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 302012
 

A lot of you probably know already that the HMS Bounty sank off the coast of North Carolina early Monday morning. The entire tall-ship community and beyond is in mourning.  I send my prayers and condolences to the family, friends and ship-mates of Claudene Christian, who was recently found unresponsive and later pronounced dead, and Captain Robin Walbridge, who has still not been found.  Deepest gratitude to the brave Coasties who went out into that storm to rescue the crew.

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 152012
 
Sunset: The sloop Clearwater peaks out from behind the dock in Beacon, New York.

Sunset: The sloop Clearwater peaks out from behind the dock in Beacon, New York.

Hi everyone! I’m in Worcester right now for some days off, volunteering for Worcester World Cup, an FIFA-inspired community soccer tournament that one of my best friends spear-heads each year. I had a full first couple of weeks on Clearwater, and I’m enjoying some down time but I wanted to report back on life aboard “The Pete Seeger Boat”.

First of all, I have to say that this is a gorgeous boat with a remarkable and inspiring history. In the sixties, a bunch of people, many of them folk musicians, decided that they wanted to draw attention to the Hudson River, which at the time was heavily polluted by raw sewage and industrial waste, including large amounts of PCB’s, a known carcinogen. They raised a bunch of money, and commissioned the Sloop Clearwater as a symbol of the Hudson’s beauty, designed after the old Hudson River sloops that used to carry cargo down the river.

We caught a type of flat fish called a hog-choker on one of my first days, and kept him in our on-deck tank.

We caught a type of flat fish called a hog-choker on one of my first days, and kept him in our on-deck tank.

Since then, the Sloop Clearwater has been traveling up and down the Hudson, teaching children and youth of New York about the environment. Their mission is “to provide innovative environmental programs, advocacy, and celebrations designed to inspire, educate and activate the next generation of environmental leaders.” And they do.

Working as an educator on boats, over the years I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to teaching in this very unique environment. Each boat has its own set of values or topics of focus, but the universal challenge (perhaps with teaching in general) is deciding whether to touch the lives of a lot of kids a little, or the lives of a few kids a lot. It’s a tough choice and the two usually seem mutually exclusive, but Clearwater’s model does both.

One of my first projects: model boats for the girls in my watch for the Young Women at the Helm program. They spent a day designing and building their own rigs.

One of my first projects: model boats for the girls in my watch for the Young Women at the Helm program. They spent a day designing and building their own rigs.

The main work of Clearwater, as I was told over and over again during my interview, is teaching (not sailing!). We take 15 thousand school children onto the Hudson River each year for 3 hour daysails, during which we barrage them with a mountain of information, activities and local lore (so I’m told, I haven’t done this part yet). This is the mass education part. It seems like every kid in the Hudson River Valley has been on the Clearwater and can tell you the name of at  least one species of fish.

But what happens to those kids as they get older? What happens when they age out of Clearwater field-trips? This is where the model becomes special. In the summertime, Clearwater hosts two grant-funded, multi-day programs for 15-18 year olds: Young Women at the Helm, and Young Men at the Helm. These programs are the beginning of a pipeline that ushers the most interested and promising youth of the Hudson River Valley from participant to volunteer, to intern, to crew member, and maybe even one day to captain. The current captain, first mate, second mate and two apprentices all got their start as either participants or volunteers.

One of Clearwater's many clever conservation utilities: a barrel full of water not quite fresh enough to drink, but used for other non-potable necessities.

One of Clearwater's many clever conservation utilities: a barrel full of water not quite fresh enough to drink, but used for other non-potable necessities.

Before I lost my marbles and ran away to the sea, I worked as a program coordinator at several small, youth-serving non-profits in Worcester, MA. I’ve seen a lot of really fantastic youth development programs, many much more radical or visible than the one that Clearwater runs. But I’ve never seen one that as successfully meets the needs as broadly and deeply of so many youth as this one. The Clearwater Organization is undoubtedly “inspiring, educating and activating the next generation of environmental leaders.”

When I finally come to my senses and return to the real world, I will be bringing the gospel of this model with me wherever I go. Although it may not be such a sure fire approach without the help of a majestic old boat to capture the imagination.

A view from below...that is one huge mast!

A view from below...that is one huge mast!

Hudson River Sloops are known for their "Hudson River Gybe", a special, loud and sometimes scary gybe that involves the boom swinging across without sheeting in at all.

Hudson River Sloops are known for their "Hudson River Gybe", a special, loud and sometimes scary gybe that involves the boom swinging across without sheeting in at all.

The brine barrel: Normally wooden boats get a deck wash with salt water from the ocean to help preserve the wood. Since Clearwater is in mostly brackish water, we put it in a barrel and salt it instead.

The brine barrel: Normally wooden boats get a deck wash with salt water from the ocean to help preserve the wood. Since Clearwater is in mostly brackish water, we put it in a barrel and salt it instead.

Brine barrel rubber ducky.

Brine barrel rubber ducky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 262012
 
Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Day-off with crew: opening a beer the sailor way aboard Silphide, Matt's family's sloop.

Hello out there! It’s been so long since I’ve written that I wonder how many will read this. But to those who do, thanks for continuing to tune in to my adventure!

You might have guessed that I’m home again, back in the USA. I flew out of Hobart, Tasmania at 6:30 AM on Saturday, July 14th, and arrived in Los Angeles at 6:00 AM on Saturday, July 14th. (Awesome. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one. :) I spent a few days hanging out in LA with friends and volunteers from the American Tall Ship Institute, where I was First Mate in 2010-2011, and then continued on home to Massachusetts. In a few days I start a new job as Bosun on the Clearwater, a gaff-rigged sloop that sails the Hudson River. It will be a whole new culture and environment, and I look forward to reporting…

But for now, what things stand out to me in my first two weeks back in the country?

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Cinderblock city in Guatemala

Re-entry shock: It’s amazing how challenging a return to home can be after an extended period of time away. I remember having reverse culture shock after just 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland when I was 17, and even more of a dramatic adjustment period in 2009 after returning from 10 weeks in Guatemala. After Guatemala, I remember noticing how all of the buildings seemed exceptionally solid — even over-built — in comparison to the flimsy-feeling cinder-block and corrugated tin structures in Central America. One would think that Australia and the USA are so similar that reverse culture shock would be almost non-existent, but I’ve learned that any change in cultural environment, no matter how subtle, can stir up emotion and reflection. We often don’t know what we’ve been through until well after, when the dust has settled.

U.S. Airport Security: Both times I went through International customs and security in Australia, I felt the process was effective, fair and efficient. Large throngs of people surged beneath signs in many languages, passed quickly through baggage checks and metal detectors, and finally several sets of  TRUE random check points which took no more than 2 minutes to complete in most cases. I actually saw grey-haired people and a business woman randomly stopped! Entering the US, even as citizen, took hours. I was shocked to see a sign at the metal detector exempting seniors from the need to remove shoes and jackets…a chivalrous gesture, but one that surely creates a weak point in our national security. Customs agents suspiciously looked back and forth between visitors’ faces and their passport photos, and one fringe-looking person after another was pulled aside for a “random” check. It’s hard to explain the perspective one has after being away, but after a six month fast from the constant fear-inducing American news landscape, my gut reaction to this inconsistent and intimidating show of muscle is that it is inefficient, flawed and disrespectful to our visitors. I was distinctly aware of America’s inflated sense of self-importance.

My first experience of Vegemite.

My first experience of Vegemite.

Re-adjustement to local customs: Some things have been easy, some difficult. The whole time I was in Australia, I constantly got mixed up about which side of the car was the passenger and driver, first thinking my instinct was wrong, and then second-guessing that. It has been a relief to be able to trust my instincts in such things again. On the other hand, I’ve caught myself pronouncing “tomato” like a Brit more than once, and taking to the left side of a foot path when meeting another walker head-on. I am a little sad to have to drop my favorite little Ozi phrases like “Rightio” and “I reckon…” People just give funny looks. Reliable internet and relatively inexpensive food are great luxuries that are a rare thing down under, so that is a nice change. Also, readily available cookie-dough ice-cream, inexpensive beer, and fresh bagels. I am not sad to say goodbye to Vegemite.

Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain sitting in the foreground. Taken before we met. :)
Wild Oats, Sydney-Hobart winner, with future boyfriend Iain.

Apart from this, there is a whole tide of fresh political awareness that I am subject to after being immersed in an outside perspective. And I wouldn’t be fully reporting on “my quest for a life at sea” if I didn’t summarize the last year thusly: I traveled to the other side of the world, sailed in the Southern Ocean, fell in love, got my first bit of professional licensing, and turned 30 minus 1 year. These major life events are leaving me feeling aswirl with looming life pressures and some new doubts and questions as to how I am going to make it all happen. But then, I suppose that the real reason we travel round the world is for a good mix-up so we can get to the tasty stuff at the bottom of it all. And I certainly feel mixed up at the moment.

For now, this is Stephanie’s blog, signing off.