Nov 282012
 

The term “bosun”, a sailorly contraction of the Old English “boatswain”, implies widely different roles from one vessel to another. On some ships the bosun is an officer; on others a rig specialist. Even the translation is debated: some sources say a “swain” was an attendant, while others give a more romantic definition of “lover”. (I like to say I’m the ship’s husband…) Regardless, on Clearwater, the bosun cares for the traditional aspects of the rig, which includes regular inspections for safety concerns.

I thought some people out there might be interested in what my monthly rig checks involve. When I was mate on the Bill of Rights and had never before done a rig check, it felt like a vast and unconquerable task. There is so much to a boat! Brion Toss gives an elegantly succinct description in “The Rigger’s Apprentice” of what a rig-check on a boat involves, boiled down to four main points:

1. If it fastens two things together, it will try its damndest to wiggle itself loose.

2. If it touches something else, it will chafe the hell out of either itself or the thing it touches.

3. If it’s metal, it will either crumble in the face of whatever other metal is around it, or else it will mercilessly corrode everything it touches.

4. If it’s loose, it will inevitably catch, snag and tear.

With this as a guide, I examine the rig from stem to stern, topmast to hull. Before leaving Clearwater for the season, I was able to snap some shots of some of the things I look for in rig checks. Aside from these things, I am always and especially looking for loose nuts, rusty or non-existent mousings (wire lashings to secure pins in shackles), pins backing out of shackles, loose lashings in the bow net or shrouds, and squeaky blocks. All of these could result in injury if not attended to before they become a problem.

A type of line degradation called "long jawing", in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A type of line degradation called “long jawing”, in which, due to deformation, only one or two strands of the line take the full load.

A "whipping" sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor's whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness.

A “whipping” sews up the end of a line to neatly keep it from unraveling. When you make a sailor’s whipping, which involves a palm and needle, you never imagine it could someday become worn to uselessness!

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Early signs of wear in a long splice.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

Small holes in the head of the mainsail can easily turn into big holes if not attended to.

 

Oct 232012
 

We had a great transit up to Beacon the other day. It was cold, wet and windy, but we made the best of it (see photos below). And to top off a fantastic sail up the river, Captain Nick walked up to me as we neared out destination and told me that as long as it wasn’t too windy, he wanted me to take the boat in. It was a first for me, not just on Clearwater, but ever. I felt a twinge of nervousness, but excitement about attempting to maneuver 108 feet of traditional tall-ship to the dock prevailed.

Nick was the most fantastic teacher, letting me call the shots and try out my instincts as much as possible, but with full assurance that he would step in if necessary.  And it went great! I didn’t crash the boat, and Nick didn’t need to do too much, but more importantly I felt really good at the helm. I’ve docked her twice more since then, and I can’t wait for another chance.

Clearwater approaches the George Washington Bridge during a north-bound transit up the Hudson.

Clearwater approaches the George Washington Bridge during a north-bound transit up the Hudson. An overcast sky, half-hearted drizzle, and gusty winds were not surprising conditions at this time of year.

"Get out the topsail. You can set it however you want, except where it normally goes."

“Get out the topsail. You can set it however you want, except how it’s supposed to go.”

So we set it how we wanted.

So we set it how we wanted.

Clearwater's topsail set as a spinnaker.

Clearwater's enormous jib full of wind, as seen from the tip of the bowsprit.

Clearwater’s enormous jib full of wind, as seen from the tip of the bowsprit.

A pretty nice day after all.

A pretty nice day after all.

Aug 192012
 

When I was on Windeward Bound, I had an idea to post about all of the little innovations and solutions I saw on Winde for problems or annoyances I’d experienced on other boats. Things got busy and I never got around to it, but I’ve had the same thought about Clearwater after seeing so many clever improvements to old designs. Here are some shots of the best new twists on old ideas. I think the gem of the bunch is the leak-free butterfly hatch.

Dorade boxes: A dorade box is a very cool invention itself. It allows ventilation below decks without letting rain and spray in. These are the first I've seen with clear "roofs", allowing light below decks in addition to fresh air.

Dorade boxes: A dorade box is a very cool invention itself. Below the "trumpet" is a hole in the box, offset from the visible one in the deck, allowing ventilation below decks without letting rain & spray in. These are the first I've seen with clear "roofs", allowing light below decks in addition to fresh air.

Butterfly hatches: These beautiful contraptions are found on so many traditional boats. They also let light and air below decks, but I've never met one that doesn't leak. This is the most elegant and effective solution to butterfly hatch leaks I've ever seen. This looks to be a piece of 2" bronze pipe cut in half and set into the frame just below the hatch hinges.

Butterfly hatches: These beautiful contraptions are found on so many traditional boats. They also let air and light in below decks, but I've never met one that doesn't leak. The butterfly hatch on Clearwater doesn't leak! This is the most elegant and effective solution to butterfly hatch leaks I've ever seen. This looks to be a piece of 2" bronze pipe cut in half and set into the frame just below the hatch hinges.

Scrolling map: Switching between large-scale and small-scale charts is always a nuisance, but traveling up and down a river makes for a lot of chart changes.

Scrolling chart: Switching between large-scale and small-scale charts is always a nuisance, but travel along a river requires a particularly frequent change of charts.

Clearwater crew of years past constructed this scrolling chart by cutting and taping the necessary charts together to get them all the way from Albany to New York City without a chart swap.

Clearwater crew of years past solved the problem by cutting and taping the necessary charts together and binding the final product into this scrolling frame to allow them to get all the way from Albany to New York City without a chart swap.

 

Impermanent Chafe Gear: Chafing on lines, especially dock lines, is always a concern. On every boat I've been on, the issue was addressed with old fire hose cut into pieces and sometimes sewn around loosely, sometimes taped securely to the most chafed areas of line. Inevitably, chafe gear gets stuck in fair-leads or doesn't end up in the place it was meant to be.

Impermanent Chafe Gear: Chafing on lines, especially dock lines, is always a concern. On every boat I've been on, the issue was addressed with old fire hose cut into pieces and sometimes sewn, sometimes taped to the most chafed areas of line. Inevitably, chafe gear gets stuck in fair-leads or doesn't end up in the place it was meant to be.

On Clearwater, there is an additional challenge of a new dock with different chafe points every night. I think their solution is every bit as valuable on boats with a home port. They have a big bag of chafe gear that gets attached to chafe points after every sail. This ensures strong, happy dock lines with minimal wear every time.

On Clearwater, there is an additional challenge of a new dock with different chafe points every night. I think their solution is every bit as valuable on boats with a home port. They have a big bag of chafe gear that gets attached to chafe points after every sail. This ensures perfect placement of chafe gear every time, for happy, wear free dock lines.

Jun 172012
 

Here’s a little display of the many colors and textures in the rocky riverbeds and temperate rainforest leading up to the glaciers. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful quartz intrusions in the wet granite, or the bright lichens peeking out of crannies.

Jun 132012
 
A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

Day two started early, leaving Hokatika just after sunrise to arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier by 9:30 AM, in time for our scheduled helicoptor ride! We got there with time to spare, but were greeted with disappointing news: the weather wasn’t good enough to make the run up. Come back in three hours?

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

So, we went for a nice hike along the glacial riverbed that leads up to Franz Josef, got some great shots of unique rocks, waterfalls, and cliff faces, and headed back to town with a shred of hope that the cloud cover would miraculously part in time for our flight. No such luck. The office staff suggested we book again for the following morning. Despite the predictions for worsening weather, we decided to give it another chance. We booked a reservation for 9 AM and as the raindrops started to fall, headed to some nearby glacial hot pools for the evening.

After a night of pouring rain, we awoke to our miracle: clear blue skies and the top of the glacier. Sure that we’d have our chopper ride now, we walked over to the office only to be denied once again! This time? Not enough people booked for our flight; minimum of three required. So they sent us over to another agency that has smaller helicoptors, and booked our fourth flight of the trip. Thankfully within a half hour, we were walking up to the landing pad and climbing into the front seat!

The river valley below, by Iain

The river valley below, by Iain

Unbelievably, it wasn’t until I was in the front seat of the helicoptor with a big bubble window all around me that I remembered my fear of heights. Iain gave me an “Are you okay?” look, right away realizing what was going on. Fortunately I’ve had enough anxiety-ridden bus and car rides through the highlands of Guatemala and Scotland, the French Alps, the Colorado Rockies, California’s Sierra Nevadas, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, that I’ve gotten pretty good at basically pretending I’m watching a video game when I get really freaked out, figuring it’s better to die a calm fiery death than a terrified fiery death.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

With my fears neatly bundled away, I was free to enjoy what I can only describe as a sensory experience fit for the gods. We had a bird’s eye view of everything we’d been gazing at for the last 24 hours, and more. The boney, arthritic trees, their white bark standing stark against the many-shaded greens of the mountain forests. The wineglass stem waterfall, somehow lonier and more stoic when seen from above than when worshipping at its base. And of course, the glaciers themselves, massive beyond belief, stretching white and blue, far into the heavens, only to be out-ranked by the cold, grey, snow-streaked peaks that grow along the fault-line under our feet.

Coming back down again, I realized that I’d simply forgotten about the video camera sitting in my lap on the ride up. I was glad, though, in the end, that I’d gotten to enjoy the expereince of being wafted far up into those ice-covered mountains purely, without the distraction of a job to do.

Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.
Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.