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.