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Writing Waves

July 27. 2015 - Writing about surfing is hard and good surf writing is hard to find. Jay Caspian Kang found a gem in William Finnegan's new book, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Read Kang's review and his own fine writing about surfing here.

Some snippets:

...whenever I attempted to write about surfing, my prose was saturated with a fatuousness that could not be scrubbed away. How do you say “life is a wave” without saying “life is a wave?” My failures, I suspected, were related to my own deficiencies as a surfer.

...I sought out other accounts of surfing. Most weren’t much better than the videos. They were either sunbaked spiritual pornography or they were dispatches from kooks — novice surfers — who were writing about the sport in the way they might have written about eating ahi poke for the first time in a Hawaiian hotel.

...Finnegan’s talents as a surfer were obvious to anyone who had tried to paddle out in overhead surf at Noriega Street at Ocean Beach; he had the skill to paddle out on days when the waves were so big you could hear them from a half-mile away. But unlike most middle-aged rippers, Finnegan did not borrow from the lengthy litany of surf clichés. He did not talk about the gifts the ocean gives to all of us. His descriptions of San Francisco’s “giant gray,” “ominous” waves were pragmatic, even grim. He was the first person I had come across who could write about surfing without schmaltz or weighty metaphors.
- Mike

Summer Sailing Trips

Sailing Nantucket Sound - June 2015

The new radio with AIS was installed and Jane and I set out to deliver the Flying Fish, our 25' O'Day centerboard sailboat with 10 hp Yanmar diesel engine, to Newport, RI. We left Pleasant Bay at high tide and feeling lucky, navigated the short cut serpentine passage across the top of Monomoy Island as the tide began to fall. We made it through without incident and exited into Nantucket Sound's northeastern corner. I could give you all of the details about our voyage to Newport and the return trip with my junior high school friends Andy and Jon but, "pleasant" and "nice" and "lovely" and "without incident" makes for a boring story. So, rather than offering up a remix of of sweet summer days and nights with my daughter and friends, here are some observations that anyone voyaging to Newport and Martha's Vineyard may find helpful:

Lake Tashmoo: A beautiful quiet place to anchor for the night and even a few days if you want to spend time in and around Vineyard Haven. The walk to town is lovely.

Copper Wok restaurant, Vineyard Haven: Totally adequate food, nice atmosphere and service. The sushi was better than the cooked food.

Scared skunk, Vineyard Haven: Thank you for not spraying us as we walked back to our inflatable kayak with ice cream cones in hand in the dark.

Newport Harbor: In late June it's not a zoo. The public dock at Perrotti Park allows boats to tie up for $2.25/foot per hour (free for dinghies)... not a bad deal for stepping off to get lunch. Passing in front of Fort Adams is a treat.

Menemsha: Ahhhh. Wide open spaces and a feeling of timelessness. We were allowed to tie up for an hour at the public dock for free so we could have lobster rolls and clams from Larsen's (4 stars). For longer stays there are free town moorings just off the beach to the east of the harbor entrance. There are also two moorings in the small harbor (not free) - these may be shared by up to 3 boats each.

Cape Pogue Bay: Wow. One of the prettiest places I've seen in my nearly 20 years of exploring Cape Cod, Nantucket and the Vineyard.

Dike Road Bridge (THE bridge at Chappaquiddick): The bridge now has rails. Even with the rails it's easy to see how someone could drive off of it at night.

Edgartown: So much nicer than Nantucket. Good restaurants. Music. Nice harbor with good water taxi service and affordable moorings. The Old Whaling Church is a wonderful building - those columns!

Taking the shortcut across the top of Monomoy at low tide in a boat that draws 27": Bring some beer and prepare to relax a while if you try it!

Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance

For those of us of a certain age and inclination the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance provided meaningful life lessons. I took away two that have stuck with me for going on forty years. One I've learned. The other I'm still trying to learn.

- Lesson #1: When your motorcycle isn't running you should check the obvious things first. Does it have gas?

- Lesson #2: Perfection is unattainable (but worth pursuing).

The concept of unattainable perfection has long been a core value. Woe unto the friend or acquaintance who tells me that something is perfect. "Would you like me to point out the flaws?" As a still-life photographer in NYC shooting product photos with an 8X10 camera in the era before Photoshop, a single spec of dust meant I'd failed. If anyone looked closely enough they could see that I always failed. But somehow the failures were minor enough that my results were considered successful. It may look fantastic, but don't tell me it's perfect (QED Mary Lou Retton's "perfect 10").

Which brings me to my boat, the now 3-decade old, 25' centerboard O'Day sloop, the Flying Fish. This is the 8th year I've owned her and this year, like year's past, has seen some significant maintenance. This year's highlights have been replacing the standing rigging, putting on a new roller furler, fiber glassing the rudder to stop a near-fatal fracture, replacing the zincs on the prop shaft and in the engine, replacing the window on the dodger, bottom paint, oil change, wax, fixing the water pump and varnishing the brightwork.

Imperfections everywhere! Finding flaws in the brightwork is easy. I didn't bother sanding down to bare wood or sanding between coats and feel lucky to have had the time and inclination to have put on varnish at all. So let's consider the oil change. How can an oil change be imperfect? Well, the engine was stone cold when I changed the oil so some of the dirty oil was left inside after I changed it and this was evident as soon as I ran it and looked at the dip stick (even if I'd run the engine and drained the oil while warm, bits of dirt would have been left behind). It's good enough, but see what I mean?

In any case, I didn't need to relearn lessons about unattainable perfection. No. The lesson I need to learn and relearn and relearn is the one about checking obvious things first (and listening). Take yesterday for example.

Yesterday, for the first time in many days, the wind wasn't blowing like stink and I took the opportunity to put the jib on the new roller furler. Captain Timothy Dow of Nor'easter Marine had done a fabulous job replacing the shrouds and stays and installing the roller furler (knows his stuff cold - if you ever want a charter captain, he's the man). The mast was up, everything was tight and ready to go. So I put on the jib and rolled it up. As the jib was rolled the forestay and backstay went slack. !*$#@!!%$!???

I called Tim and explained the situation. He couldn't figure it out and said he'd come by on Monday. He also suggested I take a look at the turnbuckle inside the roller-furler. I didn't even know that was accessible. So I looked and voila! The turnbuckle had spun loose when I'd rolled up the jib. So loose in fact that it was holding on by just a few threads and had almost spun off. If it had spun off the mast would have fallen over causing serious damage to the Flying Fish, possibly even killing someone. Why had it spun off? Because I'd forgotten to put in a cotter pin once the mast was up. I'd completely forgotten Tim telling me that needed to be done and wasn't reminded because, unlike the other turnbuckles, this one was hidden in the furler and I'd assumed it was good to go. A cotter pin is a little sliver of stainless steel that costs $0.50. Flash on the scene in Das Boot where the sinking German submarine is being bombarded with depth charges and everyone is about to die because they can't find a $0.50 part.

Das Boot I tightened the turnbuckle, put in TWO (2 as in 1+1) cotter pins, put back on the jib and everything is fine. Here's a lesson from Mike's blog post on sailboat maintenance:

Any day you don't kill yourself or someone else because of your own stupidity is a good day!

North Star Confession

Last night I knowingly saw the North Star for the first time. Over forty years of camping and sailing, years of admiring the night sky from my sleeping bag in cold clear places above the timber line and dark anchorages away from light and air pollution, I always knew the star was out there somewhere. Finally looked it up on Google. Once you know where to look it isn't hard to find. So, last night when Jane and I took a walk to the beach under star light, I used my new-found knowledge to line up the two stars on the outer edge of the Big Dipper. Voila! There it was. Very dad-like to show your kid the North Star. Kinda like teaching her how to ride a bike, but much faster, easier and less painful.

Nantucket's "Slurpee Waves"

Snow's been on National Seashore beaches for over a month and may still be on the dunes at the start of spring. Meanwhile, Nantucket has been in the news with photos of "Slurpee Waves" by photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh. You can his stunning images HERE.

The video below gives another perspective: