Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Houston, we have a problem

What's this? My half-finished sails getting publicity at Steve Earley's blog but not here? Fie!

Well, no longer. Here are some shots Stuart at Dabbler Sails sent me, showing the work in progress on the mainsail. It's made from cream-colored Dacron, and you can see where the full battens will go and notes on how to set up the lacing.

Great stuff, and Stuart does superb work. In fact, one of the benefits of working with him has been an extended education in the details of sailmaking, since he's also making Steve's sails this winter. (Steve sails Spartina, a Welsford Pathfinder, the same design as mine, and continues to be an inspiration in both boatbuilding and cruising.)

Unfortunately, my mast-building has not seen similar speedy progress. With daytime highs in the 20s this week, and overnight lows in the teens, I need some way to heat the mast pieces to at least 40 degrees so the glue can set.

Last night I set up a practice gluing station: heat lamps, plastic sheeting, and a digital thermometer. It was 19 degrees outside this morning -- nose-hair freezing weather. Temperature under the plastic? 38 degrees: not warm enough.

Next chapter in the saga: I Attempt To Fit A Fourteen Foot Mast Inside the Warm House; Interesting Result.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Choice

You hold a book in your hands.

The cover is tattered leather or perhaps brown cloth, the pages feather-soft from use and from the long and crooked road of years.

This book, you can see, is old. It is, in fact, the oldest thing you have ever touched. But there is something else that marks this book as special.

The spine is scorched black, and if you lean in and inhale the fusty pages you catch a sour tang of smoke. A scent older than the oldest things in this world.

Once, someone tried to burn this book.

Can you see it? Can you see the pile of books as tall as your head? The street is dark with smoke and the burning pile glows. Can you hear the frenzied shouting, can you see the shining eyes of the devout? Their chanting.

Throw it on. Burn them. All of them!

Can you see their hysteria, their certainty? The absolute rightness of their destruction?

But this was not 1937 Germany. This was another time, in another place. An Other Place, as some have called it.

And the shrill voices screaming for fire came from the soft throats of children.

Now. You have a choice. Will you open the cover of this book that has survived fire and snow and worse? Will you rest your fingers on the stained page and begin to read?

Or will you turn away? You would not be the first. It is not, after all, a happy story. There is ash, and there is blood. And there is loss.

But — as you will find, if you are lucky — just as with a long and storied life itself, there is also courage here. And joy. And hope. A spark struck in the night; the iron tang of the heaving sea; the snowlaced breath of mountains whispering of high places.

And a boy, jumping into the mud.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Whiskey Plank

In old-timey shipbuilding (the best kind), the whiskey plank was so named because at this important milestone in the construction, the last plank was attached and the hull was complete. Shipbuilders would mark the occasion with a dram (or more) of whiskey.

And so although my boat is not those ships "which in old days moved earth and heaven," it still ploughs the same seas and bends to the same winds that caress and torment this world and the men and women who voyage out on the watery wild.

Last week it was time for a glass of fiery Talisker!

This shot, peeking over the transom, shows the buoyancy and surprising size of this boat. It's a big 17-foot boat.

You can also see the grublike bundle of plastic sheeting I've been using to wrap over curing epoxy to hold the heat in from work lamps. Works pretty good.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's a boy

Bowsprit dry-fitted to see how it looks.

It looks good.

Even Samson the Critical Gorilla strikes an approving pose.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing again

I've dived back into an old story, grabbing a few minutes to write when I can, and all the old difficulties come flooding back in: the doubts, the clumsiness, the idiotic repetitiveness, the repeating things, the lack of spark, blah blah blah. No different from any other first draft, in other words.

But no matter! The important thing isn't how it feels now -- since it always feels like crap -- but rather the very simple and primitive fact of work. I am a writer; I write.

Meanwhile fall has turned the corner into winter, and I walked the dogs this morning under a clear sky jewelled with stars, and the frosted grass glittered in counterpoint. I was happy at the beauty, huddled into my warm clothes. The dogs peed, unimpressed and ready to return to their sleepy nests on the couch.

And the best part is that the cold and dark of this morning hangs in my head like a picture now, while the story I'm working in hangs there too ... and I find myself trying to work in a scene that takes place on a cold morning under the stars.

Monday, October 29, 2012


It started with a ghostly ring around the moon, and then three days of clouds creeping slowly, like glaciers or the tide, across the sky, from horizon to horizon.

Then the wind started: a tickle here, leaves scraping down the road there, rustlings in the woods at night. A few dead branches falling and scaring the dogs. But the wind didn't stop. After a day or two you didn't really notice it anymore: the smaller branches swaying rhythmically, leaves fluttering.

It blew for three days. The sky turned yellow. And then it began to rain, at first so gently that you couldn't tell if it was mist or fog instead of thing little droplets.

It's been raining all night and all day now, and the wind is still swaying the smaller branches. The dogs are anxious. There's a strange darkness to the light, like a fire seen through a black shirt, or through dirty smoke.

It is going to get worse before it gets better. We have flood warnings, high wind warnings, severe weather warnings, and now (I can hardly believe it) a blizzard warning.

View from the workshop: only the sheerplank on each side remaining now.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Coin Thief

It's always raining, here in the half-dark. Drops ping on empty helmets, run down gun barrels, roll dripping from the tips of blades. Wet fabric of olive green and black and red and every other heraldric combination possible, all of it once worn so proudly. And yes, the rain soaks bones and torn skin and outstretched hands, all of it unmoving and silent in the endless wet.

It is not a beautiful country.

It has no frontier, no edges, no fences or walls beyond which lies some respite. Just the cold rain and endless ground, disrupted by the fallen.

Here they lie, as they fell in their wars, and conflicts and "special actions," unrotting, unchanging, and ultimately: unremembered.

Except by me. I watch them come, drifting like ash, sometimes slowly and sometimes sifting through the rain in countless thousands. This ground, this holy and terrible country, is theirs: the killed.

There is no sun and there is no day, so it seems strange to begin a story thus: one day I saw something I had not seen in all the long ages of my watching.


There was something moving where nothing had ever moved. Something that fluttered, like a thought made real, and it twisted and jerked over the fields of the dead.

It was shaped like a man. It knelt over down, plucked something from the ground, then hopped sideways as if dancing a jig. It jiggered and skipped and plucked, and when it was near enough I saw that it was indeed a man.

It straightened to face me. Arranged its face into a pale smile.

"Hello, watcher."

I nodded.

"You don't know me, do you?" The man gestured in a wide and loving circle. "I have sent you so many. So many."

He jingled something in his breeches and I realized what he'd been plucking from the ground: the coins from the eyes of the dead.

He saw me frown but did not quail although my rage can be terrible. "Ah," he stated. "The coins." The smile opened into a grin. "Waste not." And he wiped the rain from his lips. "Do you know my name?" he said. "Have you guessed it?"

I made no answer. An eternity of silence makes thought more habitual than speech.

He leaned closer. His eyes were so bright in that grey place, and he they were open, unblinking, in the rain.

"I am Calvar Rex."

"Go," I finally said. "This is not your place. This is holy--"

"Holy ground," he finished. "Yes, yes, It is not ours to consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground of the fallen, blah blah blah. It matters not."

I felt a heat growing in me where for so long there had only been cold.

"Your fallen," he said, his lips pulled back from his teeth, "Your fallen will burn. Your graveyard will burn. This country will burn. All of it."

The anger warmed me and one hot-breathed word erupted past scalding lips.

"GO!" And the terrible fire of the holy glowed in that dark place. It glowed long enough for me to see his grin as he tattered like fog and fled.

The rain and the dead still came, as they always had and always would. As my heat faded I swore I would remember his name.