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Thread: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

  1. #1
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    Default Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Iíd like to tell a bit of a story. It started a long time ago, and reached a high point last Saturday afternoon. I wanted to share it with the sort of people Ė meaning you folks Ė who will understand what Iím trying to say.

    First, some back-story. I met my boat, the Fiddlers Green when she was new and I was 8 years old. I purchased her when she was 22, and I was 30. That was 30 years ago.

    My wife and I sailed her all over Lake Ontario season after season, learning to sail a gaffer, making improvements as we could afford them, learning how to cruise. Those were fabulous years Ė not all idyllic, you understand, but a solid mix of every type of sailing adventure anyone needs, short of an ocean passage. Fiddler always took care of us. As with any good boat, she could take more than we could, and often seemed to know her job better than I did mine.

    Then, one day, I decided to keep her on the hard for a year and do a bit of work. She looked great, with shiny varnish and good paint, but I knew there was trouble lurking underneath: A spot of lifted finish here and there that said there was moisture where it shouldnít be; A few cracked stanchions in the bulwarks that let water through the covering board; Some bottom leaks when she was pressed, a cranky engine, a few shorts somewhere in the electrics. Dozens of small things, and a few big ones. It was time for a re-fit. I owed it to her.

    I hauled her and built a sticks-and-plastic shelter to work in. I set up a workbench and gathered up my tools, stripped off all her gear and went to it. In year 1, I started with garboards, then did the lower ends of the frames, plus some other things. In year 2 there was re-planking, and repairs to topside seams, and some other things. In year 3 it was covering boards, bulwarks, rails, and some other things. In year 4 it was an engine re-build, with new beds and pans, some deck work, and some other things. Iím sure you get the idea. One year turned into 2, then 5, and finally into 9 years of work.

    I hardly sailed at all during those years. I kept at the re-fit with decent discipline, working at it 1 day a week in the first year (I was still working full-time) then 2 or even 3 as time went by. During the last year, once I had decided that I was definitely going to re-launch in 2012, I worked on her 4-5 days a week. When I launched in May, she was in better condition than anytime during my ownership. I felt that she was good for another 50 years.

    But a strange thing had happened. I had started to see myself as a builder rather than a sailor. I had enjoyed the challenge of the re-build more than I thought I would. Iím a self taught woodworker, boatwright and mechanic, with all the limitations and gaps in knowledge that implies. I learned a whole lot of stuff the hard way. For example, it took me 3 weeks to fit the bulwark stanchions on the port side (all 28 of them, each at a different angle!), and 5 days to do the stbd side. You learn. Iíve said more than once that the real problem with being an amateur is having standards you donít know how to live up to. We do things slowly, often the hard way, and as soon as we get good at something Ė like spiling a plank for example - the project moves on and we donít have to do that ever again.

    At any rate, I had begun to think of myself as a builder. I thought about selling Fiddler when she was fresh off the re-build, and maybe building something else Ė a wee diesel powered sedan cruiser like the Maddy 18 from Macnaughton, or a canoe yawl like Doug Hylanís Siri. It made sense financially Ė the cost of Fiddlerís re-build cannot be recovered of course, but some money could be had and that would finance a new build with no strain. It made sense in a personal way as well, because my wife Gloria has decided that she had had enough of the water and wanted to concentrate on her house and garden, so I was on my own with the boat Ė and Fiddler is a lot of boat for a 60-year-old single-hander.

    That all went by the wayside last Saturday. I re-discovered sailing.

    The Summer has been spent on finishing up the long list of jobs left over after launch: deck hardware to mount, engine to sort out, electrical system to de-bug, new cabin cushions and sail covers to make, gear to overhaul (blocks, furling gear, the head, a stuck fuel gauge, shift linkage to repair, etc. etc.), things to re-arrange and re-sort after all those years on the hard. The weather was nasty hot all through July and August and the winds so light that they were not worth chasing. But when Labour Day came around, the wind started to blow and Fiddler was ready in all respects. But was I?

    Iíve got a bit of arthritis in my hands which wasnít there before and I was worried that I wouldnít be able to cope still without winches. Iím 10 years older and I admit to being a bit less spry than I was. Iím not a lot heavier, but I am slower. I asked myself if I still had the courage for single-handing. Did I have the stamina? Would I still like it, or had the pleasure/pain ratio gone bad? And more worrisome, had I made any fatal mistakes in Fiddlerís re-build? Would my work let me down?

    Saturday was the test. Blufferís Park, where I keep the boat, is about 20 kilometres East of Toronto. Our prevailing wind is SouthWest, usually light. Heavy air, when it comes, often comes from the East. On that day, all bets were off. It had rained all night on Friday, with strong winds from the NW. The forecast called for clearing by 1:00 pm, but with continued NW winds at 20+ knots. I woke up early, fussed about a bit, then decided I would go.

    I tucked in a deep reef before I left my dock, because Fiddler balances extremely well with her main reduced and the jib and foresíl set, and I figured it would be easier later to take a reef out than to put one in. It was a smart move.

    I left around noon in a light drizzle and headed West, full and bye with about 15 knots of wind to stbd. She settled down nicely, making about 5 knots without too much fuss. One of the best things about my girl is that on the wind sheíll sail herself for hours at a time with a loose helm and tight sheets. I was as happy as a pig in Ö well, pretty happy.

    Then things started to happen. First, there was a long lull as I moved into the partial lee of the high bluffs of the shoreline about a mile to windward. Speed dropped to around 3 knots, and it lasted long enough that I thought about shaking out a reef. Then we got a big header as the wind shifted to SW Ė a full 90 degrees. And it blew. It climbed to a steady 25, with gusts a lot higher. I was now on port tack with the land under my lee, at a safe distance, but still right there.

    On Lake Ontario, the waves build quickly, and they get serious. Within 10 minutes they were 15-20 feet trough to crest, and steep. At the bottom, all I could see was water. At the top, it was ragged white caps everywhere. Thatís when Fiddler took over. She put her shoulder down (way down) and went to work. With a free helm, she walked up to hull speed (around 7 or so, perhaps 8 at times), locked in at a thirty-degree heel and went like the proverbial train. She tracked with the gusts and worked to windward much better than I would have.

    On the lee side, there was water over the rails and right up to the coachhouse, with a solid stream breaking against the cockpit coamings. To windward she was throwing spray at least a boat-length away. It made rainbows against the sun just before it smacked me in the face. The quarter wave climbed up to her transom and stayed there like it was sculpted. It roared. It was magnificent.

    Around 3 pm, the wind clocked to NW - fast - and we were headed again. A quick tack and now I was safely on stbd tack with no lee-shore worries. It was blowing Force 6, gusting 7, with waves getting bigger as the fetch opened up, but my girl was happy. She went on that way for another two hours until I could safely make a tack to the North and get into Toronto Harbour. I am gratified to report that for all the strength of the day, nothing broke, nothing failed, and she didnít leak much at all, and that was all from the bone-dry topsides. The cabin stayed tidy, locker doors stayed shut, books stayed on their shelves. My bunk was still dry.

    In the end, I've re-discovered that Iím a sailor, not a builder. Iím still buzzing from it. Thatís good because our season is ending rapidly and that sail may have to sustain me through the Winter.

    Iíve also decided a few other things. First, I will never sell the Fiddlers Green. Eventually someone will have to pry her from my aging, arthritic hands. Second, Iím going to start planning to do the one thing she has never done Ė cross an ocean. She can do it easily, with just a few sensible changes. Iíll find out if I can. Canít say when or which ocean yet, but that will come. Itís now a goal. If I can make it happen, so be it. If I cannot, so be that too. I intend to try.

    Thanks for listening.

    - Norm

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Bring her to the Caribbean .

    " It made rainbows against the sun just before it smacked me in the face", thanks for that

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Great post Norm.It needs to be read by everybody with a restoration project.I hope we will read more about your adventures now the boat is back in action.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Welcome home Norm. There are builders who are not sailors and I respect that without a glimmer of comprehension. But a sailor I understand and know to be a real person.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks for the vicarious thrill. I'm a light-air sailor with a wee skiff, in a heavy-air place.

    You've earned the knowledge of your craft as a rebuilder and it seems she did you proud, as a sailor.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Very nice Norm, thanks for writing about it.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Quote Originally Posted by John Meachen View Post
    Great post Norm.It needs to be read by everybody with a restoration project.I hope we will read more about your adventures now the boat is back in action.
    +1!

    I loosened all the keel bolts on Looe yesterday in preparation for dropping the ballast on Sunday.

    I dream sitting up on the windward rail with the tiller and mainsheet with SWIMPAL working the genoa. I say goodnight to Looe almost every night.
    Jarndyce and Jarndyce

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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Great day, great story, great future for you all.
    "And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass." Thoreau, "Walden"

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    You've got four more big Lakes to explore....
    R
    Sleep with one eye open.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    An absolutely wonderful post Norm', thank you for starting my day with that!!!! (Were you trying to offer the post with the highest number of quotable quotes? I know you weren't but mate, that is full of gems, including:
    "the real problem with being an amateur is having standards you don’t know how to live up to", which I think many of us can readily relate to
    Larks

    ďItís impossibleĒ, said pride.
    ďItís riskyĒ, said experience.
    ďItís pointlessĒ, said reason.
    ďGive it a tryĒ, whispered the heart.

    LPBC Beneficiary

    "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great!"

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    I liked that Norm, makes me miss being out there. I love those kinda days. :^)

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    steep 20'er's !
    sounds absoloutely terrifying! to me.

    something like this?

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Great post. Wonderful.

    Kevin
    There are two kinds of boaters: those who have run aground, and those who lie about it.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks, Norm. Just ask here when you are ready for your ocean crossing - I'm sure you will find some willing crew members.



    Steven

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks Norm -- poetic, graphic, and clearly straight from the heart.

    Mike
    Visit us to see how we help people complete classic boats authentically.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thank you too Norm, I'm like chip-skiff, just a light weight craft and likely to stay that way. Your post was up with the best story telling I have read, I could feel the spray and lift as Fiddler shouldered up the swell. I think you might craft another career as a writer. I've just had a shocker of a day dealing with a whole slew of silly people and I really appreciated your post.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thank you, Norm, that's wonderful.

    I've just spent the best part of the season building instead of sailing, but I can only hope Meerkat will give me as much pleasure in her small way as Fiddler's Green gives you.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Awesome story Norm, belongs in a magazine for others to enjoy. Hope Scot or Carl sees it.
    "Bundinn er bŠtlaus maūur" Bound is boatless man.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Very good story Norm and thanks for posting it.
    The definition of stupid has got to be the belief that more guns will negate the bloodshed done with guns.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thank you Norm and Harrison Butler .
    '' You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know. ''
    Grateful Dead

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks Norm, very inspirational story.
    Yachting, the only sport where you get to be a mechanic, electrician, plumber and carpenter

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks for the kind comments everybody.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Noyes View Post

    something like this?
    Sort of like the one he's on, but not like the ones in the background!!!

    - Norm

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterSibley View Post
    Thank you ... Harrison Butler .
    Amen to that.

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thank-you Norm. This is why we are here. I too am more of a sailor than a builder or rebuilder. I have done enough of those to know my place. Your writing took me on board with you. Thank- you so much.....

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Nicely expressed, thanks! Brings to mind again David Crosby's old comment that "you can't BS the sea".
    Gerard>
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  26. #26
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thankyou Norm, I enjoyed that.

  27. #27
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thank you Norm. You have captured the emotion of a rebuild and the rebirth to sailing extremely well
    The word that come to my mind is VISCERAL
    Well done.

  28. #28
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    As usual, I agree with WhizBang.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Well done and well written, sir.
    I'm high on life. The trick is to grind it up and snort it.

  30. #30
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Thanks indeed, Norm, marvellous post.
    One problem, though, you've aggravated an itch to go back to a boat with those flappy things up there
    "The truth shall make ye fret" - Terry Pratchett

  31. #31
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Yep, great post. 30 odd years captured in one post. You are fortunate to enjoy both the building and the sailing. I enjoy working on my boat, but wouldn't have the stamina for 10 years on the hard.

  32. #32
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Beautifully told Norm.

    Thanks for putting it out there for us.
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

  33. #33
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    I haven't been sailing for months and. I . am. going. crazy. Some would say there is no difference, but still...

  34. #34
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    Go Norm, GO!

  35. #35
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    Default Re: Some thoughts and observations on sailing

    A great yarn Norm! The best part of it is that it is all true!
    Jay

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