie, were professional sailors.

We started off well on a sunny Friday morning, but since it was a cruising boat and not a racer we weren’t fairing well. It was a laborious beat every few minutes between the north-flowing Gulf Stream and the shore. By the time we  reached Fowey Rock in Miami all of the other boats in our class were over the horizon and most of the smaller boats in the fleet were ahead of us as well.

In the middle of the afternoon the predicted cold front reached us and the wind shifted from south easterlies into the west and clocking into the northwest. We were now on a beam reach and we started to truck. We began to pass the smaller boats ahead of us with the lee rail awash. As it began to grow dark we tucked the first reef into the main sail but left the huge genny flying and hurtling us through the water like a locomotive.

After a terrific hot meal cooked on a gimbaled stove and served on a gimbaled table the four-hour watches were set and the off watch retired below to catch a few winks. I was assigned to the boss’s watch. About five years earlier I’d turned down a job opportunity with his now-defunct Hollywood Sun-Tattler newspaper. As I stood in the cockpit with the wheel vibrating like a living thing beneath my hands I told the gentleman who could have won, hands down, any Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, that I’d turned down the job and thought it was the best decision I’d ever made.

“What do you mean by that?” he said looking at me over the top of his wire-rimmed half moon glasses.

“Well, just think of the thousands of people who work for you on your newspapers, radio and television stations and United Press International. Every one of them would crawl through broken glass just to have the chance to sit on this boat tied up at the dock. I turned the job down and here I am driving the thing.”

Sometime shortly after midnight a cannon shot roused those of us below out of our sleep. It was a quick scramble into our foul weather gear and within minutes we were on deck where we saw the huge genoa torn to shreds and snapping like pistol shots in the winds that were gusting up to 35 knots and more. In the couple of minutes it took to comprehend the situation the #2 genny was already being hauled out and we jumped into the foredeck to remove the destroyed sail.

The temperature and dropped by more than 4o degrees since the start of the race and with the wind chill it felt like it was in the 20s. The bow would drop into a wave and the warm water would flood the fore deck up to our necks, those of us on our knees clutching at the flailing pieces of sail and working hard to open the hanks to remove it from the fore stay. And as we struggled furiously the bow would rear high into the air and the cold, arctic wind would hit us and we couldn’t wait until we descended into the warmth of the water once more. In no time the sail was down and the new one was hanked on and other crew members were churning away at the halyard winch to raise the replacement.

In all, the old sail was down and the new one flying in less than five minutes.

Back in the cockpit the on-watch crew said that they had passed five boats in the previous three hours, and the number grew as the night wore on.

In the morning as we turned into the ship channel at Key West we blew out the #2 genoa as well and in short order the working jib was raised in its place.

When we were tied up at the dock we found out we were the fifth boat over the line at the end and we had passed up 15 boats altogether. Ted Turner, yes THAT Ted Turner, who had recently successfully defended the America’s Cup, came over and shook all of our hands. He said he was glad the race wasn’t another hundred miles longer because, “Nobody would have seen you guys.”

It was something I’ll never forget…the race or the party that followed. Sunday morning I woke up on a pile of sail bags on a boat I’d never been on before and didn’t recognize a soul aboard who were in about the same condition as I was.

Fourteen years later I sat at a table on a beautiful 96 foot Bruce Roberts ketch having lunch with Mr. Scripps once again after not having seen him in the previous 13 years. He asked if I’d like to “go live in France for six months or so.” He had an 85 foot sailboat over on the French Riviera in Antibes, between Cannes and Nice, that needed a captain. I believe you can find that story in earlier posts on this blog. Those “six months or so” ended up being nearly three years in France and getting to sail the boat across the Atlantic and the job ended up with a tenure of three and a half years.

Thirty five years since that first Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race. Where did all those years go?

Trivia question: Who on the stage is a Rhodes Scholar?

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