Going Up the Mast

The Imaginary Mast


I have tried a few times now to go to the top of my mast. It is 45 feet off the deck of the boat. I needed to go up and have a closer look around. It wasn’t like I made this up. It is what a prudent sailor needs to do. The locking hex headed nuts needed to be inspected. As they say, ‘been there
done that.’ My good friend Rich Santos worked the winch from the cockpit. Getting up to the first set of spreaders was comfortable. I wasn’t frightened of the height. From there to the second set of spreaders was another fifteen feet. More or less I was now somewhere in the range of 34 feet at the spreaders with another 11 feet to get to the top. I had a piece of mystery plastic sticking out of the top side of the furler. It has to be removed. Easiest way was to use my hand. This is what I had to do up there. Now there were things I had to do, and things I wanted to do up here, but I wasn’t comfortable and so I did what I had to do and got out of there. Part of my problem was I was using a lot of unnecessary muscle power because I was concerned about taking a fall, and since it was certainly likely to end in a fatality I was literally hanging on for dear life. I was getting very tired up there. My muscles were aching and I was getting more and more fatigued by the minute. My bosun’s chair didn’t fit well and that played a role. A more robust halyard would have made my nerves a little more settled, or better yet a second halyard as a safety back up. You
read these line test strengths and they all seem incredibly reasonable until the line is being tested with your own weight. It might be that a second
halyard from the tip of the mast as a safety line in concert with a better bosun’s chair might make all this high adventure more workable. Might be I’m working at my limit and might be time to look for other work. On the other hand might be that sailing is doing what I wanted it to do all along; forcing me to work at my limit.

Bankrupt Heart                         The Second Novel 

          “Loneliness fell upon Ry like lousy weather. Finn’s dropping by helped. He’d call Sophia once a week. That helped while he talked to her and didn’t help after he hung up. Jackie kept an eye on him. He appreciated that. Mort was rock bottom. After he’d hang up that’s when the demons really ate at his solitude. Still while his fear of being alone for the rest of his life occupied his worries at least there was the boatyard, the work on the mast to keep him focused.”

Copyright Dana Smith 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Beaufort Scale from Las Trampas Peak

Las Trampas Weather Station East Bay Regional Park

Early this morning atop Las Trampas Peak in the EastBay hills here in San Francisco Bay Area a storm approached off the Pacific. The storm produced wind gusts to Force 10 on the Beaufort scale. Quoting from the scale, “Very high waves (20-30 ft) with overhanging crests, sea white with densely blown foam, heavy rolling, lowered visibility.” And what does it say about land? “Seldom experienced on land, trees broken or uprooted, considerable structural damage.” The wind ranged from Force 7 with gusts to Force 10. Sailing in the bay or just offshore it is important to remind ourselves that when a weather system moves toward the coast that it is wise to head into the safety of port while the system passes through. Some sailors prefer to remain well offshore and ride out the system as it passes. Last night it was a rather brief 3 hours that the most intense winds blew. Here is the link for the East Bay Regional Parks remote weather stations. You can click on the various stations and get up to the minute, real time information about wind speeds, gusts, temperature, rainfall and a few other details. Our home sits at 900 feet above sea level while Las Trampas sits at 1760 feet. We factor in our lower elevation while reading the data from the peak. I cross reference this data with the National Weather Service’s buoy data. The San Francisco buoy #26 (SF entrance buoy about 12 miles offshore…)showed that at midnight there was a high wind speed of 27 knots from the south. An hour later atop Las Trampas Peak it was steady at 38 knots and gusting to 51 knots and a wind direction out of the south. Approximate elevation differences account for the higher winds. Our home is set atop a ridge and when a southerly howls in from off the Pacific there is nothing to blunt the full force of a storms impact. Looking at the buoy report the waves as the highest winds passed were described as very steep. These very steep waves for small craft out on the coastal waters last night aren’t just a data point, they were an experience, a story to tell, a story some sailor is likely to be grateful this morning to have the good fortune to have found at sunrise his boat is whole and he has lived to tell.

Trail to Las Trampas

Bankrupt Heart                               The Second Novel 

He walked up the gangway and into the parking lot.
The rain was a drizzle, the breeze sent the drops falling diagonally in a
blizzard of mist. As Ry exhaled steam from his breath filled the air. The
swirling flurry of droplets hung weightless in the night air refracting specks
of light from a solitary lamp that hung all but forgotten on a pole. The boats
up in the yard seemed abandoned, alone as if they were waiting for something
better. He gripped his cell phone in his hand. Dew formed in his hair. The rain
so light it ignored the pull of gravity. He walked along the bank of the canal.
He looked back toward the dock where his boat was tied up. The smoke from the
wood stove drifted up above the tips of the masts in the harbor where a fair
breeze seized the cloud and swept it away on a slipstream into the night. The
holiday was all but over. The insistent visitor was upon him. The unavoidable
had found its way back into the center of his mind.


Sailing is Fungible

Old Warrior

Sailing a boat is just the start of the thing. Some people see a sailboat and see a race and some people see as a way to travel. Sailing is fungible. You can race, cruise, live-aboard and never even pretend that you are ever going to use the sailing portion of what the boat you are living on was intended. Sailing can be a dead end or it can be an open end…you choose! What sailing allows is for you to imagine doing something else, something you’ve never done before. The AC 45’s that are being used as tune ups for the America’s Cup in San Francisco imagine a kind of Formula 1 approach to the endeavor. Let’s build sailboats that go to the extreme edge of speed. Let’s make them light, put 70 foot masts on 45 foot long hulls. Let’s build the boats with space age materials making them wicked light and super powerful. Let’s get rid of the sails and put wings on the boats. Imagine that a wing! Think one half of an airplane placed upright on two hulls. What’s that get you? They don’t sail these creations they fly them. So for our elite racing teams the journey is the ever greater increase in their team’s ability to operate one of these gizmos. It is impossible to imagine that it would require 110 shipping containers to support the racing of a pair of boats that weight something less than 6000 lbs all in. Cruising sailboats can weigh lots of things, but doing skinny isn’t native to their species. My Jeanneau is a rather lean machine at 36 feet, but still it weights something north of 12,000 lbs. But, with careful provisioning I wouldn’t need 110 shipping containers to support my sailings purpose. Likely I could load everything I might need aboard for an extended non-stop cruise. That could be but one edge to sail to, one of many choices a sailor can make. But, perhaps we measure the wrong thing. Perhaps 110 shipping containers stacked on a cargo vessel represents the collective efforts, the combined wisdom, the latest breakthroughs, and the tools necessary to mount an endeavor seeking to discover how to make the AC 45’s go consistently faster than anyone else trying to do the same thing. All this prototyping, all this engineering, all the testing, the
development of 5 men trained and synchronized in putting this creation to the purpose it was intended requires an out of this world effort. It is out of this world and with imagination, time and materials this assembled group of mad sailing creationists hope to make this dream come true. Then, Saturday morning I woke aboard my vessel and while walking my dog a mother, father and their two boys were pushing off from their slip aboard their Islander 38, destination Mexico, itinerary open-ended, final destination undecided. I helped push them off and shouted, “How is it a stranger is the only witness to your departing on one of your life’s biggest adventures?” He waved his hand and smiled, “You’re not a stranger; you’re a sailor, the gods picked you…”

Bankrupt Heart The Second Novel

“I love the harbor. It is a place of a thousand surprises.”

“It’s its own little world, this odd
little backwater and it’s right here in the heart of town.”

“What kind of boat?” She asked.

“What do you know, what do you

She closed her eyes again,
“Sailboat,” Her eyes sprung open wide waiting for the answer.

“It’s a forty-three foot sailboat,
wood.” Jackie’s eyes widened further when Ry said ‘wood’. “I’m sure you like
wood boats?”

“Everyone loves to look at a wood
boat,” Jackie reached out and turned Ry’s hands over and looked at his palms.

“What do you see?” Ry asked.

“I see you haven’t even started working on her.”

“True enough. I don’t know how to work on her.”


Spaghetti Western meets Waterworld!

Slow walking a thoroughbred from the paddock...

John Craig just back from Europe had much to say about setting up the Oracle Racing Teams 110 shipping container command center for the first time in Portugal and then a second go at it in Plymouth, England. Seems like a lot of equipment to support a A/C 45 that weighs something south of 2000 lbs. In all the team puts something like 40 boats in the water for these preliminary races. Three containers are used for computer and video support. There are more lengths of video cable at the command center than there is line for the boats! Seated off to one side of the dining room members of the racing team sat at a table after working some 82 out of the 86 days they were in Europe. Boxers look like fighters, football players look like oversized teddy bears and world class racing team members look like men who have no life and shop for clothes at Sears. We can’t forget what they are doing. They are racing incredibly powerful catamarans that can in just 12 knots of wind reach speeds of over 33 knots over the water. In San Francisco Bay summer winds can breach 30 knots any day and gusts to 38 knots are common. This kind of boat in this kind of wind will require a combination of skill and
courage. I heard a number of the sailors speak of the boats having a narrow range, a razor’s edge, and that when things go wrong, and they fall of that edge bad things can happen fast. I much enjoyed a medical emergency team leader describing how he’d ended up with a contingent of a crackerjack crew of Italian Navy rescue workers and that they were laconic, lazy and listless waiting for something to do. As he approached the capsized Chinese A/C 45 in Plymouth the entire team leaped unexpectedly into the water to practice their unique brand of lifesaving! Think spaghetti western meets Waterworld! This America’s Cup is in a rather interesting iteration. First choose the fastest boat designs in
the world, add to that budgets for all in costs that will approach a billion dollars per team, and mix the worlds best sailors and you have the makings for a spectacle of a kind humankind has never before witnessed. I’ll be in San Diego in November to take a closer look. Those 110 containers are aboard a ship and heading that way now. Thank Larry Ellison for all of this. Finally someone who knows how to enjoy his money.

Bankrupt Heart The Second Novel

Passing off to one side of Jasmine was Lenny’s boat headed in the other direction. Lenny shouted, “Long live Jasmine, may the gods and luck sail with you,”

He stood on the stern of his boat. Lenny was steadying himself holding on tight as his cruising boat self steered south.

Ry and Finn waved to the outbound offshore singlehanded sailor. “I don’t think I’d want to go offshore alone.” Ry said.

“Takes a particular kind of man,” Finn said. “Not many are cut from that clothe…”

Books · Performances

Change Changed Newport

A Place Named After a Floppy Hat

Busking was salvaged from the dictionary some years back and put to work again as a term describing street performing. I visited Newport,
Rhode Island and while strolling the waterfront walked past this joint. Not that busking would go down very well in Newport. I make it my business to know about where buskers play and Newport appears closed for business. When looking for situations that might be right for the game we play we are first looking for a space that we could make work. I didn’t see that space in Newport. Second we look for a situation. The situation looked promising. People appeared as if they could use something to do. Finally, we look for the kind of people who might react favorably to the offering. That looked hard to read by my eye. I’m not sure I saw a kind of visitor to downtown Newport who might be inclined to spending some impromptu moment engaged in a bit of mirth and diversion. I did see a good city sponsored music presentation in a
local waterfront park. And of course the legendary jazz and folk festivals are both in Newport. I didn’t really know what Newport, Rhode Island would mean, didn’t know what the vibe was in that town, but having been there now I kind of got my first taste. The legendary Andrew Potter of High Street Circus lives nearby in Jamestown with his wife and daughter when she’s not away in college. We walked the historic district, drove past the mansions, the New York City Yacht Club, and slipped the line off Andrew’s sailboat and took a good romp across her legendary sailing waters. Newport is a great place for buskers to go sailing is what I’ve learned. Some things will never change, even in the face of the fact that nothing remains the same forever. When the New York City Yacht Club lost the America’s Cup that is when change changedNewport.

Bankrupt Heart                              The Novel

“Nick had a nifty side job using a power washer to
clean hauled out boats. This morning he was flogging the pull chord trying to
get the machine to start. While Ry was sanding Nick was cussing, and this
wasn’t just simple cussing, this was existential cussing, this was cussing like
when Picasso was painting, this was Nick putting the fear of the gods into the
inanimate object of his unfulfilled wishes cussing, this was Nick flipping the
whole mess on its side, pulling spark plugs, replacing spark plugs, changing
gas, trying again until the power washer after ruining his whole day in spite
of all his impatience and cussing at long last started.”


Lyle Hess’s Tribute to Change

Handmade Wanderlust Incarnate

What you are looking at is one of the finest ocean going yachts in the world. Handmade by a New Zealander I met in 2005. The boat is about twelve years old now and has been circumnavigated. At present it is in San   Rafael. Chris and his wife Helen depart for Mexico, Hawaii and a visit back to New   Zealand this autumn. While the boat is only thirty feet in length she displaces over nine tons. Her purpose is for voyaging across open oceans. The design is based upon the Bristol Channel Cutter that one hundred years ago served sailors in the North Sea. While off the coast of Alaska Chris recounted a tale of waiting out at sea for a storm to pass for three days in sustained winds that were measured at 78 knots! Indeed these are stout vessels with great capacity to absorb punishing forces of wave and wind. They are throw backs too. Constructed of wood, systems are elemental, navigation accomplished by sextant, compass, chronograph and chart. Everything a sailor needs to go to sea is here. If you look at the photograph you can see that in the picture a roller furling headsail has been selected. Chris has carefully substituted new technologies for older when he has deemed the innovation increases safety. Here is a rare and wondrous sighting. Here is tradition rubbing against the inevitable law of change…

Bankrupt Heart                                     The Second Novel

            “I picked a pretty one to make my bride, but sailing was all of my life and it
meant something less to her, she’d come to do it, but not with her heart, she
did it for the sake of the marriage.”

            “You do it for your man?” Ry asked.

            “Well, not exactly.” Conner looked
at Gail. They gave each that telling glance. “I don’t think I know how long we
each looked at one another,”

            Gail continued, “It was like we all
thought of it at the same time.”

            “We looked each other in the eye,”
Conner explained, “and all of us at once, had come to the same conclusion, why
not work out a swap, I’ll take your wife and you can take mine.”


People Who Change Us

Early Morning Serenity

The changes in the lagoons and estuaries of Redwood Citystir the mood. The breathless still air of morning brings tranquility. The near afternoon gales that strafe through here bring tension. My 36 foot sloop was pressed against the visitors dock by the late afternoon prevailing winds. I had to use additional lines to secure her against the afternoon tirade. The south bay has never been a destination noted for its beauty, although beauty is here. In years of old I kept my old trusted Pearson Ensign moored in Redwood City. A brilliant inventor friend lived aboard a monster sized catamaran alone off in one remote channel surrounding his life in Pickleweed, terns, and solitude. He was the second He installed a pair of diesels in the thing, built a steering system of his own invention, and enjoyed a desperate, passionate, visionary life of an illegal immigrant from London.
The Coast Guard moved him on and he began vagabonding from anchorage to anchorage with his beast of a vessel. He tried the Delta, small bay off the shallows of Berkeley. I finally saw what was left of his fine work towed and careened and ready for destruction at the shipyards near The Ramp. I think immigration caught up with his dreams and changed the course of his life in the deal. I miss Jim. He did the impossible again and again. He had a way of forcing you to believe in yourself, that you could do it, that if he could overcome the odds why anyone could. At least for a while…

Bankrupt Heart                         The Second Novel 

“Finn possesses such character. I know your friend well. I think the loon loves his
boats more than he loves his women.” The man began to walk down the dock.

“You do know Finn,” Ry finished his thought.

“Right about now I’d say there’s a woman trying to change his mind about that.”

“God bless the woman for trying. We should all be so lucky.”




Scenes from a Changed Way of Life

Southern Pacific Rail Ferry Terminal San Francisco

In San Francisco just south of the ballpark stands this artifact from the cities past. Here is where railway cars were loaded for transit across the bay. The Bay View Boat Club sits on the bank adjacent to this pier. Along the waterfront are a wide range of now obsolete wharfs, piers, and docks. I haven’t paid much attention to all the elbowing and jostling that has gone on between the controlling authorities responsible for maintaining what exists or planning to replace parts that might then be used for new purposes. Naturally planning ends up tied up in knots and nothing gets done. With the arrival of the America’s Cup that is all about to change.


Bankrupt Heart         The Novel

“If you hung out with Philippe and Finn, listened to
their banter, it was hard not to want to be part of their club. These were
predilections feted as certitudes. These were matters of manhood. You had to
have courage, conviction of character. A wood boat in the hands of the wrong man
could set a life back. Ry knew that. Wood was impermanent, in flux. The
endeavor was rife with uncertainty. Ownership required untold sums of money and
time, chunks of time that a man does not have, vast sums of it, spanning not
wristwatches, but rather calendars.”




AC 45’s Game Changerizer’s

Games of Change

I’d anchored out near the bullpin where these incredibly powerful racing machines are stabled. I woke up in the morning and after lifting anchor before the legendary Bay View Boat Club witnessed this thoroughbred trotting out onto the track. If you haven’t been on San Francisco Bay the organizing reality to grasp is that the Golden Gate Bridge is an actual gap and in that space Pacific ocean air moves inland due to a sucking energy created by hot weather in the interior of California. Since this happens all the time most of us don’t note its effects. The main effect is that sailors on this body of water regularly encounter winds in excess of 25 knots and on some days must deal with winds in excess of 35 knots… If you enjoy sport you understand that if  you play certain games there is modest risk of harm while if you play other sports there is an increasing risk of harm. My experience on Monday witnessing the first taste of the next America’s Cup is that this next competition is going to be unlike anything we have ever seen. Larry Ellison has invoked the principle theme of this blog………..change. 38 knots of wind will bring you change. I promise.

Bankrupt Heart

“Ry pushed against the varnished oak tiller. Jasmine’s
white hull bent off to the side of the onrushing winds. The sail stiffened, she
began to move out at a keen clip. Jasmine’s
sail captured a bellowing breeze that created a stalwart force thrusting the
hull ahead. Ry steered a southbound course out into the deeper blue bay waters
playing with the angle of the mainsail until Jasmine’s most rapturous stride was dispatched.”