December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings


Season's greetings from O Dock.

Once again, it's time to slow down a bit, take stock, and uncork the good stuff.

Before you accuse me of uncorking a bit too much of the good stuff, I should explain that the photo above is another of our alternative Christmas trees, which I described in a similar post last year.

Briefly, my wife and I decided some time back that traditional Christmas trees are boring and that you don't really need to start with a tree at all to get into the holiday spirit.

So, we started with the driftwood remnants of what must have been a tree at some time, and took a minimalist approach. I like to think that this is a Festivus Pole done right. If you're wondering, that's our Norwegian Blue Parrot (beautiful plumage) perched just above the star, completing the theme of natural, renewable elements.

Despite what you may think, he's just sleeping.

While it is my habit to wax philosophical at this time of year, this is one year I'd prefer to see just leave with as little notice as possible. Things have been something of a mess at work, family obligations have been difficult, and there's been very little time for sailing or blogging. We're hoping that will improve next year.

I hope things have been better for you.

I'll leave you with this impressive rendition of some Tchaikovsky that should be familiar to anyone who's been in an elevator over the past few weeks.

This particular performance is by two folks who have uncorked quite a bit of the good stuff. I'll let you decide if their glasses are half empty or half full.


December 13, 2011



(REUTERS/Tim Wimborne)                   

I think that I shall never see
A word as troubling as syzygy.

Though it may speak of celestial alignment,
Speaking it's a tough assignment.

The s and z, and then the g
Are in too close proximity

For tongues to tackle tactfully,
Too tight together to try, these three.

And having three (or just two) y's
In such cramped space is none too wise.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can say syzygy.

Apologies to Pandabonium, FrogmaJoyce Kilmer,
and to anyone who made the mistake of reading this.


October 16, 2011

My First Time


This was the first time for both of us.

I didn't know if she was more nervous or I was.

Being the guy, I couldn't admit that, of course. I had to carry my bluff as best I could. And then, there's only so much you can figure out from reading and talk. At some point, you just have to get naked and trust your instincts.

Would I be terrible? Would I be great? Would I fumble clumsily and make a mess of things? I couldn't know, but I did know this was something I had wanted to do for a very long time. And I was with someone who meant a lot to me, and finally, she was saying yes.

But I was soon amazed and delighted to learn that the little Laser performed just as the introduction to sailing book said it would. My wife and I cruised around the little cove for a whole hour without either of us getting dumped in the icy water. The tacks and even the jibes were just like in the book. Pulling in the sheet made the boat take off like a rocket. Turning into the wind slowed us down just as quick.

I had been thinking about sailing ever since that day we got swept out onto the lake and it took me an hour of sweating to paddle our little rubber dinghy back to shore. All around us, there had been jetskis and powerboats zooming around, but that wasn't for me. The cool guys were sailing - getting wherever they wanted to go by their wits and by mastering the forces of nature (oh alright, so I was a naive and romantic idiot back then).

I'd run out and gotten one of those "Yes, Anyone Can Learn to Sail" books and devoured it in a few days. In my typically obsessive way, I memorized all the funny-sounding sailing terms and boat part names, even though I had only vague notions of what any of them were. I studied the theory, learned about Mr. Bernouilli, and, in my head, was rounding up and bearing off and pointing and footing and easing and trimming and tacking and jibing until I couldn't stand it anymore.

Now, here on the water, all of the book's funny little arrows and diagrams were finally making sense. I could feel the power of the sail as the wind caught it just right. The sheet and the tiller were suddenly alive - not just ink drawings on a page. This was a peculiar kind of magic - unlike anything I'd ever felt before. The wind and the water and the boat and I were all part of the same carnival ride. Was the wind steering or was I?

I was dancing a delicious pas de deux with an unseen partner who could toss me over at her whim. I felt like I was somewhere I shouldn't be allowed to be. But I didn't want to leave.

Of course, I didn't realize at the time how much we'd lucked out with a steady, seven-knot breeze - just enough to keep us moving, but not enough to cause any trouble. As I'd discover, there would be plenty of opportunity in the years ahead to learn about trouble.

Way too soon, our rental hour was up. We headed back and sailed the Laser right up onto the beach. For a minute or two, I couldn't catch my breath. I felt like I'd just guided the Space Shuttle home. There was a little buzz in my head - a little glow. What the heck was that, anyway?

What started in a little cove on Lake Tahoe that day, some thirty years ago now, would be something we'd keep for the rest of our lives. I had no idea what doors had just been opened for us, the places they would lead to, or the things they would let us see. But never again would I stand on a shore and wonder what it was like to be 'out there'. Now, I would go and find out for myself.

If you're reading this, you probably already know the seductive draw of sailing - the feeling that as soon as you get back, you're already thinking about the next time.

I started thinking about all of this again the other day while reading a Tillerman post on learning to sail. For most of us, the best way to start out (and the safest) is to join a class and have an expert guide us through the awkward beginnings. But there have always been the adventurous and the crazy among us who prefer reading the theory and trying to figure things out on our own. Takes all kinds, I guess.

No matter how we get started, though, I've always wondered what exactly it is that gets stirred the first time we sail a boat on our own - the first time we feel that delicate balance between tiller and sheet. Why do some of us develop that addiction we can never explain to those who don't? Is every sail a subliminal quest to recapture the initial magic?

Do you remember your first time?


September 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Google


Do you giggle when you google?
Do you doodle when you google?
Do the noodles when you google
Boil over when you google?
Does the Google fill your noodle
More than food'll when you google?
Do you giggle when you google?

Or on strudel when you google,
Do you nibble when you google?
Do you scarf down all the strudel
Without scruple when you google?
And loosen up your belt
A notch or twoodle when you google?
Do you giggle when you google?

Do you tipple when you google?
Take a sipple when you google?
Pour a tottle when you google
From the bottle when you google?
Does the room begin to wiggle,
Do you wobble when you google?
Do you giggle when you google?

Do you cuddle when you google,
With your snuggles when you google?
And your snuggles, when you google,
Do you tickle, when you google?
Do you try to get your snuggles
In the moodle when you google?
Do you giggle when you google?


September 18, 2011

Proof That I Am Famous


Back in the days when offices had water coolers, one of the oldest water cooler jokes was this:

I looked up 'idiot' in the dictionary, and there was a picture of Fred.

(Where 'Fred', was the name of one of the office wags who happened to be standing around the water cooler.)

Get it? The little pictures they put next to definitions in the dictionary are chosen to be so iconic that if they used Fred's picture next to 'idiot', then....

Well okay, no one ever said water cooler jokes were very funny. Maybe that's why hardly any offices have water coolers anymore. And come to think of it, how many of us have an unabridged Funk & Wagnalls on our desk anymore? Or even an abridged Funk & Wagnalls?

Mr. Google has pretty much done away with the popularity of printed dictionaries. But Mr. Google has continued the tradition of posting iconic little pictures for practically anything you might want to google.

Sure, if you search Google images, there will be a gazillion photos for almost any search, but only the three or four most iconic of those show up when you're searching the whole web for something.

If you search for 'anchor', for example, Mr. Google will show you these iconic images of anchors:

Note that almost none of those looks like the kind of anchor a real sailor would be likely to have on their boat today. But they are the most perfect representations that Mr. Google could find of what the word 'anchor' means to most people. I think that's what iconic means, anyway. And Mr. Google is tireless in his search for the most perfect, the most iconic images.

So, why do I bring this up?

I thought you'd never ask.

While trundling (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls) through Sitemeter the other day to see if anyone is still reading this blog, I made a remarkable discovery. Someone had found this blog by searching merely for Flemish coil.

So, what the hey, I thought, I'll try doing that same Google search to see if I'm on the 27th or 28th page of hits for Flemish coil. In the course of western civilization, after all, there have been other references to Flemish coils besides the ones in this blog and other photos besides my Blogger profile photo:

And, what the hey, indeed!

I was shocked - shocked, I say - to see the results!

According to Mr. Google (who is never wrong), that very profile photo - photographed on location right here on O Dock - is the second most iconic photo of a Flemish coil in the entire universe:

Do you understand the significance of that?

Since Oprah is no longer on the air, recognition by Mr. Google is the most authoritative acknowledgement that one can have of one's standing in the world!

The once ridiculed Flemish coils of O Dock - and, in particular, my Flemish coil - have finally assumed their rightful place in the entire galaxy of Flemish coils. When it comes to Flemish coils, the coils of O Dock now speak for all the world!

If you still haven't grasped the importance of this, consider that I've just used four exclamation marks in the past six paragraphs. And how often does that happen?

I'm still reeling from all of this. I'm struggling to maintain balance. I'm desperately seeking that inner peace that has guided me through so many of life's overwhelming moments.

How will I cope with this sudden international recognition? Will it affect the tenor of this blog? Will I remain the down-to-earth, humble person that I have always been? Will I continue to ask tedious rhetorical questions like this?

How could I have guessed that a casual reference I made to Flemish coils in the comments page of a now silent sailing blog - lo, so many years ago - would one day lead to such fame?

At long last, I now know there is a God.

And that He uses The Google.


September 2, 2011

August 17, 2011



You just never know where the next blog post is coming from.

After not finding much time for blogging or much of anything else in quite a while, I decided to get away for a day with my wife this past weekend, so we drove up to Lake Tahoe.

While sitting at one of our favorite lakeside restaurants, which overlooks a small marina, what shimmering vision should appear across the Lake, headed right for us, but the semi-mythical Thunderbird, a 55-foot mahogany speedboat that has been the queen of the lake since it was commissioned by an eccentric local gazillionaire in 1939. There may be bigger and faster boats on the lake today, and there are certainly more elegant or more graceful ones, but none comes even close to the downright badass chutzpah of Thunderbird.

Okay, this may be a sailing blog, but think of Thunderbird more as a cultural oddity than a big power boat. And cultural oddities are something I feel comfortable blogging about.

I had never seen Thunderbird up close, and for most of her seventy-something years, most common riff-raff like me haven't either, which has only added to her mystery and mystique. She has been until recently in private hands and very well sequestered.

To say that the peculiar recluse who had her built was wealthy would be like saying Larry Ellison is wealthy. Born into a family whose fortunes originated in the Gold Rush (which is about as far back as modern history goes hereabouts), George Whittell, Jr. at one point had the opportunity to purchase 40,000 acres of Tahoe lakefront property - including 27 miles of shoreline.

So he did.

Today, shoreline property at Lake Tahoe doesn't come available often and when it does, it might be a quarter or half-acre at a time. And the cost? Well, if you have to ask...

Which is to say that George Whittell lived in a different age. Like today, some of the absurdly wealthy liked to flaunt their riches, but in the 1930's it seems they were free to find more absurd ways to flaunt it. George, for example, liked to keep pets. But it just wouldn't do to have ordinary pets like we riff-raff.

George befriended the lion tamer of the Barnum and Bailey circus and went off to Africa to get some proper pets - you know, giraffes and elephants and lions and cheetahs - which he brought home to his modest country estate near San Francisco (the little 40,000 acre spot at Tahoe was just a summer place). George liked tooling around Tahoe in one of his Duesenbergs (he had six), with the top down and his pet lion perched with its front paws on the windshield. No, I swear, I'm not making this up.

So, what kind of perky little runabout would George order to get to his new place up at Tahoe? You can bet he wasn't picking something out of the Bayliner catalogue. Those who were merely wealthy at the time would have a custom boat builder like Gar Wood knock out a little 30-footer and be done with it. But not George.

Like his elephants and his lions and his Duesenbergs, George would need something designed to impress. He had arguably the most famous power boat racer and designer of the time, John L. Hacker, create something twice the size of a merely extravagant boat. It was powered by twin V-12 550 hp engines and capable of 60 miles per hour. (Big powerboats don't go knots, they go miles per hour.)

If you think the boat looks something like the art deco airplanes of the thirties, that's no coincidence. George also owned a DC-2 airliner - the equivalent of having your own 737 today - and asked that the boat's shape and finish resemble the plane. A 100-foot boat house was built on George's estate just for Thunderbird and a 600-foot tunnel blasted out of the rock to connect the boathouse with the main house so that George and his guests wouldn't be seen coming and going.

George must have soon tired of his plaything. When the boat was sold to casino magnate Bill Harrah years later, the engines had run only 83 hours. Harrah used the boat as his personal yacht for entertaining the glitterati and showbiz types like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr, who visited his casino, adding further to the legend of Thunderbird.

So here I was, suddenly, after years of reading and hearing about and catching occasional glimpses of her on the water, finally with a chance to see her up close. And what was my impression?

Well, she sure is impressive. I mean enormous, with acres of immaculately varnished mahogany brightwork and shiny, polished stainless steel and chromed metalwork everywhere. But, somehow, I felt like I was being played. This was a boat with very little purpose other than to impress - to make people take notice of its owner. Was it beautiful or elegant? Would it be as much fun to 'drive' as a nice sailboat? Would I want this thing if someone were to give it to me? I'm not so sure.

I was reminded of Maltese Falcon, the immense sailing machine built by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins. That boat was built mainly to be 'the largest privately-owned sailing yacht in the world'. Perkins and the Maltese Falcon project are described in a well-written book by Newsweek writer David Kaplan. Like George, Perkins must have soon lost interest in his giant playtoy after it was created and everyone had associated the boat with Perkins' name. He sold it three years later.

The title of Kaplan's book is Mine's Bigger.


What do you think? Is Thunderbird a work of nautical art? Or is it just a bit too much?


August 15, 2011

Picture Quiz


Where am I?

Well, yes, you might well ask that since I haven't posted here in over two months. But that's another question involving an all-consuming project at work, and some all-consuming problems we've had with a sick family member. All that time I used to have to write blog posts has been mostly all consumed, lately. Hopefully, that will change soon.

But, what I really mean is where was I when I took this photo, and just what is this a photo of?

Is this an early prototype for the Oscar-Mayer wienermobile?

Is it a vintage New Jersey diner?

Is it the secret love nest where Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra used to tryst?

Or, is it the biggest, baddest Wurlitzer jukebox ever made?

It certainly has some stories to tell.

Someone reading this blog should recognize it (assuming anyone is still reading this blog). It's been photographed almost as much as the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you think you know the answer, write it on the back of a Hallberg-Rassy 352 and send it over to O Dock. Or, better yet, leave a comment here.

There will be a follow-up post with more pictures and a thougtful narrative that draws insightful life lessons from a chance encounter with this, uh, whatever it is.

Now, let's not always see the same hands.


June 8, 2011

Picturesque Speech

goes by
without me
thinking how
much life tends
to go around in circles and how much
I'd rather be sailing on my boat

on the rolling sea      on the rolling sea     on the rolling sea     on the rolling sea     on the rolling sea
                 on the rolling sea          on the rolling sea        on the rolling sea        on the rolling sea  

Instead, here I am, stuck

in my cube in my cube in my cube in my cube
in my cube in my cube in my cube in my cube
in my                                                          .
in my                                                          .
in my                                                          .
in my                                              my cube
in my                                              my cube
in my                      _  _                  my cube
in my                      O O                  my cube
in my                        >                    my cube
in my                        o                     my cube
in my                                              my cube
in my                                              my cube
in my cube in my cube in my cube in my cube
in my cube in my cube in my cube in my cube

day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day,

writing these tediou.....zzzzzzz, writing these tediou.....zzzzzzz, writing these tediou.....zzzzzzz,
um, maybe some coffee will help.....writing these tedious

reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports
reports        reports        reports        reports        reports        reports

that no one will ever read.  

and wise men have tried to
tell us over the years, of course, that
life moves in cycles and in circles, that we
do not travel along a simple, straight path, reaching
our destinations and achieving our goals in a direct way.
We must suffer interruptions and diversions along the way.
That way is bumpy and frought with peril. There are dangers
and demons and dragons to dispatch before we may triumph.
As I am learning, into every life some spreadsheets must fall.
Long distance mariners and pilots know that the shortest way
around the globe is an arc, and not the straight path that the
unsuspecting would suspect. So, I am learning to put up with
the detours, to negotiate the potholes and the bumps in
the road. This time spent in purgatory will serve its
purpose, will make the sweet days that must
surely lie ahead that much sweeter, and
may, perhaps, yet turn me into that
most tedious thing of all, a


May 19, 2011

Sailing Blog Writer


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my blog?
I've been down for weeks, working like a dog,
It's nothing novel, but my boss is here.
I'm on the job, but I want to be a sailing blog writer,
Sailing blog writer.

It's the dirty story of a crew of eight
That's been cut to four, so no time to waste.
Wish that I were working for the Daily Mail,
But I'm working here and I want to be a sailing blog writer,
Sailing blog writer.

Sailing blog writer (sailing blog writer).

I'm a thousand miles from San Francisco Bay,
No sails for me even though it's May.
The days get longer, I don't like this style,
Maybe I should quit cause I want to be a sailing blog writer,
Sailing blog writer.

Today we're sending off some long-time friends,
Will I ever see any of them again?
Too many empty desks, too many empty chairs,
How I need a break and I want to be a sailing blog writer,
Sailing blog writer.

Sailing blog writer (sailing blog writer).


April 10, 2011

Mr. Neptune Visits O Dock

I'm down at the boat for the first time in a few weeks, doing the usual maintenance and wine drinking.

We came down late Friday night after work and, arriving in the dark, noticed that something was amiss with one of our dock lines. Not thinking much of it, as there are four other lines securing the boat to good old O Dock, we turned in for the night.

In the light of day, I took a closer look at the 5/8 inch line and discovered this:

Hokey smokes! No noticeable chafe two months ago and now the line was almost shattered.

Then, I looked across the fairway and saw this:

Yikes! Where a finger pier and two boats had been, there was now a big open space and some orange caution cones placed on the dock.

And then that storied little light bulb we read so much about in unimaginative writing went on in my foggy brain.

The Tsunami!

I wrote in a post just last week about how easy it is for those of us who live thousands of miles from Japan to turn away from news reports and return to our comfortable lives. And here was Mr. Neptune reminding me in that playful, ironic way he has that it's really just one big ocean. What happens in one little corner of it, eventually, in one way or another, affects all of us. This may have been just a tiny ripple compared to what happened in Japan, but the message was there.

The wave had crossed 5000 miles of Pacific Ocean, and then another 10 miles of San Francisco Bay. It curled around a rock breakwater, through the marina entrance, and another few hundred yards right up to O Dock, and practically snapped a dock line that had a breaking strength of 10,000 pounds.

But Mr. Neptune wasn't quite through with me. He had another lesson up his watery sleeve.

It seems Mr. Neptune has been reading this blog and all of those wise-butted comments I've been sprinkling across the blogosphere. And, apparently, he has not been pleased. I mentioned that there were four other lines tying my boat to O Dock. Mr. Neptune left all of those untouched.

There was, however, something unusual about the line that he destroyed.

If you're reading this, you probably know that signature photo I use of a Flemish coil. It's not a photo I just swiped from the internet. I actually wound that coil on one of my docklines just so I could make the photo for my Blogger profile.

After I took the photo, I was so pleased with my handiwork that I left the coil in place on O Dock and it has been there for the past two years.

So, which line do you think it was that Mr. Neptune travelled 5000 miles to single out and destroy?

Should I take this as a sign?


April 8, 2011

To Caulk Or Not To Caulk


Sometimes I think Laser sailors have no imagination at all.

A while back, Tillerman was lamenting having too many regattas and not enough weekends to fit them all in. He asked his readers to come up with excuses for not sailing so he'd have some time for other things.

Frankly, I think the pressure to free up some weekends was coming from another member of his household, but that's just my own theory. And please, don't ask how I arrived at that theory.

But how vast is the sea that separates Laser sailors from those of us with keelboats!

For a keelboat sailor, finding excuses for not going sailing is as easy as falling off a Laser. I have a keelboat, and, because of that boat, I hardly ever go sailing.

In fact, there are some keelboat sailors who never sail at all. They are on the dock every weekend working on one thing or another that needs either fixing or 'preventative' maintenance.

Before I got a boat I thought 'preventative maintenance' meant work you do to keep stuff from breaking. Now I know the only thing it prevents is me from sailing.

The problem is I'm outnumbered. Fighting on the side of good, it's just me. But my enemies are many - an evil axis of rust, corrosion, UV damage, delamination, electrolysis, metal fatigue, and all sorts of other gnarly things with fangs and teeth that go drip in the night.

For many in my position, maintaining a keelboat in itself becomes the primary focus of life. They become gurus - not of sail trim or boatspeed or racing tactics, but of plumbing, electronics tinkering, rig tuning, and diesel engine karma.

Eventually, a hierarchy develops on the docks among those who never sail - the novices (like me), the journeymen, and the masters. But above them - at the very top -  is the most holy and sanctified dock yoda of all, the ultimate high priest of boat maintenance - the Varnish Master.

Every dock has its resident Varnish Master. He is aloof and deigns not speak with the unwashed (guess who). He bestrides the dock like a colossus. His gait is measured and steady. His gaze straight ahead.

Like any other high priest, the Varnish Master is generally a quiet, contemplative individual of few words, closely in touch with both his inner conciousness and the spiritual world. Certain practices of his art may be performed only during specific phases of the moon and alignment of the planets.

Did you know, for example, that critical stages of the varnishing process may commence only two hours after sunrise on days when the relative humidity is below 40 per cent, the temperature below 80 degrees, and the wind not above eight knots and out of the east - the traditional direction of the Epifanes factory?

Varnish Masters serve an elaborate apprenticeship, progressing through ever finer levels of varnish awareness, which are curiously analogous to the grades of wet and dry sandpaper that most of us laymen find so unfathomable.

Eventually, the Varnish Master enters a transcendant state wherein he is at last able to hear the sound of 800-grit sanding.

I realized long ago that I do not have the rigorous mental discipline that is required of a Varnish Master. I have accepted my lot and am content with annual applications of Cetol. But, please, do not reveal this to anyone. I suffer enough humiliation in life as it is.

My Cetol  requires no special gift or intellectual refinement to apply, no incantation of holy texts, no cultivation of sacred brushes, no careful meterological observation, no selfless dedication to a life of endless labor and spartan deprivation. To the Varnish Master, my Cetol is the symbol of all that is base, rotten, uncultured, and morally bankrupt in life.

But in the harsh marine environment, I cling to it for survival.

In a way, Cetol is the touchstone of my slipshod approach to boat maintenenance. I'm just trying to get by - to put off the inevitable for another season. I still hold onto hopes, however slim, of sailing occasionally. And that makes me feel guilty whenever I do manage to sail. I know that somewhere, in the deep recesses of my boat, rust is winning another battle. And it is like any mortal battle - the weak and the unprepared and the uncaulked shall perish.

But unlike the unfortunate Laser sailor, I, at least, can find an excuse to not go sailing whenever I wish.


April 1, 2011

A Kernel Of Truth


You must admit that popcorn is one of the great miracles of life.

Scientists know all this absurdly complex stuff about the structure of matter, right down to subatomic particles, but no one has any idea how popcorn works. If anything, a dried kernel of corn, when tossed into a boiling pot of oil, should just burn up or, at best, explode into something you have to scrape off the ceiling.

There's simply no rational explanation for how it turns into those neat little puffs of food that are unlike anything else.

I think God made popcorn when he was either very drunk or absolutely bored out of his mind. It's really one of his best jokes.

So why do I bring this up?

Well, Carol Anne has asked us to write something about food and this is the best I could do. You don't want to hear me sermonizing about sauces, semolina, and saucisses, do you? I don't know the difference between a soufflé and a sous-chef.

It's much better that I stick with something that I know - or that I used to know.

I was munching on some microwave popcorn last week and stopped in mid-bowl (and with popcorn, you know how hard it is to stop in mid-bowl). What the heck was this yucky stuff I was shoveling down, I thought. The crud tasted so much of chemicals that I started thinking back to the halcyon days of my youth when I was actually pretty darned good at making real popcorn.

If you think about it, the sad state of popcorn today is really emblematic of everything that is wrong with us. It is said we don't make anything in this country, anymore. Well, we certainly don't make popcorn. When did it become too hard to measure out some kernels, put some honest to goodness vegetable oil in a pot, set the flame properly, choose some seasonings, and get busy?

Must everything come pre-measured, pre-packaged, sealed in cellophane, drowning in diacetyl artificial butter flavoring, and laced with tocopherols (whatever the heck tocopherols are)?

Are we no longer masters of our own destinies? Can we not pop our own corn?

I marched myself over to the market (well, OK, I drove there), picked up some popping corn (they had only two kinds on the shelf, next to the 342 kinds of microwave popcorn), and vowed that I would start saving America right then and there, one kernel at a time.

Back home, I measured.

I poured.

I waited for my three test kernels.

I spread to the critical one-kernel depth.

I moderated the flame to perfection.

And dammit, I popped!

And, perhaps most important of all, I removed from heat at just the critical moment. No burned and pungent embarrassment for me, thank you.

I may now proudly report that I am once again master of my own kernels!

But what about you? Are you a slave to that wimpy, oily bag of pre-packaged mediocrity? Are you content to let the heirs of someone named Orville call the shots for you from their power base somewhere in Nebraska?

Throw off your chains! Take charge of your life and season to taste!

And please, if you know where I can find that spicy, yellow-colored popcorn seasoning I used to get when I was a kid, tell me, please.

That's still driving me nuts.


March 31, 2011

The Stuff That Never Moves


This remarkable photo needs no caption.

We all know where it was taken.

We all know how a 25-foot keelboat ended up on the roof of a two-story building.

After weeks of watching video of natural catastrophe we never imagined possible, we are too numbed to be surprised or shocked by such sights anymore.

But most of us can turn away from the screen and ease back into the comfort of our daily lives. We can let ourselves be distracted by more recent news - from Libya, Syria, and from the gas station pumps in our home towns.

In Japan, though, there is no escape. Even if you managed to avoid physical injury, even if there was no personal tragedy in your immediate family, even if your home is still intact, the industrial, economic, and political bedrock of Japan have shifted as much as the geological footings that caused the terrible quake.

Those aftershocks will shake the country for months and years to come.

Over on the Sweet Bluesette blog, Pandabonium is starting to give us a taste of what 'ordinary' life is like in his shaken homeland. Far enough from the primary centers of the quake's worst damage, he is still close enough to be surrounded by its effects everywhere he turns.

In his latest post, a simple trip to see if his favorite Italian restaurant is still open turns into an opportunity to show us how daily life has been disrupted for thousands of Japanese who weren't struck directly by the quake or the tsunami.

This followed an earlier post where he described how such widespread trauma can affect one's mental state and the emotional tenor of an entire nation.

As I commented there, living through such times must make you wonder if our journey through life isn't just a perpetual search to find the stuff that never moves - the things that we can count on no matter what happens to us. Most of us will navigate life's waters without ever suffering a shipwreck, so we tend not to think about what we will use for a liferaft if a tsunami overtakes us.

If you haven't already, check out Panda's blog for a fresh take on what these frightening times look like through the eyes of someone who is there.


March 24, 2011

Two Relatively Unrelated Stories


I should have been all over this story more than a week ago when it was first reported in The Examiner, San Francisco's ultimate source of truthiness in journalism.

(Intrepid blogger Doc Haagen Dazs beat me to it).

But, there are really two stories to tell here and I have been too swamped at work to write this and to figure out how to make the two stories work together in one blog post.

The first and most important story, of course, is the one that lets me thump my chest and say, "Ahah, I told you so!"

You may recall that about a year ago, in a ground-breaking post so long and so long-winded that it required its own intermission, I rambled on about what the future of long-distance travel might be if fuel prices continued to rise. I came to the unlikely conclusion that travellers of the future might actually return to crossing oceans the way that oceans were crossed for centuries - in sailing ships.

I even ended with this pithy paragraph of prophetic prose:

And, ironically, was there something useful and practical after all in those preposterous boats at Valencia? Will carbon fiber multihulls and high-tech solid wing sails be the technology we'll need for long-distance travel when the pump finally runs dry?

Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, that article in The Examiner last week. Well, it seems someone is proposing to the San Francisco Port Authority that the key to slashing costs for San Francisco Bay ferry service is to switch to high-tech sailing catamarans, with solid wings modeled after the one used on Larry Ellison's AC 33 boat.

Once again, with wisdom bordering on clairvoyance, O Dock was right on the money!

Of course, the odds of this actually happening anytime soon are about as good as Larry asking me to helm his AC 34 boat, but it's kinda cool that someone is actually trying to float this idea for real. According to The Examiner, which is never wrong, tests on using a sailing catamaran for ferry service are actually scheduled to begin next month! (And please note that I don't often use exclamation marks in this blog.)

The Examiner doesn't make much out of the fact that the guy promoting the idea operates one of the more popular catamaran charter fleets on the bay and so just might be trying to drum up more business for his other enterprise.

They also don't dwell on how the numbers would crunch, either.

The boats would still have conventional diesel engines for lots of practical reasons that scheduled ferry service requires. So, they would probably be a lot more expensive to build and maintain than regular ferry boats. And The Examiner seems to be just accepting the promoter's number of an estimated 40 per cent annual savings in fuel costs. The initial tests will be run from Sausalito to the city, straight across the Bay's windiest strait - the famous or infamous 'slot' (famous or infamous depending on the cajones of the sailor). Ferry runs in other, less windy, parts of the Bay might not benefit from fuel savings nearly as great.

Too, the promoter is counting on getting federal money from the EPA to fund the prototype and we know how easy it is to get money out of Washington today, unless you're an impoverished banker or auto company CEO.

But it is still neat to think there's even an outside chance of being able to catch the 8:10 am boat over to the city for your morning commute - on a boat that is actually sailing. I wonder if there will be discounted ticket rates if you're willing to grind winches or just be rail meat.

But, hold the phone, I said there were TWO stories here. What's the other one? There's something of a clue in that Examiner clip in the photo above, but you'll just have to wait until after intermission to find out.

///////////////  Intermission  \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\

Ah, how was the popcorn?

You may have noticed, in the clip from the Examiner above, the photo they used to illustrate the story.

The caption under the photo reads,

"A Napa company says catamaran-style ferries can accomodate 750 passengers and travel about 20 mph..."

So, since The Examiner is San Francisco's ultimate source for truthiness in journalism, that must be a photo of a sail-powered catamaran ferry boat, right?

Well, if you know anything about sailing, you'll recognize right away that it ain't

And, if you know anything about San Francisco sailing, you'll recognize right away that the boat is Maltese Falcon - the biggest, baddest, ballsiest wonder or monstrosity ever to sail the Bay - depending on your point of view.

No matter what you think of it, though, for better or worse, that boat has probably gotten more international attention than any other Bay boat in the past 25 years, except maybe for Ellison's AC-winning trimaran, which has never sailed here and may not ever.

Many people think the only reason Maltese Falcon was built at all was to attract attention. At 289 feet overall, it's not terribly practical for a quick day sail or for Friday night beercan racing, especially since you need a licensed bay pilot aboard before you can leave the mooring. (And licensed bay pilots never bring cookies.)

So, you'd think that over at San Francisco's ultimate source for truthiness in journalism someone would have noticed that the photo of Maltese Falcon had nothing to do with the story about catamaran ferry boats.

How could the leading mainstream rag in a sailing town like SF make such a goof?

Well, my personal theory is that Max doesn't work there anymore.

In days of yore, every newspaper had some old guy named Max on the copy desk. Max's job was to know everything about everything.

Max knew the difference between lie, lay, laid, and lain.

Max knew when to use 'which' and when to use 'that'.

Max knew all of the amendments to the US constitution and why they were amended. Without googling.

Max knew who JFK's Secretary of State was. And who JFK's poet laureate was.

So, when the young, green kid, fresh out of school, grabbed the first photo of a sailboat he could find to slap on the page next to the story about the sailing ferry boats, Max would have been watching.

From his desk across the way, Max would pretend not to be watching, but Max was always watching.

"Yo kid," Max would have said, "are we doing another story about Maltese Falcon? Didn't we just run that photo last week?"

"And can't you find a photo that's got something to do with the story - one that isn't going to make us look like a bunch of dopes?"

Max even remembered what the Maltese Falcon was named for.

Some of us will miss Max a lot (not alot).

There is no longer a place for Max at most newspapers today. With 30 years under his belt, Max was drawing twice the pay as the new kid. And, in the eyes of an accountant, they were both doing the same job. (There will always be a place at every newspaper for accountants.)

Besides, a sailboat is a sailboat, right?

Who's going to know the difference?

And who really cares?

Two weeks ago, as everyone else in the newsroom was informed that Max had regretfully decided he needed to spend more quality time with his family, Max was called into a small office that used to be called 'Personnel' when Max started but that is now more efficiently called 'Human Resources'.

Max was handed an unmarked manilla envelope by a nicely groomed young lady whom he had never met, and, after 32 years of keeping the newspaper from looking like a bunch of dopes, was quietly laid off.

Or, is it layed off?


March 13, 2011

The Sea Is So Wide


and my boat so small.

Monday morning update:

This post is dedicated to Pandabonium over at Sweet Bluesette who has now put up his first post after weathering events of the past few days in Japan. Why not stop by there and wish him well? His blog promises to have some fresh insights for everyone, but especially for sailors over the coming months.


March 2, 2011

I First Learn Of Barry Manilow

If you've ever wondered where I get my peculiar sense of humor. I think it all began on this fateful day when I was very young. To teach me the difference between right and wrong, my parents brought home some Barry Manilow lyrics to tear up in front of me.

At six months, I wasn't yet verbal, so I needed to have basic aesthetic values instilled in other ways. I wouldn't have understood a simple 'bad' or 'good' at that age, much less 'insipid' or 'nauseating.'

But I think this ingenious plan my parents worked out was quite effective.

I'm not sure, but I think these pages contained the words to Mandy.

O Docker, age six months, watching parent rip up Barry Manilow lyrics.

February 27, 2011

Navigating Treacherous Waters


Things are definitely ratcheting up in the business of Tillerman writing projects.

Just look at the state of affairs in the current project - the one about 'Navigation', inspired by the recent release in the US of Tristan Gooley's book, The Natural Navigator.

In the old days of Tillerman writing projects, you would drag your feet for a week and a half, wondering how the devil you could write yet another opus about yet another preposterous topic, and then, at the very last, you'd cobble something together somehow and post it.

And that was it.

Done. End of story. Miller time.

But that was then and this is now. Those simple, carefree, innocent times have receded in the rear-view mirror of life like a smoking, misfiring VW camper van with bad valves.

In this post-modern world of watery blogal competition, things are far more complex. The stakes are higher now. The competitors are more seasoned and wise. The bar has been raised.

Just as in other arenas of high-stakes competition, where careers and reputations teeter in the balance - the Pulitzer Prizes, the Oscars, the figure-eight demolition races at Islip Speedway - knowing how to finesse the writing project game can be just as important as blogging skill. If you don't know how to interpret the rules and politick the judges, if you fail to keep up with the latest writing project trends, you are lost.

The unknowing neophyte, for instance, probably hasn't a clue that it is no longer enough to post a single entry in a Tillerman writing project. Somehow - and I don't know exactly when this happened - we have passed into the era of the multiple entry. Once merely an option, this is now a virtual requirement to ensure a win.

Just look at the work of avant-garde, trendsetting London blogger, Captain JP. In one short week, he has posted no fewer than 15 to 18 entries (I haven't checked his blog in the past 20 minutes so can't be sure of the exact number). And still they come. He has even enlisted the help of his co-blogger - a Mr. Buff Staysail - to keep the posting machine cranking out copy 24 hours a day.

Not to be caught short, in ultra-competitive New York City, crafty kayaker Bonnie Frogma has also managed to quickly put up multiple posts, after waking up and smelling the endless cups of coffee being brewed in Blighty.

The word has also made its way to the high deserts of New Mexico, where intrepid wordsmith, Carol Anne, had a perfectly serviceable and well-crafted entry posted, wherein she navigated from from one begonia to another. But reading the handwriting on Frogma's New York subway walls, she got the message post-haste and hastily re-posted.

Things were once more at impasse until Miss Frogma hatched an ingenious two-part counter plan to crush all opposition:

Part 1) Her second post references an earlier post about - what else - natural navigation (an obvious ploy that plays to the judges' tastes for anything about natural navigation)

part 2 - and this is just brilliant) There's a comment on the referenced post by none other than Tristan Gooley hisself!

Hokey smokes! How do you compete against stuff like that? Game, set, and match to the clever kayaker from Canarsie. She has this one in the bag!

Me, I completely missed the mark (sorry, meager attempt at navigation humor).  I was soldiering stupidly on, thinking a single, sober, soundly-researched and scholarly post might fare well in this competition. What was I thinking? I have been outclassed by these world-class bloggers.

I guess I could have thought to link to some old, mouldy posts of my own about the dangers of over-confidence in navigation, about navigating at night in total darkness, or about navigating in fog. But, I'm from laid-back California. It's bad form to appear to be trying too hard. Zealous over-achievers are regarded with suspicion here.

But wait a minute, I could change the name of this post from The State of Things in Tillerman Writing Projects to something that would hoodwink the judges into thinking this is about navigation, too. Could I turn this into a multiple entry of my own?

I just might be back in the running!


February 22, 2011

A History Of Navigation, In Verse


In the beginning was the hallowed cross staff.
And while your friends might giggle and laugh
Who saw you staring into the sun,
You at least knew your latitude when done.

An improvement was the nifty back staff.
And while your friends might still giggle and laugh,
(Why are friends so often that way?)
From the sun you could now turn away.

Let us not forgot the clumsy quadrant,
As unwieldy as a fire hydrant.
Its users would stumble and trip
On the deck of a rolling ship.

Equally painful was the neat astrolabe
For while latitude it neatly gabe,
If you also required your longitude,
The astrolabe wasn't singing your song, dude.

And even the touted sextant,
The most complex device yet extant,
For measuring the height of the sun,
Left you equally lost, when done.

For these devices, simple or devious,
All had a failing mischievious.
If you cared to return to the dock,
Then you also required a clock.

The Englishman, John Harrison,
Sought the longitude prize, but never won.
Still, they gave him an outrageous sum
For a clock with no pendulum.

So the scourge of old sailing fables,
The sextant, the clock, and the tables,
Navigation, remained a morass.
A colossal pain in the brass.

Until finally, God made GPS
Which did away with that awful old mess.
At long last man would be free
To venture safe upon the sea.

Today, the old navigators' art
Requires neither math nor chart.
We may voyage from Sundays to Saturdays,
If we remember to bring the batturays.