Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Always Remember To Say The Captain Sent You

Roland, my brother, was driving. I was in the passenger seat. In the backseat was our brother-in-law, Christian. We headed down the driveway, through the Greek seaside village with the patio-style restaurants lining the beach, and up into the hills of this mountainous island.

A valley in the hills of Lefkada.
Our mission: Visit a butcher to procure meat for the evening’s cookout. This butcher, who ran a restaurant in a remote village, had been recommended to us by the owner of the house in which we are staying. The owner was a longtime freighter captain.

“Tell them the captain sent you. Everyone knows me as the captain.”

We chatted and joked as we rode up the narrow, snaky road up into the hills. Roland imitated the jerky motions of an unsure driver. We gossiped about the family members back at the house.

Every few hundred yards, we noticed miniature chapels on pedestals alongside the road. Memorials, we assumed, to those who have died on these roads.

A roadside shrine in Lefkada, Greece.
I started photographing them, asking Roland to slow down when we came upon one. But he was zipping along so speedily that by the time we noticed one, usually in a curve, or by a steep cliff, it was too late. A few times, there was enough warning to see one and pull to the side and let me out to shoot some photographs. A dangerous operation on these roads. We joked about it.

An abandoned shrine.
“There’ll be a chapel next to that one if you don’t watch out,” Roland called after me as I darted across the road.

A ramshackle, but still attended shrine.
We arrived at the restaurant.

“Yassas,” we greeted the assembled men, sitting in wooden chairs on the restaurant patio, smoking cigarettes, and watching a soccer match on TV.

The one boy who knew English came out to help us.

“Yes. Meat. You come this way.” He walked us through the dinner tables set for this evening, inside to the few tables indoors, right through to the kitchen, where a stubbly-faced man wearing a white tee shirt sat on an overturned bucket and pealed potatoes. We greeted him and the two guys by the stove. “Yassas.” And they echoed back, “Yassas.”

The boy rattled Greek to one of guys, all of them now exchanging glances with us. The boy turned to us again.



“What kind? Pork, lamb.”

“Yes. Please. Parakalo.”

The boy and one of the guys took us into a small, tiled room off the kitchen. Against one wall was a butcher’s table, laid out with large knives and a huge bronze item that looked like a fist-sized chess pawn. A scale and cash register was on the facing wall. On the third wall, was the stainless steel door of a walk-in refrigerator.

The boy’s English was surprisingly good, but nevertheless we somehow felt the need for supplementing our interactions with gesticulations.

Soon, half a carcass was on the block. A knife was wielded. Lamb chops. A cleaver came out. Pork cutlets. The bronze chess piece, was used as a pounder on the cutlets.  Sausages were rolled into wax paper.

“Is good? More?”

“Do you have veal? The captain said maybe you have veal.”

“The captain?”

“Yes, the captain. We are staying at the house of the captain in the village.”

“The captain,” Christian said, placing his open hands on his belly and pulling them outward. “Big man.”

“Ahhh! The captain! Yes.” the boy starts laughing and rattling Greek with the butcher. They both start mimicking Christian’s gesture. “Yes, we know him.”

And in one movement, from somewhere in the fridge, appears some plump, red ribs. The best cuts so far.

We should have referenced him to begin with. With efficiency, the whole assortment was wrapped in wax paper and bundled into a plastic bag. Meat for a dozen hungry people. 42 Euros. Our eyes popped at the price we thought would be easily double.

We gave him 45 and were on our way again, zipping along the windy roads.

This one could be called a miniature chapel.
And it had a mythical and mysterious interior. I want to know what the note in the bottle says. I want to know more about the god riding the four-horse chariot.
“Slow down just after the next village,” I said. “There’s a place that sells the chapels. I want to get a picture of that.”

Roland and Christian laughed at me. “Pick the one out we’ll need for you.”

We made it back home safely, the men, returning to the cave with mastodon. And me, with fodder for another blog.

I downloaded my photos and researched the chapels. Kandylakia, they’re called. And yes, they do mark where loved ones have died. But many of them are altars of thanks to patron saints who spared the lives of loved ones.

Leaving home. It’s when we depend most on the mercy of the heavens. Accidents on the road are the leading cause of death after illness.

I like that the Greeks constantly remind themselves to be thankful every time we return home. Back to family. Back to a cookout. Back to safety that’s so hard for us not to take for granted.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Anchors Aweigh - Bow Pulpit Anchor Mount For Bruce On A Cape Dory 25

Sailing Sunset. How nobly the anchor is secured to the bow!
Thank you, all of you, who write me when you see a blog post you enjoy. It’s nice to have my posts trigger a cascade of correspondence. I am particularly tickled when an ancient post still swirls eddies among sailors out there.

Such was the case this week when a gentleman asked me about an unusual and beautiful anchor mount on Sunset, a Cape Dory 25, of which I was the steward many years ago before I sold her to a friend in Boston. I wrote to him but thought others might be interested as well since the mount is so unique.

Sunset was my first keelboat. I was so naive when I bought her that I thought that every fixture and set-up on her was the way she was shipped from the factory, just like a car. Therefore, I never knew to ask the previous owner about the anchor mount’s origin. I admire, in absentia, the person from whose mechanical mind this contraption was born.

The bracket mounts to the pulpit around a cushioned base. I don’t know what that base is since I never took the bracket off. But it is not metal on metal. I assume rubber.

Pulpit anchor mount for Bruce anchor.
In the photo above, note how the mount has a brace welded vertically, securing the curved receptacle to the descending flat bar.

The arrangement for the shank is the least finished or designed. It is simply a shock cord wrapped at least one full turn around the shank and hooked into something on the stemhead.

Though not pretty, this was quite secure. I had to replace the shock cord every season.

The key element to the arrangement is the securing pin. As with the rest of the mount, this was a custom job.

It was a bolt, through which he had drilled a hole in the head for a clevis ring to which he had a preventer tied. Should have been a smaller lanyard, but I never got around to replacing it. I suggest 1/8 dacron with a halyard knot on the clevis ring. That would look proper. The halyard knot link goes to WaveTrain, one of my favorite blogs to follow.

On the business end of the bolt, he cut a slit. He inserted a flat tab with an oblong hole in its center. The oblong hole allowed the tab to slide into an obstructed path. (A round hole would create an easily pivotable position.) I can't remember how he secured the tab in the bolt. A pin welded on both sides? 

These types of bolts are commercially available, but not in stainless. And for the life of me, I can't remember what they are called. I just did a lot of googling and can't find them, but I know I visited Fastenal at the time and found them. 

I didn't like that the threading prevented an easy slide in and out of the securing hole. I considered several different options. One was a simple clevis pin with a clevis ring, but even the bent-end clevis rings are too hard to fumble with when anchoring.

The above was another option, though not as neat as the creator's custom bolt.

The whole arrangement was strong and secure. I have sailed in 25 knots of wind on Lake Champlain's chop and never had an issue with the anchor bouncing or wiggling.

As for off-shore passages, well, not sure I would do one with a Cape Dory 25, although I talked to a guy who did one to Bermuda. The guy said he was sick for the whole two weeks it took to fetch the island. And again for the return trip. Not something he would recommend. In my transatlantic and on a passage to Bermuda, I have stowed the anchors. When the bow submerges completely into the waves, as it will do in such passages, you want as little resitance as possible on the bow.

Simple and at the ready. Exactly what you want from an anchor mount.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Back And Bigger Than Ever

Harold Dubilier. Colossus.
Once, last year, in a wrong-for-so-many-reasons escapade, Dad decided he needed to prove his independence and vitality. At age 89, in a condition that could be called road-blind, he snuck out of the condo, which had become his prison -- because in America a car and the ability to drive is a condition of independence -- and drove the mile and a half to the supermarket. He shopped. For what didn’t matter, least of all to him as long as he had proof of his conquest. Upon returning to the condo, he announced to his wife, “I have my balls back.”

She was furious. When I heard of the incident, I was amused and compassionately dismayed. After a long struggle to survive his second bout of cancer, he felt his horizon claustrophobically constricting. Yet what a selfishly dangerous thing to do. Understandable. Not excusable.

Shortly after that ride, he was beset with the shingles, leaving half his face lame and his head painfully pulsing with nerve inflammation. He was reduced to a walker because his inner ear scattered the beads of balance all around his skull. This slammed the door shut on his independence and the condo. At least he had the means to afford taxi rides to the supermarket. Determined, he engaged in physical therapy of all manner, including chewing gum to exercise the muscles of his face. To everyone’s surprised, he recovered quickly and almost completely.

We suggested a tricycle now that he was able to venture out again on his own. It was dismissed. Perhaps a man of self-determined horizons chooses his own timing. Or perhaps riding a tricycle when you’re in your 80s seems like a concession, while doing so in your 90s is a statement. This month, he bought the tricycle.

Before departing Vermont to visit him in Florida, I was given a list of particular fishing gear to bring down. His favorite pole. His 40-something-year-old leather-sheathed pliers. The tackle box with the jigging lures. “Don’t forget the scaler and the reels.”

For a week, the residents and staff at the condo watched Harold as he dragged his tricycle, step by shuffled step, up the incline out of the garage, mounted it in deliberate movements, and peddled around the parking lot.

First, you ride around the parking lot. Then you cast off to fetch the fishing pier.
He and I spent days discussing the best route for the mile-long trip to the fishing pier. Since he can’t see well, there was the option of asking the guards at the condo gate to help him across the fast-paced Route A1A; a concession he would have to make in this exercise of will. But with me coming along on this first outing, concessions did not have to be made. Even the voyage’s magnitude didn’t have to be acknowledged. This was just an outing of father and son to the fishing pier. For this reconnaissance mission, we left sans gear.

The short of the half-hour biking trip itself to the pier is this: I have never felt so worried since my daughter swung amid the structures of playgrounds. The curved entrance into the condo garage put him in a blind spot to oncoming cars. The drivers who slowed behind us waiting to pass were perhaps patient, but in my mind were as menacing as the looks of grown men watching my daughter at the playground. I wanted to freeze time and motion until Dad was safely at the pier.

But that’s not what voyages are about. Dad was not simply visiting the pier. By now we understand he was engaging in challenge. Pure and simple, for its own sake. Every time we cast off, while we hope for fair winds, what we talk about later are the times we overcame the opposition of obstacles, potential failure and ultimately, ourselves.

His adrenaline of accomplishing this achievement became quickly evident as we walked out onto the fishing pier.

Dad immediately started acquiring local knowledge: bait and methods.
We came upon a woman whose pole was bent and she was struggling to reel in. “I can’t,” she said as we approached. “Help her,” said Dad, and already he was taking charge. I took her pole and noticed the pull was steady and firm. This wasn’t a fish. She had snagged something on the bottom. “You have to slack the line,” Dad said. “Show her how to slack the line.” The pole was back in the lady’s hands and my Dad’s insistence invading her comfort. “You have to slack. More, more! All the way! You have to jiggle it, schussel it!”

The woman in the white shirt is the one struggling with the snagged line.
We moved on and next he came upon an unattended pole.

“There could have been 20 fish nibbling on that line and he never would know it.”

To an embarrassment that made me walk away, he started working the line, jigging it. Luckily he stopped before the owner returned.

Then the fishing talk began. He asked what people were catching. What kind of bait? As is typical with fishing personas, answers were given offhand and monosyllabically. When one man mumbled something and walked off to tend to another line, Dad pursued him and told him he had to answer louder since he couldn’t hear. The Demand. Not just of answers, but attention.

We speculated on how Dad could raise his fish the 20- or 30-feet onto the pier. Of course the fish HE would catch would be so large it couldn’t be reeled up like all the others were. He wondered if he could lead the fish, while still in the water, all the way along the pier back to the beach.

“If you get one on the line, I’m sure anyone here would be happy to help you get it up,” I had said a few times to the response of silence. I should have known he had heard me fine the first time.

When he asked one burley and surly fisherman how a large fish could be gotten up, the man gruffed: “There're plenty of kids around here who will help you.”

We walked away and it didn’t take three steps before Dad leaned into me with, “I don’t want no damn help.”

Back at the ticket booth to the pier he played his usual games, asking the clerk if he could be granted permission to take his tricycle onto the pier since he had a handicapped permit. Special Dispensation: the privilege of the privileged. She would check with city rules and call him the next day. As we walked away, he leaned into me with, “I’ll have to ask my doctor to give me a handicapped pass.”

I have had mixed feelings about this blog post and so delayed posting it. I’ve been ruminating.

It is all quite charming to see an aging man assert his vitality. Not too long ago, Dad was referred to as the colossus. Ever since then that moniker has swirled within me, sometimes forming a question mark, sometimes constricting my heart. What is now charming and admirable was once egocentric and conniving. In certain broad strokes, I see the pirate in me mirrored in him. In my own life, I have worked hard to discern between assertion and selfishness. His traits could have killed a young child on a bicycle during that trip to the supermarket.

Dad and I have had epic battles. During those times I directly confronted his self-absorbed campaign through life. At other times, I have marveled at the generosity, both emotionally and financially he bestows. How is it that everyone who meets this individualist is charmed by him?

I can’t derive it. I can’t grasp it. I ruminate.

But let’s tack back towards voyaging, for that’s what Dad’s excursion to the pier was: A mini-voyage. It embodied all the challenges and rewards of a transatlantic. Most importantly: uncertainty.

That I can grasp. That, at the age of 90, I admire. That comprises a colossus.

After two bouts with cancer in the last seven years and downed by shingles for almost a year, he’s back. And yes, Dad, you got your balls back. Bigger than ever.

Next time, with a big one in the basket.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Another Mini-Library

My daughter's mini-library set up while moving into a new room.
While we are on the matter of spontaneous libraries: I was tidying up my computer files yesterday and came across the above photograph from September of last year when my daughter Zoe moved in with me for a few months before casting off on her voyage to Germany. The photograph shows the books she set up by her bedside. It is just so reflective of her. I love it. I can look at each book and see that part of her personality. Particularly moving for me, is the worn edition of The Phantom Tollbooth. It is a present I gave to Zoe. Long having lost its jacket, and somewhere along the line (but how?) stained with ink, it has become fragile in spine, but still is so strong in its seminal influence on me. I read the book five times between the ages of being able to read and, say, about 15. I don’t know if I can say that of any other book.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Books Aboard

My accidental, yet representative, mini-libary I acquired in Germany.

Ever since an encounter last year, I have been contemplating the power of books. In particular, I have been wondering about book collections or let’s call them spontaneous mini-libraries.

As boaters, that’s what we have: Sure, we take a few choice volumes from our library before casting off, but then what we add becomes more chance than choice. Some from exchange libraries in marinas, some from the bookstore we come across, one from the sailing couple in the last port. The whole library might only comprise, say, a dozen books.

In a story I am writing, the protagonist finds a sailboat that has been lost to his family for over a decade, and on which he has not set foot in 30 years. He happens upon his family’s long lost boat by chance. It has had been abandoned after a grounding 10 years earlier and as he comes to the boat, it is being sold as junk.

In one scene he looks at the books left on a shelf in the cabin. The books are from his German uncle who last owned the boat. So I name a handful of the books. In contrast to real-life mini-libraries, in a novel, nothing the author writes should be coincidental. The books say something about who the uncle is. Perhaps even a bit about the whole line of the family. So I wondered: Who comprises his canon? Who did the uncle surround himself with literarily? Which of his books would give us, as readers, as sense of his inspirations and beliefs?

In the novel, I can make it all quite tidy. Only the books relevant to his character are shown. But in real life, our bookshelves, and in particular our boat bookshelves are much more haphazard. We don’t “design” our collection and yet, they still reflect our character. They are quirkier than our libraries at home. They are more like moods or weather. Changeable.

I have just returned from spending about two months in Germany. As I was packing up my belongings for my return to America, I looked at my mini-library. I had picked out three of these books from home before the trip and came by the rest “en voyage.”  As I looked at this line-up, I recognized the constellation of a triangle: 1) The encounter last year which involved my mini-library on Phoenix back then. 2) The scene in my novel. 3) My Leipzig collection.

What did this collection say about me? I wrote about that for this post, but I’m not including it. It’s seems too self-absorbed. All I really wanted to do was mention this matter so perhaps you will take some delight at looking at your own shelf and see if you can derive meaning from it, as perhaps from a disjointed dream.