September 30, 2009

Who Is This O Docker Character?


Oh geeze.

A week and a half into the new blog, and already the wolves are circling - testing for any sign of weakness, waiting for the campfire to flicker out.

Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has called me out. The Flemish coils of O Dock are once again under attack.

On O Dock, we take our Flemish coils very seriously. They're our coat of arms. We wear them proudly.

I suppose it's time to tell the tale of our Flemish coils and of how I came to be O Docker.

If you're familiar with the musings of SF Bay area superblogger Edward, you know who to blame. It's all Edward's fault.

I'd posted an innocent enough comment to his blog, alerting him that he was going to fall off the bloody deck wearing some silly shoes he'd bought to do the Pac Cup race. I was just trying to give him some kindly sailor to sailor advice. He was planning to make it all the way to Hawaii in those shoes. Someone had to warn him.

But signing the comment was a problem. I didn't have a Blogger ID yet so I had to make up some alias. I didn't want to use my real name because he's bigger than me and looked downright menacing in the photos he'd posted on his blog. I mean, just look at those nostrils:

Leader of the infamous O Dock raid

And he was just across the way on A Dock. He could dinghy over and do me bodily harm. Well, if he was an A Docker, I had to be - O Docker. So, that's how I signed the comment.

What I saw as an olive branch proffered, Edward took as a call to arms. I extolled the virtues of O Dock, a jealous Edward launched an attack. He organized a raiding party and breached O Dock security. Photographs were taken in anger. And posted to his blog:

But it was far worse than that. The attack was devastating. Edward had hit us below the belt - right in our Flemish coils.


Now, I don't do Flemish coils - ever. They're, somehow, too 'yachty' for me. But many of my dockmates Flemish. And this was an affront to all of us. Suddenly, they had become our Flemish coils - like it or not. Until that moment, I'd never really felt like I belonged to O Dock - it had just been somewhere I kept my boat.

But all of that had changed now. A flame had been kindled within. Off in the distance, I heard patriotic music beginning to play. Life on the dock suddenly had a new purpose. No longer would I face the cold void of the blogosphere alone and nameless. From that moment on, I was O Docker.

I'm O Docker, dammit.


September 27, 2009

Lovely Ladies of Léman

Blogger, watercolorist, and denizen of New York's Sixth Borough, Bowsprite, recently did a wonderful post on the old paddlewheel boats that preside over the waters of Lake Geneva - or Lac Léman if you're trying to impress people with your worldliness.

The truly amazing thing is how well Bowsprite - without ever actually seeing the boats - captured the grace, splendor, and general verycoolness of these stately ships - some of which are still powered by their original steam engines.

She was in a doctor's waiting room while touring another part of Switzerland (I think she's fully recovered) and spotted one of those coffee table books, presumably on the coffee table, filled with the story of the ships and lots of photos.

When I saw her post, I instantly recognized the boats as they had been part of several very happy bike trips I've taken in that part of the world (grist for other O Dock blog posts, maybe).

I dug out some photos from my last trip there - it was about five years ago - and offer them here. Click any photo for more detail.

The Montreux heading west, from the east end of the lake, after an evening thunderstorm, with the French Alps in the background.)

OK, this is supposed to be a sailing blog, and aside from the fact that Alinghi's latest sail-powered rocketship has been tearing up those waters lately, there's not much sailing relevance here. But, no matter how hard core a sailor you might be, no matter how much you despise boats that have an ugly petrochemical habit, you just may be swayed by the delicate lines and voluptuous figures of these lovely ladies.

And if you happen to be in their alpine-shaded, vineyard-bedraped neighborhood, I challenge you to resist their siren call, no matter how close you might be to the nearest pâtisserie, boulangerie, or laverie (no wait, I think that last is a laundromat, but everything sounds cool in French).

I see now that the Italie has supposedly been decommisioned, but she was very much kicking in 2004.
The steam-powered Rhône eases into the dock at Nyon, Switzerland. Do you think boat's were prettier before or after Computer-Aided Design (CAD) came along?
The first-class dining salon of the Rhône. Does your local ferry boat have a first-class dining salon with hardwood-framed upholstered seating and wood paneling? Neither does mine.
The Rhône is a very cool boat, indeed. But the absolute knockout part, if you have the slightest bit of machinery geek in you, is the original steam engine. Here's what I wrote on Bowsprite's blog, just from memory, before I dug out this photo. I remembered more brass than is actually there, but the rest is pretty right on, I think. Sorry, I was waxing lyrical - I just couldn't help myself.

The engine’s in the middle of the boat, a deck below the passengers, but in a well that’s open above. The designers knew very well what they were doing, opening the heart of the beast for all to see, like a giant brass pipe organ, playing beautiful music.

The engineers perform, as in an orchestra pit, monitoring pressure and scurrying about with oiling cans, in neat, Swiss uniforms, while the massive drive rods swing out into open space, the sparkling oil reservoirs at the bearings like diamonds.

We tend to hide our machinery today behind faceless panels that quiet the sound. But this was the machine age and no one was prouder of their machines than the Swiss.

I’m reminded of a line from Theodore Roethke:

“She moved in circles, and those circles moved.”


September 25, 2009

This Just In...

I've been hoping I could slip this into another post, but that just doesn't seem to be happening, so before things get any further along here at O Dock, I'd like to bare my soul (no pictures, please).

Occasionally, I'll say in a post or comment that I 'work for a newspaper'. While I do, lately I think some are assuming from that that I'm a newspaper writer.

I'm not.

While I've worked at newspapers for too many years, I've never been a reporter or writer. And the last thing I want to do is leave the false impression that I am one.

Reporters certainly earn their keep. It ain't like writing blog posts. You don't get to choose what you write about or when you write it. And in today's litigious minefield, the slightest mistake can be very, very costly - lawyers being much better paid than writers.

But while I'm stuck in a cubicle now, for most of my years in newspapering, I was a photographer.

I started long enough ago that the term 'photojournalist' still makes me wince a bit. I'm proud of the fact that I was a news photographer. It's a noble enough profession not to need the help of that 'journalist' nonsense at the end.

Call it what you like though, it sure as hell is fun.

A while back, a well-known blogger posted about watching a presidential motorcade go past him. He felt kinda jazzed just to see that. But imagine what it would be like to actually be in one of those motorcades - inside the secret service lines, walking down the street with the President.

Of the United States.

You get to do cool stuff like that as a news photographer. You don't even have to be a photojournalist.

I began as a stringer at one of our major (and now defunct) wire services just as the old teletype days were gasping their last. I got to see the very end of that world that is depicted in those awful newspaper movies of the '30s and '40s. Teletype operators, green eye shades, five bells for a bulletin.

Thunka thunka thunka - the teletype comes alive.

And then the rat-a-tat clatter of the keys.

And then that line that still gives me goosebumps:

........From the wires of United Press International.......

Yeah, for a while, that was my life.

Radio wire, A-wire, B-wire, State.

Staking out courthouses.

Waiting all day in the rain.

Pressbox lunches.

Club sandwiches at midnight after the game.

Running film back to the bureau to beat the damned AP.

Always, the damned AP.

And then there was the night Kate Smith sang God Bless America and the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup at the loudest game in NHL history. Guess who had the only frame of the winning goal?

The fellows over at the damned AP were crying in their beer that night!



September 22, 2009

Support Your Local River

London blogger, Captain JP, has encouraged us to celebrate World Rivers Day, which is on September 27th this year. As it turns out, I live just a few blocks from one of our country's great rivers - the American - and it's one that should be celebrated.

One of my favorite morning walks is across an old bridge, now closed to car traffic, that leads from the river's tranquility to my local coffee shop. I could make coffee at home, but this is really just an excuse to walk across the high bridge and stare down into the river's hypnotic waters.

It's those tranquil, innocent-looking waters that were responsible for one of the biggest upheavals in American history. They kicked off one of the greatest human migrations ever - for better or worse.

For not 30 miles upstream of my favorite bridge, and only about 160 years ago, an observant fellow looking down into those same hypnotic waters noticed some bright yellow metallic specks. Things around here just haven't been the same ever since.

Something the ensuing years have taught us is that if you're trying to preserve the natural state and ecosystems of one of the world's most spectacularly beautiful rivers, it's best not to conduct hydraulic mining on a massive scale for a hundred years, dump thousands of tons of mercury and other toxic chemicals therein, and build dozens of hydroelectric dams thereon.

Ah, but this is America, land of opportunity.

Despite all of that, though, much of the river has recovered almost miraculously, and remains one of the world's premier destinations for rafters and kayakers.



Photo by James Rogers

This river has also managed to wend its way into my own life. By joining forces with the larger Sacramento River, it has contrived to carve out a rather pleasant little bay down by San Francisco for me to sail my boat in.

And that spot where it joins the Sacramento River became a convenient place for them to build a town large enough to support a newspaper, so I have someplace to work where I can earn the money that lovely boat always seems to be extorting from me.

But what the river is really famous for is the single most significant invention in the history of mankind:

Blue jeans.

What? This river gave us blue jeans? Well, yes, sort of.

The network of rivers and oceans that made it possible to reach this place by water brought a river of commerce through San Francisco. They didn't call it the gold rush for nothing. And since San Franciscans are naturally smarter than average people, some of them figured out that there might be an easier way to get rich from this gold rush thing other than digging with a pick and shovel in 100-degree heat all day.

If thousands of people from New York and New Jersey and Rhode Island wanted to do that, those San Franciscans thought, maybe there was some money to be made in the pick and shovel business. And of course, you can't be out there swinging a pick and shovel in 100-degree heat all naked - you would need some sturdy clothes that were up to the task - things like workshirts and hats and boots and, well, trousers. Good, beefy trousers that didn't fall apart at the seams.

And who do you suppose was the most resourceful San Francisco trouser salesman of all? No, no, not Calvin Klein. It was a dry goods merchant named Levi Strauss.

They still sell his trousers here today, up and down the river.


Sailing In Philadelphia

As this is a new blog, some of my first posts will try to explain who I am, where I come from, and how I got caught up in this whole sailing thing.

I grew up in Philadelphia.

Sailing was something we read about in books. Very old books. I could say it was something other people did, but in a city of two million people, I knew exactly no one who ever went sailing.

I knew what a dingy optimist was, but not an Optimist dinghy.

We shot some hoops. We'd swat a tennis ball around the public courts with some old, wooden racquets for a while, sporting our finest tennis blue jeans. We played cards and went to the Wayne Avenue Playhouse - the closest thing we had to an Arte Cinema, where we'd watch Fellini and W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.

You knew the Wayne Avenue Playhouse was cool because it was most famous for a single empty coke bottle that went rattling down the concrete floor, kicked about by willing patrons like a mophead in a mosh pit, providing a vaguely musical accompaniment to whatever was flickering up on the faded, tattered screen.

But at no time, ever, under any circumstances, was there even a passing reference to sailing.

We had a few rivers. On one of those, some crusty, ivy-covered fellows went rowing. But sailing? Huh? Suggesting that we go sailing on a nice, Saturday afternoon would have been like calling up your dudes to go panning for gold.

So, it's been very late in my life that I've become aware of sailboats, of the fact that real people can actually own them and sail them, and of youth sailing programs. Damn, I wish I could have done that when I was a kid.

Because the very first time I was on a sailing dinghy, I got this little smile in my belly. This was more fun than you were supposed to be able to have on the cheap. I mean this thing didn't have any motor, you didn't have to put gas in it, you just had to work the ropes and the steering and you were off.

If you're reading sailing blogs, you probably already know what I'm talking about. You probably already know that little smile in the belly. What the heck is that, anyway?

I like riding a bike. A lot. I've taken whole vacations on a bike. To Europe. Up and over the alps. I can get into a special frame of mind on a bike that is magic in its own way.

Holding a nice cadence on a warm, spring day, along the narrow road that's chiseled into the cliff high above Lake Maggiore's sparkling waters, while the Fiat and Peugeot drivers tap out greetings with their horns as they swing past, a tasty lunch of penne al salmone waiting for you at a lakeside trattoria ahead, can be very cool indeed.

Ah, but it's not like sailing.

I'd like to explore that little smile in the belly as this blog unfolds. I'm going to find out what that is if it's the last thing I do. But I'll probably need some help from you to figure it all out.

Do you have a smile in the belly?


A Note Of Thanks

Yesterday was a lot of fun for me. I hope for you, too. We did get a little silly trying to run up the comments totals, but I'm not sure there's anything wrong with being a little silly.

On O Dock, it will be perfectly acceptable to be a little silly. You might say I do dress down Friday almost every day of the week.

Thanks to all who stopped by or left a comment. No really, I mean that.

And a special thanks to Mr. Tillerman who got things off to a rousing start with a great shoutout post. That offered me a brief glimpse into the potential a blog has for reaching people. After his post, I watched the sitemeter stats like a kid playing his first pinball machine. The global reach of his audience is truly amazing.

Within minutes, there were visitors from Europe, Scandinavia, Estonia, Australia, the UK, Africa, and even New Jersey - my former homeland. I wonder, would someone from Estonia get my twisted sense of humor?

I have no delusions of ever attracting a readership like Tillerman's. I'd really just like a slightly broader platform than the comments page allows to trade ideas and thoughts with the folks whose blogs I've been following. And hopefully, some new friends will find something to brighten their day here, too.

I'd like to try a few things with this blog that I haven't seen done too much - some of them goofy, others a bit more sober. Tell me what you like and what you don't. I can be a bit dense, so sometimes don't even realize it when I've had a good dressing down. Even on dress down Fridays.

And it probably won't surprise you that I'll try to be responsive in the comments page. Gotta keep those totals up.


September 1, 2009

The Pseudoblog

I've been gently persuaded by some folks to start writing a blog - mainly by a bunch of irate bloggers who are fed up with me monopolizing the comments pages on their blogs.

So this blog could be considered a public service of sorts. If I'm busy writing posts here, I'll have less time to be putting a lot of wise-butted comments on all of those other blogs. And I'll also be giving those other bloggers a chance to get some well-earned revenge.

You see, the neat thing about leaving disruptive comments without actually having a blog of your own is that the blogger has no way to get even. They can try to respond to your wiseacre remarks, but that just creates more of a disruption on their own blog. So, after doing some deep soul searching, I've decided to man up to my responsibilities and give those other bloggers a way to fight back. It's going to be rough - I'll probably come out of this bruised and beat up - but it's only fair.

I undertake a blog with a distinct handicap - I don't know boo about anything.

Most of the sailing and water bloggers who I've been tormenting for the past year are experts - or nearly experts - at something. Despite all of the fooling around and goofing, each one has something they really know about.

Carol Anne is an expert on the mechanics of the English language. She's probably one of the few who will have noticed that I should have used 'whom' at the beginning of the preceding paragraph.

Tillerman is well-respected in the Laser community - he may not finish every regatta at the top of the fleet, but he's been sailing Lasers long enough and hard enough that he can write authoritatively about his sport.

(He's also the powerful Godfather of the sailblogging community who mysteriously moved from New Jersey to Rhode Island, where he keeps a low profile. As he presided over the recent wedding of his son at a posh New England yacht club, representatives of US Sailing were taking license numbers in the parking lot. Be careful what you say about him.)

Bonnie is an accomplished kayaker and a spark plug in the New York paddling community - she's well connected and knows what's going on. And on top of that, she knows how to grow basil. That last part just blows me away.

Captain JP is our man about town in London. Few events of note that occur on or around the Thames escape his observant eye. He holds the current world record for the sailing blog with the lowest incidence of the first person singular personal pronoun.

Greg Andkris is supremely talented at making connections in his community. In just his first year sailing on the Williamette, he's on a first name basis with nearly the entire Portland Fire Department.

Joe Rouse is one of the world's foremost authorities on fish.

And if you want to know almost anything about sailing, from how to destroy an aqualift muffler to how to prepare for one of the world's most grueling fishing regattas, who else would you consult than superblogger Edward?

I have no such expertise. I have a boat that I sail on San Francisco Bay whenever I can, which isn't very often because I live 90 miles away from it and spend three out of four boat weekends just trying to keep it in good enough shape to sail.

Since there's not much sailing content in my life to chronicle, this will be a kind of pseudoblog, then. When something in another sailing blog generates the usual scattered thoughts in my head, I'll curb the temptation to blab all over the comments page of a real blog, where it would bug a lot of people. Instead, I'll try to get a post up here. It seems like the only humane thing to do. Occasionally, I do have an original idea of my own, so I may write those up, too.

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat, and puns.

Let the Pseudoblog begin.